8/21/14

Summary of A Midsummer Night's Dream

1.1
In battle, Theseus, duke of Athens, has won Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. Theseus is impatient for the wedding, and Hippolyta assures him that the four days until then will pass quickly. Egeus enters with his daughter Hermia and two young men: Demetrius, who has Egeus's permission to marry Hermia, and Lysander, who has won her heart. The law dictates that Hermia must marry her father's choice or be executed. Theseus provides a third option—she may enter a nunnery—and says she must make her decision by his wedding day.

The First Shakespeare Movie in Context, with Random Fun Facts about Dracula and a Poison-Rat-Infested Skull

This may sound like something from a steampunk novel, in which technology exists ahead of its time, like the nineteenth-century computers in William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's Difference Engine, but the earliest Shakespeare movie was made in 1899, while Queen Victoria was still on her throne.

The First Midsummer Night's Dream Movie: "So Awake When I Am Gone / For I Must Now to . . . Penelope?"

In 1909 the Vitagraph Company shot the first Midsummer Night's Dream movie in the wilds of Brooklyn, using a forest and the architecture at a waterworks and park entrance (Halio 85). The actor Charles Kent may have directed the film alone or with Vitagraph's cofounder, J. Stuart Blackton. Like many of Blackton's films, the Vitagraph Midsummer is filled with stop-action effects, but Kent, who didn't use ordinarily use these effects, may have adopted them to make the film's fairy scenes more magical.

Reflections on the Trailer for the New Cymbeline Movie Starring Penn Badgley, Dakota Johnson, Ethan Hawke, Ed Harris, and Milla Jovovich

For years I've said we need more films of Shakespeare's romances, which are perfect for this era of fantasy spectacles. Those films often look great because of CGI, a technology that works well for Shakespearean romance, as Julie Taymor proved with her 2010 Tempest. We could use similar treatments of Pericles and The Winter's Tale.

Cymbeline, with its evil queen, pagan god, clash of armies, decapitation, and far-flung settings in the first-century British court, corrupt Rome, and misty Wales would make an excellent Game-of-Thrones-style epic. Instead, Michael Almeyreda is giving us a contemporary crime thriller, with the Britons as bikers and the Romans as cops. We lose the original setting's sweep but gain a gritty immediacy that should work well for the play's jealousy and war stories.

Unlike the trailer for 2013 Romeo and Juliet—which brought high hopes crashing to the ground with Julian Fellowes's ridiculous, spell-it-all-out dialogue—the Cymbeline trailer promises a movie even better than Almeyreda's excellent 2000 Hamlet with Ethan Hawke. Almeyreda seems to be using Shakespeare's language, though he's cutting and tweaking. The tweaking may be irritating, but the cutting is fine—many of Shakespeare's words are meant to conjure images in our heads, something the movies do for us, and the Cymbeline trailer promises us a film of exciting images.


The Jealousy Plot

Bass and twangy surf guitar from the Black Angels' "Young Men Dead" give the trailer's opening a Pulp-Fiction feel. We watch a man making a woodcut of a woman standing by a death figure who holds a banner reading "Fear No More!," the first words of one of Shakespeare's most beautiful songs (which is saying a lot). People who know the play might think the artist is one of Cymbeline's lost sons, who sing the song in the original. We'll see a flash of them later (0:48), carrying the headless body of one of the play's villains, the queen's son Cloten. The artist in the opening is our hero Posthumus, played by Gossip Girl's Penn Badgley. 
"Fear no more . . ."

He's making a gift for his distant wife, Imogen (Dakota Johnson), whom we see next. She looks at his handiwork and rubs her thumb along its lower edge before we cut to the villainous Iachimo, played by Ethan Hawke. We've been hearing him in voiceover, speaking lines from Cymbeline's creepiest moment: act two, scene two, when Iachimo slinks around Imogen's bedroom, gathering "proof" that he seduced her. 

We're in the midst of one of Cymbeline's many stories. Let me describe what happens before then; in parentheses, I'll point to where these earlier moments show up in the trailer. 

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."