Monday, September 25, 2017

Shakespeare References in Everything I Know I Learned From Rock Stars

Bill Paige’s Everything I Know I Learned From Rock Stars: Conversations 1975 – 1995 contains two Shakespeare references. The first is in a piece about Karla DeVito. Paige writes: “Since graduating from Lincoln-Way in 1971, DeVito has appeared in a number of stage productions both in Chicago and New York. Godspell, El Grande de Coca-Cola, Jubilee (which she describes as ‘off, off-Broadway’), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (at New York’s Schaeffer Festival) and Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance (as Linda Ronstadt’s replacement on Broadway) all appear on her resume” (p. 245). And then in the piece on Richard Thompson, Paige writes, “Over the years, however, Thompson has suffered the slings and arrows of one particular group that perhaps fails to properly interpret his musical ravings” (p. 396). Obviously, the “slings and arrows” phrase refers to Hamlet’s famous soliloquy.

Everything I Know I Learned From Rock Stars: Conversations 1975 – 1995 was published in 2017.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Two Gentlemen Of Verona (Independent Shakespeare Company’s 2017 Production) Theatre Review

The Two Gentlemen Of Verona can be a difficult comedy because of Proteus’ happy ending after his atrocious behavior and because of Valentine’s one troublesome line near the end. But if any theatre company can make those elements work well, it is the Independent Shakespeare Company, and this group comes up with solutions for both of these problems in this summer’s production. But more on that in a bit.

The Independent Shakespeare Company performs two Shakespeare plays in Griffith Park each summer. This year’s choices are Measure For Measure and The Two Gentlemen Of Verona. The set for The Two Gentlemen Of Verona is the same basic structure as that used for Measure For Measure, but now painted in monochrome – a bluish green. A drum kit and upright piano (as well as a couple of amps) are set up upstage right (and these will be put to excellent – and often humorous – use throughout the production). Before the play, the band does a few numbers (Del Shannon’s “Runaway,” Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell,” Little Richard’s “Ready Teddy”), inviting folks up on stage to dance. Several kids (it seemed like half the schools of Los Angeles decided to attend last night’s performance) took them up on the opportunity. The vocal microphone is in that 1950s style, fitting the chosen music. The music and the dancing established a fun atmosphere even before the performance began, and I have to say this production was possibly the most enjoyable of all this company’s shows that I’ve attended, just in terms of pure fun. The Two Gentlemen Of Verona is certainly not among my favorites of Shakespeare’s plays, but I had a fantastic time at this performance.

The show begins with a woman walking across the front of the stage with a sign that says, “Verona” (later we’d see a sign for “Milan”), while couples dance to the band playing The Skyliners’ “Since I Don’t Have You.” I often have mixed feelings about setting Shakespeare’s plays in modern settings, but this production works remarkably well. The dancers freeze in tableau as Valentine and Proteus begin their dialogue. Both are dressed in plaid jackets, Valentine in mustard-color pants, and Proteus in pale green pants with matching bow tie. This production uses music throughout, and there are moments where characters sing. In the first scene, Speed delivers a speech as a rap, and Proteus answers in kind (this is the dialogue about Speed being a sheep). And when Julia says to Lucetta, “Let’s see your song,” Lucetta sings and plays a bit of “Fever.” Later, Thurio (Lorenzo González) delivers the “Who is Silvia?” song, which is wonderful. The use of music really calls attention to the numerous references to music in the dialogue (and there are plenty). And as I mentioned, this production makes humorous use of the band and the instruments. For example, when Julia says “Lucetta, now we are alone,” the piano player takes the hint and ducks down behind the piano.

The cast is quite strong (as I’ve come to expect from this company), but the night’s standout performance is by Erika Soto as Julia. She is absolutely wonderful, particularly in the scenes with Lucetta (April Fritz). She delivers delightful readings of lines like “Then let it lie for those it concerns.” And the entire exchange during the scene where Lucetta helps dress her as a boy is hilarious. I love how Julia struggles to zip up her jeans over her new manhood. Nikhil Pai is excellent as Valentine. I love the concern in his voice when he asks Speed, “How long hath she been deformed?” And I love that he really gets into the line “Love’s a mighty lord,” leading the audience to laugh. His excitement is often the cause of laughter, as on his line about the “ladder made of cords.” But perhaps my favorite moment of his is when he delivers the “What light is light, if Silvia be not seen” speech. Here there is a great change in tone, as he gives us a serious and heartfelt delivery, which is quite moving and natural, not feeling out of place amid so much laughter. A good deal of that laughter is caused by William Elsman as the Duke of Milan, particularly when he incorporates his work as drummer into the action. His exchange with Valentine is a whole lot of fun, especially when he lists his daughter’s attributes (“peevish, sullen, froward,/Proud, disobedient, stubborn”), but Elsman can also crack the audience up with just a look. Some of the night’s biggest laughs come from the play between David Melville as Launce and Lorenzo González as his dog, Crab. David Melville, who also directed the production, leaves a pause after the “worser sole” joke as if waiting for it to sink in, proud of the humor. And the exchange between Launce and Speed is a delight. Xavi Moreno provides many laughs as Speed. Only a few modern references end up in the dialogue, as when Launce describes his sister as being “on Weight Watchers.”

Proteus is a difficult character, as he does some despicable things, turning easily away from his love in order to woo his best friend’s love, and even going so far as to have his friend banished in order to pursue Silvia without impediment. So it’s difficult to make an audience like him, but Evan Lewis Smith does a good job. There is something about him as an actor that is immediately likeable, and so we can go a long way with the character before turning against him. At the end of course, Proteus and Julia end up together, which can be difficult for a modern audience to accept. This production solves that problem by softening the attempted rape (yes, Proteus tries to force Silvia to yield to him), and by having Julia sing a kick-ass song at the very end, making Proteus kneel before her, and even slaps him hard across the face. The slap isn’t really done in hatred – after all, Julia does truly love Proteus. It’s more of a “don’t do that shit again” kind of a slap, a slap to make sure he’s regained his senses. And the audience cheers it. As for the troublesome line that Valentine must deliver – “All that was mine in Silvia I give thee” – this production gives Silvia a line in response, an incredulous “What?” That line is basically the audience’s reaction too.

There is one twenty-minute intermission, coming at the end of Act II. By the way, the dance scene the leads to intermission (to the tune of “Route 66”) is an absolute delight. I particularly love the use of signs showing Julia’s progress as she travels to see Proteus. Toward the end of intermission, the band plays Don Woody’s “You’re Barking Up The Wrong Tree,” with Crab adding the barks, which is also really funny. And to get the second act going, the band covers Ritchie Valens’ “Come On, Let’s Go.” This production of The Two Gentlemen Of Verona runs through September 2, 2017 at Griffith Park in Los Angeles. The show is free, though donations are encouraged. There is also a merchandise and concessions table to help fund this excellent company.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Taming Of The Shrew (Shakespeare By The Sea’s 2017 Production) Theatre Review

Shakespeare By The Sea tours Los Angeles County and Orange County each summer, performing two of Shakespeare’s plays in parks throughout the area. The performances are free, though donations are accepted and appreciated. This summer, which marks the company’s twentieth year, they are putting on productions of The Taming Of The Shrew and Macbeth. Last night they performed The Taming Of The Shrew at Los Encinos State Historic Park in Encino. A half hour before the performance was scheduled to start, four members of the company (including director Cylan Brown) came out to answer questions from the audience. Most questions seemed to focus on the language of the play, and the way it is spoken. And then at 7 p.m., the play began.

There is a festive air at the start of the performance, with many of the characters in a light and happy mood. (The Induction, with Christopher Sly, is cut from this production.) Bianca is in a yellow dress, the color matching the mood. But that mood is broken by the entrance of Kate, dressed in red, who watches the action, then comes in to spoil the fun – all done without dialogue, of course, as this scene is not in the text. The play then begins with the third scene, with Lucentio (Iyan Evans) and his man Tranio. However, in this production, Tranio is not “his man,” but rather his woman, played by Olivia Schlueter-Corey. So when she takes Lucentio’s place, it becomes another case of a woman disguised as a man, something not in the text, but a playful choice, leading to some funny moments and business. It does lead to some minor troubles with the text, as when Biondello (Trevor Scott) enters and says that Tranio has stolen Lucentio’s clothes, for at that moment she still has her dress on. And Biondello continues, “Or you stolen hers?” That line doesn’t quite work, as he is not wearing her dress. When Tranio mentions her love for Lucentio, her gender gives the line a different tone.

There is some physical comedy, with Kate at first coming across as almost cruel, particularly as she kicks Gremio’s cane out, causing him to fall. (Later, Petruchio does the same thing, showing that he and Kate might be a good match even before they meet.) In the scene with Bianca tied with rope, when Bianca says “untie my hands,” Kate lets go of the rope, causing Bianca to fall. And the coconut joke is taken from Monty Python And The Holy Grail (the Independent Shakespeare Company also used this bit in the 2014 production of this play). Bianca’s tears when their father enters are clearly affected for his benefit, which is nice. We feel for Kate at this moment, which is wonderful, and we even see a bit of her vulnerability. This production does an excellent job of making Kate a believable and human character, and that is in large part because of Morgan Hill’s excellent performance. By the way, Baptista’s costume is a mix of red and yellow, a mix of his two daughters’ colors, which is a nice touch.

There are lots of nice touches in this production. For example, I love that when Petruchio (Bryson Allman) says “I come to wive it wealthily in Padua;/If wealthily, then happily in Padua,” Grumio joins him in the second line, implying that Petruchio has been saying this a lot. And I appreciate the play between Petruchio and Hortensio (Ryan Knight) when Petruchio introduces the disguised Hortensio as Licio. Their friendship is apparent in their exchange, and in their ease around each other. I also like that Petruchio does some stretching as he delivers his soliloquy while waiting to meet Kate for the first time. He knows he needs to be ready for this one. And that scene – their first meeting – is handled really well by both actors. There are moments within that scene where they come close to kissing, showing a mutual attraction. And I love that Kate is stunned that Petruchio truly seems to want her. We see that she is unsure, both of his feelings and perhaps of her own, but tries to maintain the disposition that her father and others have come to expect of her.

Jacqueline Misaye has some strong moments as Bianca. She clearly loves the attention given to her by Lucentio and Hortensio, and when she tells them “Farewell, sweet masters both; I must be gone,” she adds a dramatic flair. She’s a woman who knows her own worth, and is not above flaunting it. What I love about this is that it also sets up the ending, making it believable and no surprise when Bianca does not respond to her husband’s bidding to come. Each of the actors has some delightful moments. Patrick Vest as Gremio has such joy when telling the tale of Petruchio’s behavior at the wedding, that we feel it in the audience, almost as if we’d seen it ourselves. But of course the focus is on Petruchio and Kate and their relationship, and both Bryson (B.J. Allman) and Morgan Hill turn in excellent performances. Kate is allowed little moments where she begins to catch on to the game, which help make the final scene work well. For example, at the end of Act IV Scene i, after Hortensio delivers his line “Why, so this gallant will command the sun” and exits, Kate is left alone on stage momentarily, and we can see from her expression that she is beginning to figure out what’s going on, leading even to her enjoyment of it. And we also see that Petruchio cares for Kate, which is important. He seems excited to have met his match, and doesn't want to ruin that by removing her personality, her zest. Rather, it seems in this production that he wants her to be on the same page as him, working with him rather than against him.

To fit into the two-hour time frame, there are some cuts. However, apart from the induction (which is almost always cut), there aren’t any major losses. The haberdasher and tailor are combined into one character, and Grumio is used as the model for the gown, which is funny. This production doesn’t make all that much use of the audience and the space in front of the stage, though at one point Petruchio, Kate and Hortensio do enter from within the audience, Kate even stopping to drink some wine that a woman had brought. The company refrains from adding modern references, though there is a nod to the location at the end, when instead of “Padua affords this kindness,” Baptista says, “Encino affords this kindness.”

There is one intermission (which is approximately twenty-five minutes), coming at the end of Act III Scene ii. During the intermission, members of the company sell raffle tickets and programs. One woman made me laugh by calling out, “Find out which of our actors are single in the program.” She then added: “It’s not in there. I’ll just tell you.” The play ended at 9:14 p.m., and as the players took their bows, the sound cut out, an unexpected moment, which amused both the actors and the audience. There are still a few more chances to see this production, the last performance being on August 19th. Check out the schedule on Shakespeare By The Sea’s website.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Measure For Measure (Independent Shakespeare Company’s 2017 Production) Theatre Review

Summer in Los Angeles means free Shakespeare at Griffith Park. This year the Independent Shakespeare Company is putting on Measure For Measure and The Two Gentlemen Of Verona. Measure For Measure is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays on the page, but I hadn’t seen a live production before this one. My schedule this summer is nutty, leaving me just one day off between my Boston trip and starting a new job, and it was that day – July 5th – that I managed to catch a performance of Measure For Measure. Only now do I have time to actually sit down and write about it. Sorry for the delay.

The set had a deliberately hodgepodge yet sturdy look to it, with several doors, each painted a different color, with nothing matching, as if the whole thing had been put together over a long period of time with whatever materials had been available. Before the show, pop and rock tunes played at low volume over the speakers – songs like Electric Light Orchestra’s “Livin’ Thing” and “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head,” and Badfinger’s “Come And Get It.” As it got close to show time, several of the actors mingled with the audience. And then, just after 7 p.m., one of them announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, Mistress Overdone’s house of ill repute is open for business.” Immediately, a sort of party atmosphere was established, one which the audience felt a part of. The reading of the park rules was offered as a way to introduce the audience to the feel of Vienna, with the actors saying that the Duke lets the people get away with anything, but no smoking or photography during the performance. After the obligatory thanks to the sponsors, the show was underway.

Measure For Measure is considered to be one of Shakespeare’s tougher plays. It is a comedy that features characters who do rather despicable things. Particularly problematic is Duke Vicentio, here played by David Melville. At the beginning of the play, he bestows his power on Angelo, hoping that Angelo’s puritan nature will help put a stop to the general lawlessness of the citizens. But Vicentio doesn’t really leave, but rather disguises himself as a holy man and goes about manipulating the action. In the course of the play, he engages in questionable behavior. I found, in reading the play, that I did not like this character at all. However, David manages to show a playful side to his actions, and plays the role (at most points) for comedy, giving him a more human touch. When he tells Angelo, “There’s your commission,” he grabs his suitcase to hurry off, until Angelo stops him. Angelo (William Elsman) is immediately shown as uptight – by his wardrobe and posture, by the way he carries himself. And I appreciate that the production takes the time to show he is reluctant to take on the burdens of leadership. He is not a power-hungry man, and William Elsman does an excellent job of showing the character’s own conflict and turmoil with regards to his charge.

In this production, Mistress Overdone is played by a man (Xavi Moreno), which of course was the normal way it was done in Shakespeare’s day. But here – with the other female roles played by women – it gives the character an extra layer of playful bawdiness, a greater sense of anything goes, and a delightful sexuality. Those that enter with Overdone have a fun, loose feel, dressed in bright colors. Lucio (Nikhil Pai) is a bit foppish in his purple suit, stroking his walking stick. Many of this company’s productions will toss in modern references, usually done by the clown characters who are somewhat freed from constrictions anyway. In Measure For Measure, it is the clown Pompey (Lorenzo Gonzalez) who delivers these modern references, telling the audience that “What happens in Vienna no longer stays in Vienna.” He also makes references to CSI and Law And Order, and delivers a play on the song “Bad To The Bone,” as well as making references to Donald Trump. Interestingly, what seemed a modern reference – Vicentio telling the Friar that he is believed to be in Poland – is actually in the text (Donald Trump left for Poland the very day I saw this production). And again when Angelo says “This will last out a night in Russia,” what might seem to an added reference to Trump is actually part of the text. This play has a second goofy character, Elbow, the constable, here played delightfully by Richard Azurdia. His whole bit about choosing the wrong words, leading him to say he detests his wife, is done wonderfully.

Isabella is tough character to play. Is her purity and chastity something to be commended even if it means the death of her brother, or is she too cold, as Lucio says more than once? We can’t help but agree with Lucio the first time he tells her that, for she seems to have given up so easily in her suit for her brother’s life, saying “I had a brother then,” a line which I find funny. William Elsman is excellent in this scene, particularly in his reactions to Isabella’s “judge you as you are” and “Dress’d in a little brief authority,” showing us he is well aware of himself and his situation. And he tries to leave before bowing to his own attraction to her. His “Well, come to me tomorrow” is delivered with some affection. And his “What’s this? What’s this? Is this her fault or mine?” is funny and perfect. Lucio’s asides are shouted as encouragement to Isabella from the safe distance of the audience, a humorous touch.

But it is their next scene together where both Elsman as Angelo and Kalean Ung as Isabella really shine. In his soliloquy at the beginning of the scene, Elsman gives a slight pause before the word “pride,” as he doesn’t want to admit that, even to himself, but must. And when Isabella enters, we can plainly see Angelo’s struggle. This is important, if we are to continue to like this character. He gives a great delivery of “Or seem so craftily, that’s not good.” This scene is difficult, and both actors do an excellent job with it. Their performances and the way they approach the scene make it clear to the audience just how relevant this situation still is. And I love Kalean Ung’s reaction when her brother Claudio (Evan Lewis Smith) says “but to die, and go we know not where,” for it seems to her that he is questioning the very existence of an afterlife, one of her core beliefs.

One of the play’s big questions is just how Isabella reacts to the Duke’s marriage proposal. Shakespeare gives her no lines there, and that can be interpreted many ways. In this production, we see fairly early on the affection that Isabella has for the Duke as she speaks of him, so that the happy ending doesn’t come out of nowhere. Isabella is surprised at the Duke’s sudden suit, and is not given a chance to respond. Then, when he repeats his intentions, she accepts by silently, happily taking his hand. As for the bed trick, this production handles it quite well. First of all, April Fritz as Mariana is approximately the same height as Isabella, so it is believable that one might be mistaken for the other. And also, a short scene without dialogue is added, in which Mariana hands Angelo a blindfold, which he puts on before she leads him away.

Though a lot of this production is hilarious, I found that some of the more serious moments were among the best. As I mentioned, that scene between Isabella and Angelo was particularly noteworthy, with Elsman delivering an astounding performance.

There is one fifteen-minute intermission, coming partway through Act III Scene i, just after Isabella’s line, “Fare you well, good father.” And just before the end of intermission, some of the cast jokes a bit to allow folks time to get back to their seats. The performance ended at 9:47 p.m.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Yellow Sky (1948) DVD Review

Yellow Sky is a western starring Gregory Peck, Anne Baxter and Richard Widmark. It is very loosely based on The Tempest. As the title card at the beginning tells us, it takes place in “The West – 1867.” We hear sounds of an approaching storm as several men ride on horseback through unfamiliar territory. It is a storm that ends up not coming from the sky, but from within the men themselves. They visit a town and go to a saloon, but they are really there to rob a bank, which they do. As they ride out to the land they’d visited earlier after the robbery, one of them is shot in the chase, leaving six to escape across a harsh desert.

After several days in the desert, and the loss of a horse, they see a town in the distance. (By the way, there are some excellent wide shots of them in the desert, showing the men small against a great landscape.) But as they approach the town, they find it deserted. A sign tells them the name of the town is Yellow Sky. They all collapse in defeat. But soon they realize they are not completely alone. A young woman named Constance Mae (nicknamed Mike) stands over them with a gun. When they ask for water, she directs them to a spring. She lives with her grandfather in a house at the other end of town. Though she is the Miranda character in this story, she’s able to handle herself around men, and is a pretty good shot with a rifle. When she arrived in this area, she was just a baby, according to her grandfather, just as Miranda was young when she arrived on the island in The Tempest. Her grandfather is the Prospero character, but there is no magic in this adaptation. There is no Ariel, and there are no other spirits. There is not even a Caliban. There are some Apaches who arrive, and who are friends with Mike’s grandfather, and who follow his direction.

The six men believe that the Mike and her grandfather are hiding gold, and they aim to take all of it, though James Dawson (Gregory Peck) promises the grandfather that they will only take half of it. He has a change of heart after realizing that the grandfather kept them from being hurt by the Apaches, and decides to only take half as he’d promised. The other men aren’t too keen on that decision, however. And so of course there is some gun fighting. A couple of the men are more comical, especially Walrus, who is like Stephano in his appreciation of the drink.

By the end, Mike and her grandfather have become friendly with a few of the men, and the film has a happy ending. Though the connections to the Shakespeare play are loose, Yellow Sky is actually a really good film.

Yellow Sky was directed by William A. Wellman. The DVD includes three still galleries, including one of the promotional materials, one of production photos and one of behind-the-scenes photos. The film’s trailer is also included.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Thousand Acres (1997) DVD Review

A Thousand Acres is an adaptation of King Lear set on a farm. The film is based on the novel by Jane Smiley, which in turn is based on Shakespeare’s play. In going from book to film, it actually loses more of the elements that tie it to the play. For example, Harold – the Gloucester character – is not blinded in the film; Loren – the Edgar character – doesn’t really have a part; Ginny – the film’s Goneril – doesn’t attempt to poison Rose – the Regan character. As in the book, the film is from Ginny’s perspective, and there is quite a bit of narration from her character. In the beginning she tells us that Caroline – the Cordelia character – left the farm after school and became a lawyer, but that she and Rose stayed on. A problem I had with the book is that I didn’t care for any of the characters. That problem remains in the film version, though there is a good cast, including Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Lange, Jason Robards, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Colin Firth.

Larry (Jason Robards), in order to avoid inheritance taxes, decides to form a corporation, and each of his three daughters will receive a third of the farm, and will run the business. Ginny and Rose immediately take to the idea, but the youngest daughter, Caroline, says she’ll think about it. Larry overreacts, telling her: “If you don’t want it, my girl, you’re out. Simple as that.” In voice over, Ginny talks about her father’s pride being hurt. Ginny tries to convince Caroline to accept their father’s offer, but when Caroline shows up at the house, Larry closes the door in her face. So the farm is divided in half, between Ginny and Rose, as Lear’s kingdom is divided in half between Goneril and Regan. But after this, Larry just remains seated at his window, angrily watching how his land is being used, and questioning it.

Ginny and Rose talk about setting rules for their father, especially after Larry ends up in the hospital after a drunk driving accident. A severe thunder storm rolls in, and Larry lashes out at Ginny and Rose, calling Ginny a bitch, and saying he’d rather stay out in the storm than go home. The daughters tell him he’s on his own, and there is a hint of something darker between them. As in King Lear, Larry curses his oldest daughter, “You’ll never have children.” But we don’t like Larry here. And there is no Fool or Kent or Edgar at his side to help us align with him. (There is a Ken, who is the family lawyer, so he is this adaptation’s Kent, but he never puts himself on the line, never risks anything, so he is not like Kent at all.) Larry goes to Harold, saying “They threw me out.” Of course, that’s not true. There are three houses on the property, and Larry lives in one of them. There’s nothing keeping him from going to his house. He stayed out in the storm by his own decision, and then stays with Harold also by his own decision. And because this story is from Ginny’s perspective, the film doesn’t even follow Larry into the storm.

And then as we get farther into the film, we like Larry even less, as it comes out that he sexually abused both Ginny and Rose when they were children. At first Ginny refuses to remember, when Rose raises the subject. Rose tells her: “He didn’t rape me, Ginny. He seduced me.” Of course, this is completely different from the play, but Michelle Pfeiffer and Jessica Lange as Rose and Ginny are great in this scene. But as I mentioned, not one of the characters is likeable. In King Lear, you really feel for many of the characters at different moments. Good versions of King Lear will have you in tears. But this film is not at all emotionally engaging, even though it adds breast cancer and hospital scenes in attempts to tug at your heart.

Jess – the film’s Edmund – returns home at the beginning of the movie, and soon it is clear that Ginny is attracted to him. They begin an affair. Later we learn that Rose also has an affair with him. Though he doesn’t behave in a cruel manner as Edmund does in the play, Jess is ultimately unlikeable as well. And even Harold is awful. He insults Ginny and Rose and Jess in a public setting, without provocation, quite unlike Gloucester. And while Harold does reject Jess, as Gloucester rejects Edgar (Edgar, not Edmund), he does it without any real reason. In the play, Gloucester is deliberately fooled by Edmund to reject Edgar.

Caroline and Larry reconcile, as Cordelia and Lear do in the play, but here it is in order to sue Ginny and Rose to get the farm back. So you don’t even like Caroline in this adaptation, as she becomes a sort of villain, or at least the pawn of a villain. For yes, in this version, Larry is a villain. It’s kind of incredible for an adaptation of King Lear to create a dislikeable Cordelia, but A Thousand Acres does just that. Larry does go a little mad toward the end. In the courtroom scene, he believes that Caroline is dead, but calms down when Caroline stands in front of him and guides him off the stand. There are deaths, as in the play, but no one is responsible for anyone else’s death, at least not directly. Pete dies in a car accident after driving while inebriated. Rose dies from breast cancer. Larry dies from a heart attack (but not from a broken heart, as Caroline still lives at the end), but we only hear about it in voice over. It’s not even part of the film.

Interestingly, though this is a King Lear adaptation, the movie keeps the one other Shakespeare reference from the book, a reference to The Merchant Of Venice. Rose tells Ginny that she wants everything their father had, saying that she deserves it. She then says: “Do you think a breast weighs a pound? That’s my pound of flesh.

A Thousand Acres was directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse. The DVD contains no special features.

Johnny Hamlet (1968) DVD Review


Johnny Hamlet is an interesting and masterfully shot adaptation of Hamlet, set it in the Wild West. It is known by a variety of titles, and the title on the DVD case is The Wild And The Dirty. The title on the print used for the DVD is Quella Sporca Storial Nel West, but the title that director Enzo G. Castellari gave it is Johnny Hamlet. It stars Andrea Giordana as Johnny Hamilton, Gilbert Roland as Horace, and Horst Frank as Claude Hamilton.

The film opens with a strange dream sequence in which Johnny approaches his father. And in voice over we hear: “To die, to sleep, no more. To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub.” And then, oddly, we see a man at the ocean’s shore, lifting his arms and reciting some of Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy: “To be or not to be, that is the question/Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer/The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune/Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,/And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep/No more. And by a sleep, and by a sleep, to say we end-” It is then revealed that this man is an actor, rehearsing the lines (thus the repeated “and by a sleep”). A troupe of actors has a camp on the beach, and Johnny is asleep among them. He has been calling for his father in his sleep. When Johnny wakes, we hear the actor continue with Hamlet’s speech. This is interesting, because the film not only is an adaptation of Hamlet, but makes references to the play. It is an adaptation of the play in which the play also exists.

Johnny takes his leave of the actors and travels home. On the way, he stops at an underground cemetery to visit the grave of his father, Chester Hamilton, his stone reading, “1811-1865, Willfully Murdered.” Johnny is a soldier, and he was at war when his father was killed, and now feels guilty for not being there to protect him. And yes, there is a gravedigger there. Two men – Ross and Gil – threaten Johnny at the cemetery. Horace arrives to help Johnny. Ross and Gil are this adaptation’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and Horace is Horatio. Ross and Gil, in this version, never pretend to be Johnny’s friends; nor is there any mention of a shared past between them. Johnny then returns to the ranch (the sign outside reading, “Ranch Elsenor”), and sees his mother, Gerta, and his uncle Claude in a playful embrace. Gerta breaks off from the embrace when she sees Johnny, and runs to him to embrace him. She reveals to us that he’s been gone for three years, and explains to him that everything would have been taken from her if it hadn’t been for Claude.

Johnny next runs into Ophelia, who has been waiting for him these three years. They kiss, but Ophelia is acting a little strangely, telling Johnny that Johnny’s father likes her and knows about the two of them. Before they can work things out, Ross and Gil show up again and engage Johnny in a fight. They get the best of him, at least for a moment, until Horace shows up to help. In this adaptation, Polonius is the sheriff, and he seems corrupt and a bit mean. There is no Laertes in this adaptation (and so you can guess that the ending will be different from that of the play). Horace hands Johnny a crest of the man who killed Johnny’s father – supposedly a man named Santana. The crest was found near the body. Also, we learn that there’s missing gold at the center of the murder in this adaptation.

At a tavern, Horace says to Johnny: “To die. To die is nothing. To live, that’s the important thing.” And the traveling actors from the first scene arrive. Before they enter, we hear one of them say, “The world is a stage,” an idea voiced often by Shakespeare. The players argue playfully about a mishap in another town, referring to each other by their Hamlet character names, which is interesting, since in the reality of this film there is also a real Ophelia. This Ophelia – the actor – has an earring with the same crest as that found by Johnny’s father. Johnny goes to bed with her, and she tells him where she got the earring.

Johnny returns to the cemetery and has the gravedigger (who apparently never has a day off) exhume Santana’s body. They find the same crest on Santana’s belt. Johnny is actively searching for clues as to who murdered his father and is looking for vengeance. So obviously this is different from the play in which Hamlet is told by his father’s Ghost who killed him. He gets his father’s gun from Gerta, and then rides off to find Santana. Bandits lead him to Santana, and there he also finds Claude, and so now is certain that Claude murdered his father. But there is still the matter of the gold, and the bandits take them along on their search for it, followed by Ross and Gil, who are in turn followed by Horace. And we learn that Ross and Gil were hired by Claude, sort of like in the play.

Meanwhile, in a move quite different from the play, Ophelia is murdered and her body is left floating in the river, along with Johnny’s gun. The Sheriff then believes that Johnny murdered Ophelia, and he goes to the ranch to confront him. Johnny, however, isn’t there; he has returned to the cemetery, where the gravedigger is digging Ophelia’s grave. And as in the play, that’s how he learns that Ophelia has died.

Gerta then overhears a man warning Claude that Santana is coming, and realizes her new husband is not innocent. But when she confronts Claude, Ross and Gil shoot her. There is a good moment when Claude is angry with them, showing on some level he did care for Gerta. Gerta is still alive, and manages to get on a horse, the horse somehow knowing to take her to where Johnny has been tied to a cross and left for dead. In this version, it is Horace who kills the Polonius character, not Johnny. Johnny does kill Claude, but in this version Johnny lives (after all, there is no Laertes to kill him), and Johnny and Horace ride off together. Obviously, there are quite a lot of differences from the play, but this adaptation is completely enjoyable.

Special Features

The DVD includes Shakespeare In The West, which is an interview with director Enzo G. Castellari. He talks about his habit of shooting during the day and editing each night. He talks about the music and about certain shots of the film, and he mentions that the real title is Johnny Hamlet, and that the distributor changed the title in Italy to Quella Sporca Storial Nel West. The DVD includes also includes a photo gallery and three trailers for the film. In the U.S. trailer, there is voice over that says, “To kill or not to kill, that was the question.”

The DVD that I own pairs this film with Chaco.