Local Blog of the Week: Or What You Will

I just thought I would pass on a local Blog that I have been reading for the past couple weeks called “Or What You Will“.  A mother of two who has not read any Shakespeare for the past 20 years has decided to jump back in to read all his plays. Looking at her blog I can say I have really enjoyed her enthusiasm and obvious love for the text.

She has of late been going through Romeo and Juliet, detailing various aspects of the play from Mercutio’s role and other character analysis to what DVD versions you might want to watch, or stay away from.

I always enjoyed the “scholarly” analysis of a play mind you, but I’m really getting into seeing her layman’s take. It feels more like a communal learning process, one person sharing their newly found insights, and reaching out to others for their thoughts in the process.

Link: Or What Your Will

Shakespeares Birthday is Next Month: And theres always plenty going on. But where?

Last April there were quite a few happenings to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday in our area. There was cake and music,  lectures and dramatic readings,  and generally fun stuff for the whole family, most of it free. The only bad thing about all these events going on, was the fact I didn’t hear about them till AFTER they happened!

The problem is that most of these events weren’t really advertised. And the ones that were, you had to hunt all over the internet to find. So consider the calendar at Maryland Shakespeare as a free public service. This year I’m gonna start looking early for the event’s so they can get t posted. If you know of any events let me know and I’ll get them on the calendar for everyone else.

(The “Shakespeare Calendar” is located towards top right of this web page)

Mondo Andronicus and the Grand Guignol: A Blood Splattering Opening Night.

The Grand Guignol

Saturday I saw the opening night performance of Mondo Andronicus  by The Molotov Theatre Group. Before I give a review of the play, let me explain a little bit about what Mondo Andronicus is.

What they have done is taken Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s most shocking and violent play, and performed it in the style of a Grand Guignol. The Grand Guignol is defined in the “literary Dictionary” as:

Grand Guignol [grahn gween‐yol], a popular French form of melodrama featuring bloody murders, rapes, and other sensational outrages, presented in lurid and gruesome detail…The term is now often applied to horror movies…”

I think this explanation is most appropriate, since it defines Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus to a tee. As a matter of fact if you look up Grand Guignol in Wikipedia it even mentions Titus Andronicus in the very first paragraph.

I’d seen Titus performed at the Blackfriars by the American Shakespeare Center during the fall 2009 season, and found the play, even as performed by the ASC, somewhat shocking. After which I read the play, and then found myself ruminating on the Evils in Shakespeare’s plays by focusing on  Aaron the Moor from Titus in one of my blog posts.

The Playbill Cafe

The play takes place in the small 60 person theater at the Playbill Cafe in Washington D.C. Dark goth metal was playing over the sound system as I found my seat. The crowd filing in after me appeared to be from every walk of life, including the “Mom and Pop” next door neighbor type, to some theater people I’d recognized from other Shakespearean productions. I sat in the second row by the aisle, and started talking to some people around me. Someone joked, that if I was lucky someone would sit in front of me so I wouldn’t get splatter with too much blood.

Mondo Andronicus

Then the lights went down, and a new dark chorus of music spilled from the speakers. Titus played by the “Goremeister” Alex Zavistovich appeared on stage and the play commenced. I don’t want to give away the details of the performance. That’s for you to see, if you’re brave enough. I will say that the acting was amazingly better than I thought it would be. I expected “Shock Theater” camp, and what I got was a very serious and professional production of Titus. They had condensed Titus down to 60 minutes to its barest core, stripping out much of the text to focus on the emotional darkness within the play. It was raw, it was brutal, and it was severe.

Being as close to the stage as I was, I could see the sweat on an actors face. So when I tell you that JaBen Early, who played Aaron, contorted his face to look diabolical, I mean he looked like pure evil. And Jenny Donovan, who looked so beautiful as Lavinia in the beginning, showed the definition of utter despair in the hoplessness she displayed in her eyes towards the end.  All I could imagine was they must have had an acting coach that focused exclusively on presenting our darkest horrors though facial expression.

Each moment of savagery and brutality were presented in a twisted and realistic manner, using stagecraft to make these acts of violence appear as real as possible. Blood flowed freely, and in one disgusting act, I felt the drops of splattered blood on my face, (a few drops mind you, don’t worry, no one was drenched).

So’ after reading this review, I’ll let you decide if this play is recommended for you or not. Mondo Andronicus  is a play that focuses on the darkness of the human soul, and takes the literal text of Titus Andronicus to it’s most extreme, realistic, and brutal interpretation.

Mondo Andronicus, now thru April 3. See their website for details: The Molotov Theatre Group

Fun Facts about Mondo Andronicus, opening this weekend.

Alex from the Molotov Theater and I had sent a few emails back and forth, so I told him If he  sent me any fun facts about the performance I would post it. So here it is:

Fun Fact Number #236: In Mondo Andronicus…  (there’s) an average of one heinous piece of physical violence every four minutes.

What can I say, we support all types of Shakespeare here at Maryland Shakespeare. Particularly the smaller company’s.

Link: http://www.molotovtheatre.org/current.html

March 6, 2010 – April 3, 2010 Wednesdays through Sundays at 8 PM

The Theatre at 1409 Playbill Cafe
1409 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005

Learning Shakespeare: A Layman’s Guide – 4) Listen to the audio drama

Okay…

I’ve just added a new section to the Layman’s Guide covering Audio Dramas, particularly by Arkangel Productions. I’ve had some good input on this guide and have made some changes. So let me know what you think, cause the internet is my editor

Keep in mind, it’s still not complete.

“at every step I feel a deeper and deeper understanding. I know I could take a Shakespeare class first and learn everything they think I should know. But this way I’m learning by listening and watching, and thus able to form my own opinions. I remember reading that the Winter’s Tale is considered one of Shakespeare’s lesser works. Really? I love that play. I’m glad I read that opinion after seeing the play.” – The layman’s Guide.

Thanks

Link:  Learning Shakespeare: A Layman’s Guide

“Learning Shakespeare: A Layman’s Guide” updated with “Step 3) Watch the DVD”

Wow, creating  this “Laymans Guide” is taking more time then I thought it would. I had started Step 3 two days ago, had it typed up for the most part, then lost half of it and had to start over again.

I love watching Shakespeare on DVD, the section “Step 3″ describes the methods I use to track down the best versions to watch. I hope you find it helpful.

Heres the link: Learning Shakespeare: A Layman’s Guide

Mondo Andronicus: Opening Night is this Weekend March 6th in DC

By the pricking of my thumb, something wicked this way comes”, and it’s not Macbeth. Mondo Andronicus which I posted about earlier last month opens this Saturday March 6th. Check out their site for details… Once again this is not for the faint of heart.

Link: The Molotov Group: Mondo Andronicus

Learning Shakespeare: A layman’s Guide

I’ve had someone ask me how I got into Shakespeare, and what I do to understand a play as far as character, plot, and understanding Shakespeare’s use of language. I thought I’d just type up a short little something on the subject, but it had started to grow into something more then I intended. The more I thought about it, the more I came to believe  it deserved it’s own page, so it can grow and change with my own personal experience, as well as with others suggestions.

Here are the first two steps out of the four I use for studying a play:

Link: Learning Shakespeare: A Layman’s Guide

March 16th – Who is King Henry V and Why is He on Trial?

Updated: March 18th

Mock Trial: Judgment at Agincourt at the Sidney Harman Hall in DC:
Presided by Supreme Court Justice Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The most high and Honorable King Henry shall soon be tried for crimes of war by:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, presiding
Justice Samuel Alito
Chief Judge Paul Michel
Judge Janice Rogers Brown
Judge Merrick Garland
Judge Brett Kavanaugh
Judge David Tatel

So who is King Henry the Fifth?
If you went to the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton Va. for the Fall Season of 2009, you might have caught their excellent version of Henry IV part 1, which introduced us to young Prince Hal (Henry). Hal is the son of King Henry IV, and the kings main disappointment in life. Hal, who is next in line to be king, is a selfish fun-loving rouge, hanging around with the lowest class of thieves, robbers and other common folks. But Hal has a plan, it appears there’s not a move or action in his life for which he has not calculated. And soon in Henry IV Part 1 Hal lets us in on his thoughts:

So, when this loose behavior I throw off
And pay the debt I never promised,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes;
And like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glittering o’er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I’ll so offend, to make offence a skill;
Redeeming time when men think least I will
. – Prince Henry

The lower he sinks in the eyes of men, the higher and more majestically will he appear, as he soars to greatness, and overcomes the baseness of his supposed nature. At the end of this play, Prince Henry  proves his metal, performs great deeds, and achieves redemption in the eyes of his father.

Where the play Henry IV introduces us to Prince Henry (Hal), the play Henry V is about Prince Henry who is now the King. And as King, his advisers have discovered, and shown the king, that he has a legitimate claim to rule all of France. After a display of these proofs King Henry makes a decision to embark from England and take France by storm, though the odds be overwhelming.

So by ship Henry and his army are very soon on the shores of France, and the battles commence. King Henry shows himself to be a very heroic and just commander. Showing great mercies to his surrendered enemy’s at Harfleur, and demanding that his troops while in France show all due respect to the French citizenry. Informing his troops NOTHING shall be taken that is not paid for on pain of death.

So King Henry cuts a path through France, following and respecting the rule of war giving mercy when he can. Until Agincourt.

King Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt, by John Gilbert

The Kings men are battered and tired, the odds are 5 men to 1 against them, and one of Henry’s men comes in and tells a tale of friendship and death that brings tears to Henry’s eyes. Then an alarm sounds, and Henry, most likely feeling Victory or Defeat hanging by a thread gives the order:

But, hark! what new alarum is this same?
The French have reinforced their scatter’d men:
Then every soldier kill his prisoners:
Give the word through. –
King Henry

And here is the point, “Then every soldier kill his prisoners”. Was Henry wrong to give this order? Even if overwhelmed himself, did he have the right to kill those combatants that have surrendered themselves to his mercy?

That is the question that this court has been convened to answer

Mock Trial: Judgment at Agincourt

Tuesday, March 16, 2010
5:30 p.m. Dinner
7:30 p.m. Argument

Update: March 18 – The results of the trial are in, click here

Shakespeare Theatre Company and the Sidney Harman Hall. Is it worth $72.00?

I had commented in a earlier post about paying $72.00 for a play. Well last Sunday My wife and I finally made it to Sidney Harman Hall for the first time to check out the Shakespeare Theatre Company of Washington DC.

Now’ you might be asking, if I love Shakespeare so much why hadn’t I been to the  Sidney Harman Hall yet? Well’ I’d been hesitant in the past to checkout a play there for the simple fact of cost. $72.00 seemed like a lot of money, even though that may be cheap by New York standards. But lets face it, there are several plays every year in the DC area that cost any where from $10.00 to $40.00, with at least 2 or 3 productions that are free. So not being what I would call a “Theater Person” myself, (I really don’t have a desire to see any other plays other than Shakespeare) that $72.00 was gonna be really hard to let go of. But’ then the opportunity finally came. Because of the Blizzard of 2010 the STC was doing Henry V (one of my favorites) for $25.00, and I just couldn’t pass up this chance.

The Sidney Harman Hall Experience
So I went on-line, selected my tickets, and made my purchases at STC’s web site. Uncertain as to how good the seats were, I decided to call the box office and was cheerfully greeted by a pleasant woman in no time. She explained where the seats were located that I had just purchased, and suggested a different set of seats which turned out to be wonderful.

Getting to the Sidney Harman Hall was easy enough, I live within walking distance of a Metro, and the Sidney Harman Hall is in the visual line of sight from our destination stop at the Verizon Center Metro. To easy!

The theater itself was very well laid out, we sat in the front row of the upper level mezzanine with a really nice view of all the action. As for the stage, it was surprisingly low, just about a foot high. But this turns out to be really nice since they use stadium seating, the first 3 or 4 rows won’t give you permanent neck problems from having to stare straight up for 3 hours. The acoustics were perfect also, at no time did we have to strain to hear what was being said on the stage. The seats, cushy and comfortable. We were able to lean back and still see all of the stage without any obstructions.

But $72.00! was it worth it?
The long and the short of it is yes. Now let me explain why.
Most of the plays I have seen were using “original staging practices”, which means the lights stay on, the costuming and staging may be minimal, the players generally play multiple parts, and there’s generally some sort of audience interaction. And by audience interaction this could include a bawd sitting on your lap for half a scene (taunting your wife), to you being pulled onto the stage by Sir John Falstaff as he recruits rouges and wretches to be cannon fodder in his dismal platoon! These plays my friend are generally a lot of fun.

So how was The Shakespeare Theatre  Company different? They had complete theatrical stage lighting, full booming surround sound, amazing costumes that looked like they would cost a princely fortune. Suits of armor descending from the roof to the awaiting rank of soldiers below. A battlement in the background for a King to descend by ropes, or a soldier to climb up using hand holds. In essence it was a theatrical event, and a spectacle to see. It felt lavish, and looked quite expensive to produce.

Will I go back again?
Yes, most definitely. There are just some plays that would be incredible to see here, and I can’t wait to do just that. My wife and I missed some of the intimacy of the “original staging practices”, but this is meant to be different,  and honestly the grandeur was just amazing. I can’t afford to do it often, but I will do it again.

Link: http://www.shakespearetheatre.org
link: The Sidney Harman Hall House Managers Extraordinaire

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