Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Shakespeare References in Killing For Company

Killing For Company: The Case Of Dennis Nilsen, a non-fiction crime book written by Brian Masters, contains a couple of references to Hamlet. The first comes in a passage written by the murderer Dennis Nilsen himself (author Brian Masters had access to Nilsen’s writing): “It may be the perverted overkill of my need to help people – victims who I decide to release quickly from the slings and arrows of their outrageous fortune, pain and suffering” (p. 215). In those lines, he refers, of course, to Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy. The second reference comes in the book’s final chapter, titled “Answers.” Masters writes: “Allied to the schizoid capacity to misinterpret the feelings and thoughts of others is a desperate, obsessive need that everyone should bend his energies to noticing and understanding the miscreant himself. ‘Report me and my cause aright,’ said Hamlet; this might be Nilsen’s leitmotiv, expressing his desire that at last some attention might be afforded him” (p. 257). The line quoted is spoken to Horatio just before Hamlet dies.

Killing For Company: The Case Of Dennis Nilsen was published in 1985. The edition I read was the Coronet edition, fourteenth impression (from 1992).

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Twelfth Night (Parson’s Nose Theater 2018 Production) Theatre Review

Production photo
Twelfth Night is one of William Shakespeare’s most enjoyable plays. It’s a fun, light, breezy ride, with some delightful characters and plenty of laughs. The new production at Parson’s Nose Theater, directed by Lance Davis, stresses those lighter qualities and features a fairly talented cast. The play has been shortened to a running time of approximately ninety minutes, and yet the cuts were chosen well, as we are not missing any major sections. The only somewhat significant character to be cut is Fabian, his lines given to Feste. The set is rather simple, with a backdrop of a bright bay behind a series of three arches. Four strings of lights above the stage give it a festive air.

The play opens with a brief hint of the storm, done by sound and light cues, as the order of the first two scenes has been reversed, so that we begin with Viola (Jordan Christine Knapp) arriving in Illyria. The production uses modern dress, and Viola is in a yellow rain slicker, hat and boots. What’s interesting about that, of course, is that these are rather manly items of clothing, or at least neutral as far as gender is concerned, so when she later appears as Cesario, there isn’t as drastic a change in her look as there usually is. When Orsino (James Calvert) appears, he has a drink in hand, and is accompanied by Curio and Valentine, who sing for him. As this is a modern setting, Valentine answers the phone, and delivers his message to Orsino from that phone conversation (by the way, the phone is from the eighties, not a cell phone), rather than having come from Olivia’s home.

When we first meet Maria (Mary Chalon), she appears to be quite business-like and serious, both in her dress and demeanor. Nearly Olivia’s entire household is in dark clothing, perhaps following Olivia’s lead in mourning attire. That is, except Sir Toby Belch (Gary Lamb) of course, who wears a lighter colored suit. When Olivia (Taylor Hawthorne) says, regarding Viola as Cesario, “Let him approach,” she shares a look with Maria, then happily puts on the veil. So her ongoing mourning is clearly a bit of a ruse, which is interesting. Maria also dons a veil, to help in Viola’s confusion as to which is the lady of the house. Jordan Christine Knapp is absolutely fantastic as Viola in this scene. On her “Excellently done,” we see Viola’s disappointment, which is great. She sees that what she thinks of as her competition for Orsino’s affections is striking. We really see Viola’s love for Orsino in this scene. Knapp can do a lot with just a look or expression, and does so throughout the production. She is something of a joy to watch.

Also particularly good in this production are Lance Davis as Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Barry Gordon as Feste. When Toby and Andrew enter at the beginning of Act II Scene iii, they sing a line from “99 Bottles Of Beer On The Wall,” obviously not in the original play. And in fact, most of the music used in this production is modern. For example, in that scene, Feste sings “Three Coins In The Fountain” rather than “O Mistress Mine.” When Feste enters for that scene, he is drinking from a flask, making him feel more like one of the boys in this production, rather than more aloof and separate. There is a key reason for this, that being that he also takes on the role of Fabian since that character is cut from this version. Everyone is quite good in this scene, and I love Toby’s delivery of the “cakes and ale” line. On Andrew’s “I was ador’d once too,” Toby and Feste exchange a look, which is nice. And then during the scene with Viola and Orsino, Feste sings “Some Enchanted Evening.” He has a really good voice, by the way.

Because it is a modern dress version, the characters don’t generally carry swords. So for the duel between Andrew and Viola, Toby has to force a sword into Viola’s hand. Hers is much longer than Andrew’s, but when Andrew taps his dagger against Viola’s sword once, it is enough to cause Viola to drop it, thus making a quick end to the fight. Sebastian too is without a sword, but easily disarms Toby. There is, as expected, a lot of humor to these would-be fights.

The character of Malvolio can sometimes steal the show, and there are a few moments when John Rafter Lee as Malvolio does go a bit over the top. But he is also a total delight, even before picking up the letter written by Maria. He rolls his “R” at one point, getting a big laugh from the audience. Even though the focus is on Malvolio in the scene where he reads the letter, one of my favorite moments is when Andrew realizes Malvolio is talking about him. His delivery of the “That’s me” line is perfect. Malvolio says “Here is yet a PS” rather than “Here is yet a postscript.” And he makes a great effort to smile. In this modern dress version, Malvolio later wears yellow and black socks with garters, his pants carefully rolled up. In that scene, he chases Olivia about the stage until Maria steps between them. Malvolio is a character you love to hate, but then often feel some sympathy for by the end. In this version, he appears in a straitjacket, standing center stage, rather than locked in a cage or dark space. Of course, being in a straitjacket, it seems odd for him to ask for pen and paper, for how would he be able to write? And his line “By this hand, I am” likewise feels odd. But there follows a touching moment when Feste undoes the straitjacket from behind him.

The reunion scene is handled well, with a nice stage picture, Viola and Sebastian at opposite sides of the stage, with Orsino and Olivia between them, slightly upstage. Orsino says “thy women’s clothes” rather than “thy women’s weeds.” Because Fabian is cut, we lose the funny bit where Olivia takes Malvolio’s letter from Feste to give to Fabian. And Feste repeats “greatness thrust upon ‘em” rather than saying the slightly varied “greatness thrown upon them.” Malvolio delivers his curse out to the audience, as we are all complicit in his mistreatment, a nice touch. Though the rest of the music used in this production is modern, the play does conclude with its traditional number, sung by the entire cast.

This production of Twelfth Night runs through June 10th. There is one ten-minute intermission, coming at the end of Act II. Parson’s Nose Theater is located at 95 N. Marengo Ave. in Pasadena, California (at the corner of Holly and Marengo).

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Shakespeare Reference in American Pictures

Jacob Holdt, a man from Denmark who hitchhiked around the United States for a long while, taking photos, mostly of the poor and forgotten, put together a book of these photos. American Pictures, the resulting book, contains a Shakespeare reference. He writes, “Just as colonized children everywhere will steal from you when you show them ‘master’-kindness, I found that the adult ‘rip-offs,’ ‘stealers,’ and even ‘strongarm studs’ were overwhelmed by Shakespearean motives: ‘I am one, my liege, whom the vile blows and buffets of the world have so incensed that I am reckless what I do to spite the world’” (p. 258). The quoted passage is from Macbeth, and is spoken by one of the murderers that Macbeth sets against Banquo.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Twelfth Night (2013) DVD Review

I love the Globe On Screen Shakespeare series, particularly as I haven’t yet had a chance to visit this theatre. The productions that I’ve seen so far have been excellent. The Globe’s Twelfth Night is especially good, in part because of its phenomenal cast which includes Stephen Fry as Malvolio, Mark Rylance as Olivia and Johnny Flynn as Viola. Yes, it’s an all-male cast, giving us even more of a taste of what the original audience would have experienced. The production was directed for the stage by Tim Carroll, and the screen version was directed by Ian Russell. There is one intermission, coming at the end of Act II. The second half is on the second disc of this two-DVD set. Musicians play as the actors get ready and the crowd settles in.

Act I

Orsino (Liam Brennan) steps downstage, and the musicians above cease playing, leading him to speak the play’s first line, “If music be the food of love, play on!” Viola rises from a trap door in the floor, as if rising out of the sea. As I mentioned, this is an excellent cast, but Paul Chahidi as Maria is especially good. On “he’s drunk nightly in your company,” she takes Sir Toby’s drink from him. On “in this company,” Andrew (Roger Lloyd Pack) nods at the audience, getting a laugh. The exchange between Andrew and Maria is wonderful. When Viola appears as Cesario, she is dressed in man’s attire, but still wears the long wig. On “a woman’s part,” Viola gives a little nervous laugh. Feste (Peter Hamilton Dyer) carries a pipe and drum, and plays both in his first scene. Olivia is in mourning attire, a black veil over her face. Her line “Take the fool away” is delivered simply and gets a big laugh. There is a moment when it seems Toby (Colin Hurley) might be having a heart attack, and the others all rush over to aid him, a nice moment showing that he is cared for. Of course, his ailment turns out to be something else entirely, leading to his line, “A plague o’ these pickle-herring.” And the others quickly step away from him. There is some humor in the way Olivia moves about the stage, almost gliding under her skirts. Olivia is particularly funny after Viola exits. On “he left this ring behind,” Olivia struggles to take her ring off. She is absolutely fantastic in this scene.

Act II

Samuel Barnett as Sebastian wears a similar wig to that worn by Viola, which works well. Malvolio tosses the ring at Viola, and it bounces off her chest. Viola’s reading of “I am the man” is delightful. Feste sings “O Mistress Mine” without accompaniment on his instruments. It’s a touching moment, and the camera gets close on him. There is some funny business as Malvolio enters to scold the merry group. Toby gives a nice pause before resuming his singing in response to Malvolio. I love Maria’s delivery of “I know I can do it.” I love the joy she takes in making sport of Malvolio. Andrew’s reading of “I was ador’d once too” in this version feels like the beginning of a story that he wishes to tell; but Toby, either not hearing that or not caring, doesn’t reply. We see Orsino begin to take a fancy to Viola on the lines “And dallies with the innocence of love/Like the old age.” For this song, Feste is accompanied by the musicians above. During the song, Orsino sneaks looks at Viola. Malvolio is great as he imagines himself above Toby. And when Malvolio finds the letter, Toby, Andrew and Fabian move the bush that conceals them closer to him. Malvolio takes a long time before he concludes that the “M” means Malvolio. Malvolio exits joyfully, then comes back a moment later for “Here is yet a postscript.”


The musicians above perform before the play resumes after intermission. This act begins with Feste leading most of the cast in a song. They retreat off up center, and Viola enters for the first line of Act III. Olivia is wonderful when she in vulnerable in asking about the ring. And I love how excited Maria is when she comes to Toby and Fabian to describe Malvolio. And her delivery of “He’s coming, Madame” to Olivia is hilarious. Olivia adds an “O” in “Here, wear this jewel for me; ‘tis my picture,” saying “O, ‘tis my picture,” pretending to discover in that moment that her picture is contained therein. A delightful moment. The play moves at a quick pace through these scenes. The forced duel between Viola and Andrew is hilarious.

Act IV

Olivia is fantastic when protecting Sebastian, believing he is Cesario. And she kisses him. She then faints before Sebastian says “What relish is this?” And her surprised “O” is perfect when Sebastian agrees to be ruled by her. Malvolio is locked up below the stage, his head appearing behind bars just above the trap door. Olivia says “Blame not this haste of mine,” then signals for the priest to come in, a nice touch.

Act V

The reactions to “Husband, stay” are wonderful. Viola is so amazed that she checks her hands for rings when the priest mentions the rings, which is nice. You feel for Andrew when Toby calls him an “ass-head and a coxcomb and a knave, a thin-fac’d knave.” Olivia’s delivery of “Most wonderful” is fantastic. Orsino mistakenly first delivers his line to Sebastian rather than Viola. Feste remains downstage right to sing the final song as the others exit. Then, before the end of the song, they re-enter, and the company engages in a playful dance.

This production of Twelfth Night was released as a two-DVD set on April 25, 2015.