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.

4/18/14

Why April 23 Probably Isn't Shakespeare's Birthday

Shakespeare's baptism record. The three "X"s were added later to highlight the entry.
Image from Windows onWarwickshire.
In the Stratford parish register, an entry for April 26, 1564, reads Gulielmus filius Johannes—"William son of John Shakespere." Baptisms in this period followed hard upon birth. Because of high infant mortality and anxiety about the fate of the unbaptized, the gap between birth and baptism was usually a matter of days, not weeks, so Shakespeare might well have been born on April 23.
Funeral monument.   

That's the birthday assigned by the eighteenth-century Stratford curate Joseph Greene and celebrated ever since. But we don't really know when Shakespeare was born.

We can be almost certain that he died on April 23, 1616, the date given on the funeral monument in Stratford's Holy Trinity Church.

The monument, by Gerard Johnson, was commissioned by Shakespeare's family, who would have known both his death day and what he looked like. This makes the monument's bust one of two representations we can be sure is of Shakespeare. The other is Martin Droueshout's engraving in the First Folio, the collected works put together by actors who had worked with Shakespeare; it included poetry by others who knew him, including his fellow playwright Ben Jonson, whose poem praises the engraving. Neither the engraving nor the bust is as accomplished as the Chandos portrait, which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery but which might not be of Shakespeare. The bust is particularly crude, having undergone several restorations.
Johnson and Steevens's
edition of the plays.

The first of these was arranged by Joseph Greene, whose many efforts at memorializing Stratford's most famous son brought him to the attention of London literati, including the Shakespeare scholar George Steevens. Greene gave Steevens the April 23 birthday, and Steevens published it in his and Samuel Johnson's popular 1773 edition of Shakespeare's plays (Corney 4).

Greene had no evidence for his date and may have simply chosen it out of patriotism. April 23 is St. George's Day in England—it's on other days elsewhere—so choosing it made the birthday of the country's greatest writer coincide with the feast day of its patron saint. To paraphrase Shakespeare's Henry V at Harfleur (3.1.44), "Cry, 'God for England, William, and St. George!'"

If Shakespeare was born on April 23, then he's in the same-birthday-death-day club that includes Ingrid Bergman, Machine Gun Kelly, and Caesar's assassin Cassius.

This last fact was curious enough for Shakespeare to use it in Julius Caesar (5.1.71), but, before Greene, no ever mentioned that Shakespeare was born on the same day he died. If he had been, we might have expected someone to note it, which is why April 23 is an unlikely day for his birthday.

3/19/14

The Nocturne Ballet in Max Reinhardt's 1935 Midsummer Night's Dream

Branislava Nijinska never attained the fame of her older brother Vaslav Nijinsky, whose dancing with Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes made him an international sensation. Branislava's career began the same way, dancing for the Russian Imperial Ballet and then the Ballets Russes. In 1921 she became Diaghilev's choreographer and for four years worked with him and other luminaries of the Parisian avant-garde—Cocteau, Stravinsky, Picasso—creating performances that helped make ballet central to modernism.
Portrait of Nijinska
by Man Ray

After leaving the Ballet Russes, she worked for various directors, including Max Reinhardt, whose 1920s and early '30s Berlin productions represented modern theater's sharpest edge. For his 1931 production of Offenbach's Tales of Hoffman, Nijinska designed dances that were performed on a revolving stage in front of three thousand people (Nijinksa 521, "Stupendous Production"). The following year she settled in Paris and formed her own company, which lasted until Reinhardt summoned her to Hollywood to create the dances for his 1935 film of A Midsummer Night's Dream.