Let's Talk Off Broadway

Yvonne Korshak reviews Off-Broadway, Broadway, Film and Art

Tag: Shakespeare (Page 1 of 2)

Review | Cry, Trojans (Troilus & Cressida) | Text by William Shakespeare | Directed by Elizabeth LeCompte | Performing Garage | Wooster Group

… not nice guys …

Diving into disjunction, deconstructing anything and everything, and squeezing ambiguities out of certainties, The Wooster Group has always stayed theatrically steps ahead.  In staging this play they seem to have taken on their ultimate challenge because Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida is already a work of deconstruction … a few centuries avant la lettre.  So what’s left for The Wooster Group to do?  Exuberantly, they add their own disjunctions and ambiguities to Troilus and Cressida for a stimulating take on Shakespeare’s play based on Homer’s epic about that war between the Greeks and Trojans.

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Review | Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare | Directed by Tea Alagić | Classic Stage Company

Where art Romeo and Juliet? …

What I liked best about this Classic Stage production of Romeo and Juliet was the depiction of the men around the Montague Romeo and those around the Capulets as young toughs with a contemporary style.  Nothing new about that, of course, think of West Side Story, and Shakespeare in contemporary dress is commonplace.  But Harry Ford (substituting the night I attended for T. R. Knight), with his thick body packed into leather and to-the-head corn rows makes a charismatic Mercutio, volatile, dirty-mouthed, amused and amusing, and the rest of the guys fit in to the idea, though they’re not consistently as convincing. 

Shakespeare’s poetry is spoken throughout with an ineffective mix of over-contemporary-casual and over-emphasis on the last beat of each iambic line:  strange bed-fellows.  Much of the dialog is spoken so to-the-chest or throw-away, that it’s hard to catch – this is particularly true of Romeo, played by Julian Cihi, but in general the poetry and even a lot of the words are sacrificed in the name of contemporary naturalism.  The upshot:  the speech sounds artificial and the poetic power is lost.

What a relief when Daniel Davis as Friar Laurence is on stage: he speaks with complete naturalism while conveying the rhythms and beauty of the poetry, and the projection of his clear, emotionally powerful voice is exciting.  His strength makes the character of Friar Laurence seem more central than in other productions, and that in itself is illuminating.

Like Ford as Mercutio, Daphne Rubin-Vega plays Juliet’s nurse in a vivid characterization based on a contemporary type.  Rubin-Vega’s Nurse is a bust-in-your-face Hispanic woman with an alluring accent – think Chita Rivera – with a crisp, aggressive white blouse, black harem pants and high heels that rock her through a fascinating gait.  Excitement leads her to lapse sometimes into rapid-fire Spanish that even a native Spanish speaker might miss:  evidently the director thought it was OK for the audience to lose her words for the sake of naturalism and humor but – at the risk of being a stick-in-the-mud — with Shakespeare, I’d rather hear all the words.  Still, there’s a welcome freshness to bringing the nurse out of the shadows of servility and showing her as a feisty foreigner. 

But Romeo (Cihi) and Juliet, played by Elizabeth Olsen, are the least effective actors in the production.  Passion? What passion?  Cihi never seems deeply affected by Juliet.  Juliet’s main approach seemed to be to raise her voice all-out loud to convey strong feeling, straining her throat.  There’s no erotic chemistry, even in bed.  Simply put, these two young actors have at this point neither the emotional depth nor the stage presence to carry such roles. 

Instead of an ensemble flow in this production, there’s a range of styles and performance individuality.  It follows that the production leaves one with the impression of a few stellar bits.  Mercutio, the Nurse, and Friar Laurence are well worth seeing

Romeo and Juliet  plays at Classic Stage Company in Manhattan's East Village through November 10, 2013.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title. 

Yvonne Korshak

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Review | Henry IV Part 1 by William Shakespeare | Directed by Davis McCallum | Pearl Theatre Company

If you’ve never seen Henry IV Part 1, the Pearl's production will bring you close to it and if you’ve seen it before you’ll love it all over again.

This last assumes you’ve loved it in the past which is probable because it’s one of Shakespeare’s best loved plays, for good reasons.  Among them, it's hilarious.  Falstaff is so vivid and original a character, so complex and real, that it’s hard to believe he's a creative invention;  and, in the character of Prince Hal, the play deals with issues of fundamental fascination and importance for all of us, growth to maturity.

The play moves between the broad canvas of politics and war–a Scottish rebellion against King Henry IV–to the intimate–father and son, husband and wife, and that unforgettable friendship that doesn’t quite fall into any one category between Hal and Falstaff.

What makes this so delightful a production of Henry IV Part I  is Dan Daily as Falstaff.  He’s superb—big bellied, of course, taller than anybody else around, with the vitality, wit joie de vivre and touch of sultry wickedness one wants in the character.  He's an epicurean, with the allure and paradoxes that idea contains.  It’s fascinating to see this large man–and I mean really large–completely light on his feet, leaping on a table, doing a jig.  One sees and feels Falstaff's thoughts–calculating or willful, assertive or accepting of a reversal–for a compelling cognitive instant before he speaks. 

The question of Prince Hal's maturity makes one pause, though.  What does it really mean in this particular play?  We meet Hal as a a wayward libertine under Falstaff's spell, but that changes when his royal father is faced with imminent war.  Then Hal buckles down, putting his easy pleasures aside to support his father's cause and become a fighter.  One could call this "taking on responsibility."  Or one can question human purposes, and the meaning of responsibility. 

Bradford Cover as King Henry IV conveys the tension in this powerful personality aswarm with conflicts:  his threatened yet adamant royal authority, and his disappointment with his pleasure loving son melded with underlying love.  Shawn Fagan captures the eruptive and wry personality of Hotspur, though the character could use more physical heft.  John Brummer is less original as the libertine and then chastened Prince Hal.  He isn't Daily's match, which limits the rapport between Hal and Falstaff.  As the Scottish rebel Douglas, Sean McNall gets the prize for the most authentic and charmning Scottish accent. 

Though not usually my favorites, the battle scenes in this production are a high point, staged with passionate and convincing one-on-one duels, metal on metal.  They've been  exhaustively rehearsed to the point of total actors’ ease, so the fights seem completely spontaneous. 

Above all, though, this Henry IV Part 1  is about Dan Daily’s Falstaff, which I think Shakespeare would have enjoyed.  I sure did.    

Henry IV Part 1  plays at the Pearl Theatre on West 42nd Street in Manhattan through March 17th.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

Comments very welcome.  Scroll down, click on "comments," write in comment box and click on "post."  Emails are private and never appear with comments.

Dave Shaw as a Caliban leaps, over-excited by the new brew -- wine -- that David Gautchy as Stephano (L) and Brendan Boland as Trinculo (R) have introduced him to.  Photo:  Robert Ruben 

The Tempest by William Shakespeare | Directed by Sarah Hankins | Music by Melanie Closs | Sylvester Manor Windmill | Green Theatre Collective, Shelter Island, Long Island

… Prospero on Shelter Island …

At the beginning, Ariel heads the storm tossed boat like a great, gleaming figurehead, thrown now this way now that by the waves and wind but at the same steady, distant, a spirit beyond the terror of those aboard who grip the ropes that are the boat in this wondrously outdoors presentation of Shakespeare’s Tempest by the Green Theatre Collective.  It’s brilliant staging by Sarah Hankins, acrobatic, all-out acting, and a hint of things to come in this outstanding production.

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Review | King Lear by William Shakespeare | Directed by James Macdonald | Public Theater

… not in our stars …

The cast is so star studded* that it’s surprising that this production comes out no more than a serviceable Lear.   But that’s still a lot:  since it’s such a great play, and all the words (except for the Fool) come across with full clarity it’s a rewarding evening.  You understand all the actions, motivations, and entanglements of the plot and come out feeling you have an enhanced understanding of the play.  That’s worthwhile.  The language seems immediate, not distant.  Good.  But the poetic power is damped, and the production seems disjointed. 

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Review | Shakespeare’s As You Like It at Sylvester Manor Windmill | Performances July 16 and 17 | Directed by Sarah Hankins | Green Theatre Collective, Shelter Island, Long Island

… the Forest of Arden …

What could be better than circling the fruitful fields of Sylvester Manor’s Community Supported Agriculture farm to arrive at the windmill, sitting on the verdant grass, and in this idyllic, mid-summer setting watching a beautiful production of Shakespeare’s great pastoral comedy performed by talented and idealistic actors of the Green Theatre Collective?

Nothing could be better.

We wait for the play to begin, some people nibbling the organic crudités and sipping wine.  A thin cord rests on the top of the bouncy grass, marking the “edge of the stage.”  Are those the actors seated — like ourselves — on picnic blankets on either side of the windmill?

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Review | Double Falsehood by William Shakespeare* and John Fletcher* | Adapted by Lewis Theobald | Directed by Brian Kulick | Classic Stage Company

A rumored connection to Shakespeare’s the thing here — not the play.

Is Double Falsehood  based on a play Shakespeare wrote* in collaboration with John Fletcher,* that has come down to us through an 18th-century adaptation by Lewis Theobald?  Classic Stage would like us to entertain that possibility.  It’s worthy to examine Shakespearean controversies but — theater is theater and this is not a good play.  And there’s nothing of Shakespeare to experience in it.

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Review | The Age of Iron from William Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida and Thomas Heywood’s Iron Age | Adapted and Directed by Brian Kulick | Classic Stage Company

(Also pertinent … Cry, Trojans (Shakespeare’s Troilus & Cressida), by The Wooster Group)

Just about the entire legend of the Trojan War is told — or at least “covered” — in The Age of Iron, from Paris’ abduction of Helen to the sack of Troy by the Greeks using their ruse of the “Trojan Horse,” all the way to the suicide of Ajax.  Brian Kulick achieved this mainly by appending to Shakespeare’s play, which is focused on a short period toward the end of the war, the “beginning” and the “end” from another Elizabethan play, Heywood’s Iron Age.   The Age of Iron is beautifully produced and you both hear the poetry of Shakespeare’s language and understand every word.

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Review | Shakespeare’s Hamlet | Starring Jude Law | Directed by Michael Grandage | Broadhurst Theater

… a two man show …

Sometimes theater goers will say of classic plays, “I saw The Seagull — or A Doll’s House — or Hamlet — recently, I’m just not ready to see another one”. Fair enough, but Jude Law puts such a distinctive mark on Hamlet that, believe me, you haven’t seen this, ever.

His Hamlet is a younger man than most seem to be (regardless of the actor’s age).  His performance is athletic, unquestionably charismatic (the audience applauds after every great scene like after an aria in an opera), and openly vulnerable.  He listens to others intensely, and his words, thoughts and actions come as genuine responses flowing from within — the script falls away and Shakespeare’s character emerges as a real, conflicted, engaged man.  He’s all over the stage.  He gives himself completely, with a great actor’s generosity, to the performance.

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Review | Shakespeare’s Othello | With Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Ortiz and Jessica Chastain | Directed by Peter Sellars | Public Theater and Labyrinth Theater Company

… honest Iago …

This is a wonderfully open Othello, easy to enter, listen to, live with awhile with no sacrifice of Shakespeare’s language and meaning.  It’s done in generalized modern dress, with TV monitors used for atmospheric slide projections placed center stage like gleaming mosaics.  The actors, sometimes using cell phones, link naturalistic, current English and Shakespeare’s language so that one hears Shakespeare’s language as ones own.

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