Thursday, December 18, 2008

All the Web's a Stage

I think that productions of plays and their popularity probably freaked people out back in Shakespeare's day. Every time something new comes out, there's always someone freaking out about how it's going to wreck our children.

I like this article because it's called "All the Web's a Stage," which of course plays with Shakes a bit. It's also a great article because it shows how the internet is shaping our reality. Arts and Entertainment have to shape our reality because they shape our desires.

The most exciting thing about Shakespeare is that he is a part of our cultural development as a species at every step. This is a prime example of how Shakespeare's as relevant now as ever.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Shakespeare Santa Cruz Needs Our Help!

I love Shakespeare Santa Cruz. I was looking forward to going to their shows again next year. But 2009 seems less likely to happen than it did in 2008. Everyone is hurting for money, but theaters most of all. Now Shakespeare Santa Cruz needs $300,000(!) by next week to stay open.

I will give them $50 I think. I don't have much money. Seriously, I am in debt up to my freakin eyeballs with student loans. I can't even afford a car or a new computer (mine was stolen a few weeks ago). Will you give them money too? I hope so.

They have one of the most beautiful theater spaces I have ever been to, and I have been to a lot of theaters. I would say further that they have the best smelling space the world has ever known.

Please, please, please give them money!

Photo Credit: Denise Patterson's Photostream.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

American Shakespeare Center this Winter

I just saw Measure for Measure at Blackfriars in Staunton, Va. I work for the American Shakespeare Center now, so take my opinion for what it's worth, but I really liked it this time around. Last time I saw it, I caught the matinée. I guess I shouldn't go to matinées. I hate matinées. Maybe I always have.

I don't have the stub because I got there just in time for curtain and was rushed in.

Pretty soon, they are going to do a bunch of Christmas plays, A Christmas Carol and Santaland Diaries. I am looking forward to seeing both. I've never seen a play by David Sedaris, and I have had a lot friends over the years who have sworn by his work. Excited.

Two actors, John Harrel and Chris Seiler are playing the elf, and I get to see both of them. Harrel is one of my favorite actors.

Another favorite is James Keegan, who will be playing Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Theater is Pornography

Jack Morgan cracking up at Peet's Coffee's idiocyI am sitting here trying to review Woman's Will's great Macbeth. I'm in Orange County, California, Newport Beach. The only cafe around here is Peet's Coffe & Tea.

I try to get onto the to get some skinny, and it turns out, Peet's filter thinks it's porn. Woman's Will is a theater troupe that does Shakespearean productions with an all-woman cast. Although that might seem pornographic to some imbeciles, it is definitely not.

When my laptop told me that Woman's Will was pronography, I actually said out loud "you gotta be fucking kidding me!" I started laughing, but now I'm a little angry. I hate internet filters. I hate anything that tells me what is taboo and what isn't. To build a fence around an acting group that does community outreach and education is reprehensible, more reprehensible than anything I can find online. There is a lot of nasty shit online, and this is worse, Peet's Coffee & Tea, this is worse.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Beowulf on Ashby

I saw Beowulf a while back and loved it. I went with a friend of mine who happens to be a very beautiful woman and writer from Washington or some other state that borders Canada. She's always late, so I thought we weren't going to actually make it in on time. But she got there at the last possible second, and we even got good seats. The show was extended and sold out, this being the last weekend, so I lucked out that she didn't flake. I would have had to sit by myself.

The show is amazing. I loved it.

Afterward, we were walking to a bar, and she got a call from one of her "girlfriends" who was hving some kind of breakdown because of a break-up. She ended up talking with her "girlfriend" for most of our walk. After hanging up, we talked about the "Sex in the City" movie. Do you ever get the feeling that all the posturing and exclaiming women do about how "super important" their "girlfriends" are is all just for show, that it's all a sham? When women tell me that their little circle of friends are so much like a fictional TV show, I can't help but think that they have been duped by a fantasy. I also find "girls night out" or "boys night out" kind of offensive. I have friends that include men and women, and I don't think there is a division on gender lines. Sometimes those gender lines become uncrossable borders by the double standards of the women I know, but never by me or my male friends. The very idea that my male friends would want to have a special night on which we don't invite any women out with us is ludicrous, and I don't think we would do anything differently if we did.

We got to the bar and she told me a familiar story about how some guy who wanted to take her to an exotic location. I've heard this story a million times, and I'm always surprised that men actually invite women they hardly know to exotic locations. It must work sometimes. But my friend said, "I'm not a whore, you can't just get this for free."
"Well," I said, "I think he was trying to buy it with that trip."
"Well, I'm not that cheap either."
"You just called yourself a whore."

Anyway, Beowulf was crazy good and hilarious. You should see it if you live in New York. Banana Bag and Bodice company will be putting on the show in April at Harry de Jur Playhouse.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Obama & Mercutio

When Obama quotes "Romeo & Juliet," I fall in love all over again.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Hamlet 2 in Orinda

Shark and I took the Harleys to Orinda last night to see Hamlet 2 at the cool old theater they have out there, which apparently is a building in every SimCity game ever made because the software company that made them all, Maxis, used to hold offices in the same building. I have a friend who works for them. It's a very nice theater. A bit old-worldy.

Down the street from the theater is a bar, the oldest bar in town, a cowboy spot that used to be pretty much the only other structure in the city according to an ancient arial photo. We went in for a drink.
If the terrorists attack, Orinda will survive. Casa Orinda has more guns than a Kentucky whorehouse on a Sunday at churchtime. The old man with the white Stetson and the gray suit sipped his soup, keeping one hand on his beatin' stick even when he brought up his dirty martini for a wincing slurp.

Oxen yokes serve as lighting fixtures for this old saloon, leaving just enough light by which to tell the old man was squinting his eyes at me. The bartender said he didn't want his picture taken, but I took it anyway. He told me the 85-lbs shotgun over the bar was built by Remington for shooting 40 birds at a time. The old Stetson man grabbed his beating stick a little tighter, and a woman laughed somewhere. There were people having dinner in the nice restaurant part, and I noticed that the fireplace said "Whoever sits round these hearth stones shall speak no evil of any living creature."

"'Nother round?" asked the tender.
"Nah, gotta a show to catch. Thanks." I knocked on the bar and tipped an imaginary hat at the Stetson man, who winced at me.

Shark and I checked the bikes and went in to see Hamlet 2. I reviewed it for Should be up soon.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

All's Well that Ends Well @ Shakespeare Santa Cruz

Every time I see "All's Well that Ends Well," I like it more. Shakespeare Santa Cruz is no exception. My friend flaked on me (poets!) at the last second, so I had to drive that crazy fast Lexus there myself and there was an empty chair next to me, but I soon forgot my loneliness when the lights went down. The scene between the Countess (Beth Dixon) and Helena (Rachel Fowler) was incredible, and I loved every second of it. Caitlin FitzGerald, who played Juliet in R&J, played Diana here, which is cute since their last names are so similar, and I liked that.

Everything was pretty strong. Lavatch (John Pribyl) and Lafew (Richard Farrell) were delightful, and Parolles (Allen Gillmore) was as wonderful here as he was in "Bach at Leipzig."

I didn't dig the soldier costumes that looked a bit camp or something, and I don't understand why people seem to think that a fistula will make a French king speak excruciatingly slow, but the offenses are forgivable in light of everything else.

My friend missed out. But you don't have to. "All's Well that Ends Well" runs until August 31st in the best-smelling theater the world has ever known. There are deer that hang out in front of the glen, and if you arrive early, there are several nice spots to watch the sunset on UC Santa Cruz's massive campus. If picnicking isn't your bag, or basket, you can check out Saturn in downtown SC, one of my favorite vegetarian spots in the whole world. Saturn is like a 50's diner but the shakes are vegan. So freaking delicious that I often click my heels and wish Saturn would sell the cafe and come live with me here. Sometimes I devise elaborate schemes in which I enlist a local to seduce Saturn and follow Saturn to Oakland, where I reveal it was not the local strumpet Saturn loved at all, but me, and now Saturn has to marry me!

Strong Finish!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Burn This" @ Shakespeare Santa Cruz

"Burn This" is good. I liked Yvonne Woods and everyone else in the play. I think it's a bit like "Friends" if "Friends" took place in a realer world with realer people who felt lonely even while they were barreling toward their dreams and surrounded by people who love them. The characters face issues so real, in fact, that it made me feel kind of empty at the end because it reminded me too much of the sadness and torture of an artist.

I don't mean to say that I disliked the play; I did. But the emptiness in my stomach at the end struck me a little harder than I expected.

"Burn This" is written by Lanford Wilson. The play's about artists and writers living in the big city. Being a writer and artist in a big city, I identified myself too much with the characters. There's an advertising person who feels like a whore. I used to be in advertising. There's a rich novelist who's sold out and negative about his art, looking for something better. I've been there, though I've never written a novel, but I remember having too much money and developing a seething hatred for illustration and graphics. And there's a dancer who is good at what she does, but seems to feel like no one cares because maybe no one really does and when you're stuck in a tiny secluded world like dancing, it's hard to get perspective on anything. What can be more like the world of poetry?

"Burn This" is what would happen if all the people in "Friends" were artists whose worst fears were realities in a cruel and unforgiving world. Instead of the human tendency to self-destruct being on their back burners, it's right there in front. Instead of the slow burn everyone else feels behind their ribs, they're in flames and there's no amount of clever witticisms that can help.

I wish Lanford Wilson had written a play that included at least some of the good stuff about being an artist, but the way it is, I'm left wondering if there is any.

If you want to know kind of what it's like to be an artist, you should come see this play. It's running until August 31.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

M 4 M in Staunton. Like a Yin Yang and shit.

Something strange happened in the last production I saw in Staunton.
Why and how did actors I like playing characters I like suck so bad in the beginning of "Measure for Measure"? The whole first act just sounded like "blah, blah, blah." like no one in the play cared about what they were saying or even knew. I think it was because it was a matinée. I hate matinées for the most part. You know who goes to matinées?

The whole first half dragged along like a starved, tranquilized polar bear. The production was no better than a grieving caterpillar too tired to eat and too ugly to love itself; too lazy, too lethargic, the phlegmatic monster was too bored to do anything but hibernate in its hideous cocoon.

What was once the glorious Blackfriars Playhouse, the jewel of the Shenandoah Valley, was now disgusting to me. I looked around and wished that they would turn the lights off. Usually their slogan, "we do it with the lights on," is praised by this theater-going writer, but now it was filled with pink people. It looked like a factory farm. I just wanted to leave.

The bell rang, and the songs started. The American Shakespeare Center has a number of very good musicians in their company, but I was in no mood to listen to their acoustic renditions; I was contemplating the reactions a scathing review of this production would bring from people who have been so gracious to me as a guest in their world. My feeling of trespass would now bear fruit and I would finally be outed as a fraud and a meanie. I resolved to stay honest. No compromises on that. I was going to tear this one apart.

Then Gregory Jon Phelps came out and sheepishly said he would sing us one more song. He started in his mock-nervous way that endears him to audiences as Romeo and Antonio, a wonderful Poor Tom and a brilliant Claudio. I rolled my eyes and settled in, the only person in my row, for more of the same old-same old.

The song was "The Good Die Young," and I kind of chuckled a little because I like how closely it relates to "Measure for Measure." And the song says something about Virginia. Some back-up vocals sneaked out of the backstage area, and soon thereafter a couple actors came onto the stage to join Phelps. If you paid attention, you could start to see the butterfly wings poke out. With every repetition of the chorus, more actors came out. Eventually, they had the audience singing with them and clapping, like it was some kind of country anthem. It was really awesome, and I smiled through the whole thing so that my face hurt.

Then, as if the actors had all enjoyed the musical interlude as much as I did, they came out in character and the play had an energy and enthusiasm I have never seen before in a production of "Measure for Measure." It was like they had all realized what they loved most in life and came out to do it. I have always had faith that a production, like a football game, can be saved in the second half by the home team. And this showed me that my faith was not misplaced. I often think of leaving places during intermission. Poetry readings bum me out sometimes, and plays feel too long sometimes. But I will remember "Measure for Measure" from now on when I think about leaving in the middle.

I would have missed the best clown/executioner scene ever put on the stage.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Lear in Staunton

Everyone in Lear was good. James Keegan has a voice that shakes you into goosebumps. It's exciting to see him on stage in any role, but he seems to have been born to play Lear. And he who called him Nuncle was still a genius despite having lines cut; John Harrell should never have a line cut. NEVER! NEVER! NEVER! John Harrel is the best fool I have seen in Lear. I have only seen Lear something like four times on the stage and a handful of times on DVD and VHS, but this guy was hilarious. In the end when he's not really around, and when Cordelia dies he's missed because Harrel does what the fool is presumably there to: keep things light and give perspective. When he isn't there anymore, the deaths in the end are given more weight and lose their sense. If the fool were on stage then, we would find a reason why Cordelia had to die, but without him there, it's just senseless violence that makes you want to cry, like when tanks are killing people in Georgia while our president looks like a fucking hypocrite. His bauble was a skull that looked around like a puppet wielded by a master.

Everyone was good in this Lear, but I just deleted a bunch of stuff about them because I want to talk about something else before you lose patience with this blog. Have you ever noticed that every Lear has people yelling and screaming through it? I asked Stephen Booth why everyone's always trying to out-yell each other, and he said, "well, they're angry." The thing is, I don't think most people yell when they're angry. Actors playing angry characters often yell; it's an easy way to portray rage and frustration. But people, when they're rrrreeeeally pissed off about something, are pretty quiet. They kind of spit their words. And Regan and Goneril are much too cunning to scream and yell. They are manipulating a large number of people in addition to their father, why risk looking hot and inconstant? If they are resolute and stern, wouldn't it work better? I think that Lear has to do a lot of yelling, but should anyone else be? Would anyone really yell at a king? Even a king only in title? Everyone always yells in "King Lear" and they will continue to do so, surely, but I don't think they should. Just Lear himself maybe.

Blackfriars has some fantastic acoustics going for them, so they can do things with volume and voice variations that can't be done in big outdoor theaters without mic.'s. Mic.'s add some artificiality in those theaters, so Blackfirars won't have to sacrifice anything if they decide to do something different from the norm. I think Lear needs it, and who else is intrepid enough but the ASC?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

To B or Not to B at Washington Dulles

This was the advertisement on the wall at Washington Dulles when I was leaving Staunton, VA. I thought it was pretty funny. And it was very intense because of who I was texting at the time. Airports and train stations have always been places that threw me into a hypersensitivity.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Getting to and Going to One of My Favorite Theaters in America

I wanted to call this post "W3lc0m3 2 Fx1ng V1rg1n1a," but the one I used sounds nicer.

It took me over 36 hours to get to Staunton, Virginia, home of the American Shakespeare Center at and Blackfriars Playhouse, one of my favorite places to see plays. I have been there twice now, and I like doing it with the lights on, the slogan they paste on things reminding people that they are part of the action.
I was booked on five planes, two of which I actually boarded before being instructed to "deplane" after they found mechanical failures. I arrived in DC where it was pouring rain and 80º out. Hertz said they only had Mustangs and SUVs, and since it is against my religion to drive an SUV, I chose the Mustang. I started walking toward the space on the ticket hoping it wasn't a red one. Hot and wet like Vietnam in the summer. "People live like this?" It was a red one. It was a red convertible. The license plate was from New Hampshire. It said "LIVE FREE OR DIE!!!!!"

A state trooper gave me a speeding ticket as I looked at her with red eyes that had not closed for 35 hours. My voice cracked speaking with her, nourished only by recycled air and having not really been used for a long time.

But the sun came up and lit up what an amazingly beautiful state Virginia is, and I was not too tired to be thrilled by the blueness of the blue ridge and how it all looked like paper shadow puppets in Japan or like a talented child's panorama in a boundless shoe box. The names along the highway all remind you of stories you heard as a kid. Places that they talk about in "John Adams" on HBO. The rain had cleared and the view was simply stunning.

It was like that, ephemeral and stumbling, that I arrived in the early, early morning at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel. I've stayed in Hotels all over the world. The Stonewall Jackson is one of the ones I enjoy particularly. I had seven hours. I am used to staying awake for long periods of time. But I had ten hours to sleep and shower and eat and get my head before the first play and dinner with people who are smarter than I am. "This is going to suck," I said to the hotel mirror, the red eyes, the black bags, the greasy airplane hair.

But the ASC production of "Twelfth Night" did not suck. It was an all around pretty strong production, I thought. Before curtain, they played songs like "Boys Don't Cry" and others that are appropriate if you listen to the lyrics. I liked that very much, and I am seriously surprised that there are so many talented musicians in the company. They cut some things out of the play I rolled my eyes about, but my condition didn't allow me to take as accurate notes as I wanted to, and I don't remember what they cut now. But John Harrell, who played a wonderful and original Malvolio , should never get a line cut—NEVER! And if anyone cuts any of his lines in any character that he's playing, that director should lose sleep over it for the rest of his/her life. In this case, Rob Clare is the director who should be losing sleep, riddled with perplex guilt and existential doubt.

Sasha Olinick was a good Feste, and Alyssa Wilmoth was a cute and sweet Viola/Cesario. Sarah Fallon was a nice Olivia, too. Gregory Jon Phelps was phenomenal as Andrew. Last time I was in Staunton, he played Romeo (the last good one I saw) and I was glad he was still in the company. He's hilarious.
I was tired and annoyed easily by René Thorton, Jr. because he seemed not to like any of the women in the play or something. There was no chemistry between him and the women. Usually I like him.

After the play I had dinner with Stephen Booth and Ralph Cohen and a woman named Freddie. I was a bit brain dead at dinner, and I felt bad about being so tired. I hope they couldn't tell or think I was being a jerk or something. I was trying to think about the play, but I couldn't, which is why this post is all about getting to the show. Hunter S. Thompson would have reviewed it like that. But there would have been drugs. All I had was Tanqueray and tonic and some wine at Zynadoa. Zynadoa kind of makes me want to live in Staunton.

The bartender there remembered me from my last visit. That's nice. I go there as much as possible when I'm in town I guess.

I am going to write about all the productions I saw while I was in Staunton last week.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Theatre

They think the found The Theatre. Pretty crazy. I wish I could go see it. Here's the link to the very short AP piece on it.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Winter's Tale in Marin

"The Winter's Tale" at Marin Shakespeare was not the best Winter's Tale I've ever seen, but I think I had the most fun I've ever had watching it.

Marin Shakespeare is all about the whole theater-going experience. They have a package that they offer called the "Ultimate Theater Experience," which I thought was funny at first, but went on said ultimate experience I found out its title is pretty apt. It includes a dinner and desert, and they have a vegan option which is quite tasty. You eat out of doors with some people you've never met, and they're all talking about Shakespeare and the plays they've seen and having pre-show drinks. It's fun. Managing Director Lesley Currier or her husband Artistic Director Robert speak about the play you are about to see. I usually never like to hear what the runners of theaters have to say about the plays, but these guys are OK. They keep it kind of personal, what problems they had and what they thought about while producing, and they keep it pretty short. They reserve you the best seats in the house with cushions and take good care of you. You can tell they love what they do, and that adds to the enjoyment, too. It gets fairly cold in Marin, so bring a coat even if you think it's warm enough.

Rather than review this one, since I recommend going to Marin Shakespeare irrespective to what I think about their production of "The Winter's Tale," I am just going to put some notes here that I took while in the theater without names of actors or directors. The only things in this list I felt strongly about were Autolycus and Time, which came very close to ruining the whole production and the "Ultimate Theater Experience."

Things I hated:
  1. The sheep shearing festival is loooong and booooring with too many games.
  2. Time is on the stage the whole time doing things. Sometimes what he does is cool/funny/necessary, and he gives good speeches, but he's moving the whole time and making noises with sticks and things, so we are constantly aware of his presence, which sounds like a good idea, but it isn't. The magic of time is that we don't always notice it, time surprises us. It should be like that person you forget is at the table and shocks you with a perspicacious remark when you least expect it. If you want Time to stay on stage the whole time, let him sit still so that he doesn't become tedious and annoying.
  3. The thief has no understanding of comic timing. Everything is so slow with him that you can't wait for him to get off the stage.

What I liked:
  1. Perdita was good, and her surrogate father, too.
  2. The shepherd clowns are funny.
  3. Costumes were nice.
  4. Tiny lambs gag made me chuckle.
  5. Leontes is a million times better at the end of the play.
  6. They played the statue scene straight without gimmick. Refreshing!

Thursday, July 31, 2008


LOL, I didn't want to write this review. Shakespeare Santa Cruz is so great, and they're nice, and their theater glen is wonderful and fragrant. But the Romeo & Juliet there is really bad, and after talking with famous Shakespeareans last night about my problems with the production after having put it off for a couple weeks, I realized it was more a problem with a horrible trend, and that needs writing about, so here we go.

The only thing good about the Shakespeare Santa Cruz production of Romeo & Juliet is Yvonne Woods. Her deliberate movements and commanding voice and presence somehow make Lady Capulet (!) the most interesting character in the play. It's too bad Shakespeare didn't write her a bigger part. The rest of the production was cluttered with bad costumes that didn't work; gypsy bits that didn't make any sense, do anything useful, or find a fit in the play; a singing, fortune-telling nurse who gets stuck in weird pantomimes with Friar Lawrence, and the least convincing Romeo I have ever seen.

But all that's not what I wanted to talk about. I think the production could have survived all of those faults were it not for two fatal errors. All the Shakespeareans I was with at Zynodoa last night agreed with rolling eyes.

Slow motion on stage is a very bad idea. If everyone on stage goes slo-mo when the lovers meet, the audience doesn't see the lovers because they're too busy watching Lady Capulet clap her hands very, verrry slowwwlly. It achieves precisely the opposite effect it was intended to. Slow-mo is a parlor trick that works splendidly in movies but has never ever worked on stage except for as a gag; when Broadway produces a Kung-Fu Panda show, watch for it. At San Diego's Old Globe, they did it, and in Santa Cruz they did it twice(!!): when the lovers meet and during their train wreck of a Mercutio/Tybalt death scene. And when Tybalt gets it, the Santa Cruz production makes its second fatal error. Usually, Romeo and Tybalt both get some of the audience's sympathy. After all, Tybalt doesn't want to die and Romeo doesn't want to kill him. The play goes to great lengths then to make sure Romeo doesn't deserve a death sentence. It was a crime of passion that happened to carry out what the Prince's law would have. But the audience is the jury, and if Romeo slits Tybalt's throat, we see cold calculation rather than hot rage so that when Romeo dies it seems a lot more like justice than it should, which is not at all.
If he kills Tybalt like he's some kind of Commando, no one will care when he dies; it's hard to feel bad for a predator. In San Diego, they even played a sound effect like "SHINNNKT!" when Romeo does the deed. A raw deal for the audience because they can't help but totally recall the murder when Romeo does himself.

Director Kim Rubinstein works at UC San Diego, so it's not too surprising that she's using the same faulty tricks that Seer pulled out at the Old Globe, but it is surprising that both directors think the gimmicks are a good idea.

I love Shakespeare Santa Cruz, though.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Best Shakespeare Movies and Hamlet 2?

Rotten Tomatoes came out ten years ago. I remember when it debuted, and I thought it was the best movie site online, and I still think so. It's mean and rotten, and that's important when you're spending ten bucks every time you're at a cinema.

Recently they did a 'best of Shax' list. I think some of it is B-U-L-L Shit, but all of it is kind of awesome, too. I like this list. It's promoting something called "Hamlet 2," which I am definitely going to see.

Here it is. And it's garnished 55(!) comments so far.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bach at Leipzig in Santa Cruz

Itamar Moses, a young playwright, wrote the first play I saw at Shakespeare Santa Cruz
this year. At 31, he's a prodigy. "Bach at Lepizig" is a brilliant play filled with perfect comic banter as four would-be professors at the Thomas Schule audition for what they think is the most important position in German culture while a war brews outside. He manages to accomplish this with overlapping epistolary frames carried by unseen pigeons and the Shakespearean quirk of a play within a play that isn't actually a play but a device turning the production into a meta-play. At one point, Georg (everyone in the play is called Georg or Johann) writes a letter to his wife from prison, describing how to write a fugue. The already elegant description is made more elegant by the accompanying musical fugue playing in the background, building as Georg adds each voice. Then later, as if we didn't understand, all the Georgs and Johanns come out and speak lines in a way that they are all heard, but none completely understood, what we understand, oddly is the way a fugue works and consequently the way this and every other work of art captures us.

The Santa Cruz production, the Bay Area debut, was quite good. People loved it. I loved it. I guffawed at moments and moved to the edge of my seat in suspense at others. Director Art Manke blocked it so that the stage's shape became a tool rather than a hindrance to tell the story. I mean that I have seen too many plays this year on half-moon stages that ignore their shape and end up leaving out huge portions of the audience. Not so, here, and the costumes and lighting were masterful and downright impressive. The actors' comic timing was charming, and you got the feeling that they all knew each other very well and were having a great time together on stage. There was a chemistry on stage that permeated into the audience, and everyone had a wonderful time. As far as new plays, contemporary plays by living playwrights, this is one of the best I have seen in a long time.

In the spirit of remaining critical, though, the sword fight went on a bit longer than it needed to after we got the point that Johann is a dancer. It seems to be a twitch for directors to think that audiences come to plays with swords for the sword fights. But long vaudevillian bits with swords don't work because we live in a world where spectacle is available at a much higher caliber at the click of a mouse. I've never heard anyone say, "I wish that fight scene had gone on longer."

Other than that, though, what a play and what a production! I can't wait to see what else Shakespeare Santa Cruz has up its sleeve this season.

Bach at Leipzig runs until August 31, 2008

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

All's Well that Ends Well at the Old Globe

This will sound a little like cheer-leading.
When I was at Berkeley, a professor who is a famous critic told his class to read "All's Well that Ends Well," warning them that they would hate it. And what do you know? They all came back to class ready to talk about how much it sucked. They were intelligent students who knew how to scoff at something they didn't understand with big words, but it was a horrible display of wits steered by the power of suggestion. I learned two things watching intelligent people burn a play they'd only just read:
  1. The Republicans might be right about the way many political opinions are formed in college.
  2. No one should ever talk about a play they have not seen produced on stage.
"All's Well that Ends Well" was the best play at the The Old Globe Shakespeare Festival in San Diego this year. It's set in what I would call a Victorian era Paris and Florence. In France, it's all dark wood and lamps, with nice suits. The French King's wheelchair is one of the most beautiful props I have ever seen, and it only comes out once, I think. It looks authentic but how could it be? The King (James R. Winkler) is really sick when he is in that wheelchair, and believably healthy after Helena's miracle. It kind of feels like a real miracle has just been performed.
In Florence, it's all peasant dresses, soldiers, and a giant statue of Michelangelo's David, which got a huge laugh, and there was plenty of Italian flag waving. Great change of setting.
Bertram (Graham Hamilton) and the Countess (Kandis Chapell) were great—everyone was great. But when Helena (Kimberly Parker Green) gets her first speech, I was like, OMFG! Kimberly Parker Green is a very powerful actor who commands the stage like she owned the whole theater or maybe the whole world. She gave me goosebumps twice! That hardly ever happens. You want everything to work out for her Helena and when it finally does, you don't care about what reading students will say about the undeniably weird ending. All's well! and that's great! because we want it to end well for Kimberly Parker Green's Helena!

Parolles (Bruce Turk) was another thing that made the season. Shakespeare likes to push his audiences into joining in on the torture of his most loathsome characters only to make us feel bad about it later as we learn that they aren't that bad after all. It takes a really good actor to make the trick work. A good Malvolio will make an audience want to cry. A good Parolles in this case actually made many in the audience cry. Remarkable. His warning to braggarts is just heartbreaking, and we all want things to get better for Parolles, too. I think Bruce Turk might be a genius. He was also wonderful as Ford in Merry Wives.

They did one weird thing with a voice-over type reading of the letters, when the characters who wrote the letters come out aloft and say the lines rather than the person who is reading them. That was little lame I thought, but not too bad. I was on the left, and I think maybe director Darko Tresnjak forgot about us over there, as we weren't always able to see everything. But that wasn't horrible either. Everything else was marvelous. The sets, costumes, even the hair, were perfect. Lavatch (Eric Hoffman) was great, the song before intermission in Italian was fun, the reappearance of Helena, everything was great. And everything that could have gone wrong, didn't, and it all ended well, and everyone was happy when Helena and Bertram kissed.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Merry Wives of Windsor

I've heard too many intelligent people, Shakespeareans, say that "Merry Wives of Windsor" is a bad play to ignore it. The Old Globe in San Diego makes no attempt to ignore the play's ignominious reputation either. The program includes a blurb by Alan Brien that says "The Merry Wives of Windsor should be allowed to remain in the basement as the only really botched job in Shakespeare's repertoire." The other blurbs weren't much better, and they set my mind at ease a little because it seemed like they knew they were going against centuries of negative press. It also shows that they were willing to have fun.

Director Paul Mullins set his Merry Wives in the old west. It was the second cowboy setting I've seen this year. My expectations were low since Ashland's "Comedy of Errors" was so horrible, but they didn't need to be. The production was surprisingly very good. Falstaff (Eric Hoffmann) was great because he managed to be very funny, very gross, and even though we like him, we don't feel too bad about what befalls him at the hands of the wily wives. The wives, Celeste Ciulla and Katie MacNichol, were charming, by the way. The brilliant Bruce Turk was wonderful as Frank Ford, really the whole cast was great. They had to be great.

And as for the cowboy stuff, I think it worked incredibly well. A lot of time is spent in the saloon, a familiar scene and not as disgusting as the Elizabethan era taverns we're used to seeing drunks in on stage and film. There's woo-hoo dancing girls and sassy and saucy women all over. The production reminded me of the 1950 "Annie Get Your Gun" with Betty Hutton, when westerns were musical and fun and maybe a little campy. When the merry wives agree on a plan and shake hands, the comic potential in such an agreement isn't wasted; it's almost like a cartoon or an episode of "Saved by the Bell" when the gang gets together to develop an elaborate hoax to teach Screech a lesson--and isn't Screech just another Falstaff? The play wants to have fun. and vague memories of MGM movies set in 'the west' let this production get away with it. Meanwhile, the costumes helped tell the story, which is what they're supposed to do--hellooooo. I am sick of seeing plays in which the costumes don't do anything. Falstaff walks into Mistress Ford's parlor and flings his hat thirty feet to land on the mounted horns of an elk. Abraham Slender gets his hat pulled off with a string as if it were shot off. Falstaff's red long johns are a crack up with his big belly sticking through. And the last scene looks like the haunted mansion at Disneyland: scary and somehow friendly at the same time. Genius.

I can't believe I'm talking about "The Merry Wives of Windsor" like this. Next time I hear a bad word about this play, I am going to tell them about Paul Mullins at the Old Globe.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Old Globe's Romeo and Juliet

I think that "Romeo and Juliet" is a bullet-proof play. You can tear it apart as a director or actor, kick its teeth in and drag it out bloody for everyone to gawk at, and it will still please audiences. It's not like people haven't tried to ruin this play, but productions of it are never able to be quite atrocious enough to turn anyone off of it.

Every time I see "Romeo and Juliet" I roll my eyes at decisions the artists make, and I clench my fist and jaw when productions stumble over and over again. But in the end, when I'm asked if I liked it, the worst thing I can say is that it wasn't bad.

The production I saw in San Diego was proof of R&J's indestructibility. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. Everything felt clumsy and stuttering, like I caught the crew at rehearsal or on a very off night. It felt like nearly everyone involved was just sharpening their teeth. If I went into everything disastrous about the Old Globe's production of R&J this year, it would take much too much space for a blog entry. But I will say that every prop that could malfunction did, which was actually pretty hilarious.

But there were diamonds in the rough. Fresh-faced Heather Wood was delightful and tragic. She navigated the emotions Juliet so well that she played the stage like a carousel horse, hitting every golden ring perfectly. Laughs and tears for her, indeed. Watch that one. Catch her blowing bubbles when she makes her first entrance.

The other noteworthy was Owiso Odera as Mercutio. R&J is the play I have seen most, and I don't think that I have been more reluctant to let a Mercutio go. I am usually rather relieved when he dies. Not so here. When he left I was left wondering who would do all the heavy lifting. Odera also delivered the Queen Mab speech in a way that made me lose my sanity momentarily and think about taking back everything I've ever said or thought about Mab. It's a good actor who can deliver Mab without being tedious and lame. Odera even pulled off the conjuring bit in the second act.

Owiso Odera and Heather Wood both have fantastic names, so they won't be hard to remember, but it's nice that they give us many more reasons to do so.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Eye of Silence

I have a friend who holds a degree in architecture from UC Berkeley named Justin Botros. He is one of the most intellectually curious and creative people I know. One night we were discussing how spatial reasoning was as important a skill to develop in poetry as it is for architects. In poetic circles, we've been talking about the intersections at which architecture and poetry meet for a long time now. I don't know how much they talk about it in architecture classes, but when Justin Botros and I discussed it, his idea wheels started turning. The conversation quickly turned to the structure of Shakespeare's sonnets.

I am not an expert on the sonnets. I know a bit more than the average Joe, I guess, but I am far from being able to recite more than one, and I don't really know which number is which. Luckily, I know the leading expert on the subject, Stephen Booth. Stephen Booth's favorite sonnet is 15.

When I consider every thing that grows

Holds in perfection but a little moment,

That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows

Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;

When I perceive that men as plants increase,

Cheered and cheque'd even by the self-same sky,

Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,

And wear their brave state out of memory;

Then the conceit of this inconstant stay

Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,

Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay,

To change your day of youth to sullied night;

And all in war with Time for love of you,

As he takes from you, I engraft you new.

I told Mr. Botros about sonnet 15. Justin decided to do his own analysis of it through architecture. It is one of my favorite pieces of art that has been created around me, and I am very proud of the small part I played in its creation.

Monday, July 7, 2008


I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, but I haven't lived there in almost fifteen years, and until yesterday, I had not been to Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum. I don't like saying things like "should" but the whole time I was watching "As You Like It" in Topanga Canyon yesterday, I was thinking, "this is how Shakespeare should be experienced."

The stage is more of a porthole looking into a forest than a scaffold, and the actors don't meander on it anyway, using every possible spot within the theater gates. And there isn't one bad seat in the house. At half the price of the play I saw before this one, it was a bargain, too! The audience was enthusiastic and as varied as far as age/race/gender as I have ever seen, something I like to mention when talking about going to plays.

The play was funny and fast (directed by Ellen Geer), well-played (nearly everyone in the play was a pleasure), and beautiful. Costumes were perfect, and the songs delighted the audience (Melora Marshall).

This was the third play I've seen this year set in the cowboy days, and I wonder where this trend is coming from, and I wonder where it will end up. I thought it wouldn't work after seeing the "Comedy of Errors" in Ashland, but it was as great here as it was for San Diego's "Merry Wives of Windsor."

I want to Promote the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum as much as possible. I think it's worth a trip, and I want to see another play there soon. They don't take on airs or take themselves too seriously. They invite you into their home to participate in their favorite pastime. Everything seems a little DIY, which I adore because it somehow feels as if they actually care about the art of live theater, like a labor of love; it feels like this talented group of players understands something that everyone in theater should. I'm not sure what that is, but I think it has something to do with falling in love with your audience so that they can fall in love with you.

I want to mention Michael Lindsay because he was the best Touchstone I've seen in a long time, but I have to say that nearly everyone who took the stage in yesterday's production was an utter delight.


Sunday, July 6, 2008

Pericles at Orinda

Joel Sass's west coast directorial debut was rather wonderful. I wanted to write a long review about his production of Pericles, but I didn't get to see it until nearly its last night. So I will say only that I loved the costumes, the set, the fact that it was absolutely hilarious, the fact that the audience was thrilled by it, and that only a handful of players (like 8 of them) handled all the roles. I don't have the playbill, and I can't seem to find a list of players on the Cal Shakes website, but I want to say that the young woman who poorly played Cordelia in Cal Shakes's Lear last season did an incredible job in this season's production of Pericles.

I had never seen Pericles on the stage. It was a huge surprise how good this Pericles was. I want to see more of Joel Sass, and I have to find out what that Cordelia's name was so that I can keep an eye out for her, too.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Coming Up and Going Out

A few days ago, I was sitting at a cafe in Rockridge, Oakland, and one of the waitresses was looking at me cracking up. It took me a second, but I figured out that she was reading my American Shakespeare Center T-shirt, which has a list of pickup lines from the plays. Then I started cracking up. Then Sara Mumolo started cracking up.

I am going to go to San Diego's Old Globe this weekend to see Romeo & Juliet, Merry Wives of Windsor, and the one I am really excited about, All's Well that Ends Well.

I am also trying to figure out a way to get a plane ride to Virginia next month in order to see four plays in Staunton.

Monday, June 16, 2008

PS3 Ad With Highly Redacted Henry V St. Crispin Speech

I just want to say that I find it totally awesome that video games are now using Shakespeare speeches to sell their products. I don't notice any reference to Shakespeare, nor do I notice any reference to anything Shakespearean at all, but I once read that Shakespeare has always been here, and I once read that he stalks the culture. When hippodramas were in vogue, Hamlet rode a horse. Now that video games are all the rage, Shakespeare is there, too, or still, rather. I am entirely enthusiastic about this despite their having butchered the speech a bit more than I would have liked. They had to get it down to 30 seconds, after all, and they manage to get all the main points I guess. It is one of my favorite speeches, one that I have committed to memory, and I like it the way it is, but how cool is it that it appears here in a PS3 commercial? Very.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet

The first time I saw Baz Luhrmann’s star-cross’d lovers film, I was seventeen. I saw it with my fifteen-year-old girlfriend in Diamond Bar, California. We loved it, but even then I hated the opening scene with the “capulet boys” and the changes in Mercutio’s death secene. But I really liked the energy of the movie and that it was a movie rather than an adaptation of what happens on stage. I hadn’t seen Branagh’s Henry V yet, so it was the first time I had seen Shakespeare on the screen in a way that was interesting. I just watched it again, and I find that I love and hate the same things about it.

In the opening scene, Gregory and Sampson become Montagues somehow. The confusion of what the men say to each other is an important part of the play in that it creates a world in which the frays and who’s fighting whom in those frays are never quite clear. By changing the houses of the serving men in the opening scene and labeling the cast as they appear, everything’s a little too clear even as we contend with the hiddeous cuts and dashes the camera makes. The first scene looks like bad comedy, which is ok and is often staged that way, but it doesn’t work if the director has already taken a massive liberty with the text to make sense of things. It robs the audience of an experience.

Prince is a police captain here. That might be all right, but the scene where he meets with Capulet is cut, and we never discover that Mercutio and Paris are his kinsmen. When Prince says that he’s lost a bunch of his kinsmen, no one knows what he’s talking about. Leaving in the scene would have worked well because it would help the police angle, giving the police a motivation to do things that really can’t seem real in a contemporary setting.

John Leguizamo is pretty awesome. He plays Tybalt quite evil and looks like the prince of cats in the opening scene with his pistoleering. But when he kills Mercutio, he looks like he does it by accident, and when Romeo shoots him he’s unarmed, so we feel bad for the villain or feel nothing at all as we roll our eyes. Mercutio acts like he wants Romeo to duel Tybalt, and when Romeo says no, Tybalt proceeds to beat the crap out of him. Mercutio intervenes and gets killed. Romeo hunts Tybalt down and shoots him on the steps of some kind of church that has water at the top of the stairway for Tybalt to fall into. The audience has to wonder a little why Tybalt was tunning toward the pool, but whatever. Changing that scene is a capital offense because it hurts the play in several ways. Mercutio picks the fight with Tybalt; he doesn’t save Romeo from an ass-kicking. Tybalt kills Mercutio on purpose and fleas; he doesn’t sit around to see him die in Romeo’s arms looking sorry. Romeo and Tybalt fight; Romeo doesn’t offer himself up to Tybalt, guilting Tybalt into dropping his gun only to be shot by it.

Baz Luhrmann does the lovers’ scenes beautifully. He knows how to use a soudtrack, and he knows how to get his actors to fall in love and how to get his audience to fall in love with them. The film is amazing in that it fails to ruin in the play completely despite its trying very hard to do so. By the end, you’re back to where Shakespeare wanted you. If Baz Luhrman had a Shakespearean expert with any amount of integrity and balls, he might have had a really great movie on his hands.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Pyramus and Thisne

The Beatles are the Rude Mechanicals.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Ashland Shakespeare Festival 2008

Ashland is a nice town with nice people and at least one nice latenight place to eat that is so much better than anything we have in Berkeley or Oakland that it makes me want to write a letter to the mayor.

Tonight I made a decision. At Standing Rock Brewery, I overheard many actors trash-talking other actors, which is fun and healthy, but putting things in print is different. So, I only want to say positive things about the 2008 Ashland Shakespeare festival when it comes to the shows and leave the bad stuff out. I know that everyone likes to read the scathing stuff, but I don’t want to write that right now. I must say, though, that Standing Rock Brewery was a pretty horrendous host for such a party as took place tonight. My dog could have organized and hosted a better party.*

Coriolanus was in the New Theater. Laird Williamson and the crew obviously really cared about this production. They used every inch of the theater they possibly could, and then they went under the stage for more room. The play was bigger than the theater let it be, so they did it anyway. Danforth Commins was bad ass enough to play the bad ass Corilanus, and Michael Elich made Auphidius a character more complex than I read him and more threatening and ominous, too. Sarah Rutan stole scenes as Valeria and a member of the “people,” and I was excited to see that she was going to be Desdemona in Othello. I walked out of Coriolanus happy and excited to be in Ashland.

I hated everything about this play except Iago played by Dan Donohue. Every scene he shared with Rodrigo (Christopher Duval) and/or Cassio (Danforth Commins) was interesting and compelling. While I was watching it, I thought about how much better a Macbeth Donohue would make than Patrick Stewart. He really was a flawless Iago and seemed to carry the whole show. Director, Lisa Peterson, ended the play well; the last scene sticks with you for a while because Iago turns around with a face like, “I’m fucked” right before the lights abruptly go out.

The Clay Cart
I saw The Clay Cart on a whim. I was there, and I found a cheap ticket, so I went. I was pleasantly surprised. I loved the songs and the colors and the actors and the characters. I was charmed. Miriam A. Laube as Vasantasena and Cristofer Jean as Charudatta charmed everyone in the audience, I think. There was one character, Radanika played by Christine Albright, who was a scene stealer. People noticed her and fell in love, and she has that thing that certain brilliant stage actors have that captures your eye and keeps it. The stage of the Bowmer was used to perfection, and the whole thing was visually stunning. Bill Rauch and crew must have really loved this play. It was evident that The Clay Cart was someone’s baby. It is a very beautiful baby, and I am thoroughly pleased that I let the whim take me to see it.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the big thing this year. It is so good that I would recommend flying out to Oregon if it were the only play you could see. There are so many things that are good about this production, that I am going to write a whole extra review about it. I can’t believe how good it was, and I have never even heard of an audience freaking out the way it did here. What I will say is that I saw it twice, and the second time I noticed that Titania, the best Titania I have ever seen was played by Christine Albright, and I realized that I was becoming her fan. She was at the horrible party at Standing Rock tonight, but I didn’t meet her because I was afraid that she would be nasty or something. I mean to say that actors, especially the ones you like, have a way of completely letting you down in person. I have met many movie stars and many actors, and I have been let down quite a bit.

Comedy of Errors
I am not sure what to say about this except that it is one of those productions that makes you want to talk about whether something is really Shakespeare. It makes you want to talk about the boundaries and liberties a director can take or should adhere to. Comedy of Errors is one of my favorite plays to watch, and this one was fun, but I hate the kind of questions it asks, and I hate it when plays ask me questions about Shakespeare and Shakespeare productions. I kind of wish it was called something else, like Error Side Story or Cowboys of Errors or. Everyone was good in it. It was a pretty good play, but it’s more of a farce or a spoof or a cowboy musical based on Comedy of Errors than Comedy of Errors itself, and I hate this production for making me make those distinctions.

*I don't have a dog.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Othello: Enjoy the Moor Unless You're Poor

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ewan McGregor, and Kelly Reilly were in Donmar's Othello, and I heard tickets were going for $1500. I don't know whether to be impressed or disgusted. I like the idea of a Shakespeare production being so good or so hyped that people go insane enough for it that they are willing to pay as much for a ticket as most people pay for their first car, but how is anyone who isn't pulling in six figures supposed to see a play like that?

This is what the New Yorker had to say about it.