Thursday, May 30, 2019

Shakespeare References in Pygmalion

Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion contains a few references to Shakespeare. Henry Higgins, early in the play when he still identified as “The Note Taker,” says to Eliza Doolittle, “Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech: that your native language is the language of Shakespear and Milton and The Bible” (p. 20). And, yes, that is how Shakespeare’s name is spelled in the text. Later Higgins says to Pickering, about Eliza, “This unfortunate animal has been locked up for nine years in school at our expense to teach her to speak and read the language of Shakespear and Milton” (P. 55). And still later, Higgins says to Pickering, “Lets take her to the Shakespear exhibition at Earls Court” (p. 71). And yes, “Let’s” is spelled without the apostrophe in the text.

Pygmalion was first published in 1916. The edition I read is the Penguin Books edition from 1973, which includes additional material from George Bernard Shaw from 1942.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Shakespeare References in Begin The Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years

Yes, Shakespeare references continue to pop up in nearly every book I read. Robert Dean Lurie’s new book about the band R.E.M., Begin The Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years, contains a few Shakespeare references. The first is a reference to Romeo And Juliet, and it comes when Lurie is mentioning other names the band considered before settling on R.E.M., names such as Slut Bank and Can Of Piss. Lurie writes, “Sometimes a rose by any other name really doesn’t smell as sweet” (p. 83). As most people seem to do, he is referring to the Q1 line of “By any other name” rather than the preferred Folio reading of “That which we call a rose/By any other word would smell as sweet.” The second reference is to Richard The Third, though really it’s Lawrence Durrell who makes the reference in The Black Book, which Lurie quotes here: “Even the ones like pale nipples, delicately freckled and melodious, are forgotten in this morning, where our one reality is the Levantine wind, musty with the smell of Arabia, stirring the bay into a muddy broth. This is the winter of our discontent” (p. 204). That last line refers to the first line of Richard The Third, “Now is the winter of our discontent.” The final reference is simply a mention of the band Trip Shakespeare (p. 228).

Begin The Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years was published in May, 2019 through Verse Chorus Press.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Noises Off (A Noise Within’s 2019 Production) Theatre Review

Noises Off production photo by Craig Schwartz
A Noise Within’s production of Noises Off enjoyed a sold-out run last year, with audience members returning to see it two and three times. It was so popular that folks requested its return. Never one to disappoint an audience, A Noise Within has brought the production back for a limited run. So, if like me, you missed it last year, here is your chance to enjoy this absolutely delightful comedy, with the same cast and direction. I generally review only Shakespeare productions, but Noises Off contains a play within a play, and what could be more Shakespearean than that? It also contains references to both Hamlet and Richard The Third. It is a play that anyone who has ever been involved in theatre can appreciate. And for everyone else, well, there is a certain delight to be taken in watching things fall apart, don’t you find? Provided, of course, that things aren’t falling apart for us personally. And things certainly do fall apart for the characters in Noises Off.

The play is divided into three acts, and in each of those acts we see the same play from different perspectives. First, from the director’s perspective during the play’s final dress rehearsal (even if some of the actors believe it is the tech rehearsal), then from the actors’ perspective backstage, and finally from an audience’s perspective. It is an interesting effect, essentially not seeing the play from what would be our own perspective as audience members until we’d already seen it from everyone else’s perspective and become enamored of these characters. It’s good that we get a chance to see it multiple times because our own laughter sometimes drowns out certain lines and we need another chance to hear them. In fact, last night even before a single line was spoken, certain people in the audience were laughing, as if in anticipation of the lines. Clearly, they had seen the production before.

When the play begins, a housekeeper enters and answers the telephone, letting the person on the other end know that the house’s owners are away in Spain. It isn’t until we hear a voice from within the audience call out, “You leave the sardines,” that we realize this woman isn’t a somewhat batty character, but a somewhat batty actor. Well, still a character from our perspective, but you know what I mean. Lloyd, the play’s director, remains in the audience for most of this first act, and so it is from his perspective that we view the proceedings, as he tries to push these actors through the final rehearsal. When one actor looks for his motivation for a certain bit of business, the director, exasperated, says, “Why does anyone do anything?” We feel his pain, particularly when he is seated among us.

For the second act, the set has been turned around, so now we are backstage. Visible are the costume racks and props table and stage manager’s station. The production has been up for a while, and there are new troubles, leading Lloyd at one point to say, “I think this show is beyond the help of a director.” By the way, the pace of this play is fast, particularly in this second act. Its momentum is tremendous. So much is happening all at once. And everything that is established in the first act pays off beautifully in the second and third acts. For the third act, the set is turned around once again so that we in the audience are now the audience for the play within the play. (By the way, the stagehands received applause when turning the set around during the short intermission. That gives you an idea of how much the crowd loves this production.)

There is a lot of physical humor, with the slamming of doors, and entrances and exits. And, after all, isn’t that what it’s all about? Doors and sardines, getting on, getting off. The play is a fun romp. Just the sort of thing one might need in order to, say, take one’s mind off the destruction of the environment or the end of democracy. And the entire cast is fantastic. I was especially excited to see Erika Soto as Poppy, the stage manager. I fell under her spell during her work with the Independent Shakespeare Company, and her Juliet is still the best I’ve ever seen on the stage. I recently saw Jeremy Rabb give a wonderful performance as Roderigo in Othello, and here he a total delight as Frederick. But probably the best performance is given by Kasey Mahaffy as Garry. I thought he did an excellent job as Rosencrantz in last year’s production of Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead, but here he is an undeniable comedic force, a whirlwind of hilarity, and an absolute joy to watch. But as I said, the entire cast is wonderful.

This production of Noises Off runs only through June 9th, so get your tickets soon. We can all use a laugh these days, and this production provides plenty of them. A Noise Within is located at 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena, California.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Shakespeare Reference in Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor

I walked to my local gaming store the other day to buy more dice (I always want more dice), and as it was Free Comic Book Day, I picked up a comic book too. It is issue 00 of Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor, and it contains a Shakespeare reference. The Doctor says “Something wicked this way comes.” Her next line is “Ray Bradbury, lovely man.” That seems to imply that the Doctor believes the line originated with Ray Bradbury. It did not. The line “Something wicked this way comes” is from Act IV Scene i of Macbeth: “By the pricking of my thumbs,/Something wicked this way comes.”

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor is published by Titan Comics. This issue was written by Jody Houser, with most of the art done by Giorgia Sposito. The colorist was Tracy Bailey.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Shakespeare References in Going Down: Lip Service From Great Writers

Going Down: Lip Service From Great Writers is a collection of short pieces from various authors on the subject of oral sex. Two of the pieces in this book contain Shakespeare references, and actually both references are to Hamlet. The first comes from Jadis by Ken Chowder: “On impulse Egg yanked a piece of Spanish moss from a passing tree and twirled it around Tory’s head. ‘A makeshift crown,’ he proclaimed. ‘A laurel wreath. A garland for poor drowned Ophelia’” (p. 83). By the way, I’m fairly certain it was Egg and not the tree that was doing the passing. Trees on the go! The second Hamlet reference comes from Teleny, a book attributed largely to Oscar Wilde: “‘Was it because the Almighty had fixed His canon against self-slaughter?’” (p. 102). In Act I Scene ii, Hamlet says, “Or that the Everlasting had not fixed/His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter!” Going Down: Lip Service From Great writers was published in 1998 by Chronicle Books.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Shakespeare References in Portrait Of A Killer

In Portrait Of A Killer: Jack The Ripper Case Closed, author Patricia Cornwell claims to prove that artist Walter Sickert was the notorious killer. She doesn’t make a very convincing case, and takes a long time to not make it. But along the way, there are several Shakespeare references. The first is a mention of Henry The Fifth: “As a boy, Sickert frequently sketched men in uniforms and armor. As Mr. Nemo, the actor, his most critically acclaimed performance was in 1880, when he played a French soldier in Shakespeare’s Henry V” (p. 23). A little later, Cornwell writes: “When Walter was a bit older, after the family had moved to England in 1868, he began recruiting friends and siblings to play scenes from Shakespeare, and some of his stage direction was nasty and degrading” (p. 47). She then quotes an unpublished memoir from Sickert’s sister: “I must have been a child when [Walter] roped us in to rehearse the three witches to his Macbeth in a disused quarry near Newquay, which innocently I thought was really called ‘The Pit of Achaeron.’ Here he drilled us very severely. I was made (being appropriately thin and red-haired) to discard my dress & shoes & stockings, in order to brood over the witches cauldron, or stride around it, regardless of thorns and sharp stones, in my eyes the acrid smoke of scorching seaweed” (p. 47).

There are a couple of references to Hamlet. Cornwell writes, “In 1881, he tagged along with Ellen Terry as she hit the shops of Regent Street in search of gowns for her role as Ophelia at the Lyceum” (p. 63). And then: “In most productions of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the ghost enters and exits through the trap. Sickert probably knew far more about stage traps than sewer traps. In 1881, he played the ghost in Henry Irving’s Hamlet at the Lyceum Theater. The dark shape at the figure’s feet in Sickert’s painting could be a theater trap. It could be a sewer trap” (p. 68).

Patricia Cornwell even claims that the name Jack The Ripper comes from Shakespeare: “Sickert could have come up with the name ‘Jack the Ripper’ by reading Shakespeare. As Helena Sickert said in her memoirs, when she and her brothers were growing up, they were all ‘Shakespeare mad,’ and Sickert was known to quote long passages of Shakespeare. Throughout his life he loved to stand up at dinner parties and deliver Shakespearean soliloquies. The word Jack is found in Coriolanus, The Merchant of Venice, and Cymbeline. Shakespeare doesn’t use the word ripper, but there are variations of it in King John and Macbeth” (pages 112-113).

Apparently, there was (still is?) a pub called the Merry Wives of Windsor. Cornwell writes: “One day, a wretched-looking woman, having the appearance of a tramp, appeared at the Merry Wives of Windsor public house and inquired about Chapman” (p. 147). She mentions it again: “The woman at the door of the Merry Wives of Windsor informed the tramp that Mr. Chapman had died on Christmas day” (p. 147). There is another mention of Henry The Fifth: “In one of the earliest existing Sickert letters, one he wrote in 1880 to historian and biographer T.E. Pemberton, he described playing an ‘old man’ in Henry V while on tour in Birmingham. ‘It is the part I like best of all,’ he wrote” (p. 154).

Regarding a guest book that Patricia Cornwell believes was vandalized by Jack The Ripper, she writes, “The page is filled in with scribbles and comments and allusions to Shakespeare, most of it crude and snide” (p. 264). There is another mention of Hamlet: “I don’t know where Sickert spent his holidays, but I suspect he would have wanted to be in London on the last Saturday of the year, December 29th, when Hamlet opened at the Lyceum, starring Henry Irving and Ellen Terry” (pages 279-280). Regarding Sickert’s wife, and the similarities she might have seen between Sickert and her father, Cornwell writes, “He loved Shakespeare, Byron, Irving and Cooper” (p. 306).
Portrait Of A Killer: Jack The Ripper Case Closed was published in 2002. The copy I read was the Berkley mass-market edition, published in 2003.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

William Shakespeare’s Jedi The Last, Star Wars Part The Eighth by Ian Doescher (2018) Book Review

Star Wars and Shakespeare are two passions of mine. Except that Star Wars really no longer is, because Disney killed it with that atrocious, money-grabbing scheme called The Force Awakens. That was the end of Star Wars for me. Disney killed my passion, as it kills everything. Disney is the destroyer of good things. So I haven’t seen any of the Star Wars films released since then, including The Last Jedi. However, I’ve been so thoroughly enjoying Ian Doescher’s series of Star Wars Shakespeare adaptations that I still wanted to read his version of The Last Jedi, titled William Shakespeare’s Jedi The Last, Star Wars Part The Eighth. And I was curious what I would make of it, not having seen the film and so not being familiar with its plot or new characters (what the hell’s a porg?).

As with the other books (and with Shakespeare’s plays), Jedi The Last is divided into five acts, and is delivered in iambic pentameter (something I always find impressive). The Chorus delivers the prologue. Ian Doescher works a lot of Shakespeare’s lines into this book. For example, in the first scene Poe says, “If ‘twould be done, ‘twere well it were done quickly” (p. 19), a slight variation on Macbeth’s “If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well/It were done quickly.” Perhaps my favorite speech in all of Shakespeare’s work is Macbeth’s “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech. Doescher includes a playful take on part of that speech, having Rey say, “It is a tale told by me, full of sound/And fury, signifying ev’rything” (p. 26). He also has Kylo use a large chunk of Lady Macbeth’s famous speech: “Come, spirits/That tend on mortal thoughts, unmake me here,/And fill me from the crown to the toe full/Of direst cruelty” (p. 29). Of course, “unsex” wouldn’t have worked in this scene, so it is changed to “unmake.” Leia uses a bit from the end of Twelfth Night when she says, “To light her homeward way – an apple, cleft/In two, is not more twin than these two beacons” (p. 36).

A particular stroke of genius is giving the words of Polonius to C-3PO: “This business is well ended, I believe./My noble captain, to expostulate/What deference should be, what duty is,/Why day is day, night is night, time is time,/Were nothing but to waste night, day, and time –/Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,/And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,/I will be brief” (p. 56). Perfect! Kylo refers to Hamlet when he says “So weak that he may lose the name of action” (p. 59). A character named DJ (you’re listening to Cool FM) speaks some of Edmund’s lines from King Lear: “Why bastard? Wherefore base? Now, gods, stand up/For bastards!” (p. 124). Kylo also borrows from King Lear: “Thou camest, Rey, from nothing – nothing art thou,/Thy root is nothing, yea, and nothing comes/From nothing” (p. 133). With there being a character named Rose in this story, it was inevitable that we would get the “rose by any other word” line from Romeo And Juliet. Doescher chooses the poor Q1 reading of “by any other name,” but that actually makes more sense in this context: “Fine lass, a Rose by any other name/Would never smell as sweet as thou, dear friend” (p. 153). One of the best choices is giving Prospero’s speech to Luke: “Now my charms are all o’erthrown,/And what strength I have’s mine own,/Which is most faint” (p. 161).

One of the major problems with The Force Awakens was that it simply lifted stuff from the original trilogy and fed it to the fans again as if it were a new meal. Apparently The Last Jedi does the same thing. While being trained as a Jedi, Rey feels herself drawn to a tree? Geez. And there is a scene where Rey tells Kylo he doesn’t have to hand her over to his lord, that she senses the conflict within him, as Luke said to Darth Vader on Endor. Then later BB-8 executes a surprise attack on troopers from within an AT-ST, just as Chewbacca did in Return Of The Jedi. Come on! The plot (and this is obviously not the fault of Ian Doescher) is rather awful, with lots of idiotic little moments like some gambler mistaking BB-8 for a slot machine. What, he never encountered a droid before?

Again, I didn’t see the movie, so I can’t swear to it, but I am guessing the scene with the two troopers speaking of events and powers beyond their normal scope was not in it. Ian Doescher has added similar scenes to previous volumes in this series, and these are always among the most enjoyable of the books. He uses this scene to sort of explain one of the more ridiculous plot twists of the story, that Luke Skywalker can make himself appear in one place while actually being in another. In the scene, Trooper 2 has read a book about Jedi and learned about that power from his reading. By the way, he has Trooper 2 speak a line that Falstaff says in The First Part Of King Henry The Fourth: “The better part of valor is discretion” (p. 123).

Ian Doescher clearly has a lot of fun with these books, and finds inspiration at times from places other than Shakespeare’s works. For example, he dips into Monty Python territory when he has Kylo say: “‘Tis but a scratch. Aye, just a flesh wound, this” (p. 27). And he refers to John Donne’s famous poem, having Poe say “Therefore,/Send not to know for whom the bell doth toll – /It tolls for me” (p. 38). Perhaps the most enjoyable digression from Shakespeare is the Codebreaker’s speech in which he refers to every James Bond film in the order in which they were released (skipping the first Casino Royale, and brilliantly putting Never Say Never Again in parentheses): “(Methinks thou ought to ne’er say ne’re again.)/A double! Ha, view two! A killing I/Now make. Yea, I shall roll the living daylights/Out of these dice, no lie. Sense to kill I’ve,/For with a golden eye comes golden sight” (p. 73).

William Shakespeare’s Jedi The Last, Star Wars Part The Eighth was published in 2018 by Quirk Books.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Shakespeare References in The Love Letter

Sometimes I’m surprised when I find a Shakespeare reference in a certain book. Not this time. The Love Letter, a novel by Cathleen Schine, centers on a woman who owns a book store, so I was fully expecting at least one reference to Shakespeare. There are two. The first is a reference to Shakespeare himself, not a specific play: “He felt a surge of giddy, shameless pleasure, garrulous and expansive, as if he were on stage, as if his voice boomed magnificent lines, Shakespeare, Chekhov, Kaufman and Hart” (p. 105). The second reference is to Shakespeare, as well as (sort of) to Hamlet: “She had named her store Horatio Street Books out of nostalgia for her last address – and because it had a slight Shakespearian ring to it” (p. 201).

The Love Letter was published in 1995. The edition I read was published in 1999.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Shakespeare Reference in Crime And Juvenile Delinquency

I read books on a wide variety of subjects. One thing they all seem to have in common is Shakespeare. Yesterday I read Crime And Juvenile Delinquency, a book in the Problems Of American Society series, edited by Gerald Leinwand. And there was a reference to The Merchant Of Venice. In a piece titled “A Cop Looks At Juvenile Delinquency,” Albert Deutsch writes, “The old police insistence on a pound of flesh for juvenile misconduct, bawling juveniles out and locking them up have not accomplished any favorable results” (p. 112).

Crime And Juvenile Delinquency was published in 1968 by Washington Square Press, a division of Simon & Schuster.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Shakespeare Reference in Sizing Up People

Nearly every book I read contains at least one Shakespeare reference. Sizing Up People, written by Donald A. Laird and Eleanor C. Laird, is no exception. In a chapter on the differences between the genders, there is a reference to Cymbeline: “‘Who is’t can read a woman?’ Shakespeare asked” (p. 166). That is a question that Cymbeline asks Cornelius in Act V Scene v.

Sizing Up People was originally published in 1951. The edition I read was the McGraw-Hill Paperback Edition from 1964.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Othello (A Noise Within 2019 Production) Theatre Review

production photo by Craig Schwartz
Shakespeare is always relevant. It is interesting to see which specific plays will seem to address the exact events and troubles we are living through. In these dark days of dishonesty and racism, days when someone’s reputation can be destroyed by allegations and rumors, when people are quick to believe the worst of someone and even quicker to utter the worst about someone, when personal provocations dictate policy, when people don’t research before reacting, Othello is a clear choice of plays to produce. A Noise Within’s new production sets the play in current times with modern dress, as if to show immediately how relevant the action and themes are.

This production opens with a military ceremony, in which Othello (Wayne T. Carr) decorates Cassio (Brian Henderson), as Iago (Michael Manuel) stands at attention. As the others exit, Iago remains to speak directly to the audience (not to Roderigo, as in the text): “Three great ones of the city,/In personal suit to make me his lieutenant.” Iago moves around in front of the stage to speak directly to different audience members, staying at their level, which of course endears him to the audience, connects him to them. After “I am not what I am,” Roderigo (Jeremy Rabb) enters, carrying a “Just Married” banner, immediately establishing himself as a comedic character. He also makes horse noises to back up Iago’s “Barbary horse” line. Brabantio is changed to Brabantia (Bonita Friedericy), so we have Desdemona’s mother instead of her father. Of course, this also causes a change in tone, for a mother’s love is perceived to be different from a father’s love. And maybe it’s not as believable when Brabantia says that her daughter is dead to her. Iago hides among the audience when speaking to Brabantia. There is a humor to his delivery of the lines from within the audience, and the audience laughs, as if it could be any of them speaking. This works well because Iago has already put himself at the audience’s level, and there is the feeling that the audience is acting to keep him hidden, even to protect him. Does this make Iago less of a villain, or does it make the audience more of one? It’s an intriguing dynamic.

In the second scene, when Brabantia and the others enter, pistols are drawn rather than swords. This, of course, is an obvious drawback to choosing a modern setting for one of Shakespeare’s tragedies. You can’t really have a gun battle on stage. Or, at least, a gun battle wouldn’t be as interesting as a sword fight, and can’t last as long. The Duke, like Brabantio, is female in this production, as is Lodovico. Having so many women in positions of power obviously changes the feel of the play somewhat. You get the sense that Desdemona and Emilia are not in as much danger, that they would have clear allies. (More on Emilia in a bit.) Also, having Brabantio be female changes the relationship between Othello and that character. When Othello speaks of how Brabantia loved him, it has quite a different vibe than usual. His getting a mother’s love is different from receiving a father’s love, particularly in this case, as Othello says that Brabantia often wanted to hear of his battles. A father asking him to come around to speak of past battles is different from a mother inviting a man to their home, even for the same reason. When Othello speaks to both Brabantia and the Duke, an interesting triangle is created, with Othello standing center stage, Brabantia down left and the Duke down right. Then, when Desdemona (Angela Gulner) speaks, a second triangle is formed, this one with Othello and Brabantia, which works incredibly well as she talks of “a divided duty.” The Duke’s line “Your son-in-law is far more fair than black” sounds really odd in a modern setting, and drew a strong reaction from the audience.

The character of Roderigo might remind you a bit of Sir Andrew Aguecheek from Twelfth Night. There is a similar goofiness and foolishness to him. Both characters are easily manipulated, easily misled, resulting in wonderful, comedic moments. Most of his interactions are with Iago, who plays him almost effortlessly. When Iago urges Roderigo to “put money in thy purse,” Roderigo actually takes notes. It’s interesting, because you want to feel for Roderigo, but he is such an ass that you can’t hold much sympathy for him. Plus, Iago is the one who speaks directly to us, and so the audience is aligned with him (if perhaps somewhat unwillingly or unconsciously). Iago sits at the edge of the stage to talk with the audience. This is a friendly, intimate and disarming gesture, and it feels natural, as if he isn’t playing us. Of course, that itself makes us wonder if that isn’t exactly how Roderigo feels too. Iago is referred to throughout the play as “honest Iago.” But to the audience, it is true, he is honest. Isn’t he? There are lighting changes when Iago speaks asides to the audience. And I love his delivery of the compliments regarding Othello, “And I dare think he’ll prove to Desdemona/A most dear husband,” for these too have a plain, natural and honest sound.

Most of the male characters in this production are usually dressed in military garb, being soldiers. Emilia (Tania Verafield) is likewise a soldier and wears fatigues. This gives her a more manly energy and disposition. Clearly, she is not going to take any shit. When Othello enters to be reunited with Desdemona after a successful campaign, there is a delightful joy and excitement to his comportment, and we cannot help but like the man. While the soldiers celebrate, a thumping modern beat accompanies their revelry, and a ping pong table and jukebox are brought on stage. Cassio’s line “this is a more exquisite song than the other” has a second, humorous meaning, as the thumping continues in the background, a modern dance beat that sounds exactly the same in all those songs. Because Emilia is a soldier in this production, she is present for some of the revelry (a change from the text), but exits before the brawl. Also, because they are soldiers, there is a wonderful moment when Iago indicates to Othello that Cassio is to blame for the troubles. Cassio is standing at attention, and the sudden turn of his head in surprise at Iago’s statement is quite funny. Both Iago and Cassio are excellent in the following exchange about reputation. Iago’s line “Reputation is an idle and most false imposition, oft got without merit, and lost without deserving” seems to ring particularly true.

In the third act, when Desdemona enters, she wears a bright yellow outfit, matching her light, carefree vibe. She has a playful quality, particularly in the way she delivers her lines to Othello regarding the moment he’ll speak with Cassio: “Why then, tomorrow night, or Tuesday morn;/Or Tuesday noon, or night.” The lightness in her delivery will end up in great contrast to the weight these lines will ultimately carry in Othello’s mind. This is an excellent moment, especially for those already familiar with the play. Iago and Emilia kiss while holding the handkerchief. She seems closer to him in temperament than to Desdemona, in part because she and he are dressed alike, which works with her later lines about how she would commit adultery if it would gain her husband the world. When Othello enters, he is troubled by his doubts of Desdemona’s fidelity. He paces in a circle, going a little crazy, like an animal circling in its cage. And, yes, there is a sense of his being trapped, trapped by his own doubts, his own jealousy. Wayne T. Carr does an excellent job here, never letting the performance get away from him, as it might be easy to do in that moment.

In Act IV Scene ii, Emilia answers Othello as a subordinate to a commander, as they are both soldiers. Then when Desdemona enters, Emilia stands sentry upstage center until Othello dismisses her. The way Othello deliver his “away, away” line to Desdemona, you get the sense he wishes to save her from himself before he does her harm. The line is spoken without anger, a really nice moment. Then his “where I have garner’d up my heart” speech is spoken out toward the audience, as if he can’t look at Desdemona. In this production, Othello says “You, soldier,” calling to Emilia, who enters. In the text, he says “You, mistress,/That have the office opposite to Saint Peter.” Because Emilia is in the military, her relationship with Desdemona feels different in this production, and it seems a bit strange when she helps Desdemona get ready for bed. Emilia’s “Yet have we some revenge” speech contains some anger. That speech is interesting with her dressed in fatigues, traditionally male attire, since she is comparing husbands and wives, men and women.

When Othello enters the bedroom, as Desdemona sleeps, he wears a white wife beater, a humorous touch. The desperation in Desdemona’s voice as she pleads for her life is unsettling and moving. I also like that she struggles for a while, even tries to escape. Othello is magnificent after he has killed her. It can be a difficult scene, and he does a fantastic job. The lines where Desdemona says that nobody has killed her are cut. Emilia’s line “The Moor has kill’d my mistress” is changed to “The Moor has kill’d my friend.” But that doesn’t quite work, because we haven’t witnessed much of a friendship between the two. And when she asks to be placed at Desdemona’s side, it feels odd, given their relationship in this production. It doesn’t ring true. When Othello delivers the line “I took by the throat the circumcised dog,/And smote him thus,” he leaves out the word “thus,” because he does not stab himself in that moment. Instead, he pulls out a pistol a moment later, puts it in his mouth and pulls the trigger. It is sudden, and comes as a shock, but I still prefer the use of blades. This production features some excellent performances, but doesn’t need the modern setting to feel relevant. Shakespeare’s text and the performances certainly succeed in that.

Othello was directed by Jessica Kubzansky. There is one fifteen-minute intermission, coming at the end of Act III Scene iii. The play runs through April 28th. Check the official A Noise Within website for the complete schedule. A Noise Within is located at 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena, California. There is free parking available at the Sierra Madre Villa Metro parking structure at 149 N. Halstead St.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Shakespeare Reference in Cats Incredible!

Yes, it seems that nearly every book I read contains some reference to Shakespeare. The book I read today, Cats Incredible!: True Stories Of Fantastic Feline Feats, contains one reference. And actually, the reference is in the title of another book. Author Brad Steiger writes, “Lyall Watson, author of the best-seller Supernature, relates the following account of an experiment involving the varying abilities of animals to perceive the unknown in his book The Romeo Error: A Matter of Life and Death” (p. 156).

Cats Incredible!: True Stories Of Fantastic Feline Feats was published in 1994.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Shakespeare References in The Stranger Beside Me

Yes, Shakespeare references continue to pop up in nearly every book I read. Ann Rule’s book about Ted Bundy, The Stranger Beside Me, contains a few Shakespeare references. The first is a mention of Romeo And Juliet. Ann Rule quotes a letter that Ted Bundy had written to her, this portion regarding Gary Gilmore: “The Gilmore situation grows curiouser and curiouser. Have seen him on occasion in the visiting room with Nicole. I’ll never forget the deep love and anguish in her eyes. Gilmore, however, is misguided, unstable and selfish… The media preys on this Romeo and Juliet saga. Tragic. Irreconcilable” (p. 222). The second reference is to Hamlet. Rule says that Bundy is handicapped, writing, “Ted has no conscience.” She then adds, “‘Conscience doth make cowards of us all,’ but conscience is what gives us our humanity, the factor that separates us from animals” (p. 397). The line is from Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy. The third reference is also to Hamlet. Rule writes, “Ted was hoist on his own petard” (p. 452), a reference to Hamlet’s lines from Act III Scene iv, “For 'tis the sport to have the engineer/Hoist with his own petard: and 't shall go hard.”

The Stranger Beside Me was originally published in 1980. The edition I read is the updated version that includes an afterword by Ann Rule. This edition was published in 1989, after Ted Bundy was executed.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Double Double (2019 Production) Theatre Review

Double Double is a wild and delightful ride through the world of Macbeth and into the land of Double Indemnity, a strange musical film noir (theatre noir?) with excellent performances by all four cast members and some quirky and exciting and fun songs. It posits that Macbeth was not killed at Dunsinane, but rather entered the federal witness protection program and was given a new identity as Walter, the insurance agent from Double Indemnity. So he hasn’t left murder behind after all, and is once again spurred on by a woman (or in this case, three women) to kill. It stars Shaughn Buchholz as Walter (in the program his character is listed as Walter Walter, bringing to mind a certain Nabokov character), and Henita Telo, Jenny Greer and Isabella Boose as Barbara (rather than Barbara Stanwyck’s character name, Phyllis Dietrichson).

The set is fairly simple but effective, the major piece being a long banquet table, with three microphones placed on it, as if for a press conference. There are also candy dishes, a fruit bowl, a small plant and a steering wheel on display on the table. Behind the table are horizontal blinds, the lights a sepia tone, recalling the look of old films. There is one small platform downstage left, with a microphone suspended over it, like for a boxing match of old. When the play opens, a single light shines down on a spot stage left, and a woman enters and steps into the light. She wears a green dress and sports a blond wig in the style that Barbara Stanwyck wore her hair in Double Indemnity. She steps onto the platform and speaks into the microphone. Another woman in the same outfit enters from the same spot, and then a third. They move in a deliberately slow manner, the three witches, creating an eerie vibe, and carry food and drink to be placed on the table, odd wisps of smoke hovering above. A wonderfully creepy and ominous stage image is created when the three women stand at the table with their backs to the audience. At that moment, Walter enters from upstage left, wearing a purple suit and grey hat, moving slowly on crutches, recreating that opening image from the film. But once he reaches the platform, he begins to sing, and the entire production takes on a very different feel, the witches now acting as his backing vocalists. It is hip and humorous. The song tells us he was Macbeth, but now is Walter, living in the suburbs of Los Angeles (where he apparently does foley in addition to insurance – he walks across a box filled with rocks, a small microphone placed at the edge of the box).

The cover of the program describes the production as “A Meditation on Macbeth,” and indeed there is a meditative, even dreamlike quality to the production. It is mesmerizing, particularly the women’s coordinated movements as they are engaged in a dark dance somewhat at odds with their bright cheerful innocent exteriors. All three ask him, “Do you handle accident insurance?” The lines are a mixture of dialogue from the film and from Shakespeare’s play, and there is a wonderful song about a mind being filled with scorpions. And is every American a little Macbeth ready to kill for happiness? Perhaps. Interestingly, the women are not only the witches and Phyllis, but also Lady Macbeth, at one point saying “Give me the daggers.” At certain points, they seem to control Walter’s movements, reminding us of the way Lady Macbeth maneuvered Macbeth into the murder plot after Macbeth had decided against it. That also adds to the dreamlike quality of the piece, for often in dreams it feels that our movements are hampered, that things are out of our control. Also, in dreams often one’s sense of identity is rather fluid, as it is here.

Perhaps my favorite speech in all of Shakespeare’s work is the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech that Macbeth delivers when he’s learned of Lady Macbeth’s death toward the end of the play, and here it plays a prominent part as well, used in one of the production’s songs. Each of the four characters delivers a few lines of this great speech. “It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing.” I love the music to this performance. Music and sound play such an important role in this production, and there is more than a bit of jazz to the actors’ movements as well. I particularly love that moment when the three women appear behind the blinds, each lit with a spotlight. It is gorgeous and haunting and oh-so-bloody cool. But I suppose that could be said of the entire production.

Double Double was written by Guy Zimmerman, and directed by Juli Crockett (yes, the same Juli Crockett who fronts that fantastic band, The Evangenitals). Michael Feldman (also of The Evangenitals) is the production’s composer and sound designer. Double Double runs through January 27th at the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles, which is located at 1238 W. 1st St. in Los Angeles, California.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Shakespeare Reference in World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story

It seems no matter what the subject of a book might be, there is a good chance that book will contain a reference to Shakespeare. World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story contains one such reference. In the section about record label Sub Pop partnering with Warner Music Group, author Gillian G. Gaar quotes Sub Pop co-founder Jonathan Poneman as saying “There was a certain Shakespearean quality to the whole thing; these people who are stabbing each other in the back, and one person who thinks that they’re going to ascend to the chairmanship, and the next thing you know they’re out of a job” (p. 74).

World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story was published in 2018 through BMG Books.