Monday, September 24, 2018
The novel contains a couple of references to Macbeth. The first comes in a passage that the girl addresses to her father: “Innocent sleep, that ‘balm of hurt minds’ Macbeth speaks of, is not possible for us” (p. 139). She then continues: “We murder sleep” (p. 139). These lines are of course references to Macbeth’s speech after he has murdered Duncan. The second reference to this play comes just a few pages later: “A smell that cannot be extinguished. My body as hopeless of cleansing as Lady Macbeth’s blood-drenched hands” (p. 142).
There are also references to Othello, after Dean hands Carla his handkerchief. Carla tells him: “All right, Dean, but let’s make it a real romantic thing then. I’ll embroider some strawberries on it and give it back to you. Just like in Othello” (p. 150). Dean replies that she’ll have to explain the reference, adding “Our class read Julius Caesar” (p. 150). Carla obliges: “Well – Othello gives his wife this handkerchief embroidered with strawberries. It was one his father had given his mother years before. So to Othello, of course, it is a treasure. He gives it to Desdemona when they’re first married – as a pledge of his love” (p. 150). Dean then replies: “That means you’re Othello then. And I’m Des-mona, or whatever her name is” (p. 151). Michelle Morris then writes: “But it did seem right for us, because I understand Othello. And Dean is as beautiful as Desdemona ever was” (p. 151). Dean asks how the story turns out. Carla says: “The play? Oh. Well, it’s a tragedy, of course. So you can’t expect… I mean. Well – uh, he kills her actually” (p. 151). Dean responds: “Othello? Kills Des-mona?” (p. 151). Carla explain that Othello does love Desdemona, right to the end, to which Dean replies, “Sick.” Carla then says: “No, no. You don’t understand. It was because of Iago. And all the lies he kept telling” (p. 151). There is then a reference to Shakespeare himself: “There I was, Jessie – do you believe it? Making excuses for Shakespeare!” (p. 151).
If I Should Die Before I Wake was published in 1982. The copy I read was a first edition.
Monday, September 10, 2018
Translating LA: A Tour Of The Rainbow City was published in 1994. The copy I read was a first edition.
When the audience is let in, approximately ten minutes before the scheduled performance time, the cast is already on stage, frozen in tableau. Ten minutes is a long time to hold a pose, but they somehow manage it. The space itself contains one raised platform in the upper right portion of the stage, with two sets of stairs leading from it, and three separate entrances upstage. Just before the play begins, the stage goes dark. Then, as the lights come up, one or two actors at a time break their poses and exit, leaving just a few soldiers who engage in a brief battle scene. Agamemnon (Chadwick J. Bradbury) steps forward, unmoved by the battle that happened in front of him, and speaks the first line of the production: “Princes/What grief hath set the jaundice on your cheeks?” This is in fact the first line of the third scene, as this production does a bit of re-ordering of scenes, and cuts the prologue entirely (the tableau taking its place). Agamemnon finds Ulysses’ speech about Achilles and Patroclus humorous, which leads Ulysses (Brando Cutts) to turn his speech onto Agamemnon himself, which then raises the Grecian general’s ire, a nice moment. Brando Cutts is excellent here, and delivers one of the production’s best performances. I particularly like the exchange he has with Nestor (Andy Kallok).
This production then goes to the first scene of the text, in which Troilus (Aaron Joseph) tells Pandarus (Kevin McGrath) of his love for Cressida. It is interesting that this production decides to introduce the audience to the Greek camp first before getting into the story of the title characters. Troilus speaks gently, with a voice of kindness and love, in contrast to some of the more aggressive tones of other characters (and might that be part of the reason for the re-ordering of scenes?). Kevin McGrath is delightful as Pandarus, particularly in the scene where he and Cressida watch the parade of men. Probably the best performance of the production is that by Amanda Swearingen as Cressida, made all the more remarkable by the fact that she came in just four days before the play went up, after the original Cressida took ill. When we first see her, she is adorable, with a coquettish and playful air. Each man that Pandarus describes enters from the audience and takes a spot on the platform, as if they are players on a team being introduced before a championship game, a nice and fun touch. Aeneas in this production is female, played by Ryanna Dunn, who also interestingly plays Helen (so she gets to play on both teams). So Pandarus’ lines about her are changed slightly. But it is after the men exit that Cressida and Pandarus really shine. And later, I love the pleasure Pandarus takes in getting Troilus and Cressida together, even leading them off stage to the bedroom.
Thersites (Leonardo Lerma) enters like a great explosion of color and sound and movement, followed by Ajax (Beau Nelson), in great contrast to him, a pouting brute. Both turn in wonderful performances and are fun to watch. I love that Ajax raises an eyebrow when beginning to consider Ulysses’ words of praise. And I love in a later scene when Thersites does a humorous impression of Ajax, lowering his voice. In Shakespeare’s text, there is some hint that Achilles and Patroclus might be lovers (like in Ulysses’ line “With him Patroclus/Upon a lazy bed the livelong day”). In this production, their relationship is not left in any doubt. When Achilles (Robert Watson) says “no man is beaten voluntary,” Patroclus (Alexander James Salas) coughs, indicating that he likes to be beaten, and Achilles hushes him. The two men then embrace, and there is absolutely no question but that they are lovers. Patroclus is played as a rather doting, admiring and overly effeminate young lover, and not at all like a soldier. The problem with this portrayal is that when the other characters ridicule Achilles, it seems to be in part because he’s gay, and not because of his proud and lazy nature. After all, the others are upset with Achilles because he is avoiding the battlefield, not for his romantic choices; Achilles is supposed to be a tough warrior. I prefer the slightly more subtle indications of the relationship, and there are those too. For example, when Ulysses says to Achilles, “‘Tis known, Achilles, that you are in love,” he happens to be facing Patroclus; but he quickly turns back to Achilles to finish the thought, “With one of Priam’s daughters.” But then Patroclus’ speech lacks the power it would have if he weren’t playing the character so effeminately. There are also some odd choices with regards to the playing of Agamemnon. On the line “Pride is his own glass,” he seems to mimic the act of taking a sip from a cup, when the word “glass” in this case means “mirror,” not something to drink from.
I love Cressida’s playful delivery of “O foolish Cressid, I might have still held off,/And then you would have tarried.” At the end of Act IV Scene ii, after Cressida says “I will go in and weep,” she and Pandarus freeze upstage while Paris and Troilus enter below for that brief Scene iii, an interesting way to do it, for in a sense they are then present while Troilus tells Paris he will deliver Cressida to Diomedes. Once Paris (Courtney Sims) and Troilus exit, Pandarus and Cressida begin Scene iv. Though this production does not do much in the way of set dressing changes, there are two curtains which are used for certain scenes. At the beginning of Act III, a blue translucent curtain is pulled across the stage, and Pandarus, Paris and Helen play the scene behind it. So it is as if we are peeking into their private chamber, uninvited, an audience of voyeurs. On his line “To a hair,” Paris rubs his shaved pate. Later, for the first scene of Act V, the curtain is drawn across the stage again, this time with the actors on the same side of it as the audience is, so it is like we are within Achilles’ tent now. Then a white curtain is drawn across the stage, with Troilus and Ulysses on the far side of it, and Cressida and Diomedes on the closer side. This is interesting, for we are now literally on the side of Diomedes rather than Troilus, as he begins to woo Cressida. Garret Martinez is much, much too young to play Diomedes. You need someone with some power, someone that Cressida would actually be attracted to, in that role. After all, she does sleep with him, despite her professed love for Troilus. Amanda Swearingen is absolutely fantastic in this scene when Diomedes demands a token from her. And I love how Ulysses opens the curtain to reveal Troilus’ face staring in the direction that Cressida exited, a wonderful moment.
Troilus And Cressida was directed by Brandon Alexander Cutts. There is one ten-minute intermission, which comes at the end of Act III Scene i (use the intermission to meet a pig named Hamlet). The play runs through September 15th, so get your tickets soon for this seldom-seen play. By the way, in 2010 I began seeing as many Shakespeare productions as possible, with the hope of seeing all thirty-seven plays (no, I’m not counting The Two Noble Kinsmen). Troilus And Cressida was number twenty-eight for me.
Monday, September 3, 2018
The set for this production has a couple of different levels, and is dominated by the reddish brown hues of the wood that makes up most it. Two lanterns flicker, one on the raised platform center stage, the other on a bench downstage right. Thin white cloth is attached to the top of the various wood frames. As the audience enters, somber music plays at low volume, the music have a religious or spiritual quality. The house lights are fairly low, and the tone of the room is decidedly not one of celebration. When the play begins, it does so in complete darkness, and once the actors have taken their places, the stage lights slowly go up, but are now red, an indication of the focus on the violence of the play. Interestingly, the production begins with part of the final scene, beginning with the Prince’s line, “What misadventure is so early up/That calls our person from our morning rest?” And we see the bodies of Tybalt, Paris, Juliet and Romeo. The scene plays through the Prince’s line, “Till we can clear these ambiguities.” It’s interesting to open on such a dark note. It’s also interesting to end the opening moment on the line about clearing ambiguities, as if the rest of the play will function to do just that.
The music turns lighter as we now go to the beginning of the play. The role of the Chorus is performed by both Juliet and Romeo, standing center stage and holding hands as they deliver the lines, which of course are about themselves and their families. And then the lights become brighter, and the music more festive, as the first scene of the play gets underway. The first quarrel certainly does have a light, comedic feel, what with the biting of the thumbs and so on. But of course we’ve already witnessed where it will all lead, and that gives the scene a darker undertone. (I recently watched a production of The Winter’s Tale, which is a tragedy that becomes a comedy, while Romeo And Juliet is a comedy that becomes a tragedy.) The swordplay in this scene is handled in a serious manner, even in the intimate space of this theatre. When we first see Capulet (Matthew Reidy), he is eager to fight Montague, taking joy in it, as Montague (Nathaniel Akstin-Johnson) is held back by his wife. So we get the first hints there of a tendency toward, or at least capability of violence. Then, when he speaks to Paris (Colin Guthrie) of Juliet, we see the other side of him. When Capulet says “Earth hath swallow’d all my hopes but she,” he smiles fondly on “but she,” which is nice, showing the love he has for his daughter, as well as her importance to him. Paris seems a kindly, nice man, which is good. After all, he is no villain, and is kinsman to the Prince. You can imagine that he might have made a decent match for Juliet, had she not met Romeo.
The friendship between Romeo (Alfonso Ramirez) and Benvolio (Isaac Jimenez) is done well. When Benvolio delivers the line “Examine other beauties,” he turns Romeo’s head toward the audience, indicating the women in front of him. Then, a little later, Romeo turns Benvolio’s head to the sky on his line about the “all-seeing Sun,” a nice touch. I also like that when Romeo reads the servant’s list of names, he and Benvolio get excited upon reading their friend Mercutio’s name. Mercutio (Larry Mayorquin) is presented with a good amount of play and enjoyment, particularly in the scene where he and Benvolio are looking for Romeo after they’ve left the Capulet party. Mercutio is clearly enjoying the effects of liquor.
Another element that strikes me about this production is how the Nurse acts as both friend and parent to Juliet, but is in the employ of Juliet’s parents and ultimately her loyalty to Juliet basically remains within those bounds. And it is when Juliet realizes that that she seems suddenly grown up and also alone. When we first see the Nurse (Linda Bisesti, giving one of the production’s best performances), she enters above and takes a swill after setting down her work. It is clear from Lady Capulet’s expression that the Nurse often rambles on, as she does in her first scene. And Juliet (Samantha Avila) delights in the Nurse’s rambling. We see plainly the affection Juliet has for her. By the way, this production draws a fairly strong parallel between the Nurse and Mercutio, through their common love for liquor. And each truly does play a similar role in the lives of Juliet and Romeo respectively. Both are comedic characters who show a strong sense of loyalty, but who have ties to more powerful characters – the Nurse to Capulet and Lady Capulet, Mercutio to the Prince.
The party scene where Romeo and Juliet first meet begins with a great deal of joy, particularly on the part of Capulet, who is in his element, and who actually makes it a point to avoid any violence, ordering Tybalt to stand down when he spies Romeo among the revelers. He doesn’t want the festivities spoiled, and sees no danger in Romeo’s presence. In fact, there is a nice moment where he lifts Romeo and Benvolio’s masks slightly, indicating to them he knows who they are but that they are in no danger for it. There is even a bit of good-natured teasing in that action, as he does it on the line “I thank you, honest gentlemen.” It is while Capulet and Tybalt talk that Romeo and Juliet have their first dance together, and then all the actors freeze while Tybalt (William Dinwiddie) addresses the audience. (By the way, while I like Tybalt’s performance, I could certainly do without the eye patch.) Then, when Romeo and Juliet have their “pilgrim” dialogue, everyone else remains frozen. It is as if time stops, and the world stops around them. Isn’t that the way it is when you meet your love? Also, in that way, no one witnesses their kiss, though they are among the other guests. During the balcony scene, Juliet says “that which we call a rose/By any other name,” following the Q1 reading, rather than the preferred Q2 and Folio reading of “any other word.” I love Juliet’s delivery of “A thousand times good night,” hushing him, as if sweetly trying to tell him the conversation is over (which of course it isn’t). Romeo has a great, youthful energy in this scene and especially in the scene where he goes to see Friar Lawrence.
Several of the actors seem a bit young for their roles, including those playing Lady Capulet and Lady Montague (but of course this production is at a college). Friar Lawrence is also young in this production, but that works quite well for the direction in which his character is taken. When we first see him, Friar Lawrence (Chase Atherton) is tending the plants. A young woman watches him, flirtatiously showing him her legs. And the Friar is not at all opposed to this behavior; in fact, he flirts too. This is a young and handsome Friar, and their flirting ends only when Romeo enters, interrupting and scaring off the girl. That gives the Friar’s line “Our Romeo hath not been in bed tonight” a different feel, because that is already on his mind. And later, when the Friar gives advice to Romeo, we see it comes from experience – in part because of his earlier flirting, and in part from Atherton’s vocal delivery.
After stabbing Mercutio, Tybalt quickly exits, realizing his grave error. What’s also wonderful here is that Romeo, for a time, thinks Mercutio is playing, as we can tell by his delivery of “the hurt cannot be much.” Mercutio’s “A plague o’ both your houses” is done out to the audience, as if we all share some of the responsibility for what has occurred. Then, after hearing that Mercutio is dead, Romeo – who was previously unarmed – grabs a sword and goes after Tybalt after saying his line “This but begins the woe others must end,” as if he is the one who must end them. This is obviously different from other productions (and from the text), in which Tybalt returns (Benvolio even has a line to indicate as such: “Here comes the furious Tybalt back again.”) The fight between Romeo and Tybalt is excellent. It is serious and long, and ultimately bloody. Romeo is determined to kill him, and his actions are surprising, even to himself. By the way, because Romeo goes after Tybalt, when Benvolio then delivers his line “But by and by comes back to Romeo,” he is not being truthful, which seems out of character. I love the way the Prince (Josh Adler) delivers the line “Bear hence this body,” regarding Tybalt, the word “body” spoken with some disgust and anger. A little later, when Romeo is with Friar Lawrence, his hand shakes – a nice touch, showing not only his nerves, but also his guilt, as it was his hand that ended Tybalt’s life.
It is when Juliet says she cannot marry Paris that Capulet begins to lose it. On “Mistress minion you,” he almost slaps her, but stays his hand. His anger has risen to the surface, and it’s like all of his emotions that he’s held in check for so long are now in play. After all, his nephew was just killed, and all the work he’s put into making a good match for his only living child is now being thwarted. And he eventually does slap Juliet. And when the Nurse intervenes, he threatens to hurt her too, while Lady Capulet stands quietly off to the side. After Juliet goes to her mother and is told “I have done with thee,” she is left alone on the floor. It’s a great moment, when we see a helpless child and can feel her desperation. Remember, Juliet is only thirteen. At that moment, she can still turn to the Nurse, and does so. But when the Nurse urges her to marry Paris, Juliet understands that she is truly alone and will get no help from anyone in her household. It is then that we see her grow up.
Juliet’s reaction to Paris’ kiss is wonderful, and her delivery of “O shut the door” receives a laugh from the audience. But perhaps her best moment is when she is going to drink the potion. She starts to take a sip from the vial, but then stops herself, saying “What if it be a poison?” Her delivery of the following speech is excellent. This production gives us both the scene with the servants just before the Capulet party and the scene with the musicians after what seems to be Juliet’s corpse is discovered, two bits that are often cut. The musicians are women in this production, which gives the line “Answer me like men” a different sense, and a chance for some humor, as afterward the women speak their lines with low, mannish voices. It is the final bit of humor before the play’s tragic ending. Romeo pauses before “Here’s to my love,” and you almost think Juliet will wake in time, another excellent moment. Juliet’s death feels a bit rushed. Then when everyone else enters, the opening moment is not repeated, but the scene picks up after that, with Friar Lawrence saying “All this I know.” The production then concludes with Romeo and Juliet rising to perform the Chorus again, so that the final line is “What here shall miss our toil shall strive to mend.”
Romeo And Juliet was directed by Robert Shields. There is one fifteen-minute intermission, coming directly after Tybalt’s death in Act III Scene i. This production is at the Studio Theatre, an intimate theatre on the campus of California State Polytechnic University in Pomona. There are only a few more performances, so pick up your tickets soon.
Saturday, September 1, 2018
|production photo by Ian Flanders|
The space has multiple levels and this production makes great use of them all. As for set pieces, there is a bust on a pedestal up left to help signify Rome, and a purple flag down right to signify Corioli, and not much else. Not much else is needed. The company does all the work here, and the action moves swiftly. As the play opens, citizens enter from various spots, including behind the audience, giving us the feel of being in the middle of the uprising. In this production, Menenius Agrippa is female, played by Melora Marshall, who gives one of the strongest performances. (Marshall also co-directed the play with Ellen Geer.) I love, for example, the mirth with which she delivers the line “You, the great toe of this assembly.” She seems to not only truly inhabit the world of the play, but to thrive there, and it is a joy to watch her. She is particularly good in the first scene of Act II, when she speaks with the tribunes. There is a spot just to the right of the audience where Menenius delivers her first speeches, and it is there too that Coriolanus (David De Santos), known still as Caius Martius, delivers his first speech. Then, after he’s moved to the center of stage, when he refers to citizens as “rats,” several of them are huddled in front of the stage, beneath him, like rats in gutters. The staging of the play gives us many meaningful arrangements like that. (I also appreciate that when Coriolanus later enters in the gown of humility, he stands in the same spot where he first spoke, which shows that his attitude has not really changed.)
When we first meet Volumnia (Ellen Geer), she enters above stage left, with her daughter-in-law Virgilia (Michelle Wicklas) entering below her, another meaningful bit of staging. Ellen Geer gives another of the production’s best performances. In the line about Caius being likely to find fame, she stresses the word “fame,” while Virgilia is below her, distraught. Volumnia takes joy in talking about war, and even engages the child in a bit of mock battle. And later I love the dialogue between her and Menenius about the wounds, the ridiculous glory of being hurt, but not hurt too much. By the way, below that dialogue we hear the sound of marching feet like a heartbeat. After Caius enters, Volumnia’s delivery of the line “But O! thy wife” is perfect, showing that Volumnia believes herself to be the most important woman in her son’s life, as the earlier staging also showed. Also, in that scene, some people are crouched in front of the stage, and Volumnia acknowledges them below her, reminding us of her son doing the same thing earlier, showing us where Coriolanus likely obtained his own attitude and demeanor.
The battles are also staged well, the large company using the entire stage, with a lot going on simultaneously. I particularly like the use of an actual ladder when the Romans first attempt to take Corioli, after the line “Ladders, ho!” That ladder is then pushed down, with someone on it, which is impressive. The ladder is put to good use during the rest of the battle too. And we do get a chance to witness Coriolanus’ bravery in battle, as well as something of his bloody nature. He seems not only furious, but desperate to fight Aufidius (Max Lawrence). And when he suddenly is surrounded, so are we in the audience, a nice touch. The battle between Coriolanus and Aufidius, in contrast, is just the two of them, so our focus is narrowed. There is a wonderful moment afterward when Aufidius falls, then defiantly stands, then falls again, and is helped up. You really feel for Aufidius in that moment, and may even want to help him rise.
I love that the tribunes take center stage as they lure the people’s hearts away from Coriolanus. The tribunes are surrounded by the common people, and it’s as easy to get them to side against Coriolanus as it was to get them to side with him earlier. It’s interesting because the parallel between the tribunes and Coriolanus is strong, and the voices of the people are so easily and cheaply bought and re-bought. It’s difficult to keep from thinking of the citizens of our own country now, and how certain factions are almost eager to be told what to think and how to vote. When it is said that Coriolanus will be banished, Coriolanus ascends the stairs up left, with Menenius between him and the people. And when he finally explodes, shouting “I banish you” to the people, Coriolanus is once again above them. It is interesting that he deliberately ascends for those lines, as if he wants to feel above them even though in a way he is at his most powerless here, and his cry of “I banish you” is rather impotent and toothless. Yet, we understand his perspective. Being called a traitor by those goaded to do so would be infuriating to one who had done such service to his country. And David De Santos does an excellent job here. I also like that after that we finally get a moment of affection between him and his wife. Then later when Volumnia says “And then I’ll speak a little,” she notices that Coriolanus is in tears below her (in the very place where the “rats” once were, another nice touch), and we see love between mother and son, as she comforts him in his need for her.
Coriolanus was directed by Ellen Geer and Melora Marshall. There is one fifteen-minute intermission coming at the end of Act II, and the performance lasts approximately two hours and fifteen minutes (including intermission). The production is done in period costume, designed by Robert Merkel. The play runs only through September 23rd, so get your tickets soon. Visit the Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum website for the full schedule. By the way, in 2010 I began seeing as many Shakespeare productions as possible, with the hope of seeing all thirty-seven plays (no, I’m not counting The Two Noble Kinsmen). Coriolanus was number twenty-seven for me.