8/13/14

Puppets Upstage Human Actors in a New Titus Andronicus

Mindy Leanse and Ross Hamman with
Lavinia in the Puppet Shakespeare
Players' Titus Andronicus.
In today's New York Times, Andy Webster reviews the Puppet Shakespeare Players' Titus Andronicus. The production mixes human actors and puppets, and Webster writes that the human actors are 
upstaged by the . . . puppets, designed by A. J. Coté, who plays Tamora’s lover, Aaron (here a boar).

These beings include a green, eye-patched Lucius (son of Titus), voiced by Drew Torkelson; Chiron, a garrulous creature with a New York accent inhabited by Shane Snider; and Demetrius, an impressively hulking blue beast with tusks, floor-length arms and a white Mohawk, operated by Tom Foran. 
Webster especially praises Mindy Leanse's Lavinia:
Lavinia may lose her hands and tongue, but Ms. Leanse turns her puppet, an innocent red countenance surrounded by curly blond locks, into a marvel of movement and guttural utterances who sticks up for herself. 

7/30/14

Seven Hamlet Actors Duke It Out in a Theater Critic's Imagination

In today's New York Times, theater critic Ben Brantley writes that Benedict Cumberbatch, who next August begins playing Hamlet in the Barbican, must be thinking of the many great actors who have preceded him in playing the part on stage. Brantley goes on to imagine a "Battle of the Hamlets" between seven of these actors: John Barrymore, John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, David Warner, Mark Rylance, and Simon Russell Beale. (For a similar battle between four movie actors, click here.)

7/11/14

Trailer for Vishal Bhardwaj’s Hamlet Adaptation

YouTube now has a trailer for Haider, Vishal Bhardwaj’s loose Hamlet adaptation, which looks like a worthy successor to his Maqbool (Macbeth) and Omkara (Othello).

Turn on your English subtitles (unless you speak Hindi) and check it out.

6/10/14

New Documentary on Kevin Spacey's Richard III

Now: In the Wings on a World Stage, a documentary about the Sam Mendes production of Richard III with Kevin Spacey, was released yesterday. You can download or stream the film here.

In The Telegraph, Spacey describes performing at Epidaurus, "the most massive, terrifying theatre that I’ve ever played in my life." Isaiah Johnson, who played Lord Rivers, describes the San Francisco performance: "insane . . . like a rock concert." And Annabel Scholey, who played Lady Anne, describes performing in Qatar, where the presence of the royal family meant "there were security men patrolling backstage with guns."

6/5/14

Prince Oberyn and Nora Montgomery in Much Ado About Nothing


Playbill reports that Pedro Pascal—Prince Oberyn from Game of Thrones—will play the villain Don John in this summer's Shakespeare in the Park (NYC) production of Much Ado About Nothing.

Lily Rabe, American Horror Story's Nora Montgomery, will play Beatrice. Rabe previously played Portia and Rosalind in Shakespeare in the Park productions of The Merchant of Venice and As You Like It.

6/3/14

The American Repertory Theater Presents a Steampunk Tempest

The New York Times reports on the American Repertory Theater's new production of The Tempest, codirected by Penn and Teller's Teller, with music by Tom Waits:
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Shakespeare’s late romance “The Tempest” itself undergoes a sea change in the inventive production of the play at the American Repertory Theater here. The magic of Prospero has a razzle-dazzle allure in this freshly reimagined, steampunk-stylish production, directed and adapted by Aaron Posner and Teller (of the magic-meisters Penn and Teller) and featuring songs judiciously culled from the Tom Waits catalog. 
In this production, the play's supernatural magic becomes stage magic: "In its playful use of such traditional illusions as card tricks (Ariel’s specialty) and levitation (Miranda floats upward as Prospero’s hands flicker above her during the wedding pageant), this colorful production weaves strands of the plot with Teller’s how-do-they-do-it feats, keeping the audience in happy suspense as it awaits the next novelty." The reviewer, Charles Isherwood, concludes that "[i]n its frolicsome use of traditional magic acts, this freewheeling “Tempest” awakens in the audience a . . . sense of pleasurable, almost childlike wonder."

5/31/14

New Shakespeare Documentary

The filmmakers who gave us the extraordinary Shakespeare Behind Bars describe their new movie
"STILL DREAMING" is a documentary about a group of elderly entertainers as they bravely mount Shakespeare's romp through a moonlit forest, "A Midsummer Night's Dream". Set at the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, New Jersey, this troupe has decided to take a huge leap of faith into what was once known, but is now so seemingly treacherous.  
Stretching their physical, emotional and mental limits, the elders take the six week journey together to mount a production. The stakes are high for these actors, as this just might be their last work. Some are thrilled at the prospect of one last chance to perform. Some are petrified or even embarrassed by re-entering a process with fewer faculties than they had in their prime. And some have never even acted before, but are game for something interesting to do rather than playing bingo.  
The Lillian Booth Actors Home hires two young up and coming Shakespeare directors from NYC's Fiasco Theatre to direct the play, Ben Steinfeld and Noah Brody. Ben and Noah's collaboration with the elders is an interesting study in what works and what doesn't in terms of undertaking a creative endeavor with an older population. Not fully understanding the limitations of the aging process, they begin to rely on the staff of the Lillian Booth to help them navigate the sometimes tricky waters of afflictions such as dementia, Alzheimer's and the various physical indignities of old age.

5/28/14

Orange Is the New Jack (Falstaff)

The New York Times reports that Phyllida Lloyd will direct an all-female Henry IV with a prison setting: 
London’s Donmar Warehouse, which attracted considerable attention with its all-female staging of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” set in a high-security prison, will take a similar approach with “Henry IV,” the theater announced on Tuesday.  
Phyllida Lloyd, who directed “Julius Caesar,” will also direct “Henry IV,” which will again be set in a prison and which will feature several performers from the earlier production, most notably Harriet Walter, who will play the title role. 
The company also said that “Henry IV,” which opens Oct. 3 and runs through Nov. 29, will be the second installment of a Shakespeare-in-prison trilogy. It has not announced the third play, nor whether this production would make its way to New York. “Julius Caesar” had an acclaimed run at St. Ann’s Warehouse last year.

4/30/14

The Epilogue in Julie Taymor's Tempest


Music is central to Shakespeare's romances. In Pericles, Gower calls the story a "song," and Marina "sings like one immortal." Cymbeline has the beautiful songs "Hark, hark! the lark " and " Fear no more the heat o'th' sun," and The Winter's Tale has Autolycus's songs and a pastoral dance. 

The Tempest was turned into an opera less than a hundred years after it was first performed; composers who have written for it include Purcell, Berlioz, Tchaikovsky, and Vaughan Williams.
Beth Gibbons of Portishead

Eliot Goldenthal's music is one of the highlights of Julie Taymor's 2010 film of the play, which ends with the epilogue being sung rather than spoken. During a question-and-answer period at the New York Film Festival, Taymor explained that she thought a spoken epilogue wouldn't work in film as it does in the theater, where the actor sheds his character as he bids the audience farewell.

Bryce Dallas Howard does just this in Kenneth Branagh's As You Like It (2006), and it's an effective strategy. But Taymor didn't want to break the illusion of the world of her film and so didn't film Helen Mirren speaking the epilogue. Instead she had Goldenthal write music to be sung by Beth Gibbons of the trip-hop band Portishead. The music plays as we watch Prospero's sinking books and the credits roll.

4/20/14

Introduction to Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood


Many directors of Shakespeare films have not been great film innovators and stylists—they've been stage directors with a deep understanding of the plays. That combination is enough to produce a great Shakespeare movie. But there's another group of directors who have both a deep understanding of the plays and who are also great film stylists and innovators.

At the summit of that group are two directors: Orson Welles and Akira Kurosawa. Welles had directed most of Shakespeare's history plays by the time he was fifteen, and he reread the plays throughout his life. His three feature-length Shakespeare films may be the best things he ever did. He thought, and I agree, that his greatest film wasn't Citizen Kane but The Chimes at Midnight, his mash-up of the Henry plays.

Similarly, Kurosawa's appreciation of Shakespeare began early, when he was an art student, and continued throughout his life. Three of his best films are versions of Shakespeare plays. The Bad Sleep Well loosely follows Hamlet, resetting it in postwar Japan. Ran ("Chaos") is an adaptation of King Lear set in sixteenth-century Japan. And Throne of Blood is a Macbeth adaptation, also set in feudal Japan, that follows Shakespeare more closely than either of the other two films.