Archive for the ‘Shakespeare’ Category

Hamlet at Marquette University

April 11, 2014

Last night, A.J. and I went to see Hamlet at Marquette University. I’m sure that when you hear the name of this show, you think about when you HAD to read it in high school or maybe you recall some mediocre community theatre or high school production that you experienced years ago. But I have to say, without a doubt, that the Marquette Theatre production was simply the most powerful rendition of this classic show that I have ever seen. In fact, I will go out on a limb and say that this is the best Shakespearean production that we have seen in quite a number of years. To put that in context, we have seen eight of the Bard’s play in the last three or four years.

The Marquette student actors were incredible. There wasn’t a weak performance in the entire ensemble. And the young man that played Hamlet, Kyle Conner, was extraordinary. The role of Hamlet, when done well, requires the actor to change his mood from happy to sad to angry to melancholy over and over again. Kyle played it so naturally and believable. He looked physically drained during the curtain call.

The naturalness of all of the actors is what impressed me the most. So often, Shakespeare’s plays are presented very stiff and formal. I believe this comes from the actors not truly understanding what they are saying. In last night’s production, the dialogue was so conversational that you forgot that it was written in iambic pentameter. It is so much easier to understand Shakespeare when the actors’ emotions and actions are completely in sync with what they are saying. Well done cast.

I don’t want to spoil anything for those that intend to see one of the three remaining performances but the treatment of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy was fantastic. It was one of many terrific directorial choices made in the staging of the show. This is just another element to add tremendous power to the show.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the set and costumes. The set is a very nondescript unit in the center of the stage with columns, arches, stairs, and levels. Its openness allowed you to see all the way to the back wall of the theatre. It uniquely accommodated the various locations in the play. The costumes complimented the set as the cast was dressed in no particular style or time period. Generally, they were in muted shades of black and gray with a splash of color to denote the families to which they aligned.

This was the fifth production that A.J. and I have seen at Marquette in the last few years. Their production quality is always incredible. I am so happy that A.J. has chosen to attend Marquette University in the fall as a Theatre Arts major. We will hopefully see him up on that stage soon.


As You Like It

July 14, 2013

On Friday night, A.J. and I went to see As You Like It performed by Optimist Theatre in Kadish Park. This was our second “Shakespeare in the Park” production; last year, we saw Optimist Theatre perform Macbeth.

This was an absolutely phenomenal production. I would have gladly paid a normal ticket price to see a show of this caliber and they lovingly presented it for free. As is always the case for this company, the cast and production staff was a veritable “Who’s Who” of Southeastern Wisconsin professional theatre. The quality that they bring to the table is unmatched. Particular standouts for me were Todd Denning as Touchstone (the fool), Genesee Spridco as Audrey (his love interest), and Christopher Elst in his various roles (especially the wrestler).

The staging and direction from Tom Reed was unique and inspired. There is the perfect blend of the Shakespeare text with modern concepts and accents that gave the show an almost contemporary feel. That feeling was complimented by the costumes, set, and props.

Personally, for me, the only negative aspect of the show was the venue itself. I know that the staff and board of the theatre are very proud of finding this excellent outdoor setting for their future endeavors but I don’t think that it works for this type of production.

When you arrive the scene is almost idyllic. The venue is set on hill in Kadish Park overlooking the Milwaukee cityscape. It looks absolutely perfect. Unfortunately, the hill is very steep. I witnessed no less than six people slip and/or fall on their way to their seats throughout the night and this was when the ground was dry. Also, being high above the rest of the city in an open area allowed for a lot of the city noise (fire trucks, loud cars, music playing in adjacent apartments, fireworks) to disrupt my attention from the show.

The biggest flaw with the venue, however, is the sound. The stage itself is wide open with no backdrop, natural or man-made. This allows for the sound to be carried in all directions instead of being directed toward the audience. Although, there is a big, wonderful hill to accommodate a large audience, only those sitting right up front can adequately hear the dialogue on stage. I hope that they consider moving to a different venue next year or maybe even back to Alverno College.

In spite of all that, I would strongly encourage you to go see this fantastic show. Plan to arrive at 2 hours before curtain to ensure great seats up front and you will have a magnificent time. In fact, take a picnic dinner or a bottle of wine to pass the time before the show starts. You won’t regret it.

The Merry Wives of Windsor

June 8, 2012

The Merry Wives of Windsor

I am officially finished with 10% of the plays in the Dramagoon Shakespeare Challenge. On Monday, after nearly 3 weeks, I finally made it through The Merry Wives of Windsor. It was the fourth play in the “challenge” and the last of the initial set of plays that I purchased when starting out on this adventure. I had initially given myself three weeks per play to allow for when other things pop up. This was the only one so far where I needed all three weeks. In fact, I have been averaging close to two weeks per play. For some reason, I had quite a bit of difficulty making it through The Merry Wives of Windsor. If I tried reading it before bed or in a quiet room, I would soon nod off. And this is odd to me because I saw the play several years ago and really found the performance quite exciting.

It is possible that I was affected by the reviews of the play that I had previously seen. Most of them talked about how poorly written this play is. I have to say that I wasn’t wild about reading it. It is rumored that Queen Elizabeth liked Falstaff in Henry IV, Part I and Henry IV, Part II so much that she requested that Shakespeare write a play about Falstaff in love. For some reason, I found reading this one to be dull and boring.

The premise is that this buffoonish, fat knight, Falstaff, think so much of himself that he make romantic overtures by letter to two separate married women in Windsor (Mistresses Page and Ford) and assumes that they will cheat on their husbands to be with a man such as he. He doesn’t count on them confiding this fact to each other and comparing letters. The remainder of the play consists of the two wives finding ways to abuse Falstaff for being so self-important. Shakespeare also adds the “B” plot where Mistress Page’s daughter is courted by three separate men. I’m not actually sure why that is included in this play other than to fill time.

If the rumor about Queen Elizabeth requesting the play is true, I would assume that she might have been very upset. The only person that Falstaff is in love with in this story is himself.

Next up in the challenge is The Taming of the Shrew. I started reading it on Monday night and I like it much better. For those keeping track or wanting to join the challenge, the next one after that will be Troilus and Cressida. Wish me luck on that one. I don’t believe that I even know the premise of the story.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

May 16, 2012

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Last night, I finished reading the third play in the Dramagoon Shakespeare Challenge, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This was the first of these plays where I had only limited knowledge of the play ahead of time. I was worried that without an awareness of the story-line, the language might be too difficult to follow. I was happy to find out that was not the case. In fact, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is probably one of the most complex plays ever written and I was able to keep it all straight. This gives me hope for the remainder of this challenge.

The Shakespeare scholars tell us that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play that confronts us with the mysteries of love and romantic desire. And the bard does this with no less than four or five overlapping story-lines. It is quite confusing to keep it all straight. It all works together in the end but as I was finishing reading the other night, I had another idea about how this convoluted play really came together.

With all of the various plots and story-lines, I imagined that this play was written by a committee. In my imagination, I see Shakespeare and a bunch of the actors of The Lord Chamberlain’s Men sitting around at a pub one night and Shakespeare is telling them about his new play about the marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta. He explains that he is having writers block about how the story should play out. Can’t you just see the interaction at the table? One actor says “I know, add a love triangle for Theseus to officiate over… with an overbearing dad that wants his daughter to marry this guy but she wants to marry this other guy.” And then another actor chimes in with “Oh, and give the girl a friend that is madly in love with that first guy. And then later on… have both guys fall in love with her due to some weird magic gone wrong.” Then someone chimes in “Speaking of magic, you should have this epic battle between the King and Queen of the fairies where some innocent humans get caught in the crossfire, maybe even some of some those lovers.” Another actor speaks up with “You know what would be really funny? You should have a play within the play. A really bad, tragic play… with really bad actors… no, not actors… laborers pretending to be actors… oh and they don’t know anything about theatre so they keep stepping out of character to explain what they are doing to the audience. That would be hilarious.”

I could go on with this dialogue to explain the whole play but I think that you get my drift. What do you think? Is it a plausible explanation? I could totally see it happening that way. It probably didn’t but you never know.

For each one of Shakespeare’s plays that I have read so far, I have had the opportunity to view it in some other form either while reading or shortly thereafter. With Much Ado About Nothing, I saw the Kenneth Branagh version of the movie and with The Comedy of Errors, I saw it performed live at Marquette University. For this play, I have chosen to view it in graphic novel form. Brooke McEldowney, the creator of the Pibgorn and 9 Chickweed Lane comic strips, has developed a graphic novel of A Midsummer Night’s Dream set like a 1930s Busby Berkeley gangster movie. He has cast the characters from his comic strips as the characters in the play and made some slight adjustments accordingly. The mechanicals are changed into group of chorus girls and Robin Goodfellow is a young woman that enjoys a “special” relationship with Oberon. It is quite an interesting interpretation of the play.

The Comedy of Errors

The Comedy of Errors

May 4, 2012

The Comedy of Errors

On Tuesday night, I finished reading the second play in the Dramagoon Shakespeare Challenge, The Comedy of Errors. As you may recall, I am making an attempt at reading all thirty-eight of Shakespeare’s plays. I am giving myself three weeks per play but I have finished the first two in an average of twelve days. If I keep this up, I may actually finish sooner than my current goal of June, 2014.

Shakespeare’s plays were originally categorized as comedies, tragedies, or histories. And The Comedy of Errors was considered a comedy, of course. If I had to put a label on this play, I would call it a farce. In fact, many of the farcical situations remind me of slapstick nature of The Three Stooges or Marx Brothers movies.

If you are unfamiliar with the play, here is a synopsis. Long before the play starts, identical twin boys are born (in a foreign city) to a man and wife who also purchase identical twin boys born on the same day to act as each son’s slave as they grow up. While sailing home, a violent storm destroys their ship (typical Shakespeare), separating the family in half; each with one parent, one son, and one slave. When the play opens, many years have passed and one son and slave, while searching for their twins, has arrived in the town of their brothers. At which point, all sorts of hi-jinks occur related to the mistaken identities of both sets of twins.

This is one of Shakespeare’s first plays and the humor is brilliant. I can’t imagine starting to write a show about the humorous situations that could occur when an identical twin is confused for his brother and then realizing that it would be even funnier with another set of twins for the original twins to be confounded by. I love how he sends each Dromio into situations with one Antipholus and then the other and then back again. I laughed out-loud while reading this. I will say that you do have to do a little suspension of disbelief to keep yourself from asking why a person searching for his own twin wouldn’t be suspicious of the odd situations that occur.

If you have seen this play or read it or just have opinions about it, leave me a comment. I would love to discuss it further. And if you would like to play along with the home game, I have just started my third play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and plan to finish it by June 2nd at the latest. This will be the first one of which I haven’t seen before and don’t know the story well. If you would like to join me on my quest, pick up a copy and start reading. I would love to share this challenge with others. After A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I will be reading The Merry Wives of Windsor.

The Comedy of Errors at MU

April 22, 2012

This afternoon, A.J. and I went to see The Comedy of Errors at Marquette University. This was an amazing production of this classic show. This show just happens to be play #2 in the Dramagoon Shakespeare Challenge and it was fun to watch as I have finished reading up to the end of Act 3, which is where this production broke for intermission.

There were so many wonderful things about this production. This first thing that I noticed was the costumes. During my senior year at Marquette, in 1986, I saw this show for the first time ever in this same theatre. I remember very little from that previous production except the costumes; the characters were dressed in brightly colored renaissance clothes and the two sets of twins wore patterns that were mirror images of their twin. In today’s production, the costumes were straight out of the TV series Mad Men. I love it when this is done to a Shakespeare play. It shows how timeless his work really is.

Another amazing aspect of this production was that the director cast the entire show with just ten actors. This meant that many of them had to perform multiple parts. In fact, the actors playing the Antipholuses and the Dromios each played both twins. If you know the play, you realize that required some innovation staging in the final scene when all four of them appear on stage together. I won’t give away how they did it but I will say that if for no other reason, this is why you should see this show next weekend.

And finally I would like to mention the acting. This was truly inspired. While never actually overacting, all of the actors played the parts with an intense amount of energy and took their characters to the edge becoming farcical. The Comedy of Errors has many the same elements of a modern-day bedroom farce and that exactly where they took it. Even if you have a hard time understanding Shakespeare’s words, you would have no difficulty understanding the meaning of each character by his or her actions.

Congratulation to the entire cast and crew for putting on such a fantastic show. Oh… and don’t forget that tomorrow, April 23rd, is Shakespeare’s 448th birthday. Celebrate the day by purchasing tickets to this show next weekend.

Much Ado About Nothing

April 19, 2012

Much Ado About Nothing

I did it! I finished reading the first play in my effort to read all of the plays written by Shakespeare, hereafter to be known as the Dramagoon Shakespeare Challenge. I know that I just talked about this yesterday and I only had 14 pages to read but I wanted to be sure that I was going to have a successful start before telling the world about it. For those with extremely short memories, I was reading Much Ado About Nothing.

I started with this play mainly because it is the one Shakespeare Comedy that I have seen performed (live or via movie) the most. I have probably seen Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet more, but I didn’t want to start out with a Tragedy. This play is about two love affairs; that of Claudio and Hero and that of Beatrice and Benedick. By the amount of time they dedicate to each, I would classify Claudio and Hero as the “A” plot and Beatrice and Benedick as the “B” plot.

Of the two parts of this play, I enjoyed the portion with Beatrice and Benedick and wished that it had been emphasized more. They have this apparent mutual disdain for each other that you can totally see right away is the precursor to a closer relationship. I know that “The lady doth protest too much” comes from Hamlet but the phrase is a perfect way to describe the banter between them. I would almost characterize it as a kind of sexual tension. They are such like-able characters that you really root for them to get together in the end.

On the other hand, I am not wild about the story of Claudio and Hero. Okay, I can buy that this guy sees and meets this beautiful young girl and falls in love with her in a relatively short time. All of Claudio’s emotional reversals after that seem so bogus to me. In his worst offense, he has this woman that he plans to marry the next day and he sees her from far away in dim light making amorous advances toward another man. Wouldn’t you march up to her room right then and there and find out what is going on? Claudio doesn’t. Instead he believes what he is told by John the Bastard; a guy that nobody has trusted throughout the entire play and it appears has been on the opposite side of the battle that takes place before the play starts. I mean, come on. If I were Hero, I wouldn’t want to marry this guy who is so fickle with his affections.

All in all, I really enjoyed this play and I am glad that I started out with such a good one. Now that I have a deeper understanding of it, I can’t wait to see it performed on stage again sometime soon. If you have seen it or read it or just have opinions about it, leave me a comment. I would love to discuss it further.

Next up… The Comedy of Errors. Oh great, now I’ve got the “Dromio” rap in my head from The Bomb-itty of Errors. ♪♫ Dromio… Dro… Dro… mio! ♫♪

On Reading Shakespeare

April 18, 2012

About a year and half ago, I had this brilliant idea that I was going to read all of Shakespeare’s plays (there are 38). I even wrote a blog post about it. Over that time, I have picked up copies of several of the plays and started to diligently read them. I have read an Act or two from The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing, and even Hamlet. And how many have I finished? Not one.

About a month ago, I tried to figure out if this was still something that I wanted to do and if so, what was keeping me from accomplishing this task. I realized that there were two things that I was doing wrong. First, I didn’t have a plan. I kept telling myself that I would just pick up whatever Shakespeare play piqued my interest and when I was done with that one, I would move onto the next. Without a goal, there is no drive to finish. Second, I wasn’t reading the right editions of Shakespeare’s play. I was purchasing cheap copies that contained four or five plays back to back with no supplementary material. That meant that when I was slogging through Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy, I had to try to figure out the meaning on my own.

Well folks, I’m here to say that I’m going to give this a try one more time. I have, hopefully, fixed the issues that were keeping me from success in the past. I now have a plan. Unlike the Shakespeare in a Year project, I know that I can’t finish a play in a week. There are too many other things going in my life for that. But I do think that I can finish one in about three weeks on average. I have listed out all 38 plays, figured out which ones I am interested in reading first, and set a schedule to complete one every three weeks between now and the end of the year (that is 13 plays). As I get closer to the end of the year, I will plan out more of the plays for next year.

In addition to my plan, I found an edition of the plays that makes them easier for me to understand. Last year, on our trip to Washington, DC, we visited the Folger Shakespeare Library, a world-renowned research center on Shakespeare and the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare materials. The just happen to produce their own editions of the plays that contain facing-page glosses, scene-by-scene summaries, and explanatory notes by Shakespeare experts. Earlier this year, A.J. used a Folger edition for school project and found it much easier to understand.

Earlier this month, I purchased my first four plays and begin this new endeavor. I picked four that I perceive to be easier; Much Ado About Nothing, The Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. I am hoping to get through them a little quicker so that I can build up a little bit of a buffer for when other priorities move this down the list. As of right now, I am 14 pages away from finishing my first one, Much Ado About Nothing, about an entire week early.

The Bomb-itty of Errors

March 21, 2011

Last night, AJ and I were lucky enough to get a couple of reduced-price tickets to The Bomb-itty of Errors at the Milwaukee Rep. It was the most amazingly, funny show that we have seen in a long, long time. The show is a hip-hop version of the Shakespearean classic The Comedy of Errors.

This version of this epic tale is set in current day and the two Antipholuses are Rap artists living on opposite coasts and backed up by their DJ Dromios. The entire cast of characters is played by four, very energetic, young men. Their portrayals of Adriana and Luciana were particularly entertaining. With all of the entrances and exits, costume changes, and break dancing these guys do, I can’t imagine having to do more than one performance a day.

This version of the show is definitely for mature audiences only. The show tells the story in true hip-hop fashion with lots of sexual innuendo, drug references, and physical violence. Although, I’m sure much of that could probably have been said of the original script back in the 1500s. AJ admitted to me after the show that it was weird to experience this show while sitting next to his Dad. And truth be told, it was a little awkward for me as well. But the show was so funny that it wasn’t difficult to quickly set aside our uneasiness.

Check out this video that the cast did of the Prologue. It is apparent from their costumes and lack of a set that this must have been recorded early in the rehearsal process. But it is a small taste of the excellent show that follows. I applaud the Milwaukee Rep for producing the type of theatre that should appeal to a much younger audience.

Gnomeo and Juliet

March 7, 2011

Yesterday, the whole family went to see Gnomeo and Juliet at the Marcus Majestic and we had a fantastic time. This is a really funny movie. Although, AJ and Erin are older now, I noticed that many of the younger kids in the theatre really enjoyed the physical humor and antics in the movie. Those things were also funny for the older kids and the adults. In addition, however, the Shakespeare puns and the pop culture references made it even funnier. The movie has that irreverent quality reminiscent of Shrek or Hoodwinked. I assume that is why Disney put it under its Touchstone label. It definitely isn’t your typical Disney animated feature.

The movie is a modern retelling of the Romeo and Juliet story with all the major characters cast as blue and red garden gnomes and lawn ornaments in the gardens of Miss Montague and Mr. Capulet. Many of the story’s major characters appear; Gnomeo (Romeo), Juliet, Benny (Benvolio), Tybalt, and Paris. Interestingly, the Shakespeare references and puns come from a variety of his plays and writings not just this one. At the opening of the movie, the house numbers on these two house are shown as 2B and another 2B with a “not” symbol over it. This was just the beginning. I especially liked the part where Gnomeo is telling his woes to the park statue of William Shakespeare voiced by the great Shakespearean actor, Patrick Stewart. Additionally, there are liberal amounts of pop culture references including the every popular “What is it boy? Little Timmy fell down the well?” and many others.

If you are an Elton John fan, I think that almost every musical number in the movie was an Elton tune of some sort, except of course, for “The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room” song from the popular Disney attraction. I’m sure it helps that he was the Executive Producer on the film. We saw the 2D version of the movie and I don’t think that we missed anything by not seeing the 3D version. It was a fun movie and I will probably see it again when it comes out on DVD.