Friday, August 23, 2019

Shakespeare References In Magazines (Westways)

The current issue of Westways (July/August 2019) mentions a few events related to Shakespeare, and so I feel a compulsion to mention them here. I can’t help it, you see. On page 76, on the “Current Events” page, The Old Globe Summer Shakespeare Festival in San Diego is mentioned, along with that image of William Shakespeare. I haven’t made it down for any of their productions yet. This season, according to the short piece, the company is putting on As You Like It and Romeo And Juliet. Then on page 78, the Shakespeare By The Sea production of Henry V is mentioned. As you may be aware, that company performs two plays each summer at various parks all over the Los Angeles area. The single performance this magazine chooses to mention is the one I attended at Los Encinos State History Park on August 3rd. On the very next page is mentioned “Midsummer Scream, Long Beach” (p. 79). It is described as a Halloween and horror convention, but obviously it takes its name from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Henry V (Shakespeare By The Sea 2019 Production) Theatre Review

Every summer Shakespeare By The Sea takes Shakespeare to you, or somewhere near you. The company travels southern California with two plays, building the stage, putting on the performance, tearing down and packing away the stage, and moving to the next location. In addition, on Saturdays a couple of the cast members field questions from the crowd. Such was the case in Encino last night before the performance of Henry V. Once the set was in place, Jonathan Fisher, who plays the title role, and Jane Hink, who plays Mistress Quickly and Alice, answered questions about the company and their work in it, including one question about the number of hours it takes to put together a show. It turns out these guys don’t get nearly as much rehearsal time as you’d think might be necessary. But you’d never guess that seeing the performance. The current production of Henry V is a completely enjoyable and engaging ride, and boasts some tremendous performances, particularly by Jonathan Fisher as King Henry and Olivia Schlueter-Corey as Katharine.

When the play opens, the Chorus (Patrick Vest) enters upstage center, putting his hand up to his face as if to shield his eyes from the sun, which works well with his first line, “O for a muse of fire, that would ascend.” The other actors enter from the audience during this speech, the Chorus then transitioning into Exeter and helping to dress Henry in his regal attire. Henry’s delivery of “May I with right and conscience make this claim?” is excellent, for he is honestly asking the question. So you get the sense that if the answer had been negative, that would have put an end to it. I also love that his immediate reaction is to the gift of tennis balls is to laugh. It shows that the youthful spirit he displayed in the Henry IV plays, when he himself took part in pranks, is still a part of his character. And then, knowing that he must display strength and power – both to the French, and to his own men, who likely still recall how he was in his youth – he turns and shows no sign of weakness during the bulk of his speech, particularly on the “mock” lines, which are delivered pointedly. I love watching his transformation within that speech.

As the Chorus delivers his speech at the beginning of Act II, a few characters engage in joyous practice with their weapons, showing the sort of innocent excitement before war, before seeing the results of war. When Bardolph (Andy Kallok) first enters in Act II, for a moment I believe him to be Falstaff, who plays an important role in Henry V without ever actually appearing on stage. Bardolph, Nym, Pistol, Mistress Quickly and Boy all discuss him, as he lies on his deathbed offstage. Mistress Quickly (Jane Hink) pauses after “that live honestly by the prick,” giving Pistol a chance to react, which leads to her having to finish the thought: “of their needles.” We see a good deal of joy among this group before Falstaff’s death. In this production, scenes one and three are combined, with scene two then following. The exchange between Prince Henry and Falstaff from The Second Part Of King Henry The Fourth in which Henry denies knowing the man is presented as a recording while Bardolph, Pistol and Nym are on stage, remembering. Then Mistress Quickly returns with the news of Falstaff’s death, which she conveys with a look, with the way she carries herself. Her delivery of the “cold as any stone” speech is serious and quite good, rather than played for humor. You could see tears in her eyes. The scene is rather moving. As I mentioned, the second scene of the act then follows, with Scroop, Cambridge and Grey. I love Henry’s deliver of the “and know I know your worthiness” line. When Henry proclaims their fate, he is upstage center, above, while the three are downstage, facing out toward the audience, an effective image.

The French characters are dressed mostly in shades of blue, and the actors do employ accents, to help keep sense of place clear to the audience (though the Chorus also does an excellent job of doing that). The Dauphin (Brendan Kane) looks to the king (Paul Burt) often during his speech for cues as to how to proceed, a nice touch to show the character’s inherent weakness of spirit. The Dauphin is portrayed as vain and effeminate, which presents a difficult endeavor these days. But Brendan Kane does a good job, giving enough to bring out the humor of the character without going so far as to seem offensive. When Exeter speaks to the Dauphin, he removes a tennis ball from his pouch. The reaction from the French king is excellent, giving us just enough to show he wasn’t involved or even aware of the tennis ball prank.

I love the very fluid way in which Patrick Vest transitions from Chorus to Exeter. After giving his speech at the beginning of Act III, he turns and enters the battle. As Henry delivers his “Once more unto the breach” speech the battle around him slows. Fluellen (Greg Prusiewicz) and Gower enter from the audience, and Fluellen has a delightful energy that in some ways feels to be the heart of the piece. There is an added moment where the Dauphin pretends to be a soldier with his men just before the English lesson scene. That scene with Katharine (Olivia Schlueter-Corey) and Alice (Jane Hink) is absolutely wonderful. Both actors are excellent here, deliciously conspiratorial at moments. I love Katharine’s delivery of “fingers.” When Bardolph is brought before Henry, he is jovial, laughing, certain of his favored – and therefore safe – status. He stands in front of the stage, while Henry is above him, and even though his back is to the audience for part of it, we can still see the shock he suffers when Henry speaks his words against him. This is a really nice and poignant moment, feeling like the end of the Harry these characters knew in the two Henry IV plays.

The Chorus’ speech from the beginning of Act IV is divided into two parts, with the first part moved to just before Act III Scene vii, which begins the second half of this performance. By the way, last night the sun went down during intermission (a beautiful sunset), so it was dark for the beginning of the second half, perfect for Act III Scene vii, which takes place at night. As the Chorus delivers the first part of the speech, the French are on stage, and that leads to Dauphin’s speech about his horse, which is hilarious. He and the two French men are great in this scene. The Chorus then continues his speech, “The poor condemned English,” and the English soldiers enter slowly. They are tired, weary. And the section where Henry goes about his men disguised is actually quite powerful and moving. Then when he enters for the famous St. Crispin’s Day speech, he is decked out in his regal attire, ready to lead his soldiers into battle. Jonathan Fisher’s performance as Henry is outstanding, and he does a particularly good job with this speech. I love that pause after “We few” before “we happy few.” (Someone toward the back of the audience became audibly excited during this speech.)

Montjoy’s delivery of “Thou never shalt hear herald any more” has a somewhat angry tone, instead of the usual respectful tone we’ve come to expect. The soldier that Pistol goes after was already wounded and essentially incapacitated by Henry, a nice touch, showing the extent of Pistol’s cowardice. The bit with the leek toward the end always seems odd to me, but it is handled well here. Katharine is adorable in the wooing scene; so, for that matter, is Henry. On Henry’s “Can any of your neighbors tell, Kate,” he indicates the audience. This is a difficult scene to make believable, as the two characters have basically just met, and it sometimes feels out of place after all that has come before it, but in this production it flows quite naturally. That is due in large part to the incredible performances of Henry, Katharine and Alice. The play moves at a quick pace. There are quite a few cuts in order to keep the performance at approximately two hours, but we don’t feel like we are lacking much.

Henry V was directed by Stephanie Coltrin, and runs through August 16, 2019. There is one twenty-minute intermission, which comes at the end of Act III Scene vi. Visit the Shakespeare By The Sea website for the complete schedule. The performances are free, but donations are encouraged. Also, there is a concession stand with clothing and refreshments for sale.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Pericles (Independent Shakespeare Company’s 2019 Production) Theatre Review

The Pericles set, before the play begins
One of the best things about summer in Los Angeles is seeing Shakespeare in Griffith Park. Every year the Independent Shakespeare Company chooses two plays to perform on their stage in the park. This year one of their choices is Pericles, Prince Of Tyre. Pericles is the only one of Shakespeare’s 37 plays that was not included in the First Folio (no, sorry, I’m not counting The Two Noble Kinsmen), and it is one that is not produced all that often. It has a somewhat wild plot that includes shipwrecks, people who are believed dead but are not, prostitution, pirates and incest. It is that last element that might feel timely, as it is a twisted tyrant who is having a sexual relationship with his daughter (sort of like a certain guy who has been pretending to run this country for a few years). The play also has some strong female characters, which you’d think would make it more popular today. And while this play presents some challenges to those wishing to stage it, it also presents some wonderful opportunities for actors, for it contains some incredibly moving scenes at the end, as well as some delightfully humorous scenes early on. The Independent Shakespeare Company, of course, capitalizes on these opportunities in the current production of Pericles.

Before the performance begins, some of the actors make their way to the picnic tables off to the right of the audience, and others off to the left, carrying chests and suitcases. They then approach the stage from those positions, essentially surrounding us as they take the stage. This company always makes great use of the space and the audience. After the usual announcements and words of thanks to the sponsors, Gower (the Chorus) begins his opening speech. And actually, just before that, a line is added, spoken by all: “Once upon a time.” This helps to prepare the audience for the somewhat fantastic story line offered by this play. The action shifts locations several times throughout the play, and to help the audience keep track of where they are, the set includes two chalkboards listing the locations in the order they are visited. In his opening speech, Gower (Hao Feng) is positioned on a ladder next to one of the chalkboards, and when he mentions Antioch, he indicates the first location listed there. Then throughout the play, as the action shifts to a different location, the previous location is crossed out.

The opening scene is intriguing, because it is here that Pericles learns of the incestuous relationship between Antiochus (Xavi Moreno) and his daughter, whose hand Pericles hopes to win. What is particularly interesting is the way Bukola Ogunmola portrays the king’s daughter. There is a sort of odd teasing in her delivery of the “Of all say’d yet” lines. She seems to be a willing participant in the relationship with her father, and not a victim. She does not wish to be removed from the situation, does not wish to be saved by Pericles, which is a rather startling and exciting choice. Then, on Antiochus’ “or receive your sentence,” the others on stage suddenly stand, ready to kill Pericles, as they clearly have done to all before him who have tried to win the daughter’s hand. It shows they don’t expect Pericles to be victorious, and shows that this is routine for them, and that they are eager to carry out the task. It’s an excellent touch.

Lorenzo Gonzalez is wonderful as Helicanus, a lord of Tyre and trusted counselor to Pericles. And it is that first scene with Helicanus and Pericles that we begin to see what a phenomenal performance Gyasi Silas gives as Pericles. This is a character that experiences a lot. He has power, but also fears for his life after learning Antiochus’ secret. He suffers incredible heartache and sinks into a serious depression, but then also experiences tremendous joy. Gyasi Silas is so adept at making us feel every turn of the character’s journey, and to care for him. And that is no easy task. After all, a lot of what befalls Pericles is not really caused by him, but by circumstances and other characters. It could be easy to let him feel like a supporting character in his own story, his own life. Gyasi Silas delivers a powerful and moving performance, one of the best I’ve seen so far this year.

David Melville, co-founder of the Independent Shakespeare Company, is delightful as Cleon, the governor of Tarsus. He is always fun to watch, and manages to bring out the humor in the characters he plays. Cleon and Dionyza (Sabra Williams) are both clad in black when we meet them, as if mourning the poor state of their nation. On Cleon’s “and beg for it,” others behind him briefly do beg for the tiny morsel on his fork, which he then pop into his mouth. There are a lot of laughs in this scene, and when Pericles enters and distributes bread to the characters, he tosses two pieces out into the audience. However, it is Sabra Williams’ other performance in this production, as Bawd, where she really gets a chance to shine. She is hilarious in her portrayal of the woman who is trying to run an honest brothel, only to be thwarted by Marina’s chastity.

There is quite of bit of humor in other scenes as well. For example, when Pericles encounters the two fishermen (yes, there are two rather than three in this production), when one says “I have a coat here” (changed from the text’s “I have a gown here”), she takes the other one’s coat to give to Pericles. And the tournament scene is hilarious. The fishing net is still attached to Pericles’ armor, a humorous touch. And William Elsman is absolutely fantastic as Simonides, the king of Pentapolis, his excitement almost palpable. He brings out a couple of “knights” from the audience to join the competition, and then calls Pericles (who at that point is also in the audience) to the stage too. There are three rounds to the tournament in this production: a three-legged race, a tug-of-war and a joust. The joust, however, is done with Italian bread, not lances. And the dance that follows is done first to Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti,” and then to The Platters’ “Only You (And You Alone).” I love the joy and total delight that Simonides takes in making the match between his daughter Thaisa (Aisha Kabia) and Pericles. Also, Pentapolis has such a different vibe from the other places, which is great. This company really makes each location distinct, so that the chalkboards aren’t even truly necessary.

The storm scenes are also done quite effectively, with some lighting cues and some wonderful work on percussion, as well as by the choreographed and coordinated movements of the actors. But it is those final scenes that are most moving and most effective, when Pericles is reunited first with his daughter and then with his wife. Again, his performance is outstanding throughout the play, but he is perhaps at his best in these climactic scenes.

Pericles was directed by Melissa Chalsma, co-founder of the company. There is one fifteen-minute intermission, which comes at the end of Act III. By the way, I and those around me thought the intermission would come when the last location on the first chalkboard was crossed off, but by the time of the intermission, two locations on the second board were also crossed out. The performance, including intermission, runs approximately two and a half hours. It is free to attend, though donations are strongly encouraged. There is also a concession stand, with food and drink and clothing for sale, another way to help the company with the costs of putting on these productions. When you go, be sure to take a close look at the Pericles T-shirt, for there are some delightful details in the artwork on the front. This shirt is one of my favorite Shakespeare T-shirts (along with a Winter’s Tale shirt that has a picture of a bear on it with that play’s most famous stage direction). Pericles runs through August 30, in repertory with Twelfth Night. Check out the Independent Shakespeare Company’s website for the complete schedule.

The Pericles set, during intermission
One last personal note: In 2010 I began seeing as many Shakespeare productions as possible, with the hope of seeing all thirty-seven plays (again, no, I’m not counting The Two Noble Kinsmen). Pericles was number twenty-nine for me.