Why must we kill? Why pay people large sums of money to hurt each other in the ring? And what about the flip side? After great Hector is killed and dragged for days around the city, he is restored physically by a deity, but remains dead. From this there comes serenity, expectancy we experience only those few times in our lives when our heroes die.
Is Shakespeare loquacious? Reading the last pages of Richard III one might think so. King Richard speaks his way into oblivion.
He seems to be made of words—his actions secondary, the description being all. This, after all, is a character who succeeds in wooing a widow over the coffin of a close relative, and after the deed, tells us about it as if we didn’t get it the first time. His comeuppance arrives eventually, and true to form, he is ready with a virtuoso description of the situation. He is always and everywhere a soliloquist. Richard’s words are a virtuosity. Hamlet’s words are long-considered, pondered. Richard finds his demise at least as theatrical as his life, and when the end comes, Marlovian rant rules. Needless to say, this requires spectacular acting.
Another first-rate show from The Comedy of Errors actors at Shakespeare and Company. With effortless mutability the bunch took up a drama of great seriousness by Lolita Chakrabarti. John Douglas Thompson, great actor that he is, joined and performed the role of Ira Aldridge to perfection. Wonderful about this production was the way theatre itself became the story, and the story became theatre.
s the years pass I find more and more to admire in Shakespeare and Company. At the moment, I’m thinking of the company’s vitality in carrying on with a full season and most if not all of its rich variety of educational programs intact after one more of the several financial and administrative crises that have struck in recent years. Company old-timers Jonathan Croy (twenty-ninth season) and Ariel Bock, who arrived as an acting apprentice in 1979, have taken over the artistic management on an interim basis, and another, Stephen G. Ball (twenty-seventh season), is now Interim Managing Director and General Manager. Much of this upheaval has been shrouded in mystery, but nothing could inspire one simply to let all this go and look to the future than the Shakespearean season opener, an invigorating, insightful, and moving “pocket” production of the most famous and beloved of the history plays, Henry V.
For me, Shakespeare’s Henry the Fifth is as much about Falstaff as it is about Henry. Why the author’s abrupt bellicose turn to begin with? I think the playwright was afraid of Falstaff. He had already devoured two plays, Henry IV parts 1 and 2. Something had to be done.
The voice is all, especially in the rolling sounds of epic. The Iliad, now supposed to have been written by several authors, is fundamentally a bardic oration. One reads ancient descriptions of these bards, rolling or roaring their voices—a physical excess akin to singing. Jeannine Haas in “An Iliad” at Hubbard Hall was the mistress of this music, always with the careful assistance of John Sheldon on guitar. The location of an epic is much larger than any theatre space. It must be formed by sound. The parts of this “Iliad” I enjoyed the most were the great descriptions, where I heard roaring sound coming from the actress, sentence on sentence enjambed, sometimes nearly incomprehensibly. Singing was waiting to take over. The Iliad is a story to tell, not a story to see. Ms. Haas understood this, and she made the minutes fly.
A good while ago now, I stepped into an ancient school bus, left a tiny hamlet in the foothills of the Adirondacks, and traveled to the glittering metropolis of Johnstown, New York. There, The Tempest was being played by a traveling troupe, and somehow our country school got us there. The play was The Tempest. When I walked into the dull brown everywhere auditorium, I saw marvelous things. There were great gauze curtains, aquamarine and pure blue, folding back and forth upon themselves, prompted by some invisible wind. This itself was enough to make the trip a rare event in my life!
I heard Matthew Penn’s direction of Christopher Durang’s Chekhov play as a collision of energies—almost a rant against reticent Chekhov and his gazing, yearning characters. The play depends pretty much on the performance of Masha, an aging movie actress. Elizabeth Aspenlieder had all that was needed to make this character work.