Tag Archive: Shakespeare

  1. All-female play tackles gender issues


    As Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 runs to be America’s first female president, one play at Yale is already seeking to address the notion of female leadership.

    A modern rendition of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” opens Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Off Broadway Theater. The all-female cast of 10 represents trans and non-gender-binary actors in a political and theatrical endeavor.

    Director Zach Elkind ’17 said the play creates more roles for women, drawing attention to systemic issues regarding their influence in contrast to men. He added that play embraces the combination of medieval and modern elements through its costumes and production effects.

    “I was thinking about what it would mean to do a show about power and how we can change our systems of government, which is what the play is about,” Elkind said, describing Henry IV’s themes of rebellion and succession.

    When “Henry IV” originally opened over four centuries ago, no women were featured in the play, and female roles were delegated to teenage boys. Elkind said that this limited the production’s impact, and that by having an all-female cast, new issues regarding gender roles are brought to light.

    Sydney Garick ’18, the show’s producer, said the modern rendition celebrates “gleefully anachronistic” moments with lighting and stage combat, such as when women fight with swords. Garick added that the play is important as it tackles issues of empowerment and is of particular interest as Clinton runs for president this year.

    “We’re in the thick of an election season, so I think it’s really interesting to watch a woman come to power in that way,” Garick said.

    Elkind said that actors are dressed in a combination of modern and medieval clothing. This allows the audience to see both sides of a tale that is historically significant but has universally relevant themes, he said.

    Elkind, who has directed eight shows during his time at Yale and supported direction in an additional four, said he relished the opportunity to “radically rethink” the influence of female actresses by assigning them traditionally male roles.

    “Every time at auditions, the next female actor I couldn’t cast was someone I really wanted to work with,” he said. “There just aren’t enough roles for women.”

    Despite cutting the eight-hour play to under two hours, Elkind said he strove to keep the storyline intact. Additionally, Elkind noted that while the play originally had hundreds of roles, his adaptation only has 10 actresses playing all of them.

    Elkind’s adaptation was also thematic. He explained that Lady Percy, a minor character in the original play, became a significant character in his rendition.

    “Shakespeare’s own internalized misogyny comes out in different ways in the text, so we were interested in preserving the moments where female characters were given a lot of agency,” Elkind said.

    Leslie Schneider ’20, who portrays Henry IV in the play, said the cast and crew often discussed how their production could highlight the misogynistic language used by Shakespeare’s characters. She explained that when two men speak derogatorily of women, an audience is likely to dismiss it, but when two women repeat the same lines, it catches the audience’s attention.

    Still, Elkind maintained that the play is still unfinished, in the sense that an all-female cast does not alter Shakespeare’s original narrative.

    “You can’t change history, but you can choose the way you think about it,” he said.

    Henry IV will run from Thursday, Oct. 27 through Saturday, Oct. 29.

  2. A New Voice for Shakespeare

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    “Well, that was weird.” That was what the Yale student sitting next to me said when the lights went up on the Iseman Theater Thursday evening. After watching “Songs of Lear” alongside her, I couldn’t disagree — it was definitely odd. But, when audience members in the front few rows began to stand and applaud, I didn’t disagree with them either.

    The show is part of the Yale Repertory Theater’s “No Boundaries” series — a collection of works from across the world that attempts to explore the “frontiers of theatrical invention.” “Songs of Lear” was brought to Yale from Poland by the Song of the Goat Theater, an ensemble renowned for its ability to connect with audiences on a multisensory level. The production I saw on Thursday first found success at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2012, where it was rated the top production of the summer, and it has since garnered rave reviews. When walking down Chapel Street toward the Iseman, I overheard an apparent theater expert tell his friend that the production would be like nothing she had ever seen before. He wasn’t kidding.

    When I found my seat, I was facing nine chairs arranged in a semicircle, and nothing else. Instead of an actor stepping into the spotlight to start the show, the director Grzegorz Bral spoke. He told the full house that we “might need a bit of guidance” with the performance. So he painted an opening picture for us, telling us that Shakespeare’s “King Lear” is only the starting point for the work. The production, Bral hoped, was to be a theatrical conjuration of different images in an art gallery that would paint the untold stories of Lear. However, while Bral used the analogy of the art gallery, my experience was much more auditory than visual.

    As a Yale student, I should never be surprised by a cappella, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to ever see King Lear explored through that medium. I couldn’t quite imagine the Whiffenpoofs trading snaps, smiles and bow ties for the tears of a Shakespearean tragedy. But, to my surprise, it worked.

    I could not understand the words of the actors enough to tell you how many languages were woven into the production, but as I reflected on the piece afterward, I realized that I really didn’t need to understand what they were saying to experience the production to the fullest. In a way that is difficult to explain, I knew exactly what they were singing about. The sounds they made evoked the emotions appropriate for any given scene, and I experienced the catharsis of tragedy as Aristotle intended it.

    The production at times felt like a cantata. There was little movement, and uniform costumes made it difficult to interpret which characters the voices were supposed to represent. The director’s interludes after each movement were jarring at first, but without them, I would have been at a loss.

    Within Gregorian chants and sacred Ave Marias, the theater group managed to find a contemporary voice. They played with sound in a way no traditional Lear production probably could have. At times, voices were accompanied by instruments from Africa, India and Scotland, and the actors — none of whom were classically trained vocalists — joined in harmonies that could rival the talent of both contemporary a cappella groups and church choirs.

    “Weird” may not quite be the right word for this production. I feel like I may have to see it a number of times before I completely understand the story line, but the precision and overwhelming energy of each actor on stage meant that the standing ovation was definitely deserved.

  3. Stuff as Dreams Are Made on

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    The Whitney Theatre, whose layout transforms with every performance, never ceases to impress me. In this year’s production of The Tempest, the black-box becomes the home of Prospero, (Eric Sirakian, ’18), his daughter Miranda (Ashley Greaves, ’16) and his servants Ariel (Jamila Tyler, ’15) and Caliban (Lucy Fleming, ’16). The former Duke of Milan, Prospero plots to exact revenge upon his brother Antonio (Kyra Riley, ’16), who has stolen the title from him. In order to do so, he conjures up a devastating storm that throws Antonio’s ship against the island’s coast. With an image of a Somali shore projected onto the back wall, the audience becomes an extension of the beach.

    Tom Delgado DRA ’09 creates a visually stunning lighting design: branch-shaped silhouettes spill across the floor, a whimsical green light illuminates the back wall where the show’s poster image is projected. Jagged root-like lines and sunrays appear throughout the show in pools of azure and gold light, creating a truly magical atmosphere inside the Whitney.

    Unlike many other directors whose projects go up in the space, theater studies professor Toni Dorfman focuses on depth rather than linearity: A large portable dance floor occupies most of the set and two wooden decks stand upstage framed by black muslin curtains. Throughout the performance, actors storm, dance and tumble onto the stage from all directions, accompanied by deafening sounds of thunder and crashing waves. These visual and auditory effects establish the tone of the play right from the opening and also provide important plot clues for the audience. Ariel, for instance, appears onstage with specific sound and light cues that represent her ethereal nature.

    This immersive experience, however, doesn’t last as the actors transition into monologues which are, essentially, one-dimensional. Though the ensemble’s study of the text is evident and praise-worthy, the characters’ relationships are lackluster. They seem uncomfortably distant from each other, too involved in their own lines and too hesitant to fully engage with scene partners.

    A notable exception is Fleming, who brings the necessary urgency to the story. She enlivens Caliban with her astonishing physical and vocal variation. I found myself yearning for her to crawl back on stage in another angry fit.

    By deciding to set this work in Somalia, Professor Dorfman adds a sense of relevancy to The Tempest. However, the reasoning behind this choice isn’t entirely clear: While the costume design and the projection slideshow anchor the production’s concept, the concept itself doesn’t quite connect with the original text. Even though those design choices distract more than they inform, they certainly add freshness to this fairly familiar work.

    Despite its flaws, this performance presented the theater community with a myriad of opportunities. Not only was the casting race-blind and gender-blind, the production also gave many theater artists who usually remain offstage an opportunity to be in the spotlight.

  4. Somewhere Between Jesus and Shakespeare

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    “We are more popular than Jesus,” John Lennon infamously uttered about the Beatles. Perhaps his claim wasn’t too far off. There is little doubt that the Bible is the world’s best-selling and most widely distributed book of all time. Similarly, the Beatles top the charts as the highest-selling band with estimated sales of over two billion. In the 1960’s, Beatlemania gripped the youth of the world. Teen girls across nations were screaming, fainting and believing that these four British rock stars could walk on water.

    However, Lennon’s infamous self-obsessed remark reminded me of a comparable best-selling author of all time — Shakespeare. In his sonnets, he asserted that the immortality of his work would far surpass any ephemeral human form of beauty. I wouldn’t have put it past him to say he was bigger than Jesus. Thus, it was only fitting that Shakespeare and the Beatles would eventually collide on stage at Wednesday night’s performance of “These Paper Bullets!”, a Shakespearean adaptation by Rolin Jones debuting at the Yale University Theatre.

    Set in 1964, this “modish rip-off” of William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” centers around the success of a Beatle-esque band “The Quartos” just returned from their tour of revelries in America. Ben (David Wilson Barnes), “promiscuous as he is cynical,” denies married life, regarding it as abhorrent. However, the other lead guitarist and singer Claude (Bryan Fenkart) is quickly struck by Cupid ’s bow and proposes to the beautiful, drug-addled fashion model Higgy (Ariana Venturi). Prior to the wedding, the fashion models and Quartos team up to play a festive Shakespearean trick. They try to force Ben to fall in love with Beatrice (Jeanine Serralles) the fashion icon. The two detest one another, but are also cut from the same mold and undeniably fated for each other.

    The play, which has been heralded by Time Magazine as “one of top ten reasons for theater-lovers to leave New York,” began with a rocky start. The characters, dialogue and blocking were a little too quick and overwhelming for the audience to appreciate. The colors and flurry of chaos proved enjoyable, but as the events unraveled in rapid succession, it became easy to miss significant details and pieces of characterization.

    However, it’s not hard to adapt to the raucous and intricate world of the Quartos. What must be lauded is Rolin Jones’ genius. His adaptation of Shakespeare is original and sophisticated. He knows when to mock Shakespeare, the characters, the era and even himself. He understands the intricacies of the ’60s and is able to harness the truth behind misogyny spanning the centuries. He transforms the Shakespearean females and makes them strong, sexual, vibrant, independent human beings. In one short monologue, Jones breathes the pain and infuriation of an entire gender, ripping your heart out before making you laugh moments later.

    As an audience member, you must be invested and ready for the ride, because the amount of audience participation was thrilling. We were offered the chance to sing along to Irish tunes, converse with the BBC press and stand at a suspenseful wedding procession — we were just as much a part of the production as the Quartos. In the style of Shakespeare’s trademark soliloquies, Ben broke the fourth wall.

    But all of this festive participation comes at a price. You and I can no longer sit as mindless, passive recipients of theatre. Instead, we must be engaged because now we have become an integral part of the action. This is my unapologetic attack on the couple who sat next to me, who did neither sang along nor stood when they were asked. You two — woman in scarf and man in frumpy coat — hurt my experience of the performance because for one solid minute you reminded me that this was a production. As audience members, we sometimes forget that we can only give as much truth and meaning to any experience as we desire.

    We can all be the screaming fan girl at a concert, the sex-crazed rock star midst his hangover, the prestigious aristocrat attending a wedding and a raucous drug-addled partygoer. Those who step foot in the theater must be ready to be immersed in a beautiful and sometimes ludicrous world of revelry and love. This is the only way to appreciate the quick wit, humor and passion that is “These Paper Bullets!”. I won’t go as far as to say it’s bigger than Jesus, but it may just surpass the likes of Shakespeare.

    Correction, March 28: a previous version of this article misattributed a recommendation for the play to The New York Times. In fact, it came from Time Magazine.

  5. Putting the Sex in Shakespeare; "Richard III" Seduces Audiences

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    In one of many tense moments in this rendition of Richard III, Queen Margaret (Nora Stewart ’13) curses the titular Richard (Cambrian Thomas-Adams ’13) with many plagues of heaven “beyond what (she) can drum up” as a prophetess. She accuses him of being a “destroyer of the world’s peace,” a title he certainly deserves after he executes a series of bloody murders in an attempt to gain the throne he sees as rightfully his. However, despite his prolific use of staves, daggers, hired hands and asphyxiation as violent tools to gain the upper hand, Richard’s real strength lies in his seductive rhetoric in this gritty version of Shakespeare’s classic.

    As is often the case with productions of Richard III, Shakespeare’s second-longest play behind Hamlet, students and staff of professor Joseph Roach (who also directed the show) and postdoctoral associate Lynda Paul’s English/Theater Studies seminar edited the original script to highlight the show’s portrayal of the influence of sexuality in the struggle for political power. The plot centers on Richard’s bloody usurpation of the British throne during the 15th century Wars of the Roses, but Roach and company’s version moved beyond history to focus on universal rhetorical and sexual power dynamics, stripping down Richard III to its barest self.

    And strip down they did: in lieu of “women in farthingales and men in pumpkin pants,” as mentioned in the director’s note in the program, the actors instead stalked around the minimalist stage scantily clad in almost entirely black clothing. In a blatant underscoring of the show’s sexual themes, the actors frequently appeared in various levels of nudity, dominatrix-style outfits, and accessorized with BDSM-esque gags or collars. Thomas-Adams and Stewart themselves (whose performances doubled as senior projects) strutted around the stage wearing a long black leather coat and boots and a skin-tight black leather bodysuit, respectively.

    All this imagery combined would, in any other setting, offend one’s sense of propriety and common social decency, especially when only cast in the harsh light of a couple overheads. But it doesn’t, because, in this show, the production design serves as a brazen accent on the sexual-political power plays its characters utilize – and it does so brilliantly.

    But the bold costuming and masterful staging would be nothing without the support of the actors themselves. In tackling a script that merely bores in many a high school English class, each and every member of the cast manages to mesmerize an entire audience and keep them captivated for the all of the show’s two and a half hours. As put by director Roach: “Shakespeare was never meant to be read.” The characters seem to effortlessly rattle off one complex cadence after another, all while switching between passionately shouting and whispering shakily with repressed emotion.

    Though choosing one actor to applaud above the others is about as impossible as picking the cutest puppy of the litter, Thomas-Adams deserves particular credit for his portrayal of the title character. To see evidence of his complete and utter surrender to his performance as Richard, one need not look any further than his eyes: they are the perfect embodiment of “crazy eyes.” They shift and glare and overwhelm other characters without communicating any sign of remorse in his actions or the belief that drives them. They are downright seductive – hypnotizing, threatening, and betraying when Richard’s quest to gain the throne requires it – and they, along with the rest of the cast and production, will seduce any audience member into rapt attention from the opening music to the shocking twist ending.”

    Richard III” opened April 5 and has two more performances April 12 and 13 at 8 PM in the Whitney Humanities Center.

    Correction: April 17 

    A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that only theater studies and English professor Joseph Roach is teaching a production seminar on Shakespeare’s “Richard III.” In fact, the seminar is being co-taught by Roach and postdoctoral associate Lynda Paul. 

  6. Teaching an old Hamlet new tricks

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    Age is out of joint onstage at the Yale Repertory Theatre, where Paul Giamatti’s Hamlet seems both too old and too young to carry out his ghost-given mission of revenge. His Prince of Denmark seems far too old to be passed over for the Danish crown, yet also too immature to stake a claim to it, even when prompted to revenge by heaven and hell. In his first scene he wanders listlessly in the background of his uncle’s court before “accidentally” upstaging the king. He is a moody teenager in an overgrown body, Denmark’s perpetual problem child. This “Hamlet,” which reunites Giamatti with his fellow Yale School of Drama graduate and the Rep’s artistic director James Bundy DRA ’95, presents Shakespeare’s longest play as a tragedy of arrested development: the Melancholy Dane by way of Buster Bluth.

    Elsinore Castle is a house divided, but still a feast for the eyes and ears. Meredith B. Ries has a created an ornate multilevel wooden set halfway between a playground castle and a pipe organ. A quintet of musicians, including a harpist, nestles in the crenellations, filling scene transitions with composer Sarah Pickett’s lovely original score. From the beginning, however, the design also hints of foul deeds on the rise, as costume designer Jayoung Yoon dresses Bernardo and Francisco (Mickey Theis GRD ’14 and Charlie Tirrell) in camouflage fatigues and heavy modern armament. They are standing guard for a military threat, but unprepared for the apparition of Hamlet’s father, initially conjured only by the actors’ horrorstruck gazes and the clever light and sound design of Stephen Strawbridge and Keri Klick.

    When the Ghost does appear in the flesh (as it were), the effects are equally impressive, with smoke rising from Old Hamlet’s coat as if a whiff of brimstone from hell or purgatory were still clinging to him. He speaks in a voice of thunder, and when he reaches to lay a hand of blessing on his son he is dragged back as if by invisible chains. The total effect is spectral enough that one might not instantly realize that the Ghost is played by the same actor who plays Claudius (Marc Kudisch), not an unusual double but one used to especially good effect here. Claudius, with his ingratiating laugh, double-breasted suit and Danish-flag coffee mug, is a suave corporate climber, image-conscious enough to leave the lionizing portrait of his brother on the wall for a few scenes before having it replaced with a painting of Claudius arm-in-arm with his brother’s widow Gertrude (Lisa Emery).

    The cracks in Claudius’ façade start to show, rather melodramatically, when he shatters a wine glass in his hand while viewing the play-within-a-play, and more subtly when Kudisch interprets Claudius’ attempt to pray for forgiveness as a crisis of faith. “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below / Words without thoughts never to heaven go,” he says, tearing the cross of state from his neck and leaving it on the chapel floor. Gertrude, for her part, moons over Claudius shamelessly in their early scenes, giving Hamlet ample reason to bitterly jest at her o’er-hasty remarriage.

    Giamatti’s Hamlet seems most comfortable in moments of dark humor like this, when his excellent comic delivery comes from a place of bitterness and pain — as is the case with all the best comedians, of course. He also admirably commits himself to the physical demands of the role. This is a Hamlet who stumbles on the stairs to the battlements, greets Horatio (a stalwart Austin Durant) by leaping into his arms like Scooby-Doo, who prances about Elsinore in boxers and bathrobe when he puts on his “antic disposition.” In the duel scene, adroitly choreographed by fight director Rick Sordelet, Hamlet gleefully bounces around the stage like a rubber ball, landing cheap mock blows on the leg and crotch of an incensed Laertes (Tommy Schrider).

    What seems like a missed opportunity is the potential for chemistry between Hamlet and Ophelia (Brooke Parks). She seems charming and spirited enough when she sidles behind her father, Polonius (Gerry Bamman), and mouths along with his trite advice to Laertes, but completely wilts in front of Giamatti in the nunnery scene, which he plays largely to the curtains that hide Claudius and Polonius. One wishes that something had been made of the large age disparity between this Hamlet and this specific Ophelia, but instead it is merely there, unexplained and uninterpreted.

    Polonius is another mixed blessing, as Bamman dodders and blathers with laughable self-importance and utter emotional obliviousness, but lacks any edge of the spymaster or shrewd counselor that can give the role more weight. It becomes baffling to see Ophelia go so violently, bloody-shirt-wearing and nonsense-song-singing insane when neither of the men she has lost seem like crucial figures in her life.

    Hamlet is always an unsuitable revenge hero, more comfortable punning with the gravedigger (here an excellently wry Jarlath Conroy) than executing his father’s command. Giamatti’s performance pushes this to an extreme, with a Hamlet who in his first monologue, flails red-faced on the marble floor like an oversized infant and calls for “this too, too solid flesh” to melt.

    The very final moments of the play give us in Fortinbras (a martial Paul Pryce), the long-delayed military threat to Denmark, all that Hamlet wishes he could be: a confident man who strides onto the stage, calmly assesses the situation and takes a seat in the throne with consummate swagger. Hamlet claims self-deprecatingly that Claudius is “no more like my father / Than I to Hercules.” Never has the latter contrast been more apparent. But by highlighting the inadequacy of Hamlet the prince, this production succeeds at mounting “Hamlet” the play.

  7. Let's Get Physical, Shakespeare-Style

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    Under the rosy stage lights of the Yale Drama Coalition’s production of Shakespeare’s comedy “Twelfth Night,” Malvolio (Eric Sirakian ’15) fixed his exaggeratedly seductive gaze on the noblesse Olivia (Shunori Ramanathan ’13). In a futile attempt to court his beloved, he slowly, languidly slid up the hem of his caftan to reveal gartered stockings that screamed an unruly shade of yellow and embraced his sinews, leaving little to imagination. He splayed his legs, blowing air kiss after air kiss, while writhing sensually on the parquet stage floor.

    Yep, the men of “Twelfth Night” never looked so good in tights (or without them, for that matter — Sirakian stripped his stockings by the end of the play, displaying what a bemused audience member behind me described as “very hairy legs”).

    Directed by Yale theater studies professor Toni Dorfman, “Twelfth Night” centers around the character of Viola (Harriet Weaver ’13), a castaway disguised as a servant named Cesario, who falls in love with Duke Orsino (Nathaniel Dolquist ’14).

    Still, the supporting characters were the ones to steal the show — the delightfully hapless Connor Lounsbury ’14 as Sir Andrew and (Whiff alum!!) Mitchel Kawash ’13 as Sir Toby, a convincing drunk whose wry comedic delivery gave the audience a serious case of the giggles. Lounsbury and Kawash were particularly memorable during a scene in which they pranced about the stage acting plastered. Shriek-singing “Hold thy peace!,” they beat a tambourine in the faces of startled audience members with more boyish enthusiasm than the Yale Marching Band.

    Weaver and Ramanathan also gave striking performances. The former’s subtle acting was unfettered as she pulled a blanket closer around her huddled frame, staring contemplatively into the beyond with the sound of seagulls in the background. Ramanathan was regal (and decked out in full regalia down to her massive bling) with delicate mannerisms and a haughty air of sophistication as she rejected the affections of the love-struck Malvolio.

    Yale music professor Grant Herreid whimsically played the court jester, Feste, demonstrating his skill with the lute and medieval guitar. Somehow, I didn’t find the juxtaposition of his civilian garb — a T-shirt and corduroy pants — with his jester hat all that weird. He’s just that good. In comparison, Sebastian (Sho Matsuzaki ’14) and Fabian (Alexi Sargeant ’15) were not as passionate or comedic.

    Props (pun intended) to the design team, which crafted a lush setting for the fictional land of Ilyria, especially during the opening scene. Flashes of lightening, a crescendo of thunder, eerie blue lighting and the crash of choppy tides hooked the audience from the beginning.

    The production was uniquely interactive with actors using the theater seating as an extension of the stage. I was nearly skewered as I sat in the front row during a duel scene in which the actors seemed to employ lethal swords (don’t try this at home). Malvolio threw himself on the lap of an audience member as he professed his love for Olivia. Who knew Shakespeare could be a contact sport?

    “Twelfth Night” has free admission and runs through tonight at 8 p.m. at the Whitney Humanities Center theatre.