Mark Rylance and His Seven Stages of Man: A Review of Nice Fish


imageWhile watching Mark Rylance’s existential Nice Fish (presented by Cambridge’s American Repertory Theater), I kept asking myself, “What is this play about?” Written by Rylance and Louis Jenkins,  Nice Fish is playing until March 27, 2016 at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. The work originates from Jenkins’s poetry. Knowing that Rylance is one of the greatest contemporary Shakespearean actors and both a Tony and a recent Academy Award winning actor (Bridge of Spies), I wanted to see this live performance.  Having graced the stage at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, Rylance has received plaudits for his performances. As Charles Isherwood of The New York Times recently stated, “For a certain slice of New Yorkers- you know who you are- Mark Rylance is the cultural deity that Beyoncé is to, well, a different slice of New Yorkers.” With that information at my fingertips, I decided to see Nice Fish. During the performance in which I attended, Rylance played Ron, and Jim Lichtscheidl played Erik. The play focuses on two men, with occasionally three other characters, in conversation while fishing, and is set in Minnesota during the winter. It has great use of technology, both phenomenal lighting and sound design, and superb costuming that causes a great surprise ending. The issues, however, that may plague the audience member is both the play’s theme and its missing plot. Ironically, the characters at the close of the play discuss what people will say about this play. The two principal characters say the audience members will say that the set design was great, that it had great lighting, that the acting was great, but it had no plot. Then they ask themselves, “What was this play about anyway?” I chuckled at that moment because they knew my exact thoughts. Then the stage goes dark.  I now ask, as I ponder this ninety-five minute play, “what was the theme?” or may I say, “the point?” Knowing that Rylance is a Shakespeare buff and that he included some Shakesperean quotes in this work , I will hazard a guess that Nice Fish was about “Shakespeare’s Seven Stages of Man.”

The two principal actors in Nice Fish ruminate about life. Everyone goes through different stages of life, and life events do not always go according to plan. As we age, our lives change. Sometimes, we have pleasant surprises as well as traumatic heartbreaks. Shakespeare’s As you Like it states, ” All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.” Our world represents a stage and our life is a play. The seven stages are: infancy, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, pantalone, and old age with death on the horizon. The play, through pithy maxims and a great use of language, focuses on the different stages of life with all of its disappointments, successes, and unexpected outcomes. The other characters remind them about life and that they are actors in life’s drama. At the end of the play, ironically, one of the two characters catches the largest fish of his life. They then exit as both old age and marriage grips them.

left to right: Mark Rylance and Jim Lichtscheidl (Used with Courtesy)

The play is worth seeing, but do not expect a plot. Perhaps this play will tour the country. If you like Mark Rylance, you will love him in this!

Double Double Toil and Trouble: The Staging of The Crucible

Ivo Van Hove, directs this riveting and highly charged production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible at Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theater. During the last year, I have seen two other classic stage productions under the direction of Van Hove- Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge and Sophocles’ Antigone. All three plays left me feeling as if I was part of each tragic drama, and I pondered the action hours and days afterward. The major characters in all three plays hold strong beliefs, and are unyielding in them, even to the extent of causing someone’s death or each one’s own death. Millers’s plays thematically are about reputation, about holding up under intense pressure, about deep convictions. To fully understand The Crucible, one must understand the metaphor of the crucible. The crucible is either a place or an occasion of severe test or trial or it is defined as a ceramic or metal dish in which its contents may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures. The Crucible is set in Salem, Massachusetts in the seventeenth century during the witch trials. Similarly, sixty-five years ago, Senator Joseph McCarthy conducted what became known as the McCarthy hearings. These hearings were designed to expose communist sympathizers and Americans practicing communism. The hearings turned into a modern day witch hunt similar to the Salem Witch Trials centuries earlier, but with less devastating results. With this political backdrop, Arthur Miller crafted in 1953, an intensely woven, historically based story that features a web of lies and false accusations that have the effect of placing people within a metaphorical crucible, resulting in their imprisonment and death by hanging. Saoirse Ronan plays deceptive Abigail, the young woman responsible for igniting the witchcraft controversy, Sophie Okonedo plays the wounded and emotionally charged Elizabeth Proctor, Ben Whishaw stars as the resolute and lustful John Proctor, Bill Camp stars as the influential yet ambivalent Reverend Hale, Ciaran Hinds plays the tenacious and uncompromising Deputy Governor Danforth,Tavi Gevinson plays the frightened Mary Warren and Jason Butler Harner plays the pious Reverend Parris. Jenny Jules plays a noteworthy Tituba, Parris’s slave, and the first woman historically to be executed and blamed for witch craft. Through technology, sound design, great props, costume design, and compelling performances, Ivo Van Hove’s staging transfixes the audience to the extent in which we feel the intensity of the characters’ actions as if we too were condemned for a wrong we did not commit. No elaborate set takes our eyes off of the characters. These characters all embody fierce determination.

The metaphor of the crucible is best illustrated though the characters’ actions, and is further highlighted through “a crucible” on stage. All of the characters are figuratively placed in a crucible. They are all in a fiery trial that seeks to destroy them. The actors’ countenances all convey deep conviction in the midst of the trial.  On stage, there is a huge pot of boiling water that is heated under a high intensity flame. The flame continues for a long time, further illustrating both the trial’s strength and length. Although Saoirse Ronan receives top billing, Sophie Okonedo, best known for her role in Hotel Rwanda and for a Tony Award in A Raisin in the Sun, delivers an emotionally wrought performance that allows the audience to witness the depth of her pain. She trembles, she weeps, and she pleads all while delivering lines with great intensity. We agonize with her. Because she is a victim of infidelity, she is cold, yet respectful toward her husband. The physical love is gone and she wears clothing that is not considered feminine (pants) ; however, we are able to see that she still loves her husband, in spite of an obvious lack of chemistry. Similarly, one can see that the depth of temperament from Ciaran Hinds as Deputy Governor Danforth is resolute and tenacious; it shows the magnitude of his convictions to secure convictions, and makes the audience cast aspersions on his sincerity to authentically investigate the events concerning the Proctors and others accused. Ronan, as Abigail is absent, or quietly on the sidelines through much of the play. But when she is in a scene she fights, rages, and argues vehemently and ferociously with John Proctor, and bullies the other girls, resulting in great amplification of the text to help illustrate the conflict and the fear that the other characters have toward her. Jim Norton (I saw him as Candy in Of Mice and Men on Broadway) as Giles plays a sympathetic character. His performance allows us to empathize with him when he realizes the magnitude of his mistake in accusing his wife of witchcraft for merely reading books.

Sophie Okonedo 

The music, the props, the costumes, the make up design, and the technology all lift this production visually and aurally. Throughout the entire production, Phillip Glass’s music is played with great force but with a low volume in the background. Music is foreboding, foreshadowing ominous events to come. The play, even opens with children singing sweetly, but the platitudes in their songs herald portentous events because the audience is aware that the characters can not meet the high standard to which they are held.  The blackboard has commandments that the children are required to follow. The music as well as the props are indicative of their strict Puritan upbringing. Technology is used to illustrate the concept of “the fruit of the poisonous tree.” Once the lies are told, more lies are told to extent that it infects “all the trees in the garden.” A wolf is used on stage to sniff out those engaged in witchcraft. The wolf comes out on cue, sniffs around the stage, then leaves; it represents Deputy Governor Danforth, who sniffs and sniffs, until he can sniff no longer- until all damage is done. Props are also used to reveal the chaos that the witch hunt causes. At times, the stage floor is covered with debris, illustrating the anarchy that encompasses the characters’ lives. At the end of the play, the accused are disheveled and wear tattered clothing and chaotically applied makeup, further illustrating the coming disaster and the tattered ruins of their lives.

Because of the collective effort of the actors, of Ivo Van Hove, with Phillip Glass’s original score, and the rest of the creative team, one will have an intense experience and will ruminate about parallel contemporary witch hunts. This performance is a must see! It is now in previews. Opening night is March 31, 2016 with a strictly limited engagement of twenty weeks. Share your thoughts.

Trevor Nunn’s Staging of Pericles: A Halcyonic Ending

imageShakespeare’s Pericles, redolent of The Odyssey, is a drama that has the potential to lift one from the depths of despair and believe that trouble will not last always. Shakespeare’s authorship of Pericles is questioned, and it is thought to be coauthored with George Wilkins. Although neither sublime nor witty, it is an essential play within Shakespeare’s cannon. Neither a comedy nor a tragedy, and not a combination of either, or a historical play, Pericles does not fit nicely within  genres of other Shakespearean works. Lacking familiarity with the text, when learning last summer that it was going to be staged at the Folger Shakespeare Library (in December 2015), I secured tickets and set my mind to both read and see the play. Recently, I have become committed to a fresh reading of Shakespearean plays prior to seeing each individual performance. It has allowed me to better understand each play when performed as well as recognize which scenes have been edited from the play, and the depth of each of the edits. That performance was engaging; however, knowing that a local production was on the horizon, I anticipated seeing Theater For A New Audience’s (TFANA) production winter of 2016. Trevor Nunn, a Shakespeare aficionado and formerly the director of both the Royal Shakespeare Company and London’s National Theater, currently stages Pericles at TFANA. (I mistakenly booked my ticket for Oscar night, but I am pleased to say that this performance has great diversity). Trevor Nunn has staged all but one of Shakespeare’s plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (he is currently contracted for the performance of two other Shakespeare works). As a comparison between the Folger’s production and TFANA’s production, the costume, the music, and Raphael Nash Thompson’s performance of Gower lift this performance to great heights. The creative team includes: Shaun Davey, the composer, Robert Jones, the scenic designer, Constance Hoffman, the costume designer, and Daniel Kluger, the sound designer. To visually stimulate the senses, at the back of the stage is a huge circle-like structure that opens and closes as various characters enter or exit the stage. This structure was both chimerical and celestial especially at the end when goddess Diana works her mythical powers to bring the play to a beautiful denouement. Gower, however, steals the show from Christian Camargo as Pericles. Singing ebulliently at times and effusively, one can not wait for Gower to reappear after each act. His visage lets us know that he too is enjoying the performance. The Grecian costume design, Gower’s passionate singing  (Nunn elected to have Gower sing his lines), and the synchronistic sound design mimicking tempests all catapult this production to a high, leaving the audience connecting to the text, while accomplishing what can be viewed as Shakespeare’s vision of bringing a fable to stage. Although Camargo as Pericles is not this show’s strongest performance, Thompson’s insightful performance brings luminosity to the play. At the end of the performance, however, Camargo ignites his performance resulting in bravo for the entire staging. We, the audience, empathize with Pericles – we feel both his pain and his joy, and the depth of his emotion.image

To recap the story arc, Pericles flees Tyre as he fears for his life after discovering the secret to King Atiochus’s riddle. Pericles sets sail while experiencing various tempests at sea while becoming shipwrecked. He is rescued and continues sailing. He later wins   Thaisa’s heart and she later becomes his wife, although he is neither stately nor opulently dressed.  They soon have a child, Marina (aptly named, for she was born at sea). Subsequently, Pericles believes his wife dies while giving birth, buries her with all the accoutrements she deserves. His wife is later found buried. Feeling ill equipped to rear Marina singly, he requests Cleon and Dionyza, whom Pericles saves from famine, to rear Marina. Unfortunately, Marina is mistreated, is nearly killed, and is almost forced into prostitution through evil machinations. She, however is later rescued. Pericles, meanwhile, sullen and dejected after the supposed loss of both his wife and his daughter, reunites with them, as the goddess Diana mythically applies her celestial powers to bring this play to an uplifting halcyonic end, similar to the mythical bird that charms both the wind and the waves into peace. Nunn, through his direction, transports Pericles to Elysium-like fields on Earth as the play ends with the marriage of Marina and Lysimachus.

Both Gower and the musicians place me on tenterhooks as the feeling of uneasy suspense envelopes me when Gower sings about the perils to follow (especially incest). With great anticipation, one looks forward to both this compelling voice and the accompanying music composition as the story unfolds. At the opening of the performance, stately Gower, surprisingly and deliciously heralds the audience to future events, namely the incestuous relationship of Antiochus with his daughter, and Pericles subsequent flight. Historically, Gower, was both a poet and a contemporary of Chaucer. As a towering presence on stage, he is dressed in loose fitting Grecian garb, further fostering the audience’s transportation to Greece. As the performance continues, my captivation of Gower increases as I realize that his character, however intended, elevates this performance. Both the Grecian garb and his powerful voice compel one to look forward to further singing as the musicians harmoniously play and Marina sings (I heard that she does not really sing, although it appears as such. One of the other characters on stage sings for her as the lights dim).

Raphael Nash Thompson 

Grecian clothing brings us to both a time and place in which we can further understand the play’s events. We see Antiochus’s daughter dressed in a completely see through gold shimmering dress (both she and her father are responsible for the incest because she tempts him, but he, being her father, is most culpable), highlighting his unnatural desire for his daughter. Pericles, when downtrodden, wears clothing that deemphasizes his princely stature. Gower dresses in a loose fitting tunic and Marina dresses in long flowing gowns and in white as she marries at the end of the play.

This is a must see performance, as Pericles is not often staged. Both Nina Hellman as Dionyza and Lilly Englert as Marina give noteworthy performances. Bravo for Trevor Nunn and his entire creative team! Pericles will be performed at TFANA until March 27, 2016.


The Rise and Fall of Amy Winehouse: A Review

This documentary won an Academy Award. The film was excellent. Read my post to find our what made this documentary exceptional!

All the World's a Set

Amy Winehouse, used with permission

Used with permission

I happened to have been in the United Kingdom four years ago when the BBC announced that six-time Grammy Award winner Amy Winehouse was found dead. It was a tragic media frenzy, and many Londoners went near her home as they were tragically stunned at the death of such a great jazz singer, who at such a young age sang as well as the greatest jazz musicians of the twentieth century.  For days, her death was in the media as the public was awaiting the autopsy report.  I admit, regrettably, that I had not followed Winehouse’s music at the time; however, after her death, I began to think, like others, about her music and wondered about her life.  I wondered how could such a great singer be dead at an early age from the abuse of drugs and alcohol.  When the autopsy was…

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Christian Piety versus Evil in Robert Eggers’s The Witch

“The Witch” gives insight into the “witchcraft era” that engrossed the Puritans in 17th century New England. Parts of the film are horrific, but the movie paints an accurate picture using dialogue from historical records, adding depth and emotion that brings verisimilitude to the film.

Christianity Loves

imageLast October was the one hundred anniversary of Arthur Miller’s (an American playwrite) birth. Accompanying this anniversary are several works, two of which highlight the witchcraft era. One of his most famous works, The Crucible, uses historical records to recreate the Salem Witch Trials. Within the next week, the theatrical production of TheCrucible will appear on Broadway (directed by Ivo van Hove). Additionally, as a forerunner to the upcoming Broadway production, Robert Eggers’s debut film, The Witch premiered last week. It is set in seventeenth century New England, a few decades preceding the infamous Salem Witch Trials. The Witch is not classic horror, but it has enough horrific scenes to make one uncomfortable. A Sundance favorite, Eggers won best director for this dramatic feature.  It is the story of a devout Christian family banished from their puritanical community for actions that are theologically based, but are not specified…

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