Sunday, August 19, 2018
The next reference is to an anecdote that has come up several times in the past week. Bob Smith writes: “He even has an aesthetic good word for starlings (‘I love their iridescent color’), a species despised by American birders since 1888, when they were introduced here from England by a kook who wanted to establish in our country every species of bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays” (p. 93). (Just yesterday I watched a video about the purple martin, which also mentioned this odd Shakespeare-related story.) The final Shakespeare reference comes in the chapter on couples therapy. Bob Smith writes: “We can blame the overuse of jargon on the Fathers of Psychotherapy, Freud and Jung. They were the Shakespeares of Psychobabble, who originated the id, anima, and the Oedipus Complex” (p. 181).
Openly Bob was published in 1997 by Rob Weisbach Books.
Thursday, August 16, 2018
The set is basically the same as for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, since the two productions are running in repertory, with the only changes being that the colorful strips of cloth are gone, and instead of colorful apple boxes, there are several metal-framed tables set up on either side of the stage. Also, there is a basin on a stand upstage center, with water actually running from the bowl down the two levels of the stand. The pre-show music choices include The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” But no one in this play is going to find shelter, at least not for long.
When the play begins, Saturninus (William Elsman) and Bassianus (Daniel Jimenez) are on opposite sides of the audience, speaking directly to their separate factions. The audience has been divided into three parts, one part in favor of Saturninus, one part for Bassianus (I was part of this group), and one part in the middle for Titus Andronicus. It’s a wonderful way to get the audience immediately involved in what may be an unfamiliar play to many. When Marcus (Richard Azurdia) enters, he takes center stage. When he tells Saturninus and Bassianus, “dismiss your followers,” the audience does not leave, of course (though there is a bit of laughter as those in the crowd realize they’re being dismissed). Titus Andronicus (David Melville) enters from the audience with his prisoners. Rather than using a coffin, Titus’ sons carry urns that contain the remains of Titus’ other sons slain in battle. Tamora (Sabra Williams) goes down to her knees when begging for the lives of her sons, and though she without question becomes a villain in this story, at this point, because of Williams’ impassioned performance, we really care for her, and many in the audience clearly side with her. Stage smoke is used backstage to signify the fire into which Tamora’s son Alarbus is thrown (in one of the few moments where the violence is done off stage).
Titus checks in with the audience before delivering his lines about not accepting the crown. Saturninus grabs Lavinia, clearly against her will, when he says he’ll make her his empress. The action then moves so quickly that Tamora is as stunned as the audience is when Saturninus suddenly chooses her as his wife, a nice moment. Saturninus is delightfully slimy in this production. And I love how later Saturninus becomes unhinged, right at the time that Titus pretends to be. Saturninus is a weak and whiny and paranoid leader, reminding many of us of a certain dolt who is currently pretending to the president of the United States. And like that certain individual, there is humor in Saturninus’ character because of his many flaws, and because of the way they are so pronounced without his seeming to be aware of them, but he is simultaneously frightening because of this.
The characters engage in an interesting dance, a circle around Aaron (Evan Lewis Smith), then exit before he begins his first big speech at the beginning of Act II. Aaron is charismatic, even mesmerizing, as he delivers this speech, and so we can see easily why the queen of the Goths would choose him as a lover. Their relationship is intriguing. When Tamora enters, there is a flirtatious air to her voice, and she then crawls across the stage to him. She becomes even more excited when he mentions that vengeance is in his heart, and after he says revenge is in his head, they kiss. And Aaron becomes more devilish as the play goes on, perhaps in part because of this encouragement from Tamora. After chopping off Titus’ left hand, he uses it to scratch his own beard while telling the audience of his plans to bring Titus the severed heads of his sons. This is a man who has gone round the bend into dark territory, but takes such twisted delight in it that at times we cannot help but be drawn to him.
Aaron hides his coffer of gold under an audience member’s blanket, after rejecting the stage’s trap door as a better hiding spot, leaving that door open. That trap door then becomes the pit that Tamora has Bassianus’ body thrown into. Bassianus’ death is bloody. But that is nothing compared with what is to become of Lavinia. We in the audience are uncomfortable as Tamora’s two sons surround her, and as she begs Tamora for death rather than to be given to these two scoundrels. After one of the sons carries her off stage, the company gives us a moment of humor, as Aaron leads two of Titus’ sons through the audience, commenting on the food that some folks are eating. It’s a needed and appreciated breath after the intense scene with Lavinia, and before the next even more powerful scene. When Lavinia returns, it is through an upstage door that was not previously used, a nice touch. She crawls, her dress bloody, and is taunted by Chiron (Kelvin Morales) and Demetrius (Jack Lancaster), who follow her. When she opens her mouth to speak, blood spills out. Even though those of us familiar with the play expect this, it is still shocking. But it is the moment when Marcus tries to comfort her and she flinches from his touch that is most heartbreaking and captivating. Katie Powers-Faulk does a tremendous job here.
Another fantastic moment follows, when Titus kneels downstage while his sons are in front of the judges. Titus is in tears, and the reactions of his two sons to this sight are incredible. We see the surprise and concern on their faces. Clearly, they’ve never seen their father like this, which is heart-wrenching for two reasons. In addition to Titus’ despair, what gets us is that his sons never saw expressions of his love for them before. And all that is shown in just their expressions. And, while it is they who seem to face their deaths in this moment, their concern is for their father. The sons and judges exit behind Titus, so that Titus is left alone on stage until Lucius enters. David Melville is incredible in this scene with Lucius, and also when Lavinia and Marcus enter. He uses water from the basin to clean Lavinia’s face, a desperate attempt to somehow clear away the pain.
Tamora wears a mask when pretending to be Revenge, and her sons wear hoods and masks when pretending to be Rapine and Murder. I love that all three try to hide their faces from Marcus, believing that anyone besides Titus would see right through their disguises. But of course, Titus is no idiot, and he plays them while they believe to be playing him. David Melville is again absolutely fantastic in the scene when he tells the sons of his plan. And the cutting of the throats of these two rapists gets a cheer from the audience. This production does not hold back on the blood, and the draining of their throats looks great. For the strange banquet scene, Titus enters wearing a white apron and chef’s hat, drawing laughter from the audience. And his matter-of-fact delivery of the line “Why, there they are both, baked in that pie” is wonderful. The performance ended at 10:15 p.m., and it took everyone a moment to catch his or her breath before getting up to leave.
Titus Andronicus was directed by Melissa Chalsma. There is one thirty-minute intermission, coming at the end of Act III Scene i. Yes, the intermission is longer than usual, to allow time for the stage to be mopped and scrubbed. Though the show is free to attend, donations are encouraged, with cast members carrying donation buckets after the performance. There is also a merchandise booth where audience members can purchase T-shirts and sweatshirts. By the way, in 2010 I began seeing as many Shakespeare productions as possible, with the hope – of course – of seeing all thirty-seven plays (no, I’m not counting The Two Noble Kinsmen). Titus Andronicus was number twenty-six for me.
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream – nominated for best picture
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream – winner for cinematography (Hal Mohr)
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream – winner for editing (Ralph Dawson)
In the notes for that year, John Harkness writes: “Write-in votes were again allowed, which led Jack Warner to circulate a memo to Academy members at Warner Brothers asking them to ignore the nominations when necessary and vote a solid Warner Brothers ticket. It worked. Hal Mohr, the cinematographer of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, became the only write-in winner in Oscar history” (p. 41).
- Romeo And Juliet – nominated for best picture
- Romeo And Juliet – nominated for lead actress (Norma Shearer)
- Romeo And Juliet – nominated for supporting actor (Basil Rathbone)
- Henry V – nominated for best picture
- Henry V – nominated for lead actor (Laurence Olivier)
- Henry V – winner of honorary Oscar, to Laurence Olivier
- Hamlet – winner of best picture
- Hamlet – nominated for director (Laurence Olivier)
- Hamlet – winner for lead actor (Laurence Olivier)
- Hamlet – nominated for supporting actress (Jean Simmons)
- Hamlet – winner for art direction for a black and white film (Roger K. Furse)
- Hamlet – winner for costume design for a black and white film (Roger K. Furse)
There is also a photo of Laurence Olivier from the film.
In the notes for this year, John Harkness writes: “‘The only honest way to find the best actor would be to let everybody play Hamlet and let the best man win. Of course, you’d get some pretty funny Hamlets that way.’ So spoke Humphrey Bogart, campaigning for his Oscar nomination for The African Queen” (p. 114).
- Julius Caesar – nominated for best picture
- Julius Caesar – nominated for lead actor (Marlon Brando)
- Julius Caesar – winner for art direction for a black and white film (Cedric Gibbons and Edward Carfagno)
- The Merry Wives Of Windsor Overture – winner for one-reel short subject film
In a section of Oscar trivia included in the pages on this year, John Harkness writes of instances in which actors are nominated for playing the same character in different movies. One example is: “Henry V: Laurence Olivier (1944) and Kenneth Branagh (1989) – both also nominated for directing” (p. 130).
- Richard III – nominated for lead actor (Laurence Olivier)
- West Side Story – winner of best picture (adaptation of Romeo And Juliet)
- West Side Story – winner for directors (Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins)
- West Side Story – winner for supporting actor (George Chakiris)
- West Side Story – winner for supporting actress (Rita Moreno)
- West Side Story – winner for cinematography for a color film (Daniel P. Fapp)
- West Side Story – winner for editing (Thomas Stanford)
- West Side Story – winner for best score for a musical (Saul Chaplin, Johnny Green, Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal)
- West Side Story – winner for art direction for a color film (Boris Leven)
- West Side Story – winner for costume design for a color film (Irene Sharaff)
- West Side Story – winner for sound
In the notes for this year, John Harkness writes: “West Side Story becomes the last double-digit Oscar winner, and becomes the only film with two directors ever to win best director. While there have been several occasions where people who have never met shared Oscars in the writing categories – where writer B rewrote writer A’s script and both of them got credit – Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins shared the directing Oscar after Wise fired Robbins, whom he felt took far too long dealing with the dancers after Wise had the cameras ready to roll. When the two directors came to the podium, each was conspicuous in his absence from the other’s thank you speech” (p. 164).
- Othello – nominated for lead actor (Laurence Olivier)
- Othello – nominated for supporting actor (Frank Finlay)
- Othello – nominated for supporting actress (Joyce Redman)
- Othello – nominated for supporting actress (Maggie Smith)
- Romeo And Juliet – nominated for best picture
- Romeo And Juliet – nominated for director (Franco Zeffirelli)
- Romeo And Juliet – winner for cinematography (Pasqualino De Santis)
- Romeo And Juliet – winner for costume design (Danilo Donati)
- The Dresser – nominated for best picture (related to King Lear)
- The Dresser – nominated for director (Peter Yates)
- The Dresser – nominated for lead actor (Tom Courtenay)
- The Dresser – nominated for lead actor (Albert Finney)
- To Be Or Not To Be – nominated for supporting actor (Charles Durning) (related to Hamlet)
- Ran – nominated for director (Akira Kurosawa) (adaptation of King Lear)
- Ran – winner for costume design (Emi Wada)
- Henry V – nominated for director (Kenneth Branagh)
- Henry V – nominated for lead actor (Kenneth Branagh)
- Henry V – winner for costume design (Phillis Dalton)
The Academy Awards Handbook was originally published in 1994 by Pinnacle Books. The edition I read was the updated 1996 edition.
Thursday, August 9, 2018
A little after 7 p.m., the actors playing Quince, Snout and Starveling welcome the crowd and give the announcements in character, reminding the audience that there is no smoking and to watch out for wild animals (and for faeries). Then the play begins with Theseus (Evan Lewis Smith) and Hippolyta (Aisha Kabia) preparing for their nuptials, with Starveling (Daniel Jimenez) taking measurements of Hippolyta’s dress, a nice touch. When Hermia, Demetrius and Lysander enter, it is immediately clear that Hermia and Lysander belong together, as their costumes are of a similar color. Lysander (Xavi Moreno) also sports sunglasses and has something of a swagger and attitude. You can hear that in his delivery of lines like “You have her father’s love, Demetrius.” Hippolyta, in contrast to Theseus, sees that Lysander and Hermia should be allowed to be together, and she reacts strongly to Theseus’ “Either to die the death,” and that reaction leads to his “or to abjure/Forever the society of men.” Then, when Theseus bids her “Come, my Hippolyta,” she walks away from him, forcing him to call to her, “What cheer, my love?” (Later, when Theseus changes his mind about the couples, Hippolyta kisses him happily.) Helena (Julia Aks) wears a blue dress, a color similar to that of Demetrius’ costume, again showing which people belong together. Interestingly, the design at the base of Helena’s dress is the same as that of Hermia’s, another nice touch drawing comparisons between the two women.
Modern music is sprinkled throughout the production, as when the mechanicals enter to “Come On Eileen.” (Later, when Titania bids Bottom to sing, he complies with a bit of Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”) Quince (William Elsman) has their script on a laptop computer. Bottom (David Melville) has something of an ego, a character that plays particularly well here in Los Angeles. On Quince’s “You can play no part but Pyramus,” Bottom throws his script down and stalks off the stage, leading Quince to entreat him to return. At one point, Bottom speaks some of Quince’s lines, finishing the lines with him, showing he thinks himself in charge. The others then feed Bottom’s ego by asking for his advice on how to present the wall. The only odd bit of casting is Bukola Ogunmola as Flute. She is excellent, but since she is female, some of the humor is lost when Flute is asked to be Thisby in the play. At the end of the mechanicals’ first scene, there are some modern references thrown in, about staying hydrated and so on. Bukola Ogunmola also plays Peaseblossom, and is given the Fairy’s speech from the beginning of Act II. She delivers that famous speech (“Over hill, over dale…”) from within the audience. This company often makes good use of the audience space during its productions, and that is especially true of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Titania and Oberon enter from different sides of the audience. This production follows the usual casting of one actor to play both Oberon and Theseus, and one actor to play both Titania and Hippolyta. I appreciate that casting, because it invites us to draw parallels between the two royal couples.
When we first meet Puck (Kelvin Morales), he enters from a trap door in the stage. He later appears on the floor between Oberon’s legs. And when he exits, he runs off through the audience. The Demetrius and Helena chase also begins in the audience. When Demetrius (Jose Acain) tells Helena, “Tempt not too much the hatred of my spirit,” there is kindness and pity in his voice, which is another nice touch. Interestingly, Helena’s line “We should be woo’d and were not made to woo” gets a huge applause from the audience. She is hilarious later in the scene where she wakes Lysander. When Hermia (Katie Powers-Faulk) and Lysander enter through the audience, there are some brief modern jokes about cell phone reception. And when Hermia bids Lysander to lie farther away, he picks a spot among the crowd to make his bed, again making great use of the audience space and getting the crowd involved in the action. Puck, also in the audience, asks for help in finding the Athenian.
There is a lot of good physical humor in this production, as when Lysander and Demetrius are crawling over each other in their efforts to get to Helena. Helena treats them both as dogs, having them go fetch, which is an interesting touch, as earlier Helena has that line about being Demetrius’ spaniel. So here we see that Helena is in a position of more strength. Hermia reaches to her lowest register vocally for the line “How low am I?” It’s a wonderful and surprising moment. Lysander carries Hermia out into the crowd and leaves her there. And it is Oberon that causes Hermia to utter her line, “I am amaz’d and know not what to say.” Stage smoke is used when Puck leads the lovers in circles. Interestingly, after Puck removes the ass head from Bottom, he dons it himself, as all the faeries engage in a dance. In addition to Puck, Kelvin Morales plays Philostrate, a nice bit of double casting, keeping the relationships intact, as he serves Theseus as Puck serves Oberon. Plus, when he as Philostrate mentions that he saw the play rehearsed, we think of how Puck watched the mechanicals’ rehearsal. This, of course, also adds to the dreamlike quality of the entire production.
The mechanicals’ performance, as you might guess, is hilarious. For it, Quince is dressed in black, playing, as he does, the stage manager. At Theseus’ request, the mechanicals avoid a prologue, and instead deliver a song. Again, the production chooses to use modern music, the song chosen being “Stand By Me” (and actually a really good rendition). As their performance moves seamlessly into a celebration involving all the characters, we hear Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” (and yes, the actors do the “So good, so good” part), leading to a dance controlled by Puck. All but Puck exit so that he remains alone for that famous final speech of the play. The performance ended just before 10 p.m. It was completely enjoyable, a wonderful break from reality. If we are lucky, we might be able to carry some of its magic into our daytime realities.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream was directed by Melissa Chalsma, and is playing in repertory with Titus Andronicus through September 2nd. Check the Independent Shakespeare Company’s website for specific dates. There is one fifteen-minute intermission, coming at the end of Act III scene i. Though the show is free to attend, donations are encouraged, with cast members carrying donation buckets after the performance. There is also a merchandise booth where audience members can purchase T-shirts and sweatshirts.
Sunday, August 5, 2018
The Winter’s Tale).
Last night the company brought its production of The Merry Wives Of Windsor to Los Encinos State Historic Park in Encino. Of the various parks throughout the area that Shakespeare By The Sea performs, this might be my favorite. It is comfortable and pleasant, and the view of the stage is good from basically anywhere you place your blanket. Plus, there are clean bathrooms. Before the performance, artistic director Lisa Coffi and cast members Ellen Girvin and Samantha Winters conducted a question and answer session with the audience, a special treat they do on Saturdays, and they did mention the story about Queen Elizabeth requesting the play. Someone asked how the company chooses which two plays they do each summer. A good question. Of course, there has to be interest in a particular play, both by the company and the audience. Money is lost when they do lesser known works, which is a shame. One summer they did King John and All’s Well That Ends Well, which was great for Shakespeare fans, but didn’t draw in the casual theatregoers. Merry Wives has a broader appeal, and is certainly not a complicated play.
This production starts with most of the company on stage, establishing a playful, cheerful atmosphere, with drinking and merriment. Soon most of the players leave, until only Justice Shallow (Glen Eaton) and Sir Hugh Evan (Jonathan Fisher) remain, the only two characters to be dressed in darker, somber clothing, an indication that they are in opposition to those of a more festive air. The young man they intend to help, however, Abraham Slender (Kieran Flanagan), is dressed in bright green and purple, making their alliance seem a bit shaky from the outset. The costumes in this production go far in helping establish the relationships as well as the attitudes of the characters. For example, Master and Mistress Page are both dressed in green, while Master and Mistress Ford are in red and gold. Interestingly, Sir John Falstaff (Tom Killam) is also in red and gold, as he tries to take the place of Master Ford. (Of course, he also tries to woo Mistress Page, but he puts much more effort and time in with Mistress Ford.) Master Ford is a jealous man, and Falstaff is somewhat envious of him for his riches, so there that further connection between the two characters, highlighted by the choice of clothing. On “her husband’s purse,” Falstaff reaches into his own purse for the letters to Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, a nice touch indicating that his purse merely contains the hopeful plot for obtaining money rather than money itself.
The scene where Mistress Page (Bridgid M. Rose) and Mistress Ford (Ellen Girvin) compare letters and devise their plot is wonderful. The execution of their device is even more enjoyable, as when they speak in a deliberately loud and exaggerated manner for the benefit of the hidden Falstaff, and can barely contain their mirth. At one point, Mistress Ford goes even beyond what she seemingly intended, stopping herself suddenly, a delightful moment. And Falstaff’s entrance is hilarious, when he nervously asks to see the laundry basket. Mistress Page and Mistress Ford are almost in tears from laughter, hiding their faces from Falstaff. And of course there is plenty of laughter from the audience during this, and when the men struggle to lift the now overladen laundry basket. The women certainly have the most fun of any characters in this play. It is really their world, with the men hoping to catch up to them. When Master Ford (Robert O’Hare) disguises himself as Master Brook, he dons a somewhat goofy blond wig, showing that his jealousy is something to be laughed at. Then when he faces Falstaff with his own plot, he puts particular emphasis on the name “Ford” in the line “There is a gentlewoman in this town, her husband’s name is Ford,” pausing slightly, looking, maybe even hoping, for some sign from Falstaff that would indicate that his wife has been untrue. We know, of course, that Ford’s wife is honorable, and so we can laugh at the poor man’s unnecessary antics. I particularly love the moment when Ford leaps into the laundry basket to search for Falstaff, a great, unexpected action.
Doctor Caius (B.J. Allman) makes his entrances and exits through the audience, and is often heard before he is seen, which works really well with his character. The entire cast is talented, but turning in particularly enjoyable performances are B.J. Allman as Caius and Leah Dalrymple as Mistress Quickly. Leah Dalrymple can achieve a lot with merely a glance, a look. There is a running gag about Dr. Caius offering men three kisses, one on each cheek and then an extra one on the lips. When Caius says “I vill cut his troat in de park,” he adds “Any park,” playing on the fact that Shakespeare By The Sea performs in various parks throughout Los Angeles County and Orange County. Jonathan Fisher is also really funny as Sir Hugh. At one point he adds a modern reference, saying, “The power of Christ compels you.” The occasional added line like that can be funny, but I do appreciate that this production refrains from doing too much of that.
I love that we come to care for Falstaff and to feel for him in the second half of the production. He has a weariness that is almost endearing. When disguised as the old woman, he flees into the audience, as if perhaps we will offer him protection. But he is increasingly on his own. Later, when he says “I will shelter me here,” he indicates Mistress Ford’s bosom. Yet he finds no shelter there either. In fact, he has to physically leave the stage in order to find a hiding spot, ducking down in front in an effort to hide himself from what he believes to be faeries. At the end, all is forgiven, and Falstaff is welcomed back into the community, a nice, touching moment.
The performance ended at precisely 9 p.m. The Merry Wives Of Windsor was directed by Cylan Brown, and runs in repertory with The Winter’s Tale through August 18th. Check out the Shakespeare By The Sea website for the schedule of performances. There is one fifteen-minute intermission, which comes at the end of Act III Scene iii.