Tuesday, April 24, 2007

As You Like It

In As You Like It at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival:
Before they are exiled: Miriam A. Laube as Rosalind, Julie
Oda as Celia and Brad Whitmore, the bad Duke who deposed his brother--
one of two pairs of brothers (Orlando and Oliver being the
other) at odds in the beginning, but reconciled in the Forest.
These mostly offstage and far-fetched reconciliations are
signaled early when one of these brothers admits that to do
violence on a brother is "unnatural." A key moment I'd
missed until this production.

As of this week, William Shakespeare is 443 years old, and he’s still making news. Without looking for it, I saw his name on the cover of at least three periodicals on the magazine rack at Northtown Books. This birthday sees a new edition of his Complete Works, and several new books, including one I already admire, Shakespeare the Thinker by the late A.D. Nuttall. Shakespeare Inside describes the impact of his plays performed in prisons.

 There’s been a steady stream of new film interpretations, and the burgeoning Shakespeare industry inspired a wonderful TV series from Canada, “Sling and Arrows.” Shakespeare still fascinates audiences, and despite the perils of producing his plays, directors and actors continue to take on the challenge because there is so much to learn and experience.

 Of our established community and college theatres here, only North Coast Repertory Company regularly produces Shakespeare, a commitment not only admirable in itself, but valuable to the entire local theatre community. I was disappointed to see that mine was the only review of their recent Henry IV Part 1. Without broader and deeper dialogue, we’re missing a continuing opportunity that these great plays and their rich theatrical history provide.

 We are most fortunate to be only hours from one of the few theatres on the continent to regularly offer world class productions of Shakespeare. At the Oregon Shakespeare Festival right now there’s a production of one of the Bard’s best: As You Like It. 

Moving Shakespeare’s plays to different places and historical periods has become a fashion, with mixed results. It works when it illuminates the play, and it’s even better if both play and the era illuminate each other. The OSF production (directed by J.R. Sullivan) is set in early 1930s America, or more precisely, in the version we know from Hollywood movies. Those movie images quickly communicate important elements like power relationships—when Orlando (the younger son of a deceased nobleman) is working on a loading dock, and his gangster-like boss is his older brother, Oliver, we get it immediately.

 This theatricality, together with the energy it engenders on stage, emphasizes clarity, an OSF hallmark, further encouraged by this production’s participation in a National Endowment of the Arts initiative called “Shakespeare for a New Generation.” The theatre was filled with responsive young people when we saw it. They were even laughing at 400 year old jokes.

 You know the story: Orlando and Rosalind fall for each other, both are exiled from the court to the Forest of Arden by the Evil Duke, where they find the Good Duke and each other. Disguised as a boy, Rosalind tutors the clueless Orlando on how to win his lady. In the enchanted wild, order is eventually restored, brothers are reconciled with brothers, and just about everybody gets married.

 When I saw this play at the Pittsburgh Public Theater, I was impressed by the fierce energy of Monica Bell as Rosalind. (Julie Oda, who played the country girl Audrey in that production, plays Rosalind’s companion Celia at OSF.)

 At OSF, Miriam Laube had lots of energy, but her portrayal was edgier, more ambiguous. She played to the audience maybe a bit too much, but what impressed me most was that she often seemed to be doing what Rosalind was doing: improvising, making it up as she goes along.

 The 1930s “concept” didn’t often impinge on the integrity of the scenes or the acting and especially the text. Though there was no obvious new interpretation, I heard lines echo with each other in ways I hadn’t heard before.

 Even though the plot and much of the action can seem silly, this is a deceptively profound play. The character who gets no respect from play analysts is Orlando. Because Rosalind drives much of the action, he is dismissed as a somewhat dim hero.

 Yet the play begins with his problem: not that his brother has robbed him of his monetary inheritance, but of his birthright of nobility. “You have trained me like a peasant, obscuring and hiding from me all gentlemanlike qualities.”

 This is where the theme of the court (or the city) versus nature (or the country) begins, and the resolution of it in the Forest of Arden is Orlando’s education. The court is courtly, the country is rude—until he learns that “gentleness” or civility (a word that comes from the same root as “city”) is also natural.

 Many of Shakespeare’s plays dramatize the evil that humans do, almost always in the “artificial” world of courts and nations. In Arden, it is brotherly love as well as sexual love that is natural in the wild. The natural is revealed through artifice—song, jest, thought, Rosalind’s playacting and above all, imagination. Seeing through the eyes of others, imagining yourself in someone else’s shoes, is the beginning of empathy, and the beginning of humanity. In this odd way, As You Like It is a kind of key to all of Shakespeare’s work, and perhaps to more than that.

Will in the Wild continued: As You Like It

In honor of Shakespeare's birthday this week, I've got a series of posts about the play, As You Like It, and specifically the current production at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.

(Following these posts are a couple concerning the Canadian comedy series about producing Shakespeare (Slings and Arrows), a new book on Shakespeare's plays, and a short recollection of Shakespeare birthdays past.)

As You Like It has been called"one of the rarest few of the greatest comedies ever written" (Michael Gelven, Truth and the Comedic Art) and "the greatest pastoral in the English language" (A.D. Nuttall in Shakespeare the Thinker.) While these may not be majority views, I subscribe to them.

Let me borrow from my review of the OSF production to summarize the story: Orlando and Rosalind fall for each other, both are separately exiled from the court to the Forest of Arden (she by the Evil Duke, he by his evil brother) where they find the Good Duke and each other. Disguised as a boy, Rosalind tutors the clueless Orlando on how to win his lady. In the enchanted wild, order is eventually restored, brothers are reconciled with brothers, and just about everybody gets married.

The OSF production moves the action from 16th century France to 1930s America. In my column and in some of the "gallery" captions below, I discuss ramifications of this. But let's specify here as well that the time and place Shakespeare chose is at best vague, and perhaps even mythical. The real Forest of Arden was in England, for example--very close to where Shakespeare was born. So in principle there's nothing wrong with changing locations, but in practice it is often dangerous. The relevant questions are: What is gained? And what is lost?

In my column I discussed what is gained: mostly an easy identification of some of the power relationships and other aspects of the play from what audiences know about the early 1930s as portrayed in the movies: Al Capone, Okies, etc. But what I want to mention here is what is lost. The oppositions in the play are the court versus the wilderness, which means not only the forest but the country, with its farming and herding. The court thinks of itself as civilized, and the country as an uncivilized "desert." But the country folk view the court as dishonest, artificial and snobbish.

There's some sense of this in the American opposition of the period (and its fictions and films) between city and country: the city slicker versus the rural rube. But in Shakespeare there is much more to it. There is a deep theme here of where true civilization exists, in what Shakespeare calls "gentleness." (Shakespeare used the word more than any other known writer of his time.) Gentleness as in "gentleman": courtly manners that include kindness to the weak and the young, fairness to others, generosity, understanding, and romantic (or "courtly") love itself.

These oppositions are in the lines throughout the play. They are even in the contrast of Fools--the court Fool, an "artificial" fool who uses the pretense of being silly and not right in the head, versus the "natural" fool, who in the extreme would be the truly addled, as well as the congenitally different ("little people" for example), but in general could be construed as the basic country bumpkin. Touchstone is the artificial fool (and so in a different way is Jacques, the melancholy philosopher) while William is the natural fool. And both of them have ongoing subplots that comically pose the question of who is really a fool.

This particular opposition comes down to us as the distinction between "comedian" (the verbal descendant of the artificial Fool, or Jester) and "clown" (the name refers to cloddish country bumpkins and their awkward behavior.) But within this play, the differences refer to true value. Neither court/artifical Fool or country/clown turns out to have the monopoly on virtue, or on silliness. It's the pretense of each side to believe they are perfectly in the right--always fertile for comedy. And noting this complexity, even comically (as irony or buffoonery), is very Shakespearian, and one reason we still find his characters and stories true to life.

But in this production, the irony of the court pretending to represent "gentleness" while being in the business of killing and stealing is lost when the court is represented by gangsters. Orlando's complaint at the beginning of the play that he is not being educated to express his gentle or noble qualities is also lost when it appears that he is more like Cinderella--oppressed materially and in dignity by his evil brother. So the nobility that Orlando finds in the forest and fields, both in the exiled courtiers and the rural folk, as well as perhaps in what the forest itself and their relationship to it evokes, is also diminished.

But this production has many virtues--above all, clarity. It is not extreme: neither particularly brilliant nor ever very bad. The one daring bit of action I noted was in Rosalind's encounters with Audrey, "a country wench" who the ardent William is in love with, but who takes a shine to the glossy young man Rosalind is pretending to be. There is a certain homoerotic quality to Orlando's attraction to Rosalind in her disguise as a boy. But this is the first time I saw it doubled by Rosalind appearing to be sexually excited by Audrey, even as she rejects her.

It is the overall quality of the production and its transparency that causes me to admire it and recommend it. Its theatricality connected with the audience when I saw it, and I certainly don't dismiss that. Yet it also restrained the excesses of many productions these days, such as an overabundance of physical theatre at the expense of the text (though there are some surprising comic turns.) Turning every play into a circus is not the only alternative to flat and lifeless recitations. OSF often finds a happy medium, as they do in this production.

What I hope I suggested in my column is that this play can be seen as championing the role of the imagination--of identifying, experiencing vicariously, which can lead to empathy and understanding of others, as well as more accurate self-examination. Theatre must always consider how to spark the imagination of the audience, so practical ways of doing so are important. Theatre is not theoretical.

Gallery: As You Like It

Orlando (Danforth Comins) defeating the champion wrestler,
despite the champ being encouraged by Orlando's brother to
do him harm. It's a very theatrical moment near the beginning
of the play, and is handled very well in this OSF production.
It gets the audience on Orlando's side. Then comes the first
meeting between Rosalind and Orlando, when the sparks are
supposed to immediately fly. I'm not sure that really happens
in this production, but I should remind myself and you as well
that I only saw it once, on one particular afternoon.Posted by Picasa

Gallery: As You Like It

Miriam A. Laube as Rosalind in the current Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of As You Like It. Note the shadowy leaves behind her--the simple set suggests the menace of the Forest--where Rosalind and her friend Celia are exiled. The 1930s America setting and her costume suggest the Depression hobos. At a time when the U.S. population was less than half of what it is today, more than a million men rode the rails in the early years of the Depression, riding from one town to another, with no permanent homes. Among them were some women, who often would dress as boys, pretty much like this, as self-protection.

Like other elements of the 1930s setting, though, this works in some ways, and not in others. Rosalind and Celia are exiles, and traveling as women might be dangerous, but they are also wealthy. They soon are able to buy a cottage and land. There is a big difference between a large scale Depression and some exiles playing shepherd and Robin Hood in the forest. The play is located elsewhere than in confronting that social situation.

I should mention that Laube has a distinctive voice, low enough to not only make her male disguise credible but to add colors in the most audible range for stage acting. This production, like many at OSF, features crisp, audible enunciation. Obviously important in Shakespeare--important and unfortunately unusual enough to emphasize.
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Gallery: As You Like It

Miriam A. Laube as Rosalind and Danforth Comins as Orlando in the current Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of As You Like It. Though it is set in 1930s America, you can see that the two main characters, the central lovers, also look contemporary. That adds to their appeal, especially with young audiences who can identify with them.

By making the characters look modern, there would seem to be potential for cognitive dissonance with the heightened Elizabethan language. Why there isn't is fascinating. For one thing, when the actors know what the words mean, they can convey that meaning through intonation and body language as well as with words. But the words themselves are mostly quite comprehensible, even "modern"--and that includes the lines that aren't "cliches" from being adopted into our argot and familiar quotations.

When the audience is motivated to understand the language--when they are identifying with the characters, vicariously experiencing the action, and participating in the story (wishing for things to happen, guessing what might happen, wanting to know what will happen, etc.) then they may let the beauty of the language wash through them. It can even become one of the sensuous pleasures of this experience.
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Gallery: As You Like It

The OSF production is set in America in the early 1930s,
the Forest of Arden seems relocated in the Ozarks, with a
Woody Guthrie mood. Here we see Jacques (Robert Sicular)
played as a down on his luck intellectual, not unknown
in the Depression. Note the coats and hats--besides suggesting
The Grapes of Wrath, they remind us that the play begins in
winter. I was a little disappointed in Sicular's "seven ages" speech
("All the world's a stage..."). It's so familiar that it must be
difficult to make it sound new, but I felt he softened it too much.
On that afternoon anyway.
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Gallery: As You Like It

One of the comic highlights of the OSF production is David Kelly
as Touchstone, the court Fool. With a look reminicent of silent
film comic Harold Lloyd, Kelly pulls off some vocal tricks, like
a speech in which he fires off a number of impressions in quick
succession, including Groucho Marx, W.C. Fields, Porky Pig
and Mae West.
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Gallery: As You Like It

As You Like It is one of Shakespeare's most produced plays: from the Royal Shakespeare Company and regional theatres, to community and colleges and high school productions. It's been set in every conceivable period and place, and given many different interpretations.

There have been several post-Elizabethan all-male productions--there was one in London in the late 60s (Anthony Hopkins and Derek Jacobi were in the cast.) And Rosalind is a favorite feminist hero, as in this Playhouse on the Square production in Memphis. Director Kathleen Powers saw it as Rosalind's journey of self-discovery.

Many productions favor its festival qualities and emphasize the comedy and romance. That's probably why it's a favorite for school and summer Shakespeare in the Park productions. In fact, it's been done so much in that spirit that the more powerful and more subtle qualities of it in form and content have been in danger of being overlooked or forgotten.

It seems to me to be in fact a play that's difficult to do well. A charismatic Rosalind can do a lot to carry this play, but there is so much else going on that this is seldom enough. That's one of the wonderful things about Shakespeare's plays. There is always something more to explore and to achieve. There's always a challenge. It can always be done better.
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Gallery: As You Like It

There were several TV and film versions of As You Like It--the Kenneth Branagh movie that's been finished for well over a year may yet come to U.S. theatres, or at least TV. But for all the times this play has been filmed, there aren't many versions readily available.

The 1978 BBC production is on DVD however, and it has two particular virtues: it's the whole play, and it stars Helen Mirren as Rosalind. Mirren of course won the acting Oscar this year and is like to win the Emmy, too, for playing Queens Elizabeth.

She's also considered pretty sexy, so you might imagine what she was like almost 30 years ago. Here she's Rosalind in her male disguise, a "pretty youth" with an agile mind and quick wit.
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Gallery: As You Like It

This is Helen Mirren as Rosalind in the wedding scene at the end of the play, looking feminine and and sexually ardent.
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Gallery: As You Like It

It's fun to imagine what the performances of famous actresses were like in the part of Rosalind--Maggie Smith, for example, or Gwyneth Paltrow, who played such an engaging Shakespearian heroine prototype in Shakespeare in Love.

But there are two that I particularly wish I'd seen. Juliet Stevenson and the legendary 1961 performance by Vanessa Redgrave. This is the only photo I could find from that production. She was in her early 20s. I remember her being so achingly beautiful in her mid to late 60s film roles (particularly her first, Morgan!, though most remember her first in Blow-Up.) Yet she was tall and thin, and with those strong features-- a lot to work with for an actor of such vitality and talent. That must have been quite a show!
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Gallery: As You Like It

Rosalind in As You Like It is one of the great roles for women in Shakespeare, so nearly every star of the stage plus several of the screen have played it. One of Katharine Hepburn's first screen roles (Sylvia Scarlett) had her disguised as a man, and she would go on to play strong and independent women competing in "a man's world." So Rosalind was a natural for her.

She played the role in 1950. Though Dorothy Parker had famously described her stage acting in an earlier role as running the gamut of emotions from A to B, she apparently acquitted herself well this time. But it was this outfit that got the most attention. Kate Hepburn had not been known for gorgeous gams, so her long legs were a revelation.
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Gallery: As You Like It

It was my birthday when I first saw this movie, a serendipitous appearance on a small TV in my tiny room in the Algonquin Hotel in Manhattan. This 1936 film version of As You Like It was made as a starring vehicle for Elisabeth Bergner, a prominent German actor who had played the part of Rosalind in Germany, and had just won an Academy Award in 1935. So after she fled Hitler's Germany for England, this project must have seemed a natural.

It wasn't. Her heavy accent could not make up for her energy, and the production was uneven, at best. The movie is notable for a treatment by J.M. Barrie, music by William Walton, and editing by the young David Lean--but mostly as the Shakespearian film debut of Laurence Olivier. He played Orlando, the male lead, to Bergner's Rosalind. He apparently didn't enjoy making the film, and couldn't relate to Bergner in the role. (She had seen him on stage and chosen him for his part.) He felt the only way to make his character credible was to play him as a little daft.

Still, he was the perfect Orlando in some ways. Physically, he looked like he could wrestle a bigger man, and also might have the sensitivity to write love poems. But his voice, perhaps his greatest asset and best known characteristic, now and again made the part indelibly his. When Orlando comes upon the good Duke's party in the forest of Arden, threatens them with his sword to obtain food, he is told that "Your gentleness shall force more than your force move us to gentleness...Sit down and feed, and welcome to our table." I can't help but hear Olivier's voice always in Orlando's reply: "Speak you so gently? Pardon me, I pray you. I thought all things had been savage here..."

This hospitality is in fact the hallmark of civilized behavior among countless tribal peoples, and this scene is the first indication that the idea that the court is civilized while the forest is savage is wrong.

As for Olivier, although his earliest audition piece was the "Seven Ages" speech which shortly follows in this scene, as far as I can tell he never played in As You Like It on the stage.
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Monday, April 23, 2007

TV Stage: Slings and Arrows

"Slings and Arrows" is a wonderful TV series from Canada. It began with a six episode season in 2003 that told the story of a chaotic production of Hamlet at the very troubled New Burbage Shakespeare festival theatre. It's funny and intelligent, and true to both ageless theatrical behavior and the current context of commercialized and corporatized Shakespeare theatres.

A multiple prize-winner, it inspired another six episode season (centered on a production of Macbeth) , and then a third (on Lear.) In the U.S. the third season has been seen this year by those happy few with the Sundance Channel, but DVDs of the first two seasons are available.

Those who have discovered it tend to love and treasure it. It's witty, a bit unhinged, and though it specifically mocks certain Canadian characteristics, it's universal in its humor. Plus there are isolated scenes from Shakespeare's plays that are done so well as to be positively illuminating.
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More Slings and Arrows

As in Shakespeare's plays, "Slings and Arrows" has doubling: the continuing story of the troubled romance between a couple with a dramatic history (Geoffrey Tennant played by Paul Gross and Ellen Fanshaw played by Martha Burns--pictured here) plus a romance between different pairings of younger characters: an insecure young movie star and a young apprentice, both acting prominent roles in Hamlet for the first time; a young couple playing the title roles in Romeo and Juliet--star-crossed in their case because up until they began rehearsing together, he was strictly gay.)

There's multiple doubling of plots, as each series focuses on one play (Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear) while at least one other is also being rehearsed (Romeo and Juliet during Macbeth); beside the drama of producing the play, there's some crisis involving the theatre itself, usually involving its manager (Mark McKinney as Richard Thomas-Jones) that also includes a romantic or at least sexual entanglement.

There's also a Hamlet's ghost trying to direct the action (Stephen Ouimette as Oliver Welles) literally the Artistic Director who is killed early in episode one, and haunts the production, even appearing in it by furnishing his skull for Yorrick's. (He returns to haunt Macbeth; don't know about season 3.) Geoffrey won acclaim playing Hamlet but then went mad. To direct this new production he feigns madness--or does he? A question they're still asking about Hamlet.
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Booking the Stage: Shakespeare the Thinker

What makes this book especially valuable is that Nuttall brings not only a lifetime of reading and discussion of the plays, but a lifetime of seeing them performed. Shakespeare the Thinker instantly becomes one of my favorites, along with such titles as Shakespeare: A Life in Drama by Stanley Wells, the discussion of the comedies in Michael Gelven's Truth and the Comedic Art, and William Gibson's unjustifiably neglected masterpiece, Shakespeare's Game.

From my review of Nuttall's Shakespeare the Thinker, published today by Yale U. Press, here at Books in Heat.

First Principles

"In Shakespeare's world, character is not pre-determined. People become themselves through action, dialogue, the process of thinking. Drama is a basic tool for discovery of the self, achieved through exile, disguise, soliloquy, and scenic counterpoint. For Shakespeare, value is not absolute. It depends upon reflection, as when a person's "virtues shining upon others/Heat them, and they retort that heat again/To the first giver" (Troilus and Cressida). Shakespeare's theory of human relativity is made possible by his dramatic medium, by double plots, contradictions between word and action, and the constant presence of a questioning audience."

Jonathan Bate, general editor of a new edition of Shakespeare's Complete Works, in Harper's magazine, April 2007.
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Shakespeare's Birthday

April 23 is designated as Shakespeare's birthday. It's also the date of his death. There's some factual basis for this date--William Shakespeare was baptized on April 26, when it was the custom for that to happen 3 days after birth. But there's some evidence his family celebrated April 22 as his actual birthday.

However it is parsed, it's appropriate for the greatest known playwright to have his birth celebrated in spring, for the springtime festivals from time immemorial were the wellsprings of theatre. So much of Shakespeare's theatre is related specifically to the festival tradition in England.

Back at Knox College when I was a student, the English and Theatre departments threw a Shakespeare's Birthday party on the closest weekend. When everyone was sufficiently lubricated, scripts would be passed around, and classic scenes performed. I recall doing the Porter scene from Macbeth one year. These festive readings all led up to the main tradition of the party: our shy, older English department chairman (though I suppose he may have been only in his 50s then) would read Romeo in the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet, with one of an endlessly renewed selection of lovely female students.

The Shakespeare's Birthday party was a rite of spring at Knox, where the winters on the Illinois prairie were long and hard, and spring was short but spectacularly green and beautiful.

One of Shakespeare's greatest plays, As You Like It, begins in a harsh winter and ends in a magical spring. More on that anon, in honor of Shakespeare's birthday.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

This North Coast Weekend

from Esparando la Luna at Dell'Arte this weekend...
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This North Coast Weekend

The indefatigable Rudi Galindo and members of his newly forming Latino Theater Collective present an original work, Esperando la Luna at the Dell'Arte's outdoor Rooney Amphitheatre this weekend, Friday to Sunday (April 20-22) at 8PM. Described as a "lighthearted evening of mime and comedy with a hint of pathos," this final production of the Dell' Arte Los Puentes Project is previewed by Wendy Butler in the ER and Jonathan Glen in the T-S. It sounds like it will be an eye-opening and entertaining evening of theatre.

The Rocky Horror Show continues at Ferndale Rep. Barry Blake in the T-S calls it "the best entertainment around." He awards it Four Cookies. (I made that part up.) Laura Provolt in the ER calls it a "ghastly giggle."

I recall seeing those long lines for the Rocky Horror Picture Show in the 1970s in Cambridge, and in western PA and just about everywhere I traveled in the early 80s. But though I've seen (and heard) snatches of it from various TV segments, I never quite got around to seeing the movie. I can imagine it would be very theatrical on stage, and I can certainly imagine that a lot of people will enjoy it (particularly those who know the movie or want to know it more than I do) but I doubt that I'd have anything to say about it.

Also continuing this weekend in the Van Duzer Theatre (Thurs.-Sat. at 7:30) is the HSU spring dance show, Suffusion , which no one has written about, except me, here. Saturday is the Silent Auction, with proceeds going to fund student trips to a national dance convention and to bring guest dancers and dance teachers to the North Coast.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Going North?

If you're going north to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare
Festival this season, you'll have an opportunity to see the
just-announced winner of this year's Pulitizer Prize for Drama:
David Lindsay-Abaire's "Rabbit Hole." This NY Times photo is of
the New York production, which I suspect was highly influential
in the judging, particularly as reviewed in the New York Times.
My review of the play based on the OSF production was more muted,
but still positive. Right now the OSF show is slated to close on June
22, but given this news I suspect that may change.Posted by Picasa

Friday, April 13, 2007

North Coast Weekend

What's wrong with this picture? I have no idea. But something is wrong about the dancers form, so I couldn't use this photo for the blog I put together on behalf of SUFFUSIONS, the HSU spring dance show. Doesn't matter, I guess, since nothing like this is in the show anyway.

You've now figured out that I don't know a lot about dance. But having seen opening night, I can tell you that this show is very theatrical. Most of the 12 dances are large ensemble pieces, and there's a lot to watch all over the stage. I was also very impressed by the imaginative sets and settings--there were a couple of set designs that are among the best I've seen this year. And despite my ignorance of dance vocabulary, I was moved by several pieces. It doesn't take an expert either to see the skill of somebody like Kevin Lynn Dockery. Some very fine music, too, and variety of styles on display. A fun evening.

If you saw last year's show, by the way, you may recall Sarah Jane Carlton's "Walkabout," which she danced solo (or very close to it.) Well, it's a solo no more. It's a very colorful, large ensemble piece now, about an Australian aboriginal rite of passage involving a hunt. Great music, and one of several dances that mix western dance vocabulary with non-western, indigenous dance. It's the first dance of the program and gets the evening off to a rousing start.

SUFFUSIONS plays in the Van Duzer Theatre Friday through Saturday, and again next weekend, Thursday through Saturday (April 19-21), with the Silent Auction on Saturday the 21st. It starts at 7:30pm. Check the blog for details--and the approved photos.

Elsewhere this weekend, Ferndale Rep opens "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Barry Blake (I almost typed "Bake," a Freudian/Martha Stewart slip for the cookie king) has a preview of the show at the T-S. There's a cabaret with some 20 acts down at the Arcata Playhouse, one night only, tonight (April 13.)
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Thursday, April 5, 2007

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First Principles

“Song, story and dance are fundamental to all later ‘civilized’ culture. In archaic times these were unified in dramatic performance, back when drama and religious ceremony were one. They are reunited today in the highest and greatest of performance arts—the grand scale of European opera and ballet, the spare and disciplined elegance of Japanese Noh theater, the grand and almost timeless dance-and-story of Indonesian Gamelan, the wit and hardiness of Bertolt Brecht’s plays, or the fierce and stunningly beautiful intensity of Korean P’ansori performance. Performance is of key importance because this phenomenal world and all life is, of itself, not a book but a performance.”

Gary Snyder
in his new book of essays: Back on the Fire

On the North Coast

Coming Up This Weekend...

Pax Americana, on stage at Dell'Arte's Carlo Theatre Thursday April 5 through Saturday April 7, performed by second-year MFA students under the direction of Italian guest artist, Giovanni Fusetti. The topic is war, present and past. The style is bouffon, described as " a mocking and grotesque genre whose characters are marginal, deformed creatures - dangerous and childlike at the same time - that have little to lose in their position as society's outcasts. They freely mock hypocrisies, power struggles, even love and family, as they ecstatically turn the world upside down to shake out what's hidden." $7/$5 students, seniors.

On Saturday night at 7pm, EXIT US Contemporary Shadow Theater performs at Gist Hall Theatre on the HSU campus: the Exodus story with live Javanese Bronze Percussion Orchestra. $8/$5 children, seniors, students.

The Ferndale Rep production of The Rocky Horror Show has been postponed--it will start next week with a preview on Thursday, April 12.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

April Fool's Day has a long history, associated with the "allowed fool" or jester tradition, and related to our own freedom of speech. (An account of this history is on my Captain Future's Dreaming Up Daily blog today.)

The fool and the clown are also important in the history--and pre-history-- of theatre. These days we're most familiar with the figure of the fool in Shakespeare. The Fool is a character in the comedies of As You Like It and Twelfth Night, and the tragedies of King Lear and Hamlet. But the various aspects of the Fool, and the contrast with the King, or the law, is important in other plays in the Shakespeare canon as well.

In Shakespeare the Thinker, his new (and last) book, the late Shakespearian scholar A. D. Nuttall, writes of the many ways these themes weave through the cycle of histories which includes Henry IV, Part One. Richard II (the monarch of the play of that title which directly precedes the Henry IV plays) is a paradoxical character, sympathetic at times because he is philosophical and poetical, yet as a king he is ineffectual, indecisive (he sees too many ironies to act) and impulsive, given to arbitrary and quixotic decisons. (Nuttall says that the only actor equal to playing all this colors of Richard II was John Gielgud.)

But Bolingbroke who deposes him, is a practical man of action. His despair over the frivolities of his son, Prince Hal, are expressed at times in connection with Richard, who he compares to a Fool rather than a King. He is afraid Hal will be the same kind of monarch, ruled by folly.

The Fool character in the Henry IV plays is Falstaff, of course. (The photo is Ralph Richardson portraying Falstaff). In Shakespeare's time and place, as in our own, clowns were popular on the stage. Shakespeare used this appeal but gave it dramatic and thematic meaning. Falstaff is therefore a complex character. Like the Fool in the court jester tradition, he sees the folly of human vanities--in this case especially, of war. Like the trickster characters of many nations, including the Coyote and Raven in Native cultures, he is also a creature of guile and appetite, undone by his own vanities and vices. But like many fool characters, he represents the joys of life as well. His role in Prince Hal's life partakes of all these, and more.
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