Friday, July 13, 2018

All's Well at the Great River Shakespeare Festival (and Midsummer Night's Dream, too)

All's Well that Ends Well. Dir. Rick Barbour. Perf. Caroline Amos, Michael Fitzpatrick, Benjamin Boucvalt, Leah Gabriel, Anique Clements, Christopher Gerson, Jonathan Contreras, Alex Givens, Zach Curtis, Melissa Maxwell, Jonathan Gillard Daly, and Christopher Peltier. Great River Shakespeare Festival. Winona, Minnesota. 2018. 

A Midsummer Night's Dream. Dir. Beth Gardiner. Perf. Benjamin Boucvalt, Silas Sellnow, Andrew Carlson, Anna Sundberg, Anique Clements, Zach Curtis, Antonio Duke, and Leah Gabriel. Great River Shakespeare Festival. Winona, Minnesota. 2018. 

First, the title of this post sums it up cleverly enough. The Great River Shakespeare Festival is putting on All's Well that Ends Well, and the Great River Shakespeare Festival is serving up its usual fare of tremendously thoughtful, terrifically acted Shakespeare plays. This is their fifteenth year of doing so, so that isn't too surprising.

Second, I got to the shows earlier in the season this year than in years past, which gives me more time to promote the productions more specifically. You have until August 5 to make it to Winona, Minnesota (a gorgeous two-hour drive from the Twin Cities) to see these marvelous plays.

Let me tell you briefly what struck me in of each of the Shakespeare plays on tap this year.

All's Well that Ends Well

This is one of Shakespeare's "problem plays," and it has traditionally been harder to find this in production than other, less difficult plays. Indeed, the Great River's production is the first live production I've seen.

One of the reasons it's denoted as a problem play is that its ending tends to be less satisfying than others of Shakespeare's comedies. And one of the main reasons for that is the character of Bertram, who seems priggish, spoiled, and whiny through the first four acts—and then proves to be a liar and (more or less) a scoundrel in Act V. And he's our male romantic lead!

And that can make Helena, our female romantic lead, either extremely naïve or extremely persistent and forgiving.

This production went with the latter.  Indeed, the entire production is geared toward forgiveness, reconciliation, and grace. Halfway through the play, we get fabulously-constructed stagings like this, with Helena in the foreground and a silhouette of Bertram (looking somewhat Hamiltonesque) in the background:

Toward the end of the play, the two have moved to a level of equality and reconciliation, as seen in the image below:

Spoiler alert: The focus on forgiveness is so strong that the last five minutes or so of the show are largely taken up with Bertram kneeling before every individual he's wronged and silently asking for their forgiveness or absolution. It took (perhaps) a bit too long to accomplish, but it made that element of the production clear.

With the big-picture ideas out of the way, we can move to a few bullet points about the production:

  • Parolles was played to great effect. It took just a little while for the audience to get his character and to understand that we're meant to laugh at his cowardice (a bit like we laugh at Falstaff). Once we caught on to that, he became a figure of true comic relief—one we looked forward to seeing.
  • Many of Lavatch's lines were cut and replaced with whole Shakespeare sonnets (occasionally slightly modified to connect to the play). I need to re-read the play to form a clearer opinion about that decision . . . but it worked on the stage—probably primarily because the role was played so brilliantly by Jonathan Daly, who returned to the Festival this year to universal delight.
  • The bed trick was fairly convincingly portrayed. Bertram meets with Diana, who blindfolds him before she is replaced by Helena. 
  • Lighting, costuming, and staging were all interestingly and brilliantly done.

Theatre is often about the personal experience, and my own gave me a perspective that I shall try to keep in mind in the future. I had never seen a live production of this play, and I haven't read it for over a decade. I remembered the broad strokes of the plot, but very few of the details. And it took me a while until I became attuned to Shakespeare's words and could follow the plot and the speeches with greater comprehension. I want to remember that feeling—I imagine it's how many of my students feel when they come to a Shakespeare play.

Go see All's Well at the Great River Shakespeare Festival. They make the play very enjoyable, and I trust that your experience with the play will end well.

A Midsummer Night's Dream

This production was a quick and delightful romp through Athens and its surrounding forest. Just eight actors—Just. Eight. Actors.—double and triple up to play all the roles.

There isn't a lot of heavy thought to take home from this show—and that's fine. If All's Well can be a problem comedy, this is a Dream from which all problems have taken to their heels and run away.

  • The plot of the Indian child has been excised from this version. That simplifies things, but it also muddles the motivation of the feud between Titania and Oberon. I need to think more about that, but I don't think that cut served the play well.
  • Titania's interest in Bottom is . . . well, it's a bit more on the PG-13 side than is the case with most productions.  She's not just doting on him . . . we get some Sonnet 129 "lust in action" from her.
  • This production's Puck is on the taller, solider, older, more majestic side. Most Pucks are on the spry, elfin side, ready to turn handsprings on stage to do Oberon's bidding. This Puck uses magic rather than physicality to accomplish Oberon's tasks. It gave him an ageless feel—like he's been around far longer than Oberon and serves him because that's more interesting than taking responsibility to make decisions on his own.

Again, go see the play—it's well worth seeing and offers a great deal of hilarity—particularly when the Rude Mechanicals put on their play.

Links:  The Great River Shakespeare Festival. An album of photos from All's Well.

Bonus Image: Parolles (played by the inimitable—seriously, he can't ben imitabled —Christopher Gerson) & Lavatch (played, in his triumphant and much-ancipated return to the festival, by Jonathan Daly)

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Book Note: Malvolio's Revenge

Masson, Sophie. Malvolio's Revenge. New York: Ember, 2012.

The last book I read by Sophie Masson was The Madman of Venice (for which, q.v.). Indeed, I once taught it in a course I developed called "Modern Shakespearean Fiction."

I ran across this one in an essay for the most recent Shakespeare Association of America Convention. From the title, I thought it might be a sequel to Twelfth Night, and it does have some elements of that, but it's more of a mirror novel, but with a twist.

The story involves a touring troupe of actors putting on a play entitled Malvolio's Revenge. They end up in New Orleans. The year is 1910. There's much witchcraft, mystery, and intrigue.

Because of the mystery and intrigue, I don't want to say too much about the plot—spoilers, you know. But I'll provide a few sample pages—particularly geared toward the plot of the play-within-the-novel.

The first gives us the troupe's first sight of a Louisiana manor house called . . . yes, you can probably guess it . . . Illyria:

Later, we learn a bit more about the play:

I thought the book had a good sense of setting and tone, and the plot is intriguing. We don't get as much of the play-within-the-novel as I'd like—I'd like to learn more of the vision of the afterlife of Twelfth Night that the novel plays with.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Shakespeare in The Flintstones

"Curtain Call at Bedrock." By George O'Hanlon. Perf. Alan Reed, Jean Vander Pyl, and Mel Blanc. Dir. Joseph Barbera and William Hanna. The Flintstones. Season 6, episode 20. ABC. 18 February 1966. DVD. WarnerBrothers, 2012.

In an episode of The Flintstones close to the end of its run, our Bedrock buddies put on their production of a Shakespeare play.

In its usual style, the name has been altered to fit the paleo setting. Thus, we have Romeorock and Juliettestone as the play.

The plot involves Fred Flintstone objecting to playing the lead role of Romeorock—even though he knows all the lines and is adequate in putting passion into them. At least, he's more adequate than Barney Rubble, who is tagged to play the role.

Barney keeps forgetting his lines. And when he does deliver them, he does so very monotonously. The controversial intervention of the Great Gazoo solves the former, but it can't do anything about the latter.

I've compiled some clips to give you a sense of the episode, which had a surprising number of lines from Shakespeare in it (and one reference to public speaking majors):

To avoid spoilers, I'm not showing you anything from the actual performance at the end of the episode—you'll have to seek that out for yourself (though the image that heads this post may give you a clue as to how it works out).

There's a Season five episode (episode 11, for those keeping score) titled "Dino and Juliet," but I suspect that its use of Shakespeare is much more generic.

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Monday, June 11, 2018

Book Note: Kino & Teresa

Lujan, James. Kino and Teresa: A Play in Two Acts set in New Mexico in the Years after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, after the Spanish Re-Conquest of 1692, Based on Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. Lexington: Native Voices, 2005. Post-Production Draft.

At the 2018 Shakespeare Association of America convention, I learned about Kino and Teresa, a Native-American play that retells the story of Romeo and Juliet.

I don't know much about the period 1680 to 1692 in New Mexico. I know John Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel was published in 1681, but that's not exactly relevant here.

The play is set in a Spanish town with two groups of Pueblo peoples: those who are living peaceably in the town (though they are subject to racist attitudes) and those who are living outside the town and who are suspected of plotting against the Spaniards.

The play stays very close to Shakespeare's original—sometimes seeming to proceed almost speech-for-speech.

I'll give you two samples (click on the images to enlarge them). Here's one from early in the play. It's setting things up . . . and then working into the opening "Do you bite your thumb at us?" exchange:

And, since I know you're going to ask, here's how the balcony scene plays itself out:

Bypassing the "wherefore" conundrum, we get "O, Kino, Kino! Why have you come into my life, Kino?"

The play provides an intriguing setting for its retelling of Romeo and Juliet, but it may stay a bit too close to the original to provide a depth of commentary on the cultures involved in that setting. But I'd love to see it in production—that might bring the cultural elements to the foreground.

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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Book Note: As I Descended

Talley, Robin. As I Descended. New York: HarperTeen, 2016.

As I Descended is a young adult novel that is derivative of Macbeth. Its title comes from a question Macbeth asks not long after the murder of Duncan.

This version of the plot is set in an upper-crust boarding school with a history of ghosts and supernatural activity. Indeed, our Macbeth analogue is tempted into action when a Ouija board says "Usted conseguirá lo que más desea" (20)—you will have what you most desire.

The novel generally follows the plot of the play, but the characters have been changed along with the setting.  Our Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are Maria and Lily, a lesbian couple. Duncan is Delilah, the top student and soccer player. The Kingdom of Scotland is the college scholarship for which they're competing.

All in all, it's a compelling read, but it does take agency away from the characters and give it to a myriad of ghosts, figures from folklore, and other supernatural creepy things. Some sample pages follow.  Note: The extracts below are not appropriate for all readers.

The first encounter with the supernatural elements in the novel:

Maria starts to realize that the spirits are telling the truth:

Lily persuades Maria to put drugs in Delilah's glass so that she'll test positive on the upcoming drug test and lose her chance at playing on the soccer team or winning the scholarship:

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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 2008-2020 (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