Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Taming Of The Shrew (2013) DVD Review

If you can’t get to London to see a performance of one of Shakespeare’s plays at The Globe, you can at least watch many of the productions at home, thanks to the Globe On Screen series. The Taming Of The Shrew is especially fun. It stars Simon Paisley Day as Petruchio and Samantha Spiro as Katherina. While this production does rely on a couple of stale devices – Katherina wielding a whip, Grumio acting as Petruchio’s horse – the performances are so damn good that the entire thing is totally enjoyable.

Act I

Interestingly, it begins with a drunk guy outside the theatre, making something of an ass of himself. He ends up with the groundlings inside and eventually makes his way onto the stage while talking on his cell phone. He then passes out. Of course, he is Christopher Sly. The other actors come onto the stage to discuss what’s to be done with him, and before we know it, we are into the play. What a brilliant way of presenting the induction. I’m thrilled that it’s included at all, for it’s often cut. But in this version not only is it included, but it’s handled ingeniously. While Christopher Sly is in modern clothing, most of the others are in period costume, or are getting into period costume. In fact, Christopher Sly is put into period costume as well before he is woken. Christopher bends down to ask an audience member if he is a lord. The guy tells him he is. Christopher Sly and the person pretending to be his wife step into the audience to watch the play.

Lucentio (Joseph Timms) and Tranio (Jamie Beamish) step above as the others enter. Katherina (Samantha Spiro) rushes at Gremio (Michael Bertenshaw) after his “To cart her” remark. She is then violent with Hortensio (Rick Warden). It is clear from the start that Bianca (Sarah MacRae) is full of shit, putting on an act for her father and others. And Katherina is shown to have some cause for her anger, as she is locked out of her own home at one point. That doesn’t stop her, of course. Samantha Spiro sinks her teeth into this role, as well as bares them. Lucentio has a delightful excitement and youthfulness in his spoken passion for Bianca. During the exchange between Lucentio and Tranio, Christopher Sly shouts out a few comments from the audience: “Vile, intolerable, not to be endured!” In the text, Christopher Sly isn’t heard from after the second scene, which some consider a weakness of the play. Petruchio (Simon Paisley Day) and Grumio (Pearce Quigley) enter from the audience. (By the way, the actor who plays Christopher Sly also plays Petruchio, which is great. He disappeared into the audience as Christopher Sly, and reappears from the audience as Petruchio.) Grumio is hilarious with his sometimes dry delivery. Petruchio then uses Grumio’s head to knock on Hortensio’s door. Grumio actually kicks a bucket over when Petruchio says his father is deceased, and again when Petruchio mentions his father again. (Productions of this play love to make jokes about the deceased father.)

Act II

Bianca runs onto the stage, bound and blindfolded. Katherina enters behind her with a whip, hitting the floor near her with it. Katherina unties her hands, but knocks her down. Bianca strikes back, but upon Baptista’s entrance immediately falls down and takes to sobbing. And we get a moment when Katherina seeks affection from her father, but doesn’t get it. Tranio takes great pleasure in his role as master Lucentio, and is a joy to watch. I love Petruchio’s delivery of “Why, that is nothing.” Rather than having the lute around Hortensio’s head, Katherina tosses the broken instrument onto the stage after Hortensio says “Why no” He then finishes: “for she hath broke the lute to me.” And on “And through the instrument my pate made way,” Petruchio holds the instrument up to his own face, looking through the large hole in it. Petruchio gets delight in hearing Hortensio’s story of Katherina’s words to him. There is a nice moment when Katherina first sees Petruchio, and is quiet, clearly curious about it. When Petruchio says “Why, here’s no crab,” he walks backwards on all fours like a crab. Petruchio chases her through the audience at one point. They are absolutely fantastic together.


Bianca clearly enjoys the attention given her by Hortensio and Lucentio in disguise. After “despair not,” Bianca kisses Lucentio. Biondello (Tom Godwin) is excellent when describing Petruchio on the way to his wedding. And eventually he – understandably – drives Baptista mad. Petruchio’s goofy attire includes a cooking pot as a hat. This production borrows the old Monty Python gag of Grumio tapping two coconut halves together to imitate the sound of a horse. After the wedding, Petruchio puts Katherina on Grumio’s back, and away they ride into the audience. Everyone laughs at Bianca’s joke, but of course Gremio’s joke falls flat. The intermission comes at the end of Act III Scene ii. After the intermission, Petruchio’s servants perform a song. They then exit, and Grumio enters to begin Scene iii. His line “my horse is tired” of course has the meaning that he himself is tired. But he speaks of two horses, which makes less sense when Grumio is the only horse. There is a lot of play during the dinner scene, the scene in which Katherina never gets to eat. Then Lucentio and Bianca are above, while Tranio and Hortensio are below, spying on their love-making. Bianca’s delivery of the lines about taming hints at how she’ll react later during the wager.

Act IV

Katherina struggles to thank Petruchio for the meat he presents to her. And she is hilarious as she watches Hortensio stuff his face with the meat. The roles of haberdasher and tailor are combined into one, as usual, and Grumio models the tailor’s gown. Grumio’s delivery of “I confess the cape” is hilarious. There is a touching moment at the end of Act IV Scene i, where Katherina tears up, exhausted. The scene about the sun/moon is done really well, and Katherina is funny when addressing Vincentio as “Young budding virgin.” Vincentio then turns the joke back on them, directing “fair sir” to Katherina and “merry mistress” to Petruchio, a wonderful touch.

Act V

Music and an air of celebration begin the fifth act. The men take some joy in the bet, stomping and thumping in unison when the servant goes to bid Bianca and then the widow to come. Katherina is clearly in on it when she is ordered to remove her cap. Katherina kneels down at the end of her speech, putting out her hand for Petruchio to step on. Petruchio takes her hand in his and they kiss. Petruchio and Katherina exit into the audience at end, while others engage in a dance. They then reappear above, and the dance takes on a livelier vibe.

This production of The Taming Of The Shrew was directed by Toby Frow, and was directed for the screen by Ross MacGibbon.

Time: 167 minutes

Monday, December 24, 2018

Macbeth (2014) DVD Review

One of these days I hope to get to London so that I can attend a performance at the Globe Theatre. But for now I am enjoying the Globe On Screen series on DVD. Macbeth, which was filmed in 2013 and first released in 2014, stars Joseph Millson, Samantha Spiro, Billy Boyd and Stuart Bowman. This is an excellent production, relying mainly on the performances, with few props and set pieces.

Act I

The performance begins with some music – first bagpipes, then some intense percussion from the company. It leads right to the first scene, and after the first line, all other characters beside the witches rush off stage. Duncan (Gawn Grainger) and the others enter up center. The Captain, however, comes up from the audience, a bloody wound on his forehead. The Captain delivers his lines with excitement, until his wounds stop him. The witches, interestingly, are dressed in ordinary clothing, as if they are able to pass unnoticed among other people. But in the third scene, they strip off some of the clothes, and put on strange crowns, and are eerie as they deliver that speech in unison just before Macbeth and Banquo enter. They then move stage left. Banquo (Billy Boyd) laughs at the prophecy of the witches, before seeing Macbeth (Joseph Millson) takes them seriously. The witches exit through the audience, and Macbeth tries to follow them. Macbeth is startled, then excited when he is proclaimed Thane of Cawdor.

In the next scene, when Macbeth and Banquo enter, the others applaud Macbeth. Duncan actually kneels before Macbeth on “That swiftest wing,” causing Macbeth to quickly kneel before him, so that all kneel, a humorous moment. Duncan pauses after “our estate upon,” as he is handed a ceremonial sword, then continues: “Our eldest.” Malcolm (Philip Cumbus) is surprised at being named. His thoughts seem elsewhere. Lady Macbeth (Samantha Spiro) enters as Macbeth is finishing his last speech. This production moves swiftly. The awe and excitement on her face at the news in the letter is excellent. It is like something she has dreamed of, and now is finally possible. And she will do her best to make it happen. She kneels before “Come, you spirits.” It is an earnest prayer. This Lady Macbeth means business. Macbeth rushes in and embraces her, a sweet moment. He is then surprised by her words. Duncan and the others enter from the audience. On “By your leave, hostess,” Duncan gives her a little kiss. Immediately then cheerful music plays, as in celebration. And all exit.

Macbeth has a great nervous energy at the beginning of his “If it were done, when ‘tis done” speech. And we see the changes of his thoughts throughout the speech. After Lady Macbeth enters, Macbeth gives a short pause before “all sorts of people,” as if he can’t think of anyone really who has “golden opinions” of him, getting a laugh from the audience. He is then surprised that Lady Macbeth questions his decision, a nice moment. Clearly he expected her to back up whatever decision he made. It is a moment when he learns something about her character. Macbeth kisses her before “I am settled.”

Act II

There is some humorous business between Banquo and Fleance. Banquo then becomes quite serious in his countenance before telling Macbeth that he dreamed of the weird sisters, an excellent moment. Banquo senses the fun is over. And it is clear from his reaction that he doesn’t buy Macbeth’s claim that he doesn’t think of them, another excellent moment. Then Macbeth is fantastic on the “dagger of the mind” speech. I love Lady Macbeth’s change from fearless to frightened when she hears the shriek. When Macbeth enters, he carries the two daggers in the hand away from Lady Macbeth, so it is believable that she doesn’t see them right away. When he turns to exit to follow her advice to wash his hands, she then sees the daggers.

The Porter enters from below the stage through the trap door. He has the red nose of a drunkard or clown, or both really. Macbeth adds a line, “Come on, back in your box,” to the Porter, ushering him back down through the trap door. There is more humor as Lennox makes small talk with Macbeth after Macduff (Stuart Bowman) exits. And Macbeth’s “’Twas a rough night” gets a big laugh. Donalbain’s “What is amiss” shows a bit of displeasure at being woken. And Malcolm has something of a haughty attitude. Macbeth carries Lady Macbeth off upstage after she faints.

Old Man enters slowly, thoughtfully from upstage center, and is played by the same actor who plays Duncan, which gives his lines an eerie power, like a voice from beyond the grave. He enters alone, without Ross, and so delivers his lines to the audience. Ross’ lines are cut. Ross and Macduff then enter together, Ross’ first line being “How goes the world, sir, now?” Old Man then goes and sits down, without being noticed by Ross or Macduff, further giving him a spectral vibe. The Old Man’s lines are cut from the very end of Act II.


The Old Man remains on stage as the sennet sounds, and King Macbeth and others enter solemnly. Then Banquo speaks the first lines of the third act. When the others exit, so does the Old Man. On “To be thus is nothing,” Macbeth removes his crown. He replaces it on “fruitless crown.” The murderers don’t respond after Macbeth’s line “Now have you considered of my speeches,” and in the pause that follows it is clear they don’t want to commit the deed, leaving Macbeth to persuade them. It’s a wonderful moment. The servant in this scene, who of course was privy to Macbeth’s discourse with the murderers, remains standing on his spot for the next scene when Lady Macbeth enters and asks about Banquo, a nice touch. Lady Macbeth then sits at the edge of the stage for her next speech. Macbeth shouts the line about the scorpions. Then, without even being conscious of it, Macbeth has his hand on Lady Macbeth’s throat, frightening her. This is excellent, for it is here we begin to see a change in her as well as in him. They are moving in different directions now. There are at first only two murderers. Then the servant enters, and opens the trap door and kills both murderers, then finishes off Banquo.

Macbeth enters happily, greeting some members of the audience while the table is being set up for the banquet. Interestingly, Lady Macbeth delivers her first lines of the scene from the edge of the stage, as if frightened of Macbeth now. The murderer is at the other side of the stage. Lady Macbeth does then come to the table. On Macbeth’s line “our Banquo present,” the ghost of Banquo enters from stage right and sits at the table opposite Lady Macbeth in the place Macbeth would have seated himself. Macbeth then flees into the front of the audience. Macbeth’s frantic toast is wonderful. On his “Would he were here,” he rushes to the side of the stage where Banquo left, as if to make sure he’s gone. Banquo then enters from the other side. Macbeth exits after “We are but young in deed,” leaving Lady Macbeth at the table alone. After a moment, she too exits, and that’s when the intermission comes (at the end of Act III Scene iv). Interestingly, after intermission, Banquo sings a song. Lennox then enters and delivers his lines to him, so Banquo is in effect playing the part of Lord. The Lord’s lines are cut, and after Lennox’s “borne all things well,” he and Banquo exit.

Act IV

The witches now look eerier, with white paint upon their faces and arms. There is no actual cauldron brought on stage (though some stage smoke rises). None is needed, for the three actors make us see clearly what isn’t there. They are mesmerizing in this scene, and a drum beats throughout. They sing the lines “Double, double, toil and trouble/Fire burn and cauldron bubble,” like it is a chorus. Macbeth enters from the audience. The witches play the apparitions. It is truly frightening.

Lady Macduff (Finty Williams) is understandably angry at her husband’s flight. She pauses after Ross’ exit before she delivers her line about Macduff being dead. I like her feisty nature. Lennox is the messenger who delivers the warning to Lady Macduff. Interestingly, Macduff enters for the next scene before Lady Macduff is led off to be killed, so for a moment they share the stage together, though he does not look upon her. It sort of proves her right, doesn’t it? For there he is, and he does nothing (even though, of course, they are in separate scenes). That leads straight to Malcolm’s line about seeking “desolate shade.” On Macduff’s “We have willing dames enough,” he indicates people in the audience. And on “his jewels,” Malcolm indicates a particular man in the audience. The Doctor is cut from Act IV Scene ii.

Act V

The Doctor of Act V Scene i, however, is played by the same actor who played Duncan and Old Man. Lady Macbeth is excellent in this scene, her anguish is frightening. The men of the short second scene are in all parts of the theatre, delivering their lines from within the audience. Macbeth’s reaction to the servant is excellent, as is the Doctor’s reaction to Macbeth’s order to “Cure her of that.” Seyton is the servant from earlier who acted as murderer. When the men go to hew down branches from the trees, they exit into the audience to do so. There is a nice pause after Macbeth hears of his wife’s death, and his demeanor changes. He delivers that great eloquent speech (the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech) softly, and we see that he did love his wife. It is a moment when everything else is on hold, when everything is clear to him, and it is a moment that does not last long. The messenger then enters from the audience with news that makes Macbeth agitated again.

Malcolm and the others enter with branches from within the audience. Macbeth so easily disarms Young Siward that he actually pauses and tosses the sword back to him to allow him a second chance. His fight with Macduff is accompanied by drums, and is quite serious. Macduff eventually breaks Macbeth’s neck, and does not cut off his head. Malcolm then enters, and Macduff says “Hail, King! for so thou art.” So the dialogue with Siward, Ross and Malcolm is cut. At the end, one of the witches plays a melancholy tune on violin, and the actors all return to the stage. The tune becomes prettier, even uplifting. Then the company engages in a dance.

This production of Macbeth was directed by Eve Best, and was directed for the screen by Sue Judd.

Time: 141 minutes (though the DVD packaging indicates it is slightly longer)

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Shakespeare Reference in Pray For Us Sinners

Pray For Us Sinners: The Hail Mary Murder is true crime book about five high school kids who killed one of their friends. It was written by Fredrick Kunkle, and – like basically every book I read – it contains a Shakespeare reference. During the chapter on the sentencing, Kunkle quotes defense attorney Anthony J. Pope as saying, “The loss is the loss, and a pound of flesh, Judge, is nothing more than revenge” (p. 434). The “pound of flesh” is, of course, a reference to The Merchant Of Venice.

The book contains another line that, while not a direct reference to Shakespeare’s work, does remind me of a line from Romeo And Juliet. Kunkle writes, “The cold provided a respite from the late summer’s haze and smog, and on some nights, from certain vantages, Manhattan’s skyline hung like a starry jewel in the sky, but for the most part, it was a depressing time of the year” (p. 149). The bit about “hung like a starry jewel” reminds of Romeo’s line, “It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night/Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear.”

Pray For Us Sinners: The Hail Mary Murder was published in 1996.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

King Lear (Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group 2018 Production) Theatre Review

The new production of King Lear at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre in North Hollywood shows how effective the great tragedies can be in an intimate space without much in the way of sets. With only a long black box up center and a three-step black box stage left as set pieces, and without backdrops, the focus is entirely on the performances.

When Kent (Tom Trudgeon) and Gloucester (Paul Carpenter) enter for the first scene, Edmund (Saint Ranson) is already on stage. He doesn’t react to Gloucester’s rather insulting words about him, but instead maintains a neutral expression. Later, in the second scene when he is alone, he is finally able to react, able to let out what he held in before, and his anger erupts. When King Lear (Robert A. Prior) and the others enter, Lear goes up the three steps, while the others form a line upstage, so that Lear is above them, the proper place for a king. Goneril (Sasha Ilford) is caught off guard when asked to voice her love for Lear, which is nice. Clearly she had not planned any words for the occasion, and isn’t sure just how much to say. When it is Regan’s turn, she is ready because she’s had a moment to prepare something while Goneril spoke. The production is done in period costume, and both Goneril and Regan (April Sigman-Marx) are in regal purple, with Regan wearing red beneath, perhaps an indication of her more bloodthirsty personality.

On Lear’s “Nothing will come of nothing,” he steps down to everyone else’s level. And on Cordelia’s “and true,” she takes Lear’s face in her hands, lovingly touching both cheeks, and perhaps it is that touch that helps make Lear turn on her. This production does a lot with touch, actually. On Lear’s “did hold her so,” he grabs Cordelia (Carlita Penaherrera) by the back of the neck and leads her to the steps. When she stands above everyone, it is more like she stands atop a scaffold than a throne, a nice touch. When France (Luc Rosenthal) takes her hand and leads her back down, his lines are spoken just to her rather than to those assembled, making them more intimate and thus more honest, more true. By the way, Cordelia and Kent are both dressed in similar colors, a light blue, helping to draw a deeper connection between the two banished but true characters.

When Kent appears disguised, he has shorter hair and wears a hood. And when Lear enters, it is happily. His is carousing with his men, and it is striking, because this moment is the most joyful we have seen him, and the most joyful we will see him. It is the only moment when he believes the choice he made is working out for the best. In this production, Kent does not actually trip Oswald.

One of the production’s best performances is by Carlita Penaherrera as the Fool. Yes, the same actor plays Cordelia and the Fool, as it is believed was done during Shakespeare’s day, though of course now that actor is female rather than male. As the Fool, she wears a blond wig and affects a different voice. This casting gives several of the lines a different or stronger meaning. Such as when the Fool asks “Can you make no use of nothing, nuncle?” Lear’s response, “nothing can be made out of nothing,” of course reminds us of his response to Cordelia’s “Nothing.” And here Lear seems aware of it too, giving a slight pause after “made out of.” And the Fool is the recipient of Lear’s affections in a way you feel Cordelia was meant to be. It is almost like Lear is able to do right by Cordelia by doing right by his Fool. There is also the idea that Lear eventually becomes the Fool, making the Fool no longer necessary. This idea is planted early on when on the line “That thou wast born with,” the Fool puts his fool’s cap on Lear’s head.

When Goneril enters, Kent goes and sits in the audience, as if concerned she would recognize him. That’s a really nice touch, for it shows how the people closest to Lear believe he is not in complete control of his faculties already – that Goneril but not Lear would recognize Lear’s most loyal man. I also love that in this scene, Goneril is still gentle in her speech, at least at first. And she becomes so upset, nearly in tears, when her father curses her and delivers the “thankless child” line. Ilford is excellent here. You really feel for Goneril, which I appreciate. Goneril has never seemed an inherently evil character to me. And Lear is behind her, and so not seeing her face, which actually works to make us side with Goneril even more. Cornwall (Anthony Feole), on the other hand, has something of an evil grin from the start, his look and demeanor sort of announcing that he’s a villain.

Both Edmund and Edgar (Christian Sullivan) are fantastic in the first scene of Act II when Edmund is putting into action his plot against Edgar. I love the moment when Edmund hits his sword against the sword of a baffled Edgar, trying to get him to pretend to fight. Edgar’s transformation to poor Tom is handled really well, with him removing his pants and tying his white shirt around his waist. On the lines about dirtying his face, he reaches to the floor as if for mud, and his performance is so compelling that I believe he has found mud and grime there. And his delivery of “That’s something yet” is absolutely fantastic, nearly stunning. In a later scene, when Gloucester enters, Edgar tries to hide his face from him. His performance as poor Tom is captivating, and he does not hold back at all.

Robert A. Prior has many excellent moments as King Lear, like in the scene where he demands to see Regan. Then, after Goneril has entered, at one point Lear starts to embrace her, when he tells her she is “my flesh, my blood, my daughter.” Then he suddenly turns on her. It is interesting how often physical contact in this production turns violent, the main exception being contact with the Fool. When Lear says “O, fool, I shall go mad,” he puts his arm and the fool, and waits for Goneril and Regan to part so they can pass between them, a wonderful moment. As for the famous storm scene, this production uses sound effects and a lighting change, but the storm is sold to us especially by the Fool’s movement against it. Once again, Carlita Penaherrera does an excellent job here. For the trial scene, when Lear says “Thou robed man of justice,” he indicates Edgar. As for Goneril, a male audience member in the front row is indicated rather than an empty stool. Yet the Fool’s line about the joint-stool is left in, which then doesn’t quite work. Lear’s delivery of “Make no noise” is so earnest as to be heart-breaking. Robert A. Prior is quite adept at making the straightforward delivery of a line completely heartrending, as he does again later with “If you have poison for me, I will drink it.” The Fool’s last line in the play, “And I’ll go to bed at noon,” is delivered directly to Lear. Then, when we next see Lear, he is wearing the Fool’s hat, which is interesting, not only because it suggests Lear has accepted his role as fool, or at least that he is aware of it in some manner, but also because it really raises the question of what exactly happened to the Fool. Did he simply give Lear the hat, understanding that Lear had taken over his role until he was no longer needed? Then, on his “stage of fools” line, Lear removes the cap. By the way, Lear’s “scurvy politician” line received a bit of a cheer, understandably given our current political horrors.

As I mentioned earlier, Regan has a bloodthirsty streak to her personality, and there are some fantastic moments where she truly delights in it, to the point that you wonder if this isn’t perhaps her truest self at last. For example, after killing the servant who tried to stop Cornwall from blinding Gloucester, Regan actually licks the dagger. And she takes great joy in that wonderful line, “Let him smell his way to Dover.” April Sigman-Marx is particularly good in this scene, and the moment when she steps away from her husband when he asks for her hand is chilling. It is especially so because a moment earlier she had killed the servant who had turned on her husband, and so we see that it wasn’t in her husband’s defense that she killed him, but perhaps more for her own joy.

One element in this production that does not work is the use of sound effects in the scene where Gloucester is led to what he believes is a cliff. When Edgar is trying to convince Gloucester that he’s brought him to his desired destination, he asks Gloucester, “Hark! do you hear the sea?” At that point, we hear sound effects of waves against the shore. But of course Edgar has not brought him to a cliff at the edge of the sea, and Gloucester even answers, “No truly.” He doesn’t hear the sea because he is not at the sea. The question is, Why do we hear the sea? Interestingly, the sounds stop during Gloucester’s renouncing-the-world speech.

The sword fight between Edmund and Edgar is quite brief, but the ending with Lear and Cordelia is not rushed. Lear’s cries of “Howl” are long, loud and anguished. And he holds onto Cordelia longer than usual, cradling her, which feels right. On his “my poor fool is hang’d,” Lear looks at Cordelia, the moment given extra meaning because of the same actor playing both roles. I am always excited to see how a production will handle Lear’s last moments, when he urges those around to look at Cordelia. Does he, just before dying, believe that Cordelia lives, and so dies happily? Or is it that as he passes into the next realm he actually does see her? Or is he overcome with madness? In this production, as he says “Look there, look there,” he first looks at Cordelia, then looks up, as if Cordelia is rising. But actually Lear is falling backwards, and that causes his head to look upward. What a fantastic way of delivering that moment! It is a strong finish to a really good production.

This production of King Lear was directed by Denise Devin. It runs approximately ninety minutes, without intermission. The play runs through December 17, 2018. Check the Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group website for schedule. Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre is located at 4850 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood, California.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Shakespeare Reference in How To Live With A Calculating Cat

Let me start by saying that, no, I don’t have a cat. I don’t even really like cats. And anyone who owns more than two cats should be put away for the good of society. But I did read a book titled How To Live With A Calculating Cat, and that book has a Shakespeare reference, because it seems that every book I read has to contain at least one reference. The reference in this book is to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and specifically to Lysander’s line in Act I, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” Here the line is presented as “Among cats...... the course of True Love...... hardly ever…… runs smooth……” (p. ? – the book didn’t bother numbering the pages). Why the double ellipses? No fucking clue.

How To Live With A Calculating Cat was published in 1962.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Shakespeare References in Magazines (Screen Actor, The Hollywood Reporter, Oregon Quarterly, Westways)

My apartment is tiny, and yet I keep finding things I had forgotten about, things that I no longer need. Such as a box of magazines. But as I was glancing through them, a couple of Shakespeare references jumped out at me. In the January 1999 issue of Screen Actor, there is an article titled “To Dub or Not to Dub…” which is obviously a reference to Hamlet’s famous soliloquy. The June 29, 2006 edition of The Hollywood Reporter contains a review of a production of Macbeth starring Live Schreiber in the title role. The writer didn’t care much for the production.

The Winter issue of Oregon Quarterly includes a piece on actor and writer Heidi Schreck which contains mention of a Shakespeare play: “Schreck performed in many productions including As You Like It, The Troubles, Springtime, The Bacchae, and Anton Chekov’s Three Sisters, which Schmore directed” (p. 50). That same article contains this: “‘Jeff and I would talk to Frog on our way to acting Shakespeare together,’ Schreck recalls” (p. 50). The Frog in question is a guy that would stand just outside of the University of Oregon campus, selling joke books. I still have a couple of his books. I took a course titled Acting Shakespeare at the University of Oregon, and assume that is what Schreck is speaking of here, and so the writer of the piece should have capitalized the A in “acting.” The Summer 2018 issue of Oregon Quarterly also contains a Shakespeare reference. It is in a piece titled “Icarus Rising,” which is an interview with Jake Swantko, Swantko says, about Grigory Rodchenkov: “He was always lecturing you about food or fine whiskey or his favorite musicians of 1970s Russia, or all these philosophers. He would recite Hamlet to us” (p. 52). Then in the current issue of Westways (November/December 2018), in an article on Peru, one of the sections is subtitled “Into Thinner Air,” a reference to Prospero’s lines in The Tempest, “These are actors/As I foretold you, were all spirits and/Are melted into air, into thin air.”

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Shakespeare References in The Disappearance Of Childhood

Neil Postman’s The Disappearance Of Childhood, a book on the development and decline of the concept of childhood, contain several Shakespeare references. The first is to Julius Caesar, and is in the first chapter. Postman writes, “Historians usually come not to praise but to bury” (p. 5), obviously referring to a line near the beginning of Antony’s famous speech, “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” Then in the third chapter, Postman writes: “Shakespeare attended a grammar school in Stratford, and his experience there inspired him to express a famous complaint (for he had probably been required to read Lyly’s Latin Grammar)” (p. 40). Postman than goes on to quote a passage from The Second Part Of King Henry The Sixth: “Thou hast most traitorously corrupted the youth of the realm in erecting a grammar-school…. It will be proved to thy face that thou hast men about thee that usually talk of a noun, and a verb, and such abominable words as no Christian ear can endure to hear” (p. 40). Those lines are part of a longer speech by Cade in Act IV. Postman continues, “But most Englishmen did not agree with Shakespeare that the creation of schools corrupted the youth of the realm” (p. 40). A little later in that same chapter, Postman writes: “Of course, children have never found such a regimen to their liking, and as early as 1597, Shakespeare was able to provide us with a poignant and unforgettable image of the child who knows that school is the crucible of adulthood. In the famous ‘ages of man’ passage in As You Like It, Shakespeare speaks of ‘the whining schoolboy, with his satchel/And shining morning face , creeping like snail/Unwillingly to school’” (p. 47). This book also contains a reference to Hamlet. In a passage in which he recounts some of the subjects that children hear about on television, Postman writes: “From hemorrhoids to the heartbreak of psoriasis, from neuritis and neuralgia to headaches and backaches, from arthritis to heart disease, from cancer to false teeth, from skin blemish to bad eyesight, there were forty-three references to the shocks our flesh is heir to” (p. 96). Those last words are a reference to Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy, in which he says “and by a sleep to say we end/The heartache and the thousand natural shocks/That flesh is heir to.”

The Disappearance Of Childhood was published in 1982. The first Laurel printing was in April of 1984.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Shakespeare Reference in Angel Of Darkness

Yes, Shakespeare references continue to pop up in nearly every book I read. Dennis McDougal’s Angel Of Darkness, a book about convicted serial killer Randy Kraft, contains one reference. The reference is to Shakespeare himself, rather than one of his plays. McDougal writes, “After an hour of Twain or Shakespeare in the classroom, it was exhilarating to move out to the parade grounds and put the boys through their paces, instructing them in the bearing of arms, returning their snappy young salutes” (p. 66).

Angel Of Darkness was published in 1991. I read the paperback edition, published in May of 1992.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead (A Noise Within 2018 Production) Theatre Review

production photo by Craig Schwartz
Hamlet is regarded by many as perhaps the greatest literary achievement of mankind. Most of the play’s characters, however, might have different feelings about it, as they do not make it to the end. Among those that die along the way are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two guys who were once friends with Hamlet but come under the employ of the duplicitous, murderous Claudius. They aren’t in all that many scenes, but Tom Stoppard puts them center stage in Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead, the title of which acknowledges their demise from the get-go. When reading Hamlet, you sometimes wonder how Hamlet could have ever considered these two to be friends. They don’t seem to have any of his intellectual or philosophical curiosity. But in Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead, they do. Or, at least Guildenstern does. Or is it Rosencrantz? In Hamlet, the two are often viewed as interchangeable, and in Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead, several references are made to that, to the extent that they themselves often don’t know who is who. This idea of identity is one of the subjects the play delves into. But it is also about the question of how much power a person has over the direction or course his or her life takes. Sometimes it feels like we’re just driven along by events, by circumstances, by forces outside of ourselves, and it doesn’t matter what we do. But don’t worry – this is an extremely funny play.

A Noise Within’s new production of Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead is thoroughly enjoyable, and while it may cause you to ponder certain key elements of your existence, it will more often have you laughing aloud. The set is fairly simple, with two stone staircases, one on each side of the stage. A translucent scrim is upstage, behind which a ladder is visible. At the edge of the thrust stage is a series of electric candles acting as footlights, that also seem to act as a barrier to the play’s two main characters. When the play opens, Guildenstern (Rafael Goldstein) is seated center stage, casually tossing coins. Rosencrantz (Kasey Mahaffy) runs around, calling out “Heads” each time a coin lands. After a time, Guildenstern gets up, but continues tossing the coins. It’s interesting, because immediately a distinction is made between the two, as Guildenstern moves about as he desires, albeit in a limited space, while Rosencrantz’s movement seems, at least at this point, dictated by the coins’ movement. They are struck by the improbability of the coins always landing heads up. I love the joy with which Rosencrantz exclaims, “I’ve never known anything like it!” Guildenstern is more troubled by the phenomenon, and wishes to explore the meaning behind it. Rosencrantz is caught off guard by Guildenstern’s sudden command, “Discuss,” clearly not having expected a need to take part in Guildenstern’s rumination.

After Guildenstern suggests they move forward, they march side-by-side to the edge of the stage, stopping before the footlights. There is a sudden lighting change, as well as a magical sound, giving the impression that they are being toyed with by the fates, the universe or the gods. The lighting changes whenever other characters are about to enter, suggesting a change in their world is only brought on by other people. It is the group of actors, led by The Player (Wesley Mann), that first enter their sphere. Mann gives an excellent performance. His delivery of “We can give you a tumble if that’s your taste” is playful and saucy, getting a big laugh from the audience. Likewise, all the following dialogue that basically paints The Player as a sort of pimp receives laughter. When Rosencrantz makes the introductions, he gets his own name wrong, yet isn’t at all surprised by this strange lapse in his knowledge. The Player too contributes to the theme of chance and fate, saying “We have no control.” What’s interesting also is that, though Rosencrantz and Guildenstern seem to have no control over their exits and entrances, they are able to halt the players and keep them from leaving. And later we learn from The Player that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern did in fact leave them (while they were in the middle of a performance for them, no less), but the audience doesn’t see this. So though the two never actually leave the stage, other characters do see them as entering and exiting.

Most of the play’s other characters enter from upstage, through a gap in the scrim. They come in like bright, powerful explosions into the world of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, accompanied by lighting and sound changes, and then leave. The real action is always elsewhere, and while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are relieved to finally have something happen, they are even more relieved when the others exit. In fact, after meeting with Claudius (Jonathan Bray) and Gertrude (Abby Craden), as well as Polonius (Apollo Dukakis), the first thing Rosencrantz says upon their exits is “I want to go home.” Good instincts, eh? He seems to know he’s out of his depth. At times, the lines of Guildenstern and Rosencrantz seem to echo lines we know from Hamlet. For example, Guildenstern says “Words, words, they’re all we have to go on,” making us think of Hamlet’s “Words, words, words.” And when Guildenstern says “That is the question,” we can’t help but think of Hamlet’s most famous speech. By the way, the entire scene in which Guildenstern pretends to be Hamlet is hilarious. And, later, when Guildenstern asks The Player what the dumb show is for, he is likely speaking for many in the audience who have seen Hamlet.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern look out at the audience on the lines about hoping someone interesting will come along. Guildenstern asks, “See anyone?” Rosencrantz answers: “No. You?” Guildenstern says, “No.” Of course we laugh, and that laughter is aimed at ourselves, at the idea that none of us is interesting. But actually they don’t see us. Unlike some of the other characters of Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern aren’t allowed soliloquys and asides. They aren’t given that avenue of escape, nor that element of control. They can’t bring others into their world. Or, for that matter, keep them out. At one point, Rosencrantz blurts out, “We have no control, none at all,” a sudden desperate realization. Before that, each asks if the other is hungry. Neither is, which is another hint that things aren’t real, or that perhaps they already are dead, as the play’s title suggests. And that dialogue, in fact, leads to questions about death. The Player seems to know the future, rehearsing the end of Hamlet before it happens (in what might be my favorite scene of the production), even indicating the number of corpses that will be seen on stage. It is almost has if he is a god, showing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern their futures, though perhaps also indicating that none of it is real. As The Player says, “Truth is only that which is taken to be true.”

There are no weak performances in this production, but there are some stand-outs, including of course the two leads, in rather demanding parts (hey, even Hamlet gets a few rather lengthy breaks in his play). And though other characters have trouble distinguishing between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, we in the audience certainly do not. The third particularly remarkable performance is that by Wesley Mann as The Player. Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead was directed by Geoff Elliott. It runs through November 18th, in repertory with A Picture Of Dorian Gray. There are two brief intermissions, and the performance lasts approximately two and a half hours. Of course, the more familiar you are with Hamlet, the more you will enjoy this play. A Noise Within is located at 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena, California. There is free parking in the Sierra Madre Villa Metro Parking Structure at 149 N. Halstead Street.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Shakespeare Study: Miscellaneous Books

My Shakespeare study will likely never end, as there is so much to read, and there are always productions to go to as well as film adaptations to view. Here are a few Shakespeare books that I’ve read in recent months.

Pop Sonnets: Shakespearean Spins On Your Favorite Songs by Erik Didriksen  -   This delightful book presents modern pop songs in sonnet form, as if Shakespeare had written them. I received it as a gift for Christmas, and a while waiting for a concert to start, I read a few aloud to see if my girlfriend and brother could guess which songs were being adapted. It became a fun game. One of our favorites was the George Thorogood And The Destroyers’ “Bad To The Bone.” Here is a bit of it, in sonnet form: “The morning I was born, the midwives smil’d,/rejoicing o’er the cherub they help’d birth./The eldest cast a sharpen’d eye; the child/she new delinquent was, not cause for mirth” (p. 88). And here is a bit of The Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go”: “My dearest, settle thy uncertain mind/and tell me the conclusion thou hast reach’d!/Will I from here abscond, or shalt thou find/me fit to loiter ‘round here unimpeach’d?” (p. 49). Pop Sonnets: Shakespearean Spins On Your Favorite Songs was published in 2015 through Quirk Books.

Shakespeare’s King Lear: The Relationship Between Text And Film by Yvonne Griggs  -  This is a volume in the Screen Adaptations series. Author Yvonne Griggs talks about some of the film versions and screen adaptations of King Lear, including some that seem a bit of a stretch, such as The Godfather. In doing so, Griggs of course offers some thoughts on the play itself. When discussing Peter Brook’s 1971 film of King Lear, Griggs writes: “It seems that until licensed by Lear to speak she has been a far more compliant woman. However, from this point onwards Goneril’s control of language increases in direct proportion to Lear’s diminished powers of rhetoric. Lear, resorting to ‘curses’ as his only means of expressing his fury, further emasculates himself in the wake of female challenges to his power. During the course of the opening scenes Lear’s language alters dramatically; the quiet commands of the patriarch, assured of his position and power, are displaced by the outraged curses of a man who has wilfully brought into question his own identity and sense of place within both familial and patriarchal systems” (p. 57). Regarding that same film, Griggs writes: “Lear goes against cultural expectation when he condones female speech and in so doing he wilfully engineers his own downfall. At some unconscious level he desires death and annihilation, and it is this self-inflicted abdication not only of control but of language itself that propels him to the ‘nothingness’ that consumes him in the blank screen at the close of the film” (p. 61). In the section on King Lear and the gangster movie, Griggs writes: “The urban underworlds of the gangster movie inevitably stand in ideological opposition to the values of the legitimate world and in this sense explore the same kind of juxtaposition of conflicting values realised in both the western and King Lear, the latter exploring the clash between an old feudal order epitomised by Lear, Kent and Gloucester, and the emerging new order characterised by self-interest and synonymous with Goneril, Regan, Cornwall and Edmund” (p. 118). Shakespeare’s King Lear: The Relationship Between Text And Film was published in 2009 by Methuen Drama.

Granville Barker’s Prefaces To Shakespeare: Love’s Labour’s Lost by Granville Barker; Foreword by Richard Eyre  -  This is obviously a volume in the Prefaces series. Regarding costumes for Love’s Labour’s Lost, Harley Granville Barker has this to say: “But these scrupulous young men would be purists in tailoring too. And a comedy of affectations, of nice phrases, asks that its characters should be expressive to their boot-toes, significant in the very curl of a feather” (p. 45). Regarding male actors playing female roles, and how that affected Shakespeare’s craft, Granville Barker writes: “It may influence his choice of subject; he does not trouble with domestic drama. Without doubt it determines what he will and will not ask woman characters and boy actors to do. Their love scenes are never embarrassing. They do not nurse babies. They seldom weep. He puts them, in fact, whenever he can, upon terms of equality with men; and women have been critically quick ever since to appreciate the compliment, not well aware, perhaps, how it comes to paid them” (p. 55). About Costard, Granville Barker writes: “Costard’s is a nimble wit; we must feel that for diversion he makes himself out to be more of a fool than he is. And the actor himself must be skilful of speech and light of touch, as good jesters and stage clowns were” (p. 71). This book was originally published in 1924. This paperback edition was first published in 1993. My copy is from 1995.

Makbeth adapted by Richard Schechner  -  This play is an adaptation of Macbeth, originating from workshops with The Performance Group. Richard Schechner, who wrote and directed the play, provides notes on the project at the beginning of the book. There is also a short piece titled The Makbeth Maze, written by Brooks McNamara. The witches in this adaptation are referred to as Dark Powers. Several characters are cut from Shakespeare’s work, and many lines are reassigned, creating different relationships. For example, Makbeth asks Duncan, not Banquo, “Ride you this afternoon?” And so Duncan speaks the lines that begin “As far as will fill up the time between now and supper” (p. 6). And interestingly Banquo speaks the line, “There’s blood on thy face.” And Makbeth responds, “‘Tis Banquo’s then” (p. 14). So Makbeth’s line is delivered as a threat. In Shakespeare’s play Macbeth says to one of the murderers, “There’s blood upon thy face,” and the Murderer responds, “‘Tis Banquo’s then.” It’s an unusual and interesting adaptation. The play opened in November of 1969. The book was published in 1978.

Hamlet Globe To Globe by Dominic Dromgoole  -  This book recounts the tale of the theatre company that took Hamlet to basically every country on Earth in a two-year period. It not only relates interesting anecdotes, but contains plenty of information about the play itself, and it what it means to us today. About iambic pentameter, Dominic Dromgooles makes this observation: “There was a warm, happy energy in the room, and I noticed for the first time what lurks within the iambic rhythm – a hidden hope. As each gentle upturned stress occurred and passed from person to person, it pulsed a discreet energy into the speaker and listener, and beyond into the room. It gave a lift” (p. 47). Regarding actors touring Europe in the late sixteenth century, Dromgoole writes: “Amongst that list of actors are some distinguished names, including Ben Jonson and (from Shakespeare’s company) Will Kempe, George Bryan and Thomas Pope. The last two both spent time working in Kronborg Castle in Elsinore, which is a substantial clue as to how Shakespeare knew so much about the tide-splashed rocks without and the cold stone gloom within. Many question how Shakespeare knew so much of the places he wrote about, while forgetting the most powerful transmitter of information in history – conversation” (p. 55). About the narrowing focus of Hamlet (as well as other Shakespeare plays), Dromgoole writes: “When Ophelia rushes from character to character handing out rue and rosemary and columbine, it is not only the flowers she is dispersing, but also the burden of her excess of sensibility. No one is immune. Claudius disintegrates from a wise, sophisticated politician to a clumsy murderer. Laertes casts aside all niceties, social and religious, even before he jumps into his sister’s grave. Families, political groupings, conspirators… All, if set on the wrong path, twist and contort each other into instability” (p. 91). Regarding Shakespeare’s “antic disposition,” Dromgoole writes: “Hamlet knows he is in psychological trouble, and knows he needs a disguise to conceal his pain. The solution is to create a mask that is both true and not true, to create a role that fits the self” (p. 92). About Polonius, Dromgoole writes: “The world of Hamlet gets darker after Polonius’s death. For Ophelia and for Laertes catastrophically, and their grief is a measure of the emotional value of their father. In the world of the play, without Polonius’s fussy, theatrical scheming, the door is opened for the harder-nosed brutality of Claudius. Much of the wit and the comforting human smallness is bled out of Elsinore with Polonius’s passing” (p. 120). Regarding the time when the play was written, Dromgoole notes: “Hamlet the play was born at the moment when chivalry was flailing its last histrionic limbs (the Ghost is in many ways the emblem and the echo of that chivalry) before giving way to a new world of trade and globalisation” (p. 268). About the moment when Hamlet hold’s Yorick’s skull, Dromgooe writes: “In that moment he stares death, actual and bony and hollow-eyed, straight in its fleshless face, and he feels not fear, but peace and understanding. It is a peace that is accessed through history” (p. 320). Hamlet Globe To Globe was published in April, 2017. The copy I read is an uncorrected proof, so it possible there are slight changes.

Twisted Tales From Shakespeare by Richard Armour; illustrated by Campbell Grant  -  This humorous volume recounts the plots of several of Shakespeare’s plays, including Hamlet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo And Juliet, The Merchant Of Venice and Othello. There is also a brief biography of William Shakespeare at the beginning. In the chapter on Macbeth, Armour writes: “The witches hear some dear friends calling, and depart. ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair,’ they comment philosophically as they leave. This must have been pretty upsetting to any moralists, semanticists, or baseball umpires who chanced to overhear them” (p. 47). Armour plays with language, which I love, even cleverly using phrases coined by Shakespeare. For example, in that chapter on Macbeth, he writes, “But the witches, perhaps not liking the way he refers to their elocution, vanish into thin air, making it slightly thicker” (p. 49). The term thin air was coined by Shakespeare in The Tempest. He also writes: “Anyhow, he is too upset to put the bloody daggers by the guards, and Lady Macbeth takes over from her lily-livered husband” (p. 52). The term lily-livered was also coined by Shakespeare, in Macbeth, though it is actually Macbeth that uses the term to describe a servant. The book also contains several humorous footnotes, such as this one, regarding the two murderers in Macbeth: “Later joined by a third, thought by some scholars to be Macbeth in disguise, but more likely an apprentice murderer, getting experience” (p. 55). (Though, actually, my copy contains a typo: “Macbath.”) In the chapter on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Armour writes, regarding Lysander: “Then an idea comes to him. He has an aunt who lives in a town some distance away, where the marriage laws are more lax than in Athens. The town isn’t named, but it’s probably somewhere in Nevada” (p. 71). And in the chapter on The Merchant Of Venice, Armour writes: “On the scroll is written ‘All that glisters is not gold.’ The Prince is chagrined. All these years he has been saying ‘glistens’” (p. 115). In that same chapter, he writes, “‘One half of me is yours, the other half yours,’ she tells him cryptically, hoping he can add” (p. 116). By the way, in the chapter on Romeo And Juliet, Armour uses the Q1 reading, writing “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” (p. 95). At the end, there is a short section on the sonnets, and also a bit poking fun at those people who think someone other than William Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him. Twisted Tales From Shakespeare was published in 1957.