REVIEW: Maryland Shakespeare Festivals Love’s Labour’s Lost

This weekend the Maryland Shakespeare Festival put on another one of their experimental and absolutely unique Bare Bards. The actors performing in the play are providing their services for free. And show up from around the country simply for the training and a chance to help the producer in her research in Shakespeare studies.

A Bare Bard is: “Part of MSF’s performance research, Bare Bard is great theater with out the frills! Actors from across the country come to Frederick to tell timeless stories in our Elizabethan Play house.. costumes, fights, music… It’s all there BUT… like in Shakespeare’s day, there is NO director, No lights and very little rehearsal! It’s all in the language, and with just 1 day… This is where ‘whose line is it’ meets ‘To be or Not to Be’ “ – Becky Kemper

Pretty much, the actors show up on Friday knowing their lines, do a performance Saturday and Sunday, and that’s it, no more shows.

I’ve been to countless Bare Bard’s and have yet to be disappointed, and Sunday’s Love’s Labor’s Lost was no exception. The Play was held at the All Saints Episcopal Church in Frederick MD, where the hall was transformed into an Elizabethan theater for the day, with the stage area projected into the hall and people sitting on all 3 sides.  Actually “Stage Area” might be to limiting a term considering the entire hall is used by the actors, and the audience becomes part of the play. With the performers at times talking directly to the audience, sitting in the audience, or at one point a lovelorn actor groveling at the foot of an understanding audience member.

From the moment the play started, so did the laughter, and I knew this was going to be a good one. All the actors seem to glow with energy and enthusiasm, making it hard to believe they had only been together for 2 days by this point. In particular I’d like to point out a new comer to the “Bare Bards” Quinn Franzen in the role of Berowne, who stood out right from the beginning. He displayed a jovial sense of confidence and believability that connected with the audience immediately.We can only hope this will be only the first of many appearances with the MSF.

Another person that stood out was Yvonne Cone who played the comic roll of Moth, as she bounced and beamed her enthusiasm to all who caught her eye. I don’t know if  I’d seen her before, but she made a lasting impression and  seemed like she was having way to much fun out there.

Of course there’s all the rest of the cast that deserves great praise for the work they put in; if it seems like I’m gushing, it’s simply because I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time. There were regular’s like John Bellamo as Don Armado who somehow was able to get one of the biggest laughs of the night simply by holding up a key (to a Honda mind you – Trust me you had to be there). or David Dowell as a very flamboyant, and very funny Boyet.

I do want to point out one more actress from Sundays performance, and that would be Shannon Parks who played Jaquenetta in this production. Whether playing Lady Macbeth, or a lowly Milk Maid she always displays an honesty in her roles that connects easily with the audiences. She can put a  twinkle in her eye and a warmth in her smile that will draw you in completely. Or in case of Lady Macbeth she’s able to take that twinkle and warmth, and turn it into frozen ice within the chilling turn of a page.

I had sat next to a very pleasant woman, who’s name I really wish I could remember, who had never seen Shakespeare outside of the larger venue hall’s. So it was a treat for me to experience the play through her eyes, and her laughter. She afterward told me she never knew Shakespeare could be this fun. All I can say is that Shakespeare did not write his plays to be viewed in a stoic museum setting, they were written for the the masses, standing in a mud pit, who paid a penny to see a play, and darn well expected to get their monies worth!

03/31/10: Addendum: I got an email from a very wonderful person I met at the play who reminded me:

you didn’t mention the actors threatening each other with silk shrubs, which had me in stitches.  ;-)

Yes’ A Honda key and 2 silk shrubs… You really really had to to be there to understand.

Local Author Tom Delise: The Ultimate Shakespeare Quiz Book

Always looking for a reason to plug some of the incredibly fantastic and amazing local talent we have here in our own back yard, I thought I would pass this on.

Last February I had the pleasure to see Baltimore Maryland’s The Shakespeare Factory perform what turned out to be my favorite version of The Comedy of Errors (The review can be found here). I also  had a chance to meet their artistic director and founder Tom Delise, whom I’d been chatting back and forth with by email for a while. Both of us sharing a passion for the Blackfriars in Staunton. Turns out Tom is also the author of the book  “That is the Question: The Ultimate Shakespeare Quiz Book”.

“That is the Question” is laid out as a series of Quiz’s covering 17 of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, instead of just random trivia questions, you can sit down with friends and test your own Shakespearean knowledge. Starting with “Section I. “Quoting Shakespeare”. Down to “Section IV: Film, Stage, and Literature”.

I love Shakespeare’s language so here’s one for me.
Quiz 82, Wild and Whirling Words, Shakespearean Vocabulary:

1) Clodpole
A. Bedroom   B. Quarreler  C. Dunce   D. Wrinkled apple.

3) Welkin:
A. Sky   B.Day   C. Officer   D. Noose

And on this next one, I thought a “Sith” was just some bad guy from the Star Wars films. But no’ according to Shakespeare:

25) Sith
A. Stitch   B. Since   C.Also   D.Alas
(Darth Vader – “Lord of the Stitch”  sounds like some tough guy tailor in a sewing circle conspiracy… That can’t be right.)

I think the synopsis from the Barnes and Nobles gives a good description:
“So you think you know Shakespeare? Are you a fan of Shakespearean film and stage productions? Are you a student or teacher of Shakespeare? Or would you just like to learn more about the man, the myth, and the literature? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’ll welcome That Is the Question: The Ultimate Shakespeare Quiz Book, a fun and unique glimpse into the fascinating and timeless world of William Shakespeare.It contains more than 2,000 questions organized into six sections: * Play and poem quizzes-Identify the works through quotes, plot descriptions, etc. * The characters-Identify pertinent major and minor characters from all plays through quotes, descriptions, etc. * Specialized quizzes-From the expected to the surprising: medicine, mythology, and creatures to settings, songs, and “Star Trek”! * Film and stage-Hundreds of questions about actors and actresses, Academy Awards, even other writers associated with the Bard. * Individual plays-Separate “20-questions” quizzes for each of Shakespeare’s 17 best-known plays. * Just for fun-Shakespearean puzzles, word searches, anagrams, and more.”

“Who produced a book that is enjoyable for quiz freaks, useful for teachers, and a treat for fans? Tom Delise.” — Ralph Alan Cohen, Executive Director and Director of Education for Shenandoah Shakespeare, and Professor of English at Mary Baldwin College

For more information and where to buy, here are some links:

Barnes and Nobles

Amazon

For more information about: The Shakespeare Factory in Baltimore (Bard to the Bone) http://theshakespearefactory.com

CSC’s Pub Night Last Night: Shakespeare in Love, or for the Love of Shakespeare

Members of the Chesapeake Shakespeare staff with guest.

The  Chesapeake Shakespeare Company held their Pub Night at Bertucci’s restaurant in Columbia Maryland last night, and if you weren’t there you missed out on a great time. As the 25 or so people showed up, I could tell this was going to be interesting and fun, by the steady flow of handshakes that went out to each new person as they walked into the room. The setting was very intimate, being a small side dining room, where you had the comfortableness of facing the person in front of you, as opposed to going to a lecture hall for a discussion where your staring at the back of someone’s head.

At around 7:30 Jenny Leopold (Associate Director at CSC) started the evening with a brief introduction about the topic for the night, “Shakespeare in Love”, and then opened the floor. Now I’ve been to quite a few talk back’s and lectures after a play where the Actors and Director’s do a Q&A. These talk back’s are very informative, but the information is usually passed along in only one direction, from the artist to the audience.  But the pub night was surprisingly different as everyone had a chance to take the floor. The thoughts and idea’s flowed freely in all directions, one person’s conception, seemed to become the next person’s inspiration.

Patrick Kilpatrick in the CSC production of Hamlet - June 9th

The conversation drifted easily down the various avenues touching on “Love” in Shakespeare’s writing. From romantic love,  to brotherly love. From the  love of power, to the love of a child.  Many of these points emphasized with live readings from the plays and sonnets, from both the CSC staff, and anyone else who had something to share.

“Shakespeare in Love” turned out to be a fun and interesting theme to examine.  I have to admit I haven’t seen the movie “Shakespeare in Love”, and was relieved that it didn’t come up all night (with me being unprepared and all). But instead, I’m glad to say, it turned out to be a group of like-minded people enjoying dinner together, not only discussing Shakespeare in Love, but sharing their Love of Shakespeare.

http://www.chesapeakeshakespeare.com

Much ado about Nothing and Hamlet – Starting June 9th, 2010


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

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 26 other followers