Tag Archives: shakespeare

MEASURE 4 MEASURE

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Sometimes computer actions become applicable to my life… “force quit! … FORCE QUIT!” I state at my laptop computer while an article on my website browser decides not to allow me to shut… IT… off.

 

My behavior is probably tied to a control issue on some small scale – probably linked to aspects of my world that I feel like I can’t shut off – informing my behavior. Be like subway train cars that have no air conditioning in July; be like sleepy eyelids closing when all I want to do is stay up and work – or watch YouTube interviews; be like my miniscule budget when there are so many good shows right now waiting to be watched on Broadway and even beyond the Big Apple.

 

Well, so be it. I love having that “Force Quit…” option though. It hides there waiting to be clicked behind the bitten apple icon on the top left of my 13” screen. I guess that’s how we might illustrate freedom on some scale nowadays. So many options – one happens to be “Force Quit…” thanks to some computer engineer answering necessity somewhere in the universe.

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Perhaps on some scale that’s the seed of Isabella’s issues in Measure For Measure. Control. A non-virtual, perhaps emotional, ‘Force Quit’ of IT – whatever it happened to be to Isabella. Control over… her own body and free will to choose whether to use her body as a trade to save her brother’s life – or whether to allow herself an ability to remain ‘chaste’. In the sense of this Shakespeare play, a definition of chastity extends to Isabella’s ability to maintain her preparation to become ‘married to God’ as a nun. This would require her to keep all hands off her body and refrain from expressions and receptions of sexual desire – including those of a judge named Angelo (Thomas Jay Ryan) who offers pardon of her brother’s life up in return.

 

Well… now… what a dilemma for a woman like Shakespeare’s Isabella (Cara Ricketts) – or really any person living in that time or ours. To come to the awareness that what is right in her mind, heart and body are in connection to a higher power and faith that she strongly connects to; and that this internal connection is weighed outside of her body very differently by various people – even people she loves and respects deeply. A favorite monologue of mine happens to be an Isabella monologue that I learned in school – it gets right at the crux of the plot issue when Isabella is forced to choose between her chastity or giving it up in order to save her brother’s life (good ol’Bill with those high stakes). Isabella speaks through the problem out loud and alone by reflecting on Angelo’s proposition (good ol’Bill with ability to create irony – I was on the sidelines urging her to be feministic about it all at the end of Act II scene 4…):

 

Thought 1:

 

To whom should I complain? Did I tell this,

Who would believe me? O, perilous mouths,

That bear in them one and the self-same tongue,

Either of condemnation or approof;

Bidding the law make court’sy to their will;

Hooking both right and wrong to the appetite,

to follow as it draws!

 

Whenever I hear those words I have a strong inclination towards ‘ouch!’ right in my heart center. It would definitely make the character Isabella want to shut off her other energy centers (head & hips). The poetic words of the play speak to me and make Carrie Robinson want to kick, push and curse on Isabella’s behalf. I remember in my classroom setting at school watching my friends/ classmates start to cry when I spoke those words for Isabella. And as an audience member on Wednesday night in the professional theatre setting, I watched Ricketts tap all of those same inclinations into her still body and decide to reason through the injustice she has discovered before moving to…

 

Thought 2:

 

… I’ll to my brother:

Though he hath fall’n by prompture of the blood,

Yet hath he in him such a mind of honour,

That, had he twenty heads to tender down

On twenty bloody blocks, he’ld yield them up,

Before his sister should her body stoop

To such abhorred pollution.

 

I heard Isabella consider the effect of her decisions on her brother’s behalf – and wonder what he would have done for her. What if he had his free will and fair use of his body and mind, and was not fall’n by prompture of the blood? She believes that he would have fought for her or used his body to prevent a sister from having to give hers up. And so her dilemma widens and deepens in her love and belief attached to her brother’s ideas around ‘honour’.

 

If they had a shiny coin – would Isabella be heads or tails? If she chose ‘heads’ and began to represent the coin’s minted face as landed up towards the sky – would she let her twirling tail on the other side of her coin, having fallen down, dictate the future? So Isabella reasons further by daring to spin into the dark abyss of her dilemma toward a solution:

 

Thought 3:

 

Then, Isabel, live chaste and brother, die:

More than our brother is our chastity.

I’ll tell him yet of Angelo’s request,

And fit his mind to death, for his soul’s rest.

 

So it’s hard enough to be a judge and decide whether to let a person who has been convicted of a crime face a sentence of death or to go free (I would imagine from my measly time as a mock Chief Justice in law school). But this play begs the question of how it would feel across the chessboard if the judge turned a responsibility granted by Shakespeare’s god-fearing Italian government into a trade for his own use; effectively hooking his power and responsibility granted by law to pull a female body closer to his own plate for sexual purposes. Of course, he attempts to keep his arching line invisible as it contravenes the very laws he’s meant to keepsake. The play then begins to tick around the Duke (Jonathan Cake) discovering his role in preventing injustice within a realm and system that requires him, due to birth status, to rule and oversee the governance of.

 

Jonathan Cake delivers a fine and compelling illustration of the Duke’s character arc in discovering and being compelled by Isabella’s experience to use his knowledge, intelligence, power and privilege towards allowing a woman to have control over her own body. What a concept to be written into a play when a society, like Shakespeare’s, still prescribed that women were not considered people; let alone people capable of making decisions on their own bodies (be virgin or not!) without a male kin’s stamp of approval. At this point in the world’s history women weren’t even deemed capable of having the right to ask for control over their own bodies!

 

I watched Cake/Duke pick apart the problem with rebellion, with language, with observance and reflection, with dialogue, with a Friar’s disguise, with tears and laughter, with love and with reasoned control and I fell a little in love with the Duke from the audience. He took a variety of action on stage that compelled me to see the whole problem and to want to resolve it – just as he found himself wanting to resolve it. Having worked the Isabella monologue in school, I’d never put myself in the Duke’s position before. Isn’t that funny – what a bit of gender neutrality occurs nowadays as a female watching the play – many women are now in a position to relate to the Duke as a person in control over people, governance and even homes; as well as to Isabella as a woman with threats to the control of her body.

 

It’s easier said than done nowadays even with progressions to women’s rights – the system Isabella found herself in indicates the root of some systemic ways of thinking about women’s rights that we still struggle with today across the globe. It occurred to me that Shakespeare’s text only compels my emotions nowadays because it is still relevant. So the emotion can be translated into a metaphoric “Force Quit…” button on my laptop – but on some scale, depending on where a person lives in this world, the dilemmas and threats in this play still ring true. Isabella matters and her brother Claudio matters (Leland Fowler)  – people facing problems that be like Isabella and Claudio’s matter – life isn’t as simple as flipping a coin to let heads and tails dictate an outcome. Just as the Duke discovers this – I was able to reflect on this in the audience – and I thought – well maybe that was the intention of the playwright then:

 

For, though his line of life went soon about,

The life yet of his lines shall never out. – Hugh Holland on William Shakespeare.

 

Measure for Measure.

 

Its very rhythm, within a title granted by Shakespeare, teeter-totters to our ears and forces us to place and balance similar consonants with similar vowels. The carrying out of the play forces us to place and balance right from wrong in our consciences and our understanding of humanity. It is both black and white; both cruel and kind; both male and female; both true and false; both high and low; and it matters. What a unique and balanced title from the Bard collection:

 

Measure for Measure.

 

Consonant for Vowel.

 

Ding for Dong.

 

Tick for Tock.

 

Teeter for Totter.

 

virgin statue

Enthroned Virgin (by Goro di Gregorio (active ca. 1300-1334) – statue on display at The Cloisters, New York City.

Last, but not least, if I could time-travel… I’d sit in on Meryl Streep’s Isabella in 1976… if only that were possible!

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DRUIDSHAKESPEARE MARATHON

2 PM Richard II

3:35 PM INTERMISSION

3:55 PM Henry IV, Part I

5:25 PM INTERMISSION

6:10 PM Henry IV, Part II

7:10 PM INTERMISSION

7:30 PM Henry V

8:55 PM END

Sooooooo HERE’S THE CRAIC:

Clear plastic ponchos are optional in the ‘splash zone’ of the Gerald W. Lynch Theatre in New York City. The location of DruidShakespeare Company’s adaptation and amalgamation of the plays Richard II, Henry IV: Part I, Henry the IV: Part II and Henry V as part of the Lincoln Center Festival 2015. Mark O’Rowe was the writer and Garry Hynes the director.

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I wore said poncho and shared a few chuckles over it with the other poncho bearers. I am sure I looked HILARIOUS. However, it did shield my wardrobe from the blood, dirt and rain that risked falling off that stage during fight sequences. Nothing fell off the stage onto me except sound (although the stage floor was lined with dirt, there was a lot of blood and fighting, and some puking). I felt very ‘considered’ by the theatre though!

O’Rowe was capturing a “play about fathers and sons… leadership, honor, the question of which elements contribute most to greatness – birth or environment or both. It’s about class… affections a leader must quell or kill in himself… to be a leader – which relationships he must terminate, which to nourish. It’s about war – it’s origins, its workings, its consequences.” (Lincoln Center Festival 2015 Program)

An interesting thing to notice was the choice to gravitate towards the performers’ native Irish dialects rather than towards a more English sound or classical stage speech. I sadly did not attend the talkback, but just finished a rehearsal with a friend who DID attend and she TOLD me (*tisk*tisk* on the hearsay here…) that the company’s voice coach, Andrew Wade, encouraged this move. Two things to point out here regardless of debates over how to ‘speak Shakespeare’: 1. The actors felt very grounded and connected to each other while in their Irish dialects; 2. You can tell that Andrew still worked on making the language and sound production clear and consistent so it carried in the theatre. In this way I always ‘heard’ the story due to a clever use of consonant and vowel stress choices on the actors’ parts.

ACTOR LESSON for me was that whatever the dialect happens to be an actor’s muscularity of speech is an asset.

Another most interesting thing to notice (and I’d be a fool to not talk about) is Haynes’ gender blind casting. I LOVE IT! IT’S NICE TO SEE MORE OF IT. I ALSO WANT TO BE PART OF IT AS AN ACTOR.

The company of thirteen actors played over a hundred characters with some female actors playing men. King Henry IV (Derbhle Crotty), King Henry V (Aisling O’Sullivan), Lord Chief Justice (Marie Mullen) and others. Why am I so intrigued? I think it has to do with the human spirit, regardless of gender, and the getting to know what identity is all about including both the dark/bright, high/low, masculine and feminine parts of it.

As actors we are trained to use our bodies and voices as vessels to transform into another identity – that of another human being. It is so exciting to see where an actor is different and where an actor is similar to a character – and sometimes this can be scary. By shifting a center of energy from the head to the heart or even the hips in an actor’s body the character’s perspective can change. Moving through space differently can change the point of view of a human being. Moving through space in a traditionally ‘masculine’ way seems to afford O’Sullivan more freedoms as King Henry V. Even in the very simple manner of speaking louder and more boldly than if he were bound to the movements of a female, in high status, of the era. The transformation of an actor into a character is fascinating. More importantly the shifts in identity that a character makes on stage is the character’s story. If the character’s story is being told physically, psychologically, emotionally, vocally… then what difference does the gender of the actor make?

On the flip side a male actor has often been known to play a character that is a woman (original Shakespearean actors)… and up until present continues to embody effeminate male characters with often traditionally ‘feminine’ traits. I really enjoyed watching Marty Rae’s character (Richard II) transform from a fragile, emotionally stunted King into a bold, rascal of a usurped ‘cousin’ to Henry IV. A really interesting metaphor is used, a looking glass, when he is finally usurped by King Henry IV. Richard II opens the play in a more ‘feminine’, ethereal, goddess like state that is slowly stripped away with his power. As he ‘looks through the looking glass’ he finally transforms his identity towards a singular, more human, angry ‘masculine’ presence.

One thing that binds all my work and continues to interest me in performing… is this question of identity and the question of transformation and I am genuinely moved by the way in which all of us are… society circumscribes us and we play into this feeling that we have to pick one identity and stick with it and any natural transformation within our spirit is to be resisted at all costs and if there is some great shift in one’s life one’s to feel nothing but shame and failure. That’s the thing I’m constantly drawn back to.”Tilda Swinton

Swinton’s statement is certainly relevant when examining the transformation of the identities of Richard II and Henry IV and V. What circumscribes their greatness? How does that change as their identities are challenged and shifted? As ‘greatness’ is taken away symbolically by crown and duty – what characteristics and events cause a remembrance of ‘greatness’?

In the minds and hearts of the people at the end of the play – most of the other characters on stage had known King Henry V as friend, comrade soldier, family member as opposed to Richard II whose choices reflected a more distant, shiny, hovering spectacle. This rendition of Shakespeare’s plays suggests that an indulgent, reckless youth can shift and grow into an adult, may become a leader, and it is what a leader does on behalf of the people (s)he leads that causes a remembrance of ‘greatness’ or of ‘honor’. Not only that… it seems to inflate a sort of self-esteem in a leader to also be considered a human being among people, not alone, regardless of symbolic duty and crown.

ACTOR LESSON for me was that I can initially look globally at a play and figure out who my character foils, if anyone, because it can give me clues on what the growth of my character could be, and the purpose it has to carry out themes… and to tell the story.

 

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THE TEMPEST in the PARK – Such Stuff As [My] Dreams Are Made On

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“[T]he sky it seemed would pour down”, not “stinking pitch”, but rather light rain on a New York Thursday evening at Shakespeare in the Park. The production was The Tempest and the rain was very fitting to an evening among Prospero’s conjuring schemes. Especially since this is a play that opens on a rather extraordinary day involving, not just a storm, but a tempest; a.k.a. a violent commotion, uproar, or disturbance.

Years spent banished on an island, and will to create an enchanted life for his daughter, have afforded the usurped Duke, Prospero (Sam Waterston), time and motivation to master a new set of laws. The sorcerous power that he has acquired allows him to manipulate an airy spirit Ariel (Chris Perfetti) to create the tempest. I found the intelligence and gentleness that Perfetti afforded the spirit to be interesting – hard not to love – like breathing air – taken for granted most of the time until there is a realization of the need to breathe.

Actual fireflies lit up here and there unexpectedly setting an appropriate otherworldly ambiance as Prospero made his way across the stage. The personalization and belief in what he was saying made Waterston’s Prospero clear and heart-felt in his words and sentiments. However, in this day and age it is difficult not to question whether his manipulations are fair and paternalism appropriate?

As Prospero’s shipwrecked royal relatives and crew make their way onto the island we get a sense that their jewelled crowns, ornamented coats and imperial protocols are out of place. Ariel’s soft music, the shifting winds and Prospero’s influence trump the swords & treasures from afar setting their bearers into induced sleeping states.

The more fitting presence on the island is Caliban’s (Louis Cancelmi). Cancelmi’s Caliban was very light on his feet, yet grounded and it was fun to watch how responsive he was to the people around him. The physical mangling of his body gave him an obvious obstacle to battle as he peered out of his ‘otherness’ at the beings around him testing and discovering how they fit into his life.

Prince Ferdinand (Rodney Richardson) finds that he is wandering alone (as a young prince rarely does) and is compelled to set his eyes upon the “peerless” Miranda (Francesca Carpanini). At the same time, Miranda, a youth who is used to being alone and has ignorantly learned to find joy without friendship discovers the first male peer that she’s ever seen… and been attracted to! Supervising this union is a happy father, Prospero, who knows their marriage will also tie his daughter back to her homeland and provide for her when he’s gone. Early on in the play he explains to Miranda,

O, a cherubim

Thou wast that did preserve me. Thou didst smile.

Infused with a fortitude from heaven,

When I have deck’d the sea with drops full salt,

Under my burthen groan’d; which raised in me

An undergoing stomach, to bear up

Against what should ensue.

Good ‘Ol Bill and the power of his language. I found myself getting emotional listening to Prospero’s reasons as to why he’s wielded every type of power he could – mastering the slave Caliban, conjuring spirits, and manipulating people. Being a female in my twenties – I can’t say I can speak for men in their later years… but I am human, I have received parental love and have felt protective over younger family members and children. It was in his parental sentiments towards his ‘cherubim’ that I heard the justification for his actions. I could feel him playing the love. If he could find a way to have his daughter taken care of – then he would forgive his brother, set slaves free, give up his own mysterious powers.

So are Prospero’s manipulations fair – NO – but maybe that is not the point of this story. History shows us life has been unfair for many. The Tempest magnifies the distribution of light and shade in Prospero’s character. It is compelling to watch a story about what people do when life has been unfair, how they perceive their power, how they interact with others around them and to wonder about why? The justification for Prospero’s wielding powers is the restoration of peace amongst his homeland by the uniting of his daughter, Miranda, and Prince Ferdinand. After all – it is a Shakespeare comedy. By the time Prospero offers his epilogue the storm was struck down making way for the stage lights to meet trees as a backdrop.

The actors in this production set an example for me to be inspired by:

Work from the self.

Find the obstacles.

Play the love.

Mine for the truth.

Personalize the text.

Connect to what the other players have to offer.

Tell the story.

Witnessing a story unfold about universal powers and themes (love & family) unfold in Central Park surrounded by earthly elements definitely is “such stuff as [my] dreams are made on”.

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O, THE TRAGEDY!

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It is intimidating to talk about Hamlet, let alone play it, so I almost didn’t write this post. I wouldn’t have missed the Off-Broadway production though, directed by Austin Pendleton, a person I respect after having taken just a few scene study sessions with him last year. It seems, however, that I see his picture and name around town a lot in some way with almost every theatre I’ve treaded into in New York. It makes me feel that I’m walking in his footsteps along the carpets and studio floors and like he’s possibly thought all the thoughts I’m thinking now (also I know he does because he rambles about the ups and downs of his life in the theatre to make his students laugh and relate to him in class). That is partly why I wouldn’t have missed a production of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet yesterday at the Classic Stage Company that involved Pendleton.

As I walked into the theatre to sit down I noticed that the set was modernized and the ceiling was draped with white flowers accented by purple light.  The play starts within a void, a ghostly father, and yet the remnants of the premature celebration of Gertrude & Claudius’ wedding remained throughout every scene distracting from the very invisible but apparent void. The flowers seem to foreshadow that by the end of the play Ophelia, played by Lisa Joyce, will remain hovering over the rest of the players at her funeral.

I was moved by this production – very moved. Perhaps I’m getting older or something (I inevitably am) but everything – all the thoughts of death lingering underneath the white wedding flowers, the beauty and frailty of every relationship in the play plagued by an underlying mistrust or ignorance of human nature… its tragedy was much more unfortunate to me this time round. In this play most of the characters are fighting for something other than love (except Ophelia) – even if their actions might be born of love and loss – it’s difficult to watch. It’s not that Claudius, or Hamlet, or Polonius or Gertrude seem to start out as bad people but eventually a series of sinister actions, revelations and inability to correct bad circumstances cloud their complex characters.

It was odd to hear Good Ol’ Bill‘s language fragmented at times. Hamlet would pause and point somewhere and think and then say something else. It’s daring to experiment with Shakespeare’s natural rhythm and many would scorn at it. I can admire an experiment with heightened text, however, only if I still understand everything that is being said and every event that is happening on stage. I was able to follow and the story was still clear to me despite the departure from a use of Shakespeare’s rhythm that generally helps me when I’m running it over myself. The language was still able to move me with metaphor and to reveal truths about the characters so I was not opposed by the experiment in this particular production.

Hamlet, played by Peter Sarsgaard, surprised me because he was the first character to bring me to tears. (I’m a sucker for grief so that immediately got me… his father dying… but there was some unsentimental, invisible thing that clutched at me too). Within the opening scene of the play I noticed that his Hamlet did not feel like a victim – or if he did he hid it. Instead, his victimhood simply resonated inside as he lashed out at the people around him. His vulnerability surfaced through cracks in his bad behavior and I pitied him – but not because I wanted to. I wanted to be angry at him for getting stuck, for not choosing love over thoughts of revenge, and for crushing Ophelia. Instead I just stared at him from the audience completely crumpled and unraveled by default. By observing Hamlet sitting like an eggshell that no one dares crack I understood Ophelia’s pain better.

I didn’t expect to like Polonius, played by Stephen Spinella, but when a character always thinks he is going to win if he does this, or does that, or reasons a little better this time, or is a little cleverer next time it starts to become humorous. I saw the frailty of a flawed character that in plotting and looking towards the best interests of his family committed actions that actually did not tend to his daughter’s real emotional needs. I couldn’t fault him for his efforts – even though they were faulty. Polonius seemed to pull the wool over his own eyes and the unintentional consequence of losing not only his daughter’s mind, but her person, seemed too great in proportion.

In relation to the ensemble I can say that they were all living in the same world, although they all had their own very different intentions, and this I enjoyed. It is the invisible work of the director to achieve this coordination! At times in the Second Act I felt the need for focus to shift more appropriately from one character to another to reveal plot points, but that goes more to timing and theatre is a live interchange where things can change from night to night – and should.

I got the sense, and this is true of most accounts of most performances, the characters will deepen during the run of the show and become more and more specific and personal. I am left with a deeply personal sense of a group of frail human beings suspended underneath the actions of the play. Even though it was Ophelia whose mind left her body before she left a world that was written to be too dark to accept her love… I craved for the petals of the flowers on the ceiling to shower down on the rest of the characters to relieve them from their own blind misfortune.

O, the tragedy!

tragedy-mask

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