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.