I am participating in “Literacy Unbound,” a program at Teachers College. The focus of the program is to bring literature to life. Here is a synopsis of the program and some of the work I created during the program. Please comment.
Currently for two weeks, I am participating in program, Literacy Unbound, at Teachers College, Columbia University. The program’s intent is to bring literature to life through the infusion of art modalities into the analysis of a text. Near the end if the program, all of the participants perform pieces collectively, then we debrief, and plan the next steps for integrating the ideas into our daily practice. We were given a novel, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, to read. We were also encouraged to reread the text to further our analysis. TheAwakening, a previously banned book published in 1899, is the story of Edna, a married woman who seeks to find herself while having two brief affairs. She dreams of a better life without her husband and children. She lives during an era in which her behaviors are not sanctioned. At the end of the text, she drowns herself…
We live in a world in which violence has become commonplace, when people’s first line of defense to resolve conflict is violence. Like most people, my heart is grieved about the Orlando mass shooting. My best friend, Anjiro lives in Orlando with her family. Although she was not directly affected by the tragedy, she has to live in a city in which fear may threaten to overwhelm its citizens and in which greater scrutiny and greater security measures will be implemented. My first thought was to reach out to her and let her know that my prayers go out to her and to the Orlando community. Affected people want to know that others care. They want to know that we stand in unity with them and against senseless violence. The only antidote to violence is love and respect. Webster’s Dictionary defines respect as a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something…
It’s super fantastic! Young Vic’s production of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire is worthy of every minute of this nearly three and a half hour long production, and of any accolades that it has received. Directed by Benedict Andrews with a superb creative team and awesome actors, this performance is emotive, it is heart wrenching. At the end of the performance, I started to shed tears. It is powerful. The family dynamics are evident to the extent that one can feel Stella’s pain at emotionally losing her sister and one can feel Mitch’s anger toward Stanley (This acting and directing intensity is what I longed to see in A Long Day’s Journey into Night). This production drew me into the story. I felt the anger, the rage, the intensity of emotion among the characters. Gillian Anderson, from the “X Files”, stars as Blanche Dubois, Ben Foster, from “Six Feet Under”, plays Stanley Kowalski, Corey Johnson stars as Mitch and Vanessa Kirby plays Stella Kowalski. Nearly two years ago, I saw the filmed version of this Young Vic production. I knew that a live performance would be levels greater, but I had no idea that the space at St. Ann’s Warehouse would greatly transform the play. This performance is theater in the round. The entire stage rotates slowly throughout the performance , with the audience seated around the stage, allowing the audience to see the play from different angles. At no time is the audience cheated as the stage rotates. The rotation, nevertheless, adds to the performance because it draws the audience into the play. St. Ann’s new space has the ability to convert to the demands of each play. The creative team amplifies this play to great heights. The crescendo of sound also transports the audience from scene to scene and the lights either illuminate or hide Blanche’s character. The costumes, the sound design, stellar acting, and brilliant lighting all work together to bring this magnificent story to a worthy stage.
A Streetcar Named Desire is set in New Orleans just after World War II. It is set in a modest neighborhood in the Latin Quarter of New Orleans. Streetcar tells the story of Blanche Dubois, the younger sister of Stella Kowalski. Blanche visits her sister’s home after losing her family home and her job. Blanche, however, fails to disclose the events leading up to her visit. Often inebriated, she fails to face reality. She still lives in the glory days of the past and makes her sister feel as if she is a failure. Blanche meets Stanley, Stella’s husband for the first time and dislikes him. He soon dislikes her as she attempts to place a wedge between him and Stella. Blanche meets Mitch, a man in whom she becomes interested. Stanley, suspicious of Blanche’s behavior, delves into her past. He learns that she prostituted herself at a hotel in her home town and that she lost her job as a teacher because of her lewd activities. Stanley tells Mitch about Blanche’s past. Mitch then severs their relationship. During all of this, Blanche unravels and drinks more and more to the point of becoming addled. Stanley in a fit of rage rapes her, while Stella is at the hospital after giving birth to their child. Blanche never emotionally recovers. At the end, Stella has made arrangements for the emotionally and physically battered Blanche to be hospitalized. At the end, Stella sobs as Blanche is taken away to a sanatorium.
The acting throughout the performance illuminates the characters and the play’s themes. Gillian Anderson plays Blanche wonderfully. When she first arrives on the set, we see her in all of her splendor, although it is a facade. Her clothing, her hair, and her voice all epitomize a southern belle. She maintains her southern accent although the performance. Her gestures, her stance, her walk all exemplify a woman from a high class status in life although she has fallen from her perch. As Anderson performs, the audience begins to feel sympathy for Blanche because we realize that Blanche is unraveling as the action rises. Anderson depicts a woman who falls further into an emotional breakdown. Moreover, Anderson and the others perform greatly because of Benedict Andrews’s awesome directing. Anderson stupendously portrays an emotionally wrecked Blanche, whose mind is greatly fragile and is unconscious of her own mental state. Ben Foster plays a pugnacious Stanley. He acts perfectly to show his contempt for Blanche. He intensifies his anger and his rage through his voice inflection, his countenance, as well as his movement. Foster is equally intense when showing his affection toward Stella. Both Kirby and Johson also play memorable supporting roles. At the close of the play, as Blanche is taken away, she and the doctor walk hand and hand slowly around the rotating set, giving the audience a full view of her emotional breakdown as Stella continues sobbing uncontrollably as the stage goes dark. The greatest irony is that she arrives at the beginning of the play at Elysian Fields, which, as she says, appears to be anything but that! She has arrived at dystopia, although real and not imagined, instead!
This production is one of the best. Rush to get your ticket today! This performance ends on June 4, 2016. You will not be disappointed. Try the standby line for tickets. It is worth it!
I am an eternal optimist. I tend to believe that with time, self-reflection, forgiveness, and prayer that most of life’s hurts can be resolved. But why does trauma destroy some lives while enriching others? Why do some people acknowledge traumatic events while others pretend that they are not happening? But what happens when life is too painful and we lack the wherewithal to accept what we cannot change? What happens is Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night (considered to be his magnum opus), a play that explores the Tyrone family’s ceaseless pain and the family’s emotional unraveling. Hurts that have not healed can cause family turmoil, the destruction of the family, and devastating family dynamics. What happens is drug addiction and the incessant drinking of alcohol to numb the pain. Published posthumously because O’Neill did not want it published during his lifetime, this play is considered to be semi-autobiographical. I am a lover of classic literature, for its themes endure for many years past its publishing date and speak to timeless ideas. I seized the opportunity to see the Roundabout Theatre’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s classic. The Roundabout Theatre Company’s cast includes: the incomparable Jessica Lange (Mary Tyrone), the seasoned Gabriel Byrne (James Tyrone), Michael Shannon ( Jamie Jr.), John Gallagher, Jr. (Edmund Tyrone) and Colby Minifie (Cathleen, the servant). This play under Jonathan Kent’s direction is three hours and forty-five minutes in length (the action takes place during one day and night) and I felt almost every second of every minute. This play is terrifically written, but it’s staging left me wanting more. Each family member’s detachment from each other and each character’s intermittent display of affection is depicted through the sudden fits of intense rage.
Although the performance has its strong points, it however, struggles in the acting which at times appears to be contrived. Lange, Byrne, Gallagher, Shannon, and minifie are all superb, but the fault of the performance is its direction. The entire cast appears to have been directed to have bursts of raging emotion that seems to be forced and disconnected from the rest of their actions. Maybe the director wants to show the family’s dysfunction through these fits of rage contrasted with slight tenderness. Whatever his reasons for his direction, the emotion rarely seems to be a natural evolution from each conversation. Without reading the text, I am not sure whether O’Neill wrote the stage directions in that matter. The intense bursts of rage seem unnatural and “over the top.”
The acting almost fails to draw the audience into the emotional pain. Does a play have to be melodramatic for the audience to feel the characters’ pain? The scenes in which Mary explains the reasons for her pain and the final scene evidencing the devastating effects of her hurt (morphine addiction) are the best scenes in the play. Mary in a morphine induced stupor carries her wedding dress, the symbol of the happiest day of her life. At that point Lange’s performance rivets me and I feel Mary’s emotional pain and its devastating effects of leaving her stuck in the past. Unfortunately, the play ends at that point.
From the beginning of the play, through its dialogue, the family’s pain is evident. As the action unfolds, we are given information in pieces that explains the circumstances of Mary Tyrone’s absence and her subsequent return. The family refuses to accept the truth, and Mary lives in the past, for she says the present is the past and the future is the past. Mary holds onto her son Edmund because he was conceived to heal her pain from the loss of her other son. Various family members either intentionally or unintentionally cause immense pain to Mary which causes her to not face reality or Edmund’s possible demise from Tuberculosis (consumption).
There is a fog horn that blows with the wind; it metaphorically shields Mary from her pain. Fog horns normally sound in foggy weather to warn ships of dangerous impending fog. The continuous bad weather mimics the family relationships. The danger ahead is Edmund’s possible impending death. Mary loves the fog, but hates the foghorn. The fog metaphorically distracts her from facing her pain, but the fog horn’s purpose is to warn her of danger, but she refuses to see it.
One aspect of the script that I noticed is that although other characters are referenced in the story, none of them are part of the action. Most people seek out family and friends to help them work through traumatic events. Mary, however, isolates herself because of her husband’s premarital affair that resulted in a scandal, real or imagined. Mary’s difficult labor, the death of her other son, Edmund’s illness, her husband’s parsimony, and Jamie’s philandering all cause social withdrawal. Naturally, people have the tendency to shy away from others when they need them most. It appears that Mary Tyrone did just that!
This plays continues until June 26, 2016 at the American Airlines Theatre.
Full of carnality and temptation, Blackbird‘s symbolic eighty minute long production is neither entertaining nor pleasurable; it’s disturbing in its imagery and in its content as it shines a spotlight on pedophilia. Inspired by a sex offender’s crimes, David Harrower wrote Blackbird which premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival. Cabaret’s Michelle Williams stars in this production along with Jeff Daniels. Blackbird directed by Joe Mantello is the story of a woman, Una, who confronts her childhood sexual abuser, Ray, a man considerably older than she. At the time of the abuse, Una was twelve years old and Ray was forty. Una tracks Ray down (he changed his name) after recognizing him in a photograph; she then visits him, unannounced, many years after his criminal conviction. She recounts to him the impact that the abuse had on her life as she tries to understand their relationship and he relays to her the consequences that he suffered as a result of the investigation and subsequent conviction. I wish that I could say that this play ends on a positive note, but I cannot. Furthermore, I wish that I could say that Ray ceases his pedophilia, but I cannot. Lastly, I wish that the abused held no sexual desire for her abuser, but once again I cannot. This play holds true to all of the evil that pedophiles exhibit and the impact of their behavior on the abused. It makes one gasp in horror at the end. (You must see it. No spoiler). Michelle Williams’s acting is stellar, and it helps drive the thematic content and the horrors of the abuse. The creative team’s use of props and its stage design symbolize both the carnality and sexual temptation that a blackbird represents, and the lack of freedom that Una has despite and because of the representation of blackbird. She, unfortunately, is not able to fly away.
Symbolism drives this play. Firstly, the action takes place in an office break-room with blinds drawn throughout the room. No one can see inside or outside of the room. The blinds represent secrecy. Secondly, there is an overflowing trash can. It represents the messiness of their lives. No custodian cleans up the mess. Perhaps people see the mess, but no one is willing to do anything about it. At one point Una suggests that Ray must be the office custodian. He says to her that he is not the custodian. Of course he is not the custodian because he is unable to clean up his own mess! During one scene of the play, trash is spread all over the office. It’s on the table, on the floor. The dirt is not contained to one spot. It impacts the entire room. The door to the office is kept closed, adding more to the symbolism of secrecy. She wants it open, he wants it closed so that no one will question why she is there. A fire extinguisher and a first aid kit hang on the wall. Ironically, no safety equipment could have saved Una from her molester. Primarily a two-person play, its casting also is indicative of secrecy. Often when molestation takes place, few people are around. Despite other people at the office, no one sees either character. Ray, however, constantly worries that someone will see Una and that he will be exposed (he has a new life and no one knows about his conviction). After everyone in the office has left, someone comes to see Ray. At that point the conflict of emotions become preeminent.
Michelle Williams’s portrayal of Una as a victim of abuse is extraordinary. The cadence of her voice epitomizes someone with nervous rapid speech trying to have her voice heard. She needs to tell her story before forces impede or try to stop her. Although she is a grown woman, she has a childlike nature as she struggles to understand her attraction to him (She is still emotionally drawn to Ray). Una’s emotional ties to Ray become apparent as Williams’s gesticulations and close contact with Ray increase with intensity as she pleads for a rekindling of their relationship. Jeff Daniels as Ray strongly tries to get Una to understand the impact of his conviction and his actions. Daniel’s performance is strong as he mimics the behavior of an abuser who vehemently denies his proclivity toward sexual abuse. His performance is superb, for the average theater-goer may feel disgust as if he were a real-life abuser.
The characters in Blackbird have no last names; they can represent any abuser or abused person. All of us have either heard of someone abused or we have known someone personally who has suffered at the hands of an abuser. Blackbird is worth the money and one’s time. Although it is not a fun night or afternoon out, it shines a bright light on a problem that never seems to go away. If you see something, say something. It is playing for seven more weeks at the Belasco Theatre.
Alzheimer’s disease is both a difficult and depressing subject on which to write. It’s a topic that many people do not want to discuss, and if one is living with it as the caregiver or as the patient, it is an all-consuming subject that threatens to overwhelm one with sorrow. Yet, The Manhattan Theatre Club’s ninety minute production (no intermission) of The Father manages to tackle it with grace. Its production is both riveting and experiential. Doug Hughes directs Christopher Hampton’s translation from French to English of Florian Zeller’s emotionally written drama. Frank Langella plays André, the father, Kathryn Erbe plays Anne, his daughter, Brian Evers plays Pierre, Anne’s boyfriend, and Hannah Cabell plays Laura, the hired caregiver. This production through its brilliant writing brings the audience into the Alzheimer’s experience. How does it feel to be confused about one’s surroundings? About the time of day? How does it feel to believe that someone is a complete stranger, except that he is not? Thus, for experiential sake, and for a brief period, we are drawn into the Alzheimer’s patient’s world via a well written and translated script.
The Father illustrates, without judgment, the agonizing decisions that families make when caring for a parent who has Alzheimer’s disease, and the effect that the disease has on the entire family. Suddenly there is a shift in roles. The adult child becomes the parent and the parent becomes the child. This task increases with difficulty when the adult child has no one with whom to share the responsibility. Caring for the parent becomes all-encompassing, and often involves multiple caregivers. Because of obstinacy, and because the ill family member is often of advanced age, finding a caregiver that can withstand the challenges is often difficult. Adult children have to decide whether the parent will be cared for at home or at a nursing home. The Father also depicts what can happen when the parent is left alone with the caregiver or with someone else. The play also explores the total impact of the disease on all of the caregivers, be it family or otherwise. How does one know whether the parent is receiving humane treatment or geriatric abuse at the hands of the caregiver or someone else? How does the adult child handle the demands of dementia? How does the adult child maintain the demands of his own life?
Throughout the performance of The Father, the audience member can become disoriented to time and place. He may become confused and unable to identify the characters because their appearance has changed (in the play, other characters step in to replace characters, thereby adding to confusion). This confusion is intentional. We are not supposed to recognize some characters. We are not supposed to know the location of the action or whether something actually happened. Was something a figment of our imagination or did the conversation happen?
The most extraordinary actor in this production is Frank Langella (André), whom I first saw as King Lear at BAM. The audience is able to empathize with André. Frank Langella’s performance shows a range of emotion: fear, anger, rage, sorrow, contentment, and ebullience. Langella’s character shows fear when he is deeply afraid of Pierre because Pierre is physically and emotionally abusive. We see intense anger, yet tenderness when overwhelmed at the effects of the disease. For example, André accuses his caregiver of theft, but he routinely forgets where he hides his watch. Moreover, a stately figure that falls from his intellectual stature, Langella as André projects that decline in his mental capacity as he vehemently portrays an ill parent who forgets the time of day and forgets his acquaintances. A man who appears to have had great intellectual abilities (The set exemplifies his intellect and the living room has an extensive library) refuses to acknowledge that he is experiencing difficulties. Langella as André shows ebullience when his caregiver reminds him of one of his daughters (but he forgets that she is deceased). At other times he is content to stay at home wearing his pajamas because he sees no need to change. The other characters’ performances are respectable. We see Avers’s raw emotion as Pierre when the situation affects his relationship with Anne, Erbe’s character. Hannah Cabell projects empathy and care as Laura, the caregiver. Erbe’s steadfastness is portrayed throughout her performance; her character, Anne, experiences both emotional fatigue and disappointment, but her character’s determination comes across through Erbe’s strong performance.
The lighting (constant light versus dark), costume design, props, and set design bring reality to this play. The creative team’s synergy aids the theater-goer in understanding the demands of the disease on everyone. The depiction of a changing world of Alzheimer’s via props and changing set design, helps us experience the effects of this very difficult disease as we see our loved ones become emotionally unrecognizable. Truly, as the stage goes dark and light again, we feel for a brief moment the world of the Alzheimer’s patient.
Although this play is not entertaining in the traditional sense, exploring the subject and seeing Langella’s performance is worth the time and money. It’s playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on Broadway.
Two of my aunts and one of my uncles partnered with each other when my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. For over a ten year period they, along with the caregiver, Diane, worked tirelessly and assiduously to care for my grandmother. Diane is now a member of our family, for she epitomizes the attributes of a great caregiver.
Full of verve and vigor, this bold new production of the making of the musical sensation Shuffle Along, currentlyinpreviews and scheduled to openjust in time for Tony Award nominations this April 2016, will entertain and inform the theater goer. Prior to the buzz about this production, I had not heard of Shuffle Along. I had heard of Eubie Blake, the lyricist and composer of the music, in Shuffle Along when I was in high school, but I never knew that the 1920s produced the first successful musical featuring men and women of color. Accompanying the Playbill, is a booklet that provides biographical information on the original characters. I knew only of the successful musical Porgy and Bess and of Paul Robeson becoming the first African American to play Othello. Even after purchasing group tickets for my colleagues, I did not know the history behind the story. I thought that it was a typical revival, but its director, George C. Wolfe, concluded that the musical was better performed as “The making of a musical sensation.” Having read a New York Times Magazine article a week before seeing the show, I was prepared to see one of the controversial elements of the show -two of the characters in “blackface.” Although whites typically at that time performed during minstrel shows in black face, blacks also performed similarly because whites were not accustomed to seeing blacks perform. To facilitate their performances, they donned their faces in black, despite the hypocrisy of their actions. This musical makes brief mention of their contradictory actions, while withholding judgment on their conduct. Moreover, the musical pays tribute to some of the great African-American legends of Broadway and of the music industry who paved the way for subsequent people of color. Songs that we have come to know, originate from this show (“I’m just Wild About Harry,” and “Love Will Find a Way”). Accurately depicting the social fabric of the 1920s, Shuffle Along choreographs and dances its way into Broadway history, through an impressive cast greenlighted with the ever impressive singing sensation and sixth time Tony Award winning Audra McDonald, the seasoned Brandon Stokes Mitchell, the show stopping choreography of Savion Glover, and the comical and dynamic Tony Award winning Billy Porter. Audra McDonald plays Lottie Gee, the star of the original musical, Brian Stokes Mitchell plays F. E. Miller the original writer of the show, Billy Porter plays Aubrey Lyles, his writing-partner, Joshua Henry plays Noble Sissle the musician, and Brandon Victor Dixon plays Eubie Blake. Brooks Ashmanskas plays many notable characters including the railroad president and various celebrities. Ashmanskas, the lone white man in the show, is illustrative of the both financial and racial conflict that the actors experienced in the original musical. The threat of closure due to financial insolvency loomed large over the original show.
Shuffle Along‘s retelling is the story of Lottie Gee’s performance in the original musical and her love affair with Eubie Blake, the married and famed musician. George C. Wolfe takes the extant, albeit scant history of some of the original performers to write the script, and through this revival underscores the difficulties that black artists had at that time staying financially afloat. The musical also pays tribute to another Broadway star, Florence Mills. Her voice rivaled Gee, who could not help but acknowledge her star power. At the end of the musical, we find out about the latter stages of all of the characters’ lives, many of whom had longevity.
The show starts slowly, but the action begins to build through the music and the dance halfway into the first act. Initially, I was worried because too much time was spent “telling the story” instead of letting the action tell the story. As time elapses, the musical begins to live and breathe through its star characters. It begins to pick up speed through the choreography that threatens to overshadow the rest of the musical. McDonald’s voice is seductive, sultry, and smooth as she draws the audience in with her silky movement. When she sings “Daddy Won’t You Please Come Home,”we feel the sexiness in her voice and her love for Blake. The caliber of her voice and its range draw the audience in when she sings “I’m Just Wild About Harry” (made popular by Harry S. Truman). The energy of the dancers as they tap dance elevates the mood in contrast to some of the somber issues presented in the play. The racial issues of the time and the cultural norms of the day were respectfully handled. According to the story in Shuffle Along, the Gershwins, musical powerhouse of the twentieth century, misappropriate a few “musical Bars” from one of the musical’s songs, “Who Could Ask for Anything More (I Got Rhythm).” The musical acknowledges the Gershwins creative genius, but does not neglect telling and playing the music to illustrate the misappropriation. This practice of misappropriation is common today. (Ask Robin Thicke and the estate of Marvin Gaye). Brian Stokes Mitchell, via his character in conversation with Lyles, exclaims that “They (white establishment) can kiss my black ass.” He even shows us his rear end as he says it. Portions of the musical may offend some audience members who have not processed our country’s racial history.
Savion Glover’s syncopated choreography coupled with great costumes is resplendent. Shuffle Along was the first musical to use jazz and tap dancing together. Jazz and tap are like peanut butter and jelly; one is generally not seen without the other. In one of the musical numbers, “Syncopated Stenos”, the music and dance illustrate the concept of syncopation within the tap choreography. Syncopation is the temporary displacement of the regular metrical accent as the weak beat is stressed. The dancers tap dance on the syncopated beat or counterpoint and the rhythms flow effortlessly in time, providing the dancers with rhythmic freedom. They tap dance with fierce determination redolent of the roaring twenties in total choral rhythm, moving their feet with neck breaking speed, song after song. Their costumes are short and sexy and razzle and dazzle the mind while lighting up the stage against backdrops that illuminate the Broadway scene as the alliterative Jazz Jasmines, the Dancin’Boys, and the Jimtown Flappers tap dance with great precision and with great wonderment. Both McDonald and Adrienne Warren as Florence Mills wear long dresses representative of the 1920s as they sing and saunter across the stage.
Both the talented Audra McDonald and the choreography of Savion Glover are not to be missed. Currently, Wolfe and his creative team are still making changes in content and in delivery. If adjustments are made in the first half regarding the storytelling, and if unessential songs that do not add much to the story are cut, this musical will be a sensation. Audra McDonald and Savion Glover might be strong contenders for Tony nominations. Opening night is April 28, 2016. Tony Award nominations will be announced April 29, 2016.
I give special thanks to Monifa Kincaid, a fabulous tap dancer, who helped me understand syncopation in tap dancing.
I just posted this on Christianityloves.wordpress.com, but considering what is going on in the world, I feel that as many people as possible should read this book. Thanks Jose Quintero for bringing this book to my attention last summer.
Twenty-two years ago this month, one of the worst ethnic crises occurred during three months in Rwanda. This tragedy has been documented in many forms (Sixty Minutes, HotelRwanda, Sometimes in April, etc). Last summer, however, I read Immaculee Ilibagiza’s memoir of the Rwandan genocide, Left to Tell. In her memoir, she chronicles, with specificity, the impact that the Rwandan genocide had on her, her family, the Rwandan community, and even the world. She grew up in a devout Catholic family where she learned to have faith in Jesus through prayer. In 1994, her country experienced the genocide of approximately one million Tutsis in response to an ethnic war with the Hutus. Her family raised her to not value others based on artificial classifications, but on their actions. Unknowledgeable about her own cultural classification for many years, when she did come to learn about the…
Electrifying! Captivating! Absorbing! Yes, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) performance of the Henriad (Richard II, Henry IV Part One and Henry IV Part two, and Henry V) is superbly rendered while illuminating themes of: youthful indiscretion, revenge, guilt of conscience, honor, leadership, ill weaved ambition, betrayal, divine right, redemption, and reconciliation. The history of the House of Lancaster to the British throne is depicted in the RSC’s titled series, King and Country: Shakespeare’s Great Cycle of Kings, under the direction of Gregory Doran at the BAM Harvey Theatre in Brooklyn until April 30, 2016. By the end of the King and Country Cycle (April 30, 2016), the RSC will have performed it five hundred and five times in over twelve theaters on three continents. Celebrating the quarter centennial of Shakespeare’s death this month, the Folger Shakespeare Library via BAM Harvey Theater, contemporaneously with the RSC’s month long residency, is showcasing an exhibit extracted from historical documents relating to Shakespeare folklore in New York City during the nineteenth century and exhibiting original quartos of Shakespeare’s work.
I had the pleasure of seeing all four plays, and attending both a BAM hosted luncheon and a reception celebrating the RSC’s work (twelve hours of Shakespeare in four days). Meeting and conversing with actors and other members of the RSC and Shakespeare enthusiasts was inspiring. I spent the last six weeks immersing myself in the texts so that I would enhance my experience during each performance. Stupendously and boldly performed, these performances amplify the text, and aid in the understanding of difficult scenes of the play, making it easy to follow. Having seen all of the performances in different sections of the theater, I must say that the front row as well as the center orchestra had the effect of keeping me enthralled. All of the actors give noteworthy performances and many have a vast repertoire, but the pivotal characters make for memorable thrilling performances. David Tennant plays Richard II, Jasper Britton plays the aging Henry IV, Alex Hassell plays both the wanton Prince Hal and the charismatic Henry V, Jennifer Kirby plays bold Lady Percy and enchanting Katherine, Matthew Needham plays the hotheaded Hotspur, and Anthony Sher plays the comedic Sir John Falstaff. The scenes at the Boars Head Tavern in Eastcheap are creatively performed adding more levity and hilarity to other comedic scenes. The creative team includes Stephen Brimson Lewis as set designer, Tim Mitchell as lighting designer, and Martin Slavin as sound designer. Through the strength of the creative team and the actors, one can see the intensity of battles, the mutual affection and admiration of some characters toward one another, as well as the disdain and raw emotion resulting from the exacerbation of conflict displayed through all four plays. Although both the Prologue and the Chorus encourage us to use our imaginations to develop the scenes, the creative team uses great props, authentic costumes, makeup design, Elizabethan set design, lighting, and piercing battle cries, and other thunderous sounds to catapult and orient the audience to both England and France during wartime.
The story arc follows the growth and development of the reign of Richard II, his usurpation (and eventual murder), the crowning of King Henry IV, his death, and his son’s rise to power. Both Henry IV and Henry V lament their actions as time progresses. Henry IV’s son, Prince Hal, has a coterie of unsavory dissolute friends, and therefore, disappoints his father. Hal, however has a plan to behave recklessly, and then at an appropriate time, he says that he will change his behavior by becoming an upstanding prince, thereby gaining a deeper respect, honor, and admiration from others. During a fierce battle, he kills Hotspur, his rival for his father’s affection. Prince Hal, eager to become king, does not realize as his father does that, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”After his father dies, he becomes Henry V, betrays Falstaff, and engages in behavior fitting a king. Eager to prove himself after the French Dauphin insults him, he engages in a series of battles against France, most notably, at Agincourt. Giving impassioned speeches, he rallies his troops, and consults and pays homage to God for all of his victories. Neither King Henry V nor the King of France is without loss, although the King of France suffers greater loss of men. At the end of the play, Henry V wins the final battle at Agincourt, redeems himself, makes demands to the King of France, and marries Katherine, the French king’s daughter, and secures both the English and the French kingdoms.
The actors deserve great plaudits and accolades for their believable performances, for their performances reflect verisimilitude at its best. Richard II, via David Tennant, was contrite at the end of his reign. His emotion, reflected in his countenance, and in his poeticism enables us to see his regret. Tennant’s acting range is evident as we see his youthful folly turn to deep regret as he laments his loss of the throne and his defeat. Alex Hassell, as Prince Hal, and King Henry V, perform in three of the plays to outstanding applause. Specifically, we see Hassell’s stunning transformation from immaturity to a victorious empathetic leader. His performance is a bildungsroman like, coming of age depiction of a leader with vision. We see his youthful indiscretions, his emotional development, and his growth as a man as he leads his army into battle. Delivering impassioned speeches that strike at the heart of the listener, Hassell’s demeanor shows his leadership capabilities, his honor, and his redemption. He is indeed charismatic, humble, tender, yet fierce. Hassell through his movements and his impassioned words, reflect a king’s status, even if he is not the rightful heir to the throne. Yes, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” Yes, before Falstaff’s death, he knew nothing. He even acknowledges that God fought for him and his men. This growth is highly reflective in Hassell’s visage and movement, for it is evident that he has shaken off his “young wanton and effeminate” ways. Additionally, Anthony Sher’s Falstaff is unparalleled. We feel his joy when he is inebriated with sack, as well as his inability to accept Hal’s severance of friendship when Hal, the newly crowned king, says, “I know thee not old man.” Falstaff, in parts one and two of Henry IV, through the “fat”costume design and his boisterous laughter, makes the play riotous. Although Sher appears to be the primary star, Hassell through a fine performance shows us, that they are both equally capable of garnering applause and holding the audience’s attention. Jennifer Kirby and Alex Hassell playfully perform a beautiful love scene with great chemistry at the close of the plaWithout the success of the creative team’s synergy, these performances would be without critical acclaim. The music and the sound design reflect both the action and change in mood throughout the story arc. Trumpets play during battle scenes, people harmoniously sing to soothe weary souls, explosions rock the audience, and special effects embedded within the stage mimic fire. All the creative sounds enhance the performances, without usurpation of the acting as the dominant means of conveying the story. Both the costumes and the props are representative of sixteenth century England. Soldiers wear armor and use weaponry through well choreographed battle scenes. Members of various royal families are robed in regalia. To distinguish the French from the English, each is robed in specific colors; the English wear the insignia of the Anglican Church. Members of the clergy wear habits fitting the clergy with large crosses adorning their robes (King Henry V also adorns a large cross). Characters of low status such as Bardolph and Peto wear clothing commensurate with their status.
This cycle of plays includes some of the best Shakespearean performances I have ever seen. If you have been afraid of Shakespeare, give it a chance. See one of the shows. Few tickets remain, but tickets become available through the standby line. If that is your only recourse, arrive two hours before the start of the performance. Luck may find you. Seeing one or all of these plays will bring joy, and the time will be well spent.
Personal Note: I had the opportunity to take my kids (students) to see a daytime performance of Henry V this week. They, without reservation, loved it. No one slept! No one complained about the performance lasting three hours. Everyone was engrossed in the action, in the comic relief, and in the stage and sound design. Next week, two actors from the RSC will visit my students and conduct an acting lesson. Moreover, we will have an online conversation through Google Hangout with the RSC. I prepared them for this production through both the reading and performance of selected scenes from the trilogy. Next month, at their culminating activity, they will perform selected scenes at BAM Fisher. I will keep everyone abreast of the outcome of this performance as well as the outcome of both the in-class visit and the online conversation with the artists.
My primary passion in life is Christianity. Jesus has commissioned us to be fishers of men and to plant and water seeds so that the kingdom of God will continue to grow. Hence, that is the reason that I chose the background for this blog site. The Bible tells us that Peter and Andrew were casting a net into the lake when Jesus saw them. It continues to say in Matthew 4:19, that Jesus said to them, come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. At once they left their nets and followed him. Jesus commands us to reach deeply to the utter most parts of the earth. What are we afraid of? He wants us all to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of him. Jesus wants us to have an intimate relationship with him. Jesus saves and He loves us. We are the…