Category Archives: Shakespeare

JOE PAPP AND SHAKESPEARE IN THE PARK (SHAKESPEARE UNLIMITED) ·

(from the Folger Shakespeare Library; via Pam Green.)

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 103

Joe Papp was responsible for some of modern American theater’s most iconic institutions: New York City’s free Shakespeare in the Park. The Public Theater. The whole idea of “Off-Broadway.” We spoke with Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan about Papp’s life and works, from his hardscabble childhood, through the frightening era of Joe McCarthy, to the founding of Shakespeare in the Park and The Public.

Published in 2009, Turan’s epic oral history of the early years of the New York Shakespeare Festival and The Public Theater is called Free for All: Joe Papp, the Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Ever Told. To create that book, he spent untold hours with Joe Papp and also talked with New York politicians, Broadway producers, and seemingly everyone else who helped Papp make Shakespeare in the Park a reality, including performers like James Earl Jones, George C. Scott, Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Colleen Dewhurst, Tommy Lee Jones, and a Staten Island car-wash employee who would go on to play Romeo under the stage name of Martin Sheen. Turan is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

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Want more? Browse our full list of Shakespeare Unlimited episodes.

Listen on iTunesGoogle PlaySoundCloudSpotifyStitcher, or NPR One. 

From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast series. Published August 7, 2018. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, “This Green Plot Shall Be Our Stage,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster and Esther Ferington. Ben Lauer is the web producer. We had technical help from Lauren Cascio and Nick Bozzone at Formosa Commercials recording studio in Santa Monica, California.

Photo: Hamlet at the Delacorte Theater in 1961. Credit: NYC Parks.

‘WARS OF THE ROSES: HENRY VI & RICHARD III’, DIRECTED AND ADAPTED BY AUSTIN PENDLETON, AT HB STUDIO, 124 BANK STREET (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Although Queen Elizabeth, the unpretentious Johanna Leister in Austin Pendleton’s Wars of the Roses, now running at 124 Bank Street until August 19 (he co-directed with Peter Bloch), asks Richard III, “Shall I be tempted by the devil?” all the characters in this unbound adaptation of Henry VI, Part 3 and Richard III might wonder the same. Each of the characters plays with evil and, because of the widened scope of bringing the two plays together (both feature Richard), their choices are horrifying and riveting, despite the fact that the bravura role of the humpbacked king (passionately played by Matt de Rogatis, in a hoodie), allows room for smaller roles to pop. Pendleton himself portrays a reticent Henry, wearing a black t-shirt with a red cross, his hand to his mouth or hand to his face—even sitting on his hands at one point.  Such are his skills that he can appear relaxed on stage, while, at the same time destroying any illusion that he is playing a role at all. Of course, going to one of his productions, whether that be in a black box, church, Lincoln  Center, on Broadway, or even the National Theatre in London, means reflecting on acting, perhaps more seriously than with work shown by virtually any other current director.  Here he seems to want the audience to reach out to the work artistically, rather than be steered by it, which, after so many busy shows–with projections and music and politics and computerized scenery changes–can take a minute to adjust to. His set, perhaps like one in a company meeting room, is made up only of chairs, a table, and a white backdrop, spattered with red to suggest blood (there isn’t even a credit for the scenic designer in the program, although the lighting is by Steven Wolf); the costumes are largely dark street clothes (Maya Luz consulted on them); and this powerful distillation and fusion, lasting three hours, with intermission, disregards pomp, coronets, or even much in the way of any props or technology. 

Wars of the Roses doesn’t offer much in the way of role models, either, unless one wants to sharpen his or her Machiavellian skills. In The Stranger, Camus writes about cinemagoers leaving the theatre, after an American movie, walking like John Wayne. Here, because the characters are compromised, the reflection on them must run deep and does not encourage imitation. The ensemble of fifteen (some play multiple roles), examine the dark characters intensely.  Debra Lass’s Queen Margaret is a strong, almost Nordic or Teutonic, warrior queen, a “she-wolf,” wearing a studded motorcycle jacket, her hair in a braid down the back; Pete McElligott’s real tears, as the imprisoned Clarence, are indicative of the inner truth this production is striving to reveal—and, while discussing eyes, watch the mourning, mesmerizing ones of Carolyn Groves, playing the Duchess of YorkGreg Pragel delivers his lines with speed, pacing, and command—and he can be humorous, too—although his rebuff by de Rogatis, with a prayer book (into his face), is swift and malicious.  Michael Villastrigo has found the manner of an assertive young king (Edward) and Adam Dodway (Tyrell and Ratcliffe), because of his naturalness on the stage, makes an impressive appearance.  Rachel Marcus is a strong, intelligent actress, forced to make sense of Richard’s mystifying behavior, finally succumbing to him (like Ophelia must do with Hamlet).  Excellence is also seen in Jim Broaddus’s York, Milton Elliott’s Warwick and Murderer,  John L. Payne’s Backenbury and Catesby,  Tomas Russo’s Rutland and Dorset,  and  John Constantine’s Prince Edward and Murderer, twirling a chair. 

During intermission, one gentleman, several rows back, stood to describe Wars of the Roses as “intimate,” which seems appropriate but also recalls Strindberg’s theatre.  Because of this production’s smaller scale, lack of castle scenery, for example, military action, and smoky battlefields that playwright seems to be watching over The Wars of the Roses, maybe more closely than even Shakespeare. The three imprisoned women (Lass, Leister, and Groves) mourning their lives, turning into mummies, might be part of The Ghost Sonata—and even Richard has a counterpart in Hummel, the handicapped man in that chamber play.  Both works examine cycles of suffering in communities—one explosive moment of pain, for example, in Wars of the Roses comes with Richard’s shocking kiss of Elizabeth, who has been asked to make her daughter a queen.  She is being hounded by a recognizable devil: part Weinstein, part Moonves, part Spacey.

© 2018 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

The playing schedule for THE ROSES: HENRY VI & RICHARD III is as follows: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7PM, with Sunday matinees at 3PM through August 19th.  Tickets are $25 and can be purchased by visiting  www.proveavillain.com

Press: Glenna Freedman PR.

Photos: de Rogatis: Chris Loupos; Pendleton: Playbill.

 

AMERICAN SHAKESPEARE ·

(Ralph Berry’s article appeared in Chronicles, 7/12.)

Letter From England

Shakespeare contains the cultural history of America.  From first to last, Shakespeare is the graph of evolving American values.  He early made the transatlantic crossing: It is thought that Cotton Mather was the first in America to acquire a First Folio.  Richard III was performed in New York in 1750, and in 1752 the governor entertained the emperor and empress of the Cherokee nation at a performance of Othello in Williamsburg, Virginia.  The American revolutionaries seized on Julius Caesar as a parable of tyrannicide, with Brutus as the hero of liberty.  Shakespeare was always an honored presence, and became absorbed into the growing pains of the young nation.

The archetypal tourist was Washington Irving, whose charming sketches of visits to Eastcheap and Stratford-upon-Avon are still highly readable.  He thought he had seen Shakespeare’s dust, in a vault that laborers had dug adjoining Shakespeare’s.  But soon this kind of deferential tourism ran into the growing calls for cultural independence.  Whitman thought that “The comedies are altogether unacceptable to America and Democracy.”  These calls for an end to the cultural cringe marked a genuine American Renaissance.

American writers took the challenge to Shakespeare much further.  It is no accident (as Marxists used to say, and probably still do) that the land of bardolatry gave birth to serious anti-Stratfordism.  The first great heretic was Delia Bacon, a monomaniac who, seduced by the accident of her surname, strove to prove that the works of Shakespeare were written by Francis Bacon.  To this heresy Mark Twain and Henry James subscribed, with partial support from Nathaniel Hawthorne.  The same parricidal urge, linked with a nostalgic desire for aristocratic kinship, continued as Oxfordism into the 20th century—overcoming the objection that the Earl of Oxford died in 1604, 12 years before Shakespeare’s death.

Anti-Stratfordism yielded to, and was marginalized by, the immense pressures to create a Shakespeare of anterior superiority.  Wealthy individuals (Huntington, Folger) acquired the sacred texts for their libraries.  These texts—quartos and folios—became an asset class like impressionist paintings.  Across America, Shakespeare was staged with persistent success.  The all-embracing doctrine was “He is ours as he is yours, by common inheritance.”

(Read more)

Photo: Big Think

PATERSON JOSEPH: JULIUS CAESAR AND ME  (FOLGER, SHAKESPEARE UNLIMITED) ·

(from the Folger Shakespeare Library; via Pam Green.)


 Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 98

In 2012 the Royal Shakespeare Company staged the first-ever, high-profile, all-black British Shakespeare production, Julius Caesar, set in Africa. The actor who played Brutus, Paterson Joseph, recently wrote a book about the experience called Julius Caesar and Me: Exploring Shakespeare’s African Play.

Paterson Joseph in Julius Caesar. Photo by Kwame Lestrade © RSC

On this podcast episode, he also talks about his early work, his thoughts about race in the British theater, about the proper way to play Brutus, and much more. Paterson Joseph is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

Listen on iTunesGoogle PlaySoundCloud, or NPR One.

BLIND TO RACE, GENDER AND DISABILITY, SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE GOES A NEW WAY ·

(Matt Wolf’s article appeared in The New York Times, 5/31; via Pam Green.)

LONDON — Shakespeare’s Globe may have had a spring cleaning, but don’t for a second think that the deservedly popular playhouse is playing it safe.

You could be forgiven for expecting a conservative, back-to-basics approach following the controversial artistic tenure of Emma Rice, who parted company with the theater in 2017 after only two years. But if “As You Like It” and “Hamlet,” the opening productions by the new artistic director, Michelle Terry, are any gauge, the Globe looks poised to continue provoking — albeit in new ways. Already, Ms. Terry’s tenure promises to throw norms to the wind by casting without regard to gender, race or ethnicity. Eyebrows have been raised, but there has been hefty applause as well.

Ms. Rice had ruffled feathers by modernizing a space that Globe hard-liners defend fiercely. They took issue with her use of amplification, contemporary lighting rigs and a pop aesthetic that introduced Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” for instance, into her Bollywood-inflected “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Her “Twelfth Night” included the London drag artist Le Gateau Chocolat as a disco diva Feste.

No less provocative was Ms. Rice’s candid admission that she found Shakespeare difficult — a sentiment she expressed in her first news conference as artistic director and in various interviews.

Ms. Terry, by contrast, has spoken from the outset of an apprenticeship to Shakespeare that began when she was a child. And because she, unlike Ms. Rice, is an actress — and an Olivier Award-winning one at that — she comes to her current position steeped in the playwright’s work. The result is that you feel at every turn a direct engagement with a dramatist whom Ms. Rice, by contrast, sometimes seemed at odds with, as if the verse were an irritation to be overcome.

(Read more)

Photo: Virgin Experience Days

 

WAR OF THE ROSES: MARGARET OF ANJOU ·

Margaret of Anjou

Listen

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most remarkable queens of the Middle Ages who took control when her husband, Henry VI, was incapable. Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482) wanted Henry to stay in power for the sake of their son, the heir to the throne, and her refusal to back down led to the great dynastic struggle of the Wars of the Roses.

The image above is from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book, showing John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, presenting Margaret with that book on her betrothal to Henry

With

Katherine Lewis

James Ross

and

Joanna Laynesmith

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

‘TWELFTH NIGHT’ AT THE POLONSKY SHAKESPEARE CENTER–FROM THE ACTING CO. AND DELAWARE’S RESIDENT ENSEMBLE PLAYERS (REP) (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Maria Aitken takes the edge off overwrought Summer Shakespeare with a droll, whimsical Twelfth Night from the Acting Co. in a co-production with Delaware’s Resident Ensemble Players (REP), now playing until May 27, at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn (an essential theatrical destination, which seems to transfigure for each new presentation).  Her light surrealism sets Illyria in the Thirties, maybe in California, probably not on the Adriatic and far away from traditional England or Trump’s America. What matters to her is the hair, the wigs (which go uncredited):  bouffants, bobs, punk dreadlocks, pageboys, coiffures piled high and on the verge of Versailles.  The costume designer, Candice Donnelly, provides veils, tams, netting and curlers, party hats, berets, and kerchiefs; variegated livery, period golf wear, ruffles at the neck, asymmetrical gowns, and old-fashioned black swimsuits–she even makes an allowance for nothing at all.  Some might surmise that to dwell on costumes is another way of saying that there isn’t much going for the show, but here, Shakespeare is what happens when the audience is looking the other way. 

The play has been called the finest of the bard’s comedies, and Aitken’s may be one director who can actually prove that, by insisting on lucidity–she does not clutter her stage, for example, for all her satirical idiosyncrasies, and the design, by Lee Savage, is white and clear, a little beat up, maybe a deck on a ship or the villa of a Hollywood star, a mystical swirl of eternity at the apex.  The backdrop, virtually a map, is as vivid and impersonal as the screensaver of a Dell computer.  As Viola, the page searching for her lost brother after a shipwreck, Susanna Stahlmann reminds of a young Isabella Rossellini—she’s giving a classic portrait, placing a knee up on a bench to intimidate or intimate virility or putting hands on hips to imitate manliness.  At the other extreme is Michael Gotch, as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, a role typically seen as secondary—however, in this Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole incarnation, he is the one through which the audience realizes it can laugh.  Gotch is thin and inventive, always in the moment, on, maybe like a Robin Williams.  Aitken and her cast are looking at what’s really comic in a Shakespeare comedy, such a Sir Tobey Belch (Lee E. Ernst) line: “She’s a beagle,” insulting and whacked out at the same time. 

The simplicity of the textual structure is allowed to be contemplated, without unnecessary stress from too much music, ham acting, and societal comment.  The director’s specific detail in scene work, one including a fake pheasant, for instance, highlights the lunacy. By the end of the evening, she will have brought in the kazoos and ukuleles, even guns and terrorists; the cold white scenic design, sometimes like reflective tiles, with bright lighting, by Philip S. Rosenberg, can project fissures of red and blue.  Shakespearean comedy is not often seen so unconventionally, with secrets of the interpretation, known only to the auteur, kept intact, yet a love of absurd eccentricity and lyricism on the verge of slapstick are apparent; very dry, of course.  Elizabeth Heflin, as Olivia, seems Californian, an American with a pioneering spirit–a self-assured woman who might roll the dice for love in the city of angels or star in a silent-era two-reeler.  Stephen Pelinski may be the one Malvolio who has found a way to recite his speeches without eliciting impatience.  Others in the cast are also actors to take note of, if they are not known to readers already: Kate Forbes, John Skelley, Michael Stewart Allen, Hassan El-Amin, Mathew Greer, Mic Matarrese, Antoinette Robinson, Joshua David Robinson, and Mickey Theis.  They add credence to the idea that the best way to enjoy Shakespeare is to not think about him . . . or Donald Trump . . .  or the number 1 train on weekends . . . or the rain.

Copyright © 2018 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.   

Photos: The New York Times; University of Delaware.  All rights reserved.      

Twelfth Night

Directed by Maria Aitken 

Visit The Polonsky Shakespeare Center:

262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn, NY, 11217

 

About The Acting Company

Founded in 1972 by John Houseman and Margot Harley, The Acting Company (Ian Belknap, Artistic Director; Elisa Spencer-Kaplan, Executive Director) is “the major touring classical theater in the United States” (The New York Times) and the only professional repertory company dedicated to the development of classical actors. The Company has reached 4 million people in 48 states and 10 foreign countries with its productions and education programs, and has helped to launch the careers of some 400 actors, including Kevin Kline, Patti LuPone, Rainn Wilson, Jesse L. Martin, Keith David, Frances Conroy, David Ogden Stiers, Harriet Harris, David Schramm, Jeffrey Wright and Hamish Linklater. Over a dozen commissioned new works and adaptations include plays by Lynn Nottage, Tony Kushner, John Guare, David Mamet, Beth Henley, Rebecca Gilman, Maria Irene Fornes, William Finn, Ntozake Shange, and more. The Company received a special Tony Honor for Excellence in Theater in 2003 for its contributions to the American theater.

About Resident Ensemble Players

The Resident Ensemble Players (REP) is a professional theatre company located at the University of Delaware, headed by Producing Artistic Director Sanford (Sandy) Robbins. The REP offers frequent productions of outstanding classic, modern and contemporary plays performed in a wide variety of styles that celebrate and demonstrate the range and breadth of its resident acting company.  The REP is committed to create future audiences for live theatre by offering its productions at low prices that enable and encourage the attendance of everyone in the region, regardless of income.

Press: Sam Parrott, Blake Zidell & Associates

SHAKESPEARE UNLIMITED: ASTOR PLACE RIOT ·

(from the Folger Shakespeare Library; via Pam Green.)

May 10 is the anniversary of the Astor Place Riot: the night in 1849 when fans of American actor Edwin Forrest rioted inside and outside New York’s Astor Place Opera House during a performance by Forrest’s rival, the British actor William Charles Macready. Nearly 30 people were killed.

Our guests on this podcast episode are Heather Nathans, Chair of the Department of Drama and Dance at Tufts University in Boston, and Karl Kippola, Associate Professor in the Department of Performing Arts at American University in Washington. They were interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

Listen on iTunesGoogle PlaySoundCloud, or NPR One.

From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast series. Published May 1, 2018. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, His Headstrong Riot Hath No Curb, was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster and Esther Ferington. Esther French is the web producer.

We had production help from Ian Fox and Alex Braunstein at the PRX Podcast Garage in Boston and Andrew Feliciano and Evan Marquardt at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California.

INSIDE AN ARGENTINE TRANSLATION OF ‘HAMLET’ PAIRED WITH SURREALIST ILLUSTRATIONS ·

(Marianne Hewitt’s article appeared in Shakespeare and Beyound, 4/27; via Pam Green.)

The poet and critic Rafael Squirru (1925-2016) and the artist Juan Carlos Liberti (1930-) collaborated to create Argentine translations of Shakespeare’s plays, illustrated with captivating surrealist images.

The Folger’s vaults contain a copy of the duo’s Hamlet (1976)signed and donated by Squirru himself. This Argentine translation updates Luis Astrana-Marin’s Spanish translation of the play, published in Madrid in 1949. Squirru adapts the text specifically to suit ‘the Latin American ear’, as he writes in the introduction, since the Spanish spoken in Spain and the Spanish of Argentina are distinct in accent, vocabulary, and rhythm.

Juan Carlos Liberti’s paintings include colorful scenes of tango dancers and musicians in Buenos Aires, as well as surrealist Shakespearean illustrations. The following illustration is included in the front matter of Hamlet:

(Read more)

Photo: Folger Shakespeare Library

SIR BEN KINGSLEY, EARLE HYMAN, LIEV SCHREIBER, JAMES EARL JONES, STACY KEACH, ESTELLE PARSONS, AND OTHERS TALK ABOUT SHAKESPEARE ·

(from the Folger Shakespeare Library; via Pam Green.)

How Shakespeare Changed My Life

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 95

Hear Sir Ben Kingsley, Earle Hyman, Liev Schreiber, James Earl Jones, Stacy Keach, Estelle Parsons, and others open up about their experiences with Shakespeare’s plays. Actor/director Melinda Hall interviewed these actors (and others), as well as writers, directors, linguists, and even a Holocaust survivor for her web-video series How Shakespeare Changed My Life. On this podcast episode, Melinda talks about the origin of the series, what she’s learned from it, and where it’s headed. She is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.