OK, so I was in Ashland for a little over 48 hours… and I caught three plays from this year’s slate at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, their 80th season. I’m home now, and exhausted, but here are my capsule reviews in the run-up for fuller discussions in Sunday’s podcast.
A couple of weeks back, I took my wife Lisa and son Jack to Los Angeles’ Griffith Park to catch some free outdoor theater (#ShakespeareSetFree) by the Independent Shakespeare Company, for the first of their two summer productions, Romeo and Juliet. If you were around for that one, you know I found it to be very enjoyable. I wasn’t the only one: that production will be returning after the current production, Much Ado About Nothing, runs its course at the end of this month. But I digress. This past weekend, Lisa and I headed back to the woods for a little Nothing, or Much Ado.
This week’s podcast continues our two month-long discussion of Troilus and Cressida with a discussion of misogyny in the play. Plus, a happier subject: a review of Independent Shakespeare Company’s Romeo and Juliet.
Saturday night, my wife and son and I went to Los Angeles’ Griffith Park to catch the summer production of Romeo and Juliet by the Independent Shakespeare Company. Every summer, they present two free Shakespeare plays outdoors over the course of the summer (#ShakespeareSetFree). Later this summer, it’ll be Much Ado About Nothing (which sounds great), but you still have a chance to check out Romeo and Juliet before it closes at the end of the month.
This week’s podcast continues our two month-long discussion of Julius Caesar, with reviews of some of the video productions available, plus a live theater (though non-Cesarean) review as well.
Last Thursday, my wife Lisa and I hit the road to the University of California at Santa Barbara to catch the touring Shakespeare’s Globe production of King Lear, as its tour of the US is winding down. To call the production lean-and-mean would be insulting and would give the false impression that it seems to lack something.
This stripped-down production wants for very, VERY little.
A couple of weeks back, I caught the latest Los Angeles appearance of Improvised Shakespeare Company, a rotating band of actors whose home base is in Chicago.
This week’s podcast continues our two month-long discussion of Much Ado About Nothing, with reviews of some of the available video productions of the play, plus a live theater review of The Tempest by South Coast Repertory.
Last Sunday, my wife Lisa and I had the pleasure of catching the South Coast Repertory production of The Tempest in Costa Mesa, CA. Now The Tempest holds a pretty special spot in my heart, as it was the first major Shakespeare I ever saw, a magical production with Anthony Hopkins as Prospero at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles back in 1978; I’ll talk about that show more when we get to that play at the end of this project, but suffice to say it was a seminal moment in my love of Shakespeare.
The Tempest is a tough play to pull off. It deals with magic, and how to convey that on stage? It’s not easy. It often comes off as overly solemn or worse, cheesy. The earlier production began with a piece of stagecraft that set a magical tone (especially to this fifteen year-old) and then used that initial shock to carry the play. This production takes a different tack, however. Prospero is a magician, so why not show magic? Real magic (if that’s not an oxymoron).
A couple of weeks back, my wife Lisa and I attended one of the Independent Shakespeare Company’s performances of The Taming of the Shrew, and if you haven’t read my review, suffice to say, we both had a great time, and I thought that the performance of Kate by Melissa Chalsma was excellent, with one of the best deliveries of that final speech I’ve ever seen. We loved it so much that we jumped at the chance to catch their Twelfth Night, free again in Griffith Park, and presented under a glorious late summer evening sky.
On Friday night, my wife and I went down to L.A. to catch the second production of the Independent Shakespeare Company’s summer season, The Taming of the Shrew. Presented for free in Griffith Park, the show was played on a fairly minimalist stage with bare-bones lighting, with the crowd sitting on blankets and low chairs on a sloping hill before the stage.
Formed in 1998 by husband and wife David Melville and Melissa Chalsma on the Lower East Side in New York City, the Independent Shakespeare Company moved to Los Angeles in 2001, starting in small venues but moving to Barnsdall Park for Free Shakespeare in the Park. By 2010, they had moved their summer season to Griffith Park and the next year they find a small indoor venue as well.
For Taming, Chalsma performed the part of Katherine, with Melville directing the piece and co-writing some of the incidental music; for the other summer production, Twelfth Night, Chalsma took on the directorial duties with Melville as Feste. As with the co-founders, many of the actors and production staff worked on both shows as well.
Melville has envisioned Taming in La Dolce Vita-esque Italy of the 1960’s, replete with paparazzi, nuns, and lounge singers. Broad comic strokes (with touches bordering on commedia del’arte), especially in the supporting characters of Tranio, Hortensio, and Grumio) complement well-thought out performances by the leads. Chalsma’s Kate is obviously much older than Erika Soto’s Bianca, and that plays very well; you can see how Bianca would be spoiled and how Kate would have been put upon, possibly having to mother her younger sibling, since there’s no mother presented or mentioned on-stage. Chalsma gives Kate a gravitas that is necessary for us to care about her, yet doesn’t fall into the trap of making the character (or any character in a Shakespearean comedy, for that matter) too serious, too reverent.
That lack of reverence is found in other aspects, and are welcome. Petruchio is played by Luis Galindo, with a swagger, but one that we see is more an act than true. His ease taking on the wooing of Kate is balanced by his tardy arrival at the wedding, costumed in such a way as to push the ridiculousness to the edge of wackiness (a Tarzan loincloth under his trousers, later revealed to be a g-string). Grumio (as played by Richard Azurdia) is the most outrageous, the most commedia, acting out Petruchio’s wedding horse, like one of Monty Python’s of Holy Grail. This type of cultural mash-up is seen throughout the play with the addition of modern English asides (“oh, come on”… “really”… and the like), and the wonderful addition of Spanish when Grumio argues with the tailor in Petruchio’s house. I’m not sure if it was a direct translation, but I know it was funny, because there were pockets of pretty uproarious laughter in this Southern California audience.
If it sounds like I liked this, I’m glad, because I did. It was fun and funny right up to the final speech. You know, THAT final speech. The one that gives readers heartburn, feminists fits, and directors headaches. And if that sounds like this is where the production falls apart, nothing could be further from the truth. This is where the production goes from good to great. Chalsma’s delivery of that speech is quite simply the most effective reading I’ve heard of any actresses. Filled with irony and sarcasm (such that it seems that only the audience and Petruchio can hear it), but searing, serious and unbelievable to those couples on-stage, it balances everything that the play’s about: gender politics, physical imposition, and disguising what one is to be what one needs to be for others.
There’s just a couple of weeks left to catch this production… if you’re in the southern California area, do yourself a favor and see The Taming of the Shrew while you can.
This week’s podcast is a short holiday present to our listeners: a review of the recent production of Much Ado About Nothing mounted by the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles.
Continue reading Podcast 63: Much Ado Live Review
This week’s podcast is a return to the microphone, including reviews from Ashland’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival of Throne of Blood, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, Henry the Fourth Part One, and American Night. And we’ll finish up with a look to the future.
Continue reading Podcast 48: The “We’re Back… and Off-Track” Edition
Back in November, when I saw the Shakespeare’s Globe touring production of Love’s Labor’s Lost up in Santa Barbara (short review // full review in podcast), I mentioned that in the critical press, some balked at the edit of the play, complaining that the (pre-intermission) first half runs all the way to the end of Act Four.
Continue reading A Bone to Pick? Well, Duh…