Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Shakespeare in I Dream of Jeannie

"The Girl Who Never Had a Birthday, Episode 2." By Sidney Sheldon. Perf. Melissa Joan Hart, Caroline Rhea, and Beth Broderick. Dir. Claudio Guzman. I Dream of Jeannie. Season 2, episode 11. NBC. 21 November 1966. DVD. Mill Creek Entertainment, 2015.

Here's a bit more of Shakespeare the man (rather than Shakespeare the words) in an American sit-com.

In this case, it's a sit-com I watched growing up—in reruns, at least: I Dream of Jeannie. Shakespeare finally makes his brief appearance in the second of a two-part (!) storyline in which Jeannie realizes that she doesn't know when her birthday is. After far too many bizarre machinations, they finally determine on a date to celebrate—only to realize that they can't invite anyone to the party.

Not a problem! With a nod of the head, Jeannie summons up a crowd of guests from the past—including good old Shakespeare. I have two clips for you. The first takes us to the bare essentials of Shakespeare's appearance:


The second clip gives you the context of the first. I include it for the dedicated devotee who wants to see who else came to the party. I'm partial to Sigmund Freud myself, but that may be because I grew up in the Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure era. Enjoy!


Links: The Episode at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the complete series of the show from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Monday, July 25, 2016

Shakespeare in Sabrina, the Teenage Witch

"Jealousy." By Jonathan Schmock, Nell Scovell, and Frank Conniff. Perf. Melissa Joan Hart, Caroline Rhea, and Beth Broderick. Dir. Jeff Melman. Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. Season 4, episode 3. ABC. 8 October 1999. DVD. Paramount, 2016.

When I say "Shakespeare in" (as in the title of this post), in this case, I mean the person of Shakespeare rather than quotations from Shakespeare.

I know next to nothing about this show. It's one that passed me by. I think I was writing my dissertation through the entire multi-season run of the show.

But, as I've said before, I'll try almost anything if there's a Shakespeare payout somewhere in the process. This one, though, did test my limits.

The main character—Sabrina, I assume—becomes jealous of another student's writing. In order to confirm her opinion that it's bad (even though it's actually quite good), she summons three great literary figures from the past to ask their opinions of the work. I'm including that clip below—as well as a bit from later in the show where the expression "the green-eyed monster" (from Othello) makes itself manifest.


There you go! The most exciting minute and fourteen seconds in all of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. Once again, be grateful to your friendly neighborhood Shakespeare blogger for taking that on.

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the complete series of the show from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Friday, July 22, 2016

Party with Shakespeare!

"Midsummer Night's Madness." Seventeen July 1964: 54+.

A little while ago, an image of the cover of the July 1964 Seventeen magazine started making the rounds. It purported to offer help in planning a number of different parties—among them a Shakespeare Party.

The cover was nice and entertaining, but it wasn't enough for Bardfilm—oh, no. With research librarians who have my back, I set out to find the details of the party. Here's what I discovered:
The scene: a garage. Out in the driveway couples are twisting to madrigals. Offstage a noisy chorus of "Happy Birthday, Dear Will" is just ending. It's Shakespeare's Year; his four-hundredth birthday. Join the fun! Plan your party for ten and send out the word to come As You Like It—as Juliet or donkey-headed Bottom or Prince Hal in shiny foil-and-cardboard armor. You put together the armor (boys tend to make much Ado about Nothing over such things) and let your beau help set the stage for the party. (54)
Of course, you may wish to go all out with the invitations and the food:

We're advised to keep attendance from being too easy: "Admission: twenty lines of Shakespeare, memorized" (55).

I'm not too sure about the Hamletburgers—particularly because they're described as "'A dish,' to quote Shakespeare again, 'fit for the gods'" (104). It's a bit off-putting when you realize that the quote is Brutus describing the future corpse of Julius Caesar rather than a delectable dinner concoction:

I'd certainly be wiling to try the Maids of Honor:

Finally, he's the full two-page photo spread from the article:

There's not much summer left—who's going to throw this party . . . and then invite me to it?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Shakespeare in Time Flies

Time Flies. Dir. Walter Forde. Perf. Tommy Handley, Evelyn Dall, George Moon, and Felix Aylmer. 1944. Gainsborough Pictures, 1944.

In the chronology of this blog, we move from the sublime to the ridiculous.

In this 1944 film, a professor has invented a time machine. An unscrupulous man cons an actor on the music hall stage into investing in its further development; his wife (also an actor) objects. Somehow, all four of them end up accidentally traveling back in time to Elizabethan England, where hijinks ensure.

I watched this film because I heard that Shakespeare makes an appearance. Our actors arrive in the Globe Theatre and find Shakespeare working on the script for Romeo and Juliet. Yes, I know—if they're in the Globe, Shakespeare must have written the play already. But that's the kind of fact you have to forget about so that this film doesn't drive you insane. For example, just as they're teaching Walter Raleigh (not yet Sir Walter) how to smoke a cigar, John Smith starts bragging about owning all of America—until Pocahontas shows up and claims it for herself.

In any case, our music hall actress helps the man she sees with his lines—which she thinks he's forgotten. Only afterwards does she learn that he's Shakespeare himself—and they don't get there until they've practiced the balcony scene together. Have a look:


Immediately afterwards, a few Shakespeare-era musicians arrive; after they have a go at a number about the ringing of the bells, our musical hall actors break into a ridiculous song and dance number. I'm including it here because the music is actually pretty good—and I like the idea of our actor grabbing a clarinet and giving the Elizabethan era a good taste of Benny Goodman-esque jazz:


Finally, one part that was caught my attention was the actor who played the professor. Here's a clip from his role—see if you can figure out what other famous and Shakespeare-related role he played:


That, dear readers, is Felix Aylmer—he played Polonius in Laurence Olivier's 1948 Hamlet (made just four years after this film). It's intriguing to see him in both—but there really isn't much range between our absent-minded professor and that absent-minded Lord Chamberlain.

All in all, Time Flies is a not-too-memorable ephemeral comedy—but I do find it hard to resist anything—even a B-grade movie—that has Shakespeare in it.

Bonus Image One: How to tell where you are in Space.

Bonus Image Two: Shakespeare as Romeo.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Once Again, They Put the Great in Great River Shakespeare Festival

As You Like It. Dir. Doug Scholz-Carlson. Perf. Mark Murphey, Ana Marcu, Stephanie Lambourn, De’Onna Prince, Jason Rojas, Peter Eli Johnson, Ted Kitterman, Zach Curtis, Zach Curtis, Ana Marcu, Michael Fitzpatrick, Jason Rojas, John Maltese, Mark Murphey, Silas Sellnow, Benjamin Boucvalt, Caroline Amos, Tarah Flanagan, JuCoby Johnson, Rob Hancock, and Ted Kitterman. Great River Shakespeare Festival. Winona, Minnesota. 2016. 

Julius Caesar. Dir. James Edmondson. Perf. Mark Murphey, Ana Marcu, Stephanie Lambourn, De’Onna Prince, Jason Rojas, Peter Eli Johnson, Ted Kitterman, Zach Curtis, Zach Curtis, Ana Marcu, Michael Fitzpatrick, Jason Rojas, John Maltese, Mark Murphey, Silas Sellnow, Benjamin Boucvalt, Caroline Amos, Tarah Flanagan, JuCoby Johnson, Rob Hancock, and Ted Kitterman. Great River Shakespeare Festival. Winona, Minnesota. 2015. 

The Great River Shakespeare Festival has given the world two more stunning and superb Shakespeare productions.

I'm always so moved by the beauty of the GRSF's productions and the skill and depth of the actors that I find it hard to get started with a review. I'm also always a bit rushed because I want to get the word out about the shows as quickly as I can. Bear with me, then, as I provide a few points that struck me about each show.

As You Like It.

The costumes, set, and lighting were striking. This Shakespeare Festival puts an incredible amount of thought and work into these elements of the show. After the intermission, the set was littered with letters from Orlando to Rosaline—and the lighting on the backdrop made it take the form of hundreds of letters sewn together. This image (from the GRSF Instagram Page) gives you a sense of the beauty of the sets and costumes:

The music was delightful—please notice the musicians in the background of the image above—they were often in the background of the production. All the songs from the play were given new musical settings for this production—and they mostly rode a delightful line between folk and bluegrass. A cello and guitar were the main instruments, but a mandolin made its way in there from time to time as well.

The acting was superb. The Orlando (played brilliantly and energetically by Benjamin Boucvalt) had a light touch that could turn to utter seriousness on a dime—and do so utterly believably. The Rosaline (played energetically and brilliantly by Tarah Flanagan) was utterly fresh and vivacious. One scene that particularly impressed me between the two was the "I would not be cured, youth" scene. I've mostly seen it played smoothly—Rosaline has a plan in mind and unfolds it to Orlando so that he (and the audience) can understand it. In this production, she came up with the plan hesitantly, adding bits as she thought it through—occasionally frustrating Celia (played extremely well by De’Onna Prince) by how unpolished it is. Flanagan is also often able to respond to a difficult line with a brief glance or a pause or a slight movement in a way that brings its meaning home clearly (and often humorously) to the audience. The text of Shakespeare is vitally important in this production—and Flanagan gives us that and much more.

I mention those two actors in particular, but each of the actors brought great weight and depth to the characters they played. Here's a quick image of Touchstone (with Rosaline in the background).  Rob Hancock's Touchstone displayed considerably mastery of the language and of physical humor. His timing could not have been improved upon.

The director had a powerful and intriguing overall vision for the play. Jaques is utterly thrilled and overcome by the fool in the woods—but he soon becomes fraught with melancholy again as he delivers "All the world's a stage." Jaques' "Seven Ages" speech is often seen as a damper on the play (for some thoughts on this, click here). And it does bring things down in this production—but not for long. But the play brings us back down again—and then back up.

Really, I was struck by how this production of the play exhibits a manic depressive personality. We have incredible highs counterbalanced by desperate lows throughout the entire play—until, in the last scene, we generally run up a crescendo of joy to the end.

Julius Caesar.

The Great River Shakespeare Festival Julius Caesar is one of the best I've ever seen.

The production has something of the flavor of the 1937 Julius Caesar directed by Orson Welles that I've written about (in conjunction with the film me and Orson Welles) here. You may be able to see something of that in this image (from the GRSF website) of the conspirators arriving at the Senate:

If you see both Shakespeare productions, you'll start to recognize the incredible breadth that these actors have. The light touch Benjamin Boucvalt gives to his Orlando is traded for a conniving, sarcastic, smooth, and sadistic Cassius. It was hard to remember that the roles were played by the same actor. In this production, Cassius exuded the aroma of Applegate from Damn Yankees. He's subtle and sly, but he's a tempter to make your skin crawl.

Visually, the production is stunning. One member of the audience next to me was struck by how very little color makes its way onto the stage—until the assassination. That makes the blood all the more shocking.

Speaking of the assassination, Zach Curtis plays it (and the rest of his role) very well. It reminded me vividly of Brian Murray's Claudius in the Kevin Klein Hamlet. He's a remarkably good ruler with a trace (but only a trace) of tyranny in him. He's tyrannical tendencies are reduced in this production to complicate Brutus' thought processes and Cassius' temptation. Just before the assassination, he becomes more outrageous ("Yet in the number I do know but one / That unassailable holds on his rank, / Unshaked of motion”), which, for the moment, seems to validate the assassination. But Curtis plays the death to evoke great pity. He crawls down two conference tables, spreading considerable blood about, and dies agonizingly at the end of the second. His body lies there for the rest of the very long scene, making the conspirators look far more like the butchers than the sacrificers Brutus hoped they would be.

John Maltese plays Brutus with great subtlety and thoughtfulness. His consideration of the way to give Rome the best government it can have ("It must be by his death") had unsounded depths. Though the production has generally modern dress (1940s? 1950s?—How do you date a fedora?), I didn't get the impression that any particular politics (other than ancient Roman, of course) was specifically being referenced. But Maltese's consideration of Cassius' temptation brought to mind the recent events in Turkey. Were the leaders of the attempted coup also thinking as deeply about how to make their government great again? As a side note, this is merely one more indication of the continued relevance of Shakespeare in our time.

Maltese's interaction with Portia was also very fine (as was hers with him)—but it does bring to mind one oddity of the production. This production makes Portia particularly pregnant, and I'm not convinced it worked. It stood out without clear motivation. I imagine it makes Portia's death more poignant (especially to Brutus), but it wasn't a piece with the whole production.

The Soothsayer—played by Ted Kitterman—was intriguing. He's pictured on the first image of this post. He's portrayed as a veteran of one of Caesar's past wars, and he's not altogether there. His interaction with Caesar had a poignancy to it—as if Caesar recognized some complicity in his current state. He also delivers Artemidorus' lines, which gives him more than just supernatural knowledge of why the Ides are to be avoided—he has collected names and numbers. It's an interesting choice, though it does tend to bring him down to more of a mundane plane.

The second half of As You Like It is better than its first; the first half of Julius Caesar is better than its second. But this production manages to keep our interest and attention through to the end. Perhaps that it helped by the unusual timing of the intermission—it's right after the assignation and right before the funeral orations. In between, the set change shows the effects of Caesar's death by showing cracks in the giant S.P.Q.R. above the stage:

Caesar keeps reappearing—accompanied by subtle red background lighting and barely-distinguishable sound effects—and we watch the decline and fall of Brutus with interest.

Both Shakespeare plays were, once again, utterly remarkable.  The GRSF is a diamond of the purest cut—unutterably beautiful and complex.

The GRSF is also putting on a new musical called Georama this year. I've heard great things about it, but I wasn't able to see it myself.

The 2016 season runs through the end of July—so plan your trip immediately!

Links:  The Great River Shakespeare Festival.
Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2016 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

—The Tempest