Category Archives: The Plays

Theater Review of McCarter Theatre Center’s “Antony and Cleopatra”

15854035-mmmainAntony and Cleopatra is classified as a Shakespearean tragedy; and yet, as is the case with much of the celebrated playwright’s work, its lines are infused with comedic relief and romance, as well. A ticket to this particular production at Princeton’s McCarter Theatre Center is worth its weight in Egyptian gold, simply as a cultural break from our frenetic modern routines. From the minute the house lights darken, until the tragic finale, the Berlind Theatre audience is treated to a sensory spectacle of theatrical proportions.

emily mannDirector Emily Mann’s stark yet effective set, transports the audience between the primary settings of Alexandria and Rome with the use of giant, illuminated obelisks in the background that alternate between hues of languid blue and regal maroon.

This visual effect also mirrors the mood of each scene, contrasting the blithe sanctuary of the lovers to the royal magnificence of Caesar’s palace and other locations in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The costumes are classically understated, save Cleopatra’s glorious, gold-winged funeral ensemble. Silken fabrics drape the actors in colors as rich as the jewels of the ancient world.3-costumes2

4210210Sound plays a crucial role in setting the tone and fueling the plot. Surprisingly, while this theatrical element is also minimalist by design, (performed by one musician), its quality enhances the ambiance of the play, voluminously.

Thunderous booms evoke the Roman cavalry storming a battlefield, and delicately struck pipe bells resonate flute-like, as solo percussionist Mark Katsaounis works his harmonious magic from the corner, stage left. At the post-production discussion, several audience members commented on the emotional intensity of the score. Unfortunately, Katsaounis had to catch a train immediately following the performance, and could not accept the audience’s compliments personally.

nicole_ari__parker_and_esau_pritchett,_photo_by_t._charles_ericksonThe two-and-one-quarter-hour performance blew by with only a few bland, Roman soldier scenes that failed to hold my attention. Nicole Ari Parker’s performance as the mesmerizing Cleopatra validated the initial critical reviews; she is, indeed, talented and beautiful. Although I must admit, I was somewhat disappointed in her vocal presence that, at times, sounded shrill and lacked the commanding quality one would expect from a ruler. Due to the relentless performance schedule, as well as Parker’s admitted lack of Shakespearean acting chops, this minor flaw is excusable and did not interfere too much with the overall quality of her performance.

esau_pritchett_as_marc_antony,_photo_by_t._charles_ericksonHer romantic partner, however, played by the imposingly handsome Esau Pritchett, mastered his role with impressive talent. During the post-production discussion, Pritchett confessed to having played the lead in Othello on multiple occasions. Unlike his female counterpart, Pritchett’s Shakespearean expertise is evident in the strength and tenor of his vocal skills.

nicole_ari_parker_and_zainab_jah,_photo_by_t._charles_ericksonOne actor who particularly shone onstage was Zainab Jah, who played a secondary role as one of Cleopatra’s two female servant-companions. It was no surprise when Jah announced that she’d performed in at least half a dozen Shakespearean plays to date.

There were a few awkward moments when laughter erupted from some areas of the audience during scenes that were scripted as somber. One such occurrence was during the dramatic dual-suicide scene in which Antony’s personal guard, Eros, stabs himself after refusing Antony’s wishes to be killed. Antony then follows suit, driving the sword into his own chest in melodramatic Shakespearean fashion.

The actors, who seemed more curious, than disappointed, mentioned this peculiar reaction during their post-production discussion. While they attributed it to the genius of Shakespeare, I am more inclined to ascribe it to the relative immaturity of approximately one third of the audience who may have been experiencing Renaissance theatrics for the first time. Nonetheless, more convincing acting during these particular moments, might have achieved the intended reaction from the entire crowd, Shakespeare newbies as well as veteran theatergoers.

In spite of my minor criticisms, I encourage others to claim a seat for one undeniably entertaining night at the Berlind Theatre, before this performance run ends on October 5th. Travel in time, back to an ancient civilization where all roads led to Rome, yet one rogue Roman general and his Egyptian queen, were guided by their blind passion down a path to self-destruction.A&C

All photos courtesy of McCarter Theater Center’s website exclusively designed for this production:  http://www.mccarter.org/antonyandcleopatra/

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Theater Alert: “Antony & Cleopatra” in Princeton!

A&C

As the summer melds gradually into autumn, it’s time to take in some theatrical delights.

And…I’m lucky to live very close to a wonderful theater in the vicinity of Princeton University campus:  McCarter Theatre.

This month, (from September 5 – October 5) theater-goers will be treated to a sultry rendition of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, directed by Emily Mann, an award-winning director and playwright who, as Artistic Director of McCarter Theatre for 25 years, directed over 125 productions.

The leads are played, respectively, by Esau Pritchett (Fences) and Nicole Ari Parker (Boogie Nights, Soul Food).

Click Antony and Cleopatra to be redirected to the informative website that contains links to educational resources regarding Shakespeare’s play, as well as the historical context.

The theater is located at 91 University Place, Princeton, NJ 08540.  For student and/or group discount rates, call McCarter Theatre Center directly at 609.258.ARTS(2787).

Start a fall tradition that enriches the soul by treating yourself to a little culture, Shakespeare style!

Julius Caesar conquers Philly!

For those of you in the NY/NJ/PA metro area looking for a Shakespeare fix, I’ve got a recommendation:

The Tragedy of Julius Caesarat the Lantern Theater in Center City PhiladelphiaDirected by Charles McMahonFebruary 6 - March 16, 2014

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar
at the Lantern Theater in Center City Philadelphia
Directed by Charles McMahon
February 6 – March 16, 2014

This stage adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy stars Tony award nominee Forrest McClendon who thrilled the Philly audience last year with his powerful performance as Othello at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre.

forrest-mcclendonI had the pleasure of meeting Forrest after a performance of the aforementioned play last year; he is a warm and charismatic soul (and a brilliant talent) with a contagious enthusiasm for performing Shakespeare.  So, I look forward to witnessing his transformation into yet another Shakespearean tragic figure.

Tickets are selling quickly, so purchase yours now.  Student discounts are available, so I’m going to snag one ASAP!

For further information, check out the Lantern Theater Company’s website:  http://www.lanterntheater.org/

Must see Shakespeare: “The Hollow Crown” on PBS

p00s90hzIf you want to brush up on Shakespeare’s “Henriad” (the tetralogy that includes the plays: Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, and Henry V) then you MUST tune in this Friday, September 27th, to your local PBS station and catch the second installment of The Hollow Crown.  Check local listings for the time, but if you’re on the East Coast (USA) it airs at 9:00 PM.

Ben Whishaw as Richard II in "The Hollow Crown"

Ben Whishaw as Richard II in “The Hollow Crown”

You can view the full episode of last Friday’s, Richard II, starring Ben Whishaw in his Christ-like portrayal of the infamous king, by clicking here:   The Hollow Crown” on PBS

Whishaw, as the pretentious Richard II, drives home the concept of the Divine Right of Kings, which Richard adamantly advocated during his reign.

Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal in "Henry IV, Part 1"

Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal in “Henry IV, Part 1” (from “The Hollow Crown” miniseries)

In the next episode, we pick up with Henry IV, Part 1 starring Jeremy Irons as Henry IV and Tom Hiddleston as his son Hal, the future Henry V.

This one’s my favorite history play.  I can’t wait to see the interaction between Hal and Falstaff!

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ATTENTION Shakespeare students of all ages:

If you struggle, as I do, with reading the Elizabethan style of English, watching the performances will definitely improve your understanding (and appreciation) of the plays.  Just keep in mind, directors may exercise artistic license and put their own spin on the action. 

SPOILER ALERT!  For example: in director Rupert Goold’s Richard II, Aumerle is Richard II’s murderer, not Exton!

“It is required you do awake your faith.”

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I was hesitant to purchase a ticket for the opening night performance of Rebecca Taichman’s production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale at McCarter Theatre in Princeton.  Would the actors take the stage enthusiastically, or still be working out the kinks?  But my initial concern was abated as the performance commenced.

Taichman opted for modern costuming, designed by David Zinn, and had the nine actors play two roles each: one as a character in Sicilia and the other as a Bohemian.  This directorial decision tested the actors’ skill at drastically shifting persona and memorizing twice the dialogue.

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Mark Harelik, actor

I must say, they were all quite impressive, but Mark Harelik, who took on the roles of Leontes and Autolycus, was my favorite.  Fans of the television series, “The Big Bang Theory” will recognize him as Dr. Gablehauser, the head of the Physics Department!

As in the text, the play opened in Leontes’ palace in Sicilia.  The stage took on a somber hue with darker costumes and subdued lighting.  Whenever Leontes had a soliloquy, the lighting would dim leaving a sole spotlight focused on Harelik, as a humming sound resonated in the background.  This mimicked the disturbance in Leontes’ mood as jealousy took over his thoughts.

Autolycus (1836) by Charles Robert Leslie

Autolycus (1836) by Charles Robert Leslie

After intermission, the setting transformed from the iciness of the Sicilian palace in winter, to the lush pastoral backdrop, and vivid colors of spring, in the Bohemian countryside.  Oversized butterflies and wooden sheep cutouts were carried onstage, as the lighting brightened.

The most spectacular scene of the play, however, is left intact and is Taichman’s directorial pièce de résistance: Act 5’s finale – the “statue of Hermione” scene.  The curtain rises and Hermione, played by Hannah Yelland, is illuminated by a spotlight, as she stands completely still atop her pedestal.

When Paulina instructs Leontes: “It is required you do awake your faith,” and directs the small ensemble to play their music, Yelland slowly comes to life, as pendant lights dangling from above begin to sway.  If for no other reason, I would recommend others to see this amusing production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, as it wraps up its last week at McCarter Theatre, just to witness the beauty of this dazzling finale.

Hermione as a Statue, W. Hamilton, R.A. (1852)

Hermione as a Statue, (1852) W. Hamilton, R.A.

“Twenty-three days…” The Voyage of Cleomenes and Dion to Delphi (Part 2 of 2)

lhertzel_1303424945_quill-pen        Continued from “Twenty-three days…”  The Voyage of Cleomenes and Dion to Delphi (Part 1)

So, Cleomenes and Dion head off on their journey to summon the Oracle at Delphi for spiritual counsel on the matter of Hermione’s fate.

The map below comes from Richard P. Roe’s book, The Shakespeare Guide to Italy: Retracing the Bard’s Unknown Travels:

Palermo to Delphi & Return: Route of Cleomenes and Dion

Palermo to Delphi & Return: Route of Cleomenes and Dion

In Act 2 Scene 3, a servant notifies Leontes that “Cleomenes and Dion, / Being well arrived from Delphos, are both landed.”  Leontes remarks: “Twenty-three days / They have been absent.”  Why twenty-three days, you ask?  Read the excerpt below from Roe’s intriguing book:

By the fact of specifically numbering the days of the messengers’ trip so exactly, Leontes’ words make us certain that the playwright knew about this route, having traveled it himself.  And knowing the route, he also knew how long it took:  ten days of sailing, three days at Delphi, then ten days back to Sicily and the royal palace:  twenty-three days.  Not fifteen or forty or twenty:  exactly twenty-three.  (Roe 254)

Roe then describes the method of sailing used by Mediterranean sailors:  “coasting.”  Mediterranean sailors did not sail throughout the night as did the English.  They would travel close to the shoreline and “put in at nightfall safely near it, to eat and get a little sleep” (255).

So, if Shakespeare never set foot outside of England, how did he acquire this specific knowledge?  Over a few pints with a seafarer at the Mermaid Tavern?  Or, did the playwright actually spend time in Italy?

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“Shakespeare and His Friends at the Mermaid Tavern” John Faed, 1851

“Twenty-three days…” The Voyage of Cleomenes and Dion to Delphi (Part 1 of 2)

As promised in my previous post, “What geographical error?” I want to share with you another interesting excerpt from The Shakespeare Guide to Italy: Retracing the Bard’s Unknown Travels that relates to Shakespeare’s romantic play, The Winter’s Tale.

The Winter's Tale, Leontes Nurses Suspicions of His Wife Hermione and Their Visitor Polixenes. Artist: M. Adamo

The Winter’s Tale, Leontes Nurses Suspicions of His Wife Hermione and Their Visitor Polixenes. Artist: M. Adamo

First, let’s set the scene:  Leontes is certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that his wife, Hermione, has been unfaithful.

But he’s failed to convince the others in his court who sympathize with their queen.

So, to obtain “a greater confirmation” (2.1.180), Leontes sends two of his lords, Cleomenes and Dion, on a voyage to request spiritual counsel from the Oracle at Delphi.

temple-of-apollo-in-delphi-greece_700x700_q85In Ancient Greece, the Oracle at Delphi acted as a medium between Apollo and humans.  She would channel answers to questions of great importance posed by Greek and foreign dignitaries.

Shakespeare requires that we suspend our disbelief, and imagine the Temple of Apollo as grand as it was in ancient times, rather than the ruins it would have been in the medieval setting of The Winter’s Tale.

lhertzel_1303424945_quill-pen

To be continued…

What geographical error?

While scanning over various online lists of Shakespearean “facts,” I came across this interesting tidbit taken from “10 things you probably didn’t know about William Shakespeare:” books

“4. Although Shakespeare wrote plays set in France, Scotland, Italy, Cyprus and Vienna, among many other locations, it’s entirely possible that he never left England. That may account for the most embarrassing geographical cock-up of his career: grafting a sea-coast on to land-locked Bohemia (part of the present-day Czech Republic) in The Winter’s Tale” (Times Online, April 9, 2009).

There is no evidence that William Shaksper/Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon ever set foot outside of Merry Ol’ England, therefore orthodox scholars typically excuse the playwright’s supposed lack of geographical knowledge.  But, what if we were to learn that this alleged blooper was actually a true historical fact?

Kingdom of Bohemia

From “Ministry of Defence of the Czech Republic Prague, March 2006”

I decided to look into this purported “geographical error,” and referred to Chapter 11 of The Shakespeare Guide to Italy by Richard Paul Roe.

Research into the history of Bohemia reveals that the kingdom of Bohemia under the rule of Ottakar II once included Carinthia and “Carniola, which in turn touched the Adriatic Sea” (Roe 251).  Therefore, from 1269 until Ottakar was killed in 1278, Bohemia was not landlocked.

The Winter’s Tale is a play that hearkens to the romantic tales of medieval times, so referring to the Bohemia of this period in history is not a stretch.

In my next post, I will discuss another curious detail in The Winter’s Tale that demonstrates the playwright’s uncanny knowledge of travel outside the boundaries of England.

In the meanwhile, check out the colorful scenic slideshow of the real-life settings of Shakespeare’s Italian Plays and retraceThe Bard’s Unknown Travels” in the linked blog post by Hilary Roe Metternich.

Shakespeare Performance Alerts for the East Coast!

Apologies for my long absence from blogging; my literature classes this semester leave me little time for recreational reading and writing!

But today I write of good news for Shakespeare lovers on the East Coast, particularly in the NY/NJ/PA area.  Spring has arrived, and before long, there will be opportunities to enjoy outdoor theatrical performances.

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One not to be missed, is the 2013 Season of “Free Shakespeare in the Park.”  Yes, I said FREE!  Click on the link for details regarding the schedule of performances and location (Delacorte Theater in Central Park, NYC).

winters-tale-bgIf outdoor performances aren’t your thing, or you’re itchin’ for some Shakespeare right now, The Winter’s Tale is being performed at Princeton’s McCarter Theatre from April 2 through 21.  I have my ticket for the April 2nd performance, and can’t wait to see it!

othello_webOne more production I need to mention, is The Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre’s staging of Othello starring Tony-nominated actor Forrest McClendon.  I will also be purchasing a ticket for this play which I’ve recently studied, yet never had the opportunity to see performed.

Remember Hamlet’s words everyone:  “The play’s the thing!”  Go see a performance, and watch Shakespeare’s words spring to life.

Deconstructing Royal Symbolism in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

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Title page of the first quarto, 1600

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays.  So, when my daughters both announced that they are reading it in their middle school literature classes, I was thrilled!  Unfortunately, they did not share my enthusiasm.

Since I’ve taken it upon myself to make Shakespeare as fun as possible, I ordered the film version on DVD, starring Kevin Kline and Michelle Pfeiffer, from Netflix.

Next, I dug out my old homework and searched for helpful notes to ease my daughters “suffering.”

In the process, I found a paper I’d written last semester and wanted to share it with my blog readers.  I hope it motivates others to read between the lines of the plays; I found the process fascinating.

Disclaimer:  this was my first attempt at Deconstruction, so bear with me!

“Deconstructing Royal Symbolism in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

457px-Elizabeth1

The “Pelican Portrait” of Queen Elizabeth 1 c.1575 by Nicolas Hilliard.

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