Wednesday, May 31, 2006

First Night: Tutus Andronicus, Shakespeare's Globe, London

Lucy Bailey's exhilarating revival of Titus Andronicus - the second leg of Dominic Dromgoole's inaugural "Edges of Rome" season - is probably the best production I've seen at Shakespeare's Globe in the 10 years of its existence.

Monday, May 29, 2006

'Hamlet' in reverse

The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey's production of "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead"

Are humans most free when they show a certain obliviousness to their destiny -- when they allow themselves to be driven through life? Or when they try and control their fate? Why are people willing to be used as pawns by those with more power, and why live if they will eventually die?

Just thinking about these concepts is anxiety-producing to an average mind, but these are the questions actors David Conrad and Sean Mahan, who star in The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey's production of "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," have been facing every day for the last three weeks.

The show will open in previews Tuesday to kick off the theater's 44th season. It runs through June 25 at the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre on the campus of Drew University in Madison.

Written by Tom Stoppard and directed by the theater's frequently acclaimed Paul Mullins (who directed "Richard II" here in 2005 and "King John" in 2003), "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" is an existentialist spin-off of Shakespeare's "Hamlet." It captures the misadventures and ruminations of two minor and interchangeable characters from "Hamlet," while Shakespeare's original plot occurs in the background.

Conrad and Mahan are the first to admit the play's complexity, bizarreness, and yet its sheer brilliance.

"This is the hardest show I've done," said Conrad, who starred last year in "Richard II." He also has appeared on Broadway in "The Deep Blue Sea" and is currently on break from the CBS TV series "Ghost Whisperer,"where he plays Jim Clancy opposite Jennifer Love Hewitt. But this is different from anything he's ever done.

"There's a lot of nonsensical text to justify and much timing needed," he said.

"Really listening to each other is key," added Mahan, who makes his debut at the Shakespeare Theatre but boasts many regional credits.

In a play where the characters are constantly side by side and never offstage at any point, Mahan said, "It comes down to needing Guildenstern the whole time."

In "Hamlet," these two characters appear as senseless fops. Yet in this play, though even they keep forgetting which is Rosencrantz and which Guildenstern, they are given a three-dimensional humanity --though they constantly question it.

"The play is told through two 'users' in 'Hamlet' who are seen as dangerous to Hamlet. Yet we here we must feel for them,"Mahan said.

He said this play shows that the two interchangeable men are in fact individuals with separate thoughts and actions. They are the ones asking what is important in life. Ultimately, however, their actions will cause them to resign to their doomed fates, and at the end Rosencrantz simply says, "We'll know better next time," the play's most famous line.
In similarity to "Hamlet," the play also calls into question the notions of acting and theater, as well as probability, speculation, the true and the false.

At a recent rehearsal, Mullins had Conrad and Mahan doing a scene where they were spinning coins together. Rosencrantz (Mahan) keeps winning and is simply excited about his "new record." Yet Guildenstern (Conrad) is shocked at the improbable results of the tosses. He is over-consumed with what it says about the nature of the universe -- does probability exist?

Mullins and the rest of the rehearsal room laughed at this speculation. Though it deals with death, the play is extremely funny.

Suddenly a vagabond band of insecure and doomed-looking players appears onstage. A player king (Andy Weems of "King John") greets the two coin-tossers, but is only interested in using them for his purposes.

"An audience!" he surmises.

A young, effeminate boy, Alfred, puts on a corset dress and timidly prepares to act. Guildenstern is upset and asks, "Alfred, do you like being an actor?" The boy is embarrassed and runs away.

It is Guildenstern who thus harshly remarks on the exposing nature of theater: "No dignity ... only a comic pornographer and a rabble of prostitutes." Yet his repression and non-support of this kind of "exposure" is really a fear, Conrad said.

"He is afraid of that void that everyone knows, exists," he said.

Though temperamentally, Conrad and Mahan are similar -- both engaging, action-driven, yet introspective men -- they claim to possess opposite inner qualities. Conrad's and his character's habit is the impulse to bring control to chaos and to overthink.

Mahan is the opposite --more childlike. He wishes he would think ahead more.

"It's hard to play close to your own defect," Conrad said.

"But it's what makes this better than real life," he continued. "It gives you a depth of feeling. We live in a data world, and theater is about losing that."

Though he has had success in the data-oriented age of TV, Conrad himself is relieved to be back on stage because of the enlivening and exposing aspect of what his character puts down -- a real audience.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Sotheby presents first folio of Shakespeare in Hong Kong

HONG KONG, May 25 (Xinhua) -- The First Folio edition of Shakespeare's plays (1623) which will be offered for sale in Sotheby's sale of English Literature and History in London on July 13 is on view Thursday in Hong Kong.

Estimated to fetch 35 million to 49 million HK dollars, this volume, published seven years after Shakespeare's death, contains a total of 36 plays, 18 of which had never previously been printed, Sotheby's English Literature Specialist and Senior Director Peter Selley said. "Were it not for their appearance in this volume, they might otherwise have been lost to posterity."

Some 750 copies of the Folio were printed and only a third of these survive, mostly incomplete, Selley said. This Folio, owned by Dr. Williams' library, is remarkably untouched in a mid 17th century binding of plain brown calf, and contains extensive markings and annotations.

Such copies very rarely come onto the market and there is only one copy recorded as remaining in private hands, Selley said, adding that it is one of the two finest copies to appear at auction in London since the Second World War, bearing comparison only with the Houghton copy sold in 1980 and now held at Meisei University, Japan.

The Shakespeare First Folio will be exhibited in Hong Kong from May 26 to 27 at Asia World Expo.
The spectacular world of puppets opens California Shakespeare Theater season

California Shakespeare Theater opens its 2006 season with a wildly imaginative puppet version of Shakespeare's comedy "The Merry Wives of Windsor." directed by Associate Artistic Director Sean Daniels. After the success of his puppet-infused production of "The Comedy of Errors in 2004," Daniels delves even further into the realm of live action and puppetry with "The Merry Wives of Windsor" creating a fantastical production for children and adults alike.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Council OKs Stratford Connecticut Shakespeare Theater Plan

STRATFORD — A Manhattan-based developer has been selected by the town to revive the Shakespeare theater, with the goal of making the shuttered landmark a regional beacon for the arts.

Koerner Kronenfeld Partners LLC, under its proposal to the town, will rebuild the existing 1,500-seat theater on Elm Street. Once the theater has established a regular base of patrons, the developer plans to construct two smaller theaters on the property on the banks of the Housatonic River.

Representatives for KKP, a strategic planning firm based on New York's Madison Avenue that specializes in media and entertainment, among other fields, could not be reached Tuesday.

"They seem to have extremely good personnel with great resumes," said Town Council Chairman James Feehan, R-9. "Top-notch caliber people."

KKP won the contract by a 9-0 vote of the council late Monday. Councilman Alvin O'Neal, D-2, abstained to protest that the council did not conduct public hearings on the proposals.

Feehan, who also wanted to hold hearings, said most council members believe their constituents favor KKP over the rival bidder, Stratford Theater Group, and wanted to avoid "a cheerleading section from each developer."

KKP and STG were the remaining bidders from a group of four developers late last year that sought to reopen the theater, which has been closed since 1989. The other two dropped out.
The town's contract with KKP to redevelop the theater and its grounds was approved with several conditions, including a proviso that the group stage a Shakespeare summer season this year.
"One way or the other there will be Shakespeare at that property this year," Mayor James Miron said. "If I have to get out there and read lines from 'Othello,' there will be a performance this year."
KKP also will be required to provide financing in "a reasonable time," according to the mayor. The town will stipulate what that time period will be.
KKP will have to reimburse the town for mechanics and judgment liens it paid to settle claims filed during failed attempts to reopen the theater in the past.
"The failure of any one performance clause would result in the contract reverting back to the town," Miron said.
Stratford Theater Group, the losing bidder, is led by Louis Burke, a Stratford resident with decades of theater experience.
Many of STG's members, including Burke, were involved in a state-sanctioned attempt to open the theater in the late 1990s, which failed.
"I felt as though those individuals that had been part of the last development team really broke a lot of dreams in town, left a lot of contractors with liens against the property and set back this

Friday, May 05, 2006

Shakespeare with a Smile in Japan

The International Theatre Company London (ITCL) returns to Japan this month with its production of Shakespeare's early comedy "The Taming of the Shrew," a politically incorrect ode to the achievement of hierarchical social harmony as portrayed through men's efforts to control the passions of feisty heroine Katherina.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Othello Opens at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre


It would be good to see the staging methods of Luk Perceval’s Munich Kammerspiele production of Feridua Zamoglu’s and Gunter Senkel’s Othello applied to a Shakespeare play, and to Shakespeare’s Othello in particular. The only scenery is a grand piano on a raised podium centre-stage. Throughout the action (just over two hours without a break), Jens Thomas plays his own jazz-classical music, generally subtle, eclectic, and, on the whole, impressive. Costumes are modern dress and entirely black-and-white. Othello is played by a white actor, Thomas Thierne, without make-up; Emilia is played by a black actress; and all the acting is good – better than Zaimoglu and Senkel deserve.