Shakespeare Archives

June 9, 2009

Canon Fodder


Today I finalized reservations for a few days on the West Coast at the end of August, mostly at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Just about a year ago, I resolved to see every play in the Shakespeare canon produced on stage. Here is the list of what I've seen thus far, starting my count in the spring of 2008 when I saw Patrick Stewart as Macbeth when the production came to Broadway:

1. 4/24/08, Macbeth, Broadway
2. 6/20/08, Hamlet, Shakespeare In The Park, The Public Theater, New York City
3. 6/26/08, King Lear, American Shakespeare Center, Staunton, VA
4. 6/27/08, Twelfth Night, American Shakespeare Center, Staunton, VA
5. 6/28/08, Measure For Measure, American Shakespeare Center, Staunton, VA
6. 7/3/08, All's Well That Ends Well, Shakespeare & Co., Lenox, MA
7. 7/18/08, The Comedy Of Errors, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, OR
8. 7/19/08, Othello, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, OR
9. 7/22/08, Romeo And Juliet, Old Globe Theater, San Diego, CA
10. 8/8/08, The Merry Wives Of Windsor, Shakespeare's Globe, London
11. 8/9/08, The Taming Of The Shrew, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford, U.K.
12. 8/13/08, Much Ado About Nothing, Oxford Castle, Oxford, U.K.
13. 9/9/08, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hartford Stage Company, Hartford, CT
14. 10/3/08, The Tempest, Classic Stage Company, New York City
15. 5/14/09, The Merchant Of Venice, Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York City

So as of now, I am not quite halfway done. But here is what I've scheduled in the weeks and months ahead:

16. 6/13/09, Julius Caesar, Stratford Festival, Stratford, ON, Canada
17. 6/20/09, Henry V, Richmond Shakespeare Festival, Richmond, VA
18. 7/10/09, Pericles, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Garrison, NY
19. 7/19/09, Titus Andronicus, American Shakespeare Center, Staunton, VA
20. 7/26/09, Two Gentlemen Of Verona, Colonial Theater, Westerly, RI
21. 7/28/09, Antony And Cleopatra, Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, Center Valley, PA
22. 8/1/09, As You Like It, Shakespeare's Globe, London
23. 8/1/09, The Winter's Tale, The Old Vic, London
24. 8/16/09, Troilus And Cressida, Shakespeare's Globe, London
25. 8/22/09, Henry IV, Part I, Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, Philadelphia, PA
26. 8/26/09, Henry VIII, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, OR
27. 8/28/09, Coriolanus, Old Globe Theater, San Diego, CA
28. 9/27/09, Richard III, Chicago Shakespeare Festival, Chicago
29. 10/28/09, Love's Labour's Lost, Annenberg Center, Philadelphia, PA
30. May 2010, Timon Of Athens, Actors' Shakespeare Project, Boston, MA

This will put me over three-quarters of the way through, leaving these plays of the "official" canon of 37 yet to be seen--all plays that are produced infrequently (though I have leads on a couple productions coming in 2010):

31. Cymbeline
32. Henry IV, Part II
33. Henry VI, Part I
34. Henry VI, Part II
35. Henry VI, Part III
36. King John
37. Richard II

Then there are two plays sometimes attributed to Shakespeare, at least in part, that some scholars regard as canonical:

38? The Two Noble Kinsmen
39? Edward III

I'll try to see each of these if the opportunities present themselves.

Since starting this project twelve months ago, I have seen--or will see--some of the plays in the canon more than once; here are those duplicates on my list:

8/8/08, King Lear, Shakespeare's Globe, London
9/19/08, The Comedy Of Errors, Paul Mellon Arts Center, Wallingford, CT
6/13/09, Macbeth, Stratford Festival, Stratford, ON, Canada
6/26/09, Hamlet, Shakespeare & Co., Lenox, MA
7/2/09, The Tempest, The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, Madison, NJ
7/18/09, The Merry Wives Of Windsor, American Shakespeare Center, Staunton, VA
7/18/09, Much Ado About Nothing, American Shakespeare Center, Staunton, VA
8/15/09, The Winter's Tale, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford, U.K.
8/25/09, Macbeth, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, OR
8/25/09, Much Ado About Nothing, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, OR
8/26/09, All's Well That Ends Well, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, OR

I have not included any productions I had seen before last spring, such as the Twelfth Night I saw in Central Park in the summer of 1989 when I was a Klingenstein Summer Fellow at Columbia, or the versions of A Midsummer Night's Dream and Othello I watched on the Paul Mellon Arts Center stage here at Choate, or the condensed Henry IV (combining parts I and II) starring Kevin Kline as Falstaff at Lincoln Center a few years back.

And of course I am familiar with filmed versions of some of these plays (e.g., Branagh's Henry V) which I have not included for the purposes of this list either.

June 13, 2009

The Stratford Festival


I had a pleasant drive out to Stratford, pretty much on major highways all the way. I am spending the next two days here attending some plays: two Shakespeare productions tomorrow and Chekhov's The Three Sisters on Sunday afternoon. I am also signed up for a backstage tour of the main theater complex (pictured above) and a lecture/ discussion with lunch tomorrow.

Beware The Ides Of March


Tonight I saw Julius Caesar on stage for the very first time, having read the play first as a tenth-grader and then again for my Yale course two weeks ago. This production has gotten mixed reviews, in part because the costumes don't seem anchored in any particular era (togas are mixed with modern dress). I found the show credible, though, even if the acting was a bit stiff in places.

June 20, 2009

The Folger


While here in D.C. I have a little time to visit the Folger Shakespeare Library, just a short walk from Union Station. Of course, walking to Capitol Hill reminds me just how warm Washington gets this time of year!

Agecroft Hall


I arrived at Agecroft Hall about an hour before the show. The house itself, an expansive Tudor style edifice, was originally built in England in the 15th century, disassembled, shipped across the Atlantic, and rebuilt here in Richmond. The grounds are beautiful, with lovely gardens that are perfect for tailgating before the evening performance.

Band Of Brothers


The performance of Henry V put on by the Richmond Shakespeare Festival was an enjoyable production, with action, humor, romance, and some of the Bard's most beautiful language. I was worried that this outdoor show might fall victim to the thunderstorms that were forecast, but it turned out to be a lovely--if slightly humid--evening. The play was well cast, with a strong actor in the title role (pretty much essential given how this role dominates the piece) and some wonderful work in the bit parts, especially Fluellen, Katherine of France, and the "Three Stooges" characters of Bardolph, Nym, and Pistol. This was worth the (long) trip!

June 24, 2009

Good Fortune


I must be lucky. The usual way to get free tickets to the Public Theater's summer productions in its long-running Shakespeare In The Park series is to line up early in the morning in Central Park for the 1 p.m. ticket distribution. That's a pretty big time commitment, especially for someone who doesn't live in the city. But there is also a virtual line, in which anyone can apply on a website for a ticket lottery. I tried this once last week with no luck, but just found out I won two tickets for tonight's show. So I'm off to New York, hoping the rain holds off for the al fresco performance of Twelfth Night.

Shakespeare Under The Stars


Well, under the clouds anyway. The star-studded production of Twelfth Night was entertaining indeed, and I didn't even get wet on a night when thunderstorms were forecast.

There were no takers back in Wallingford for the other free ticket I won, so I tweeted the opportunity, which in turn updated my Facebook status message, and within a few minutes I made a connection with a face from the past: a student from my first year of teaching at Andover who is now an architect in New York. We hadn't seen each other in over 15 years, so this was a great chance to reconnect.

The show itself was a rock-solid production. Music--"the food of love" as the first line of the play reminds us--was well employed throughout the show. The cast was excellent, headlined by Anne Hathaway in the Viola/Cesario role and the always-great Audra McDonald as Olivia. This is the perfect Shakespeare comedy to be staged outdoors in the summer. Not surprisingly, the Public Theater has done so repeatedly over the years. My very first Shakespeare In The Park was in 1989, when I saw a Twelfth Night with Michelle Pfeiffer and Jeff Goldblum among others.

This was a treat, and the price (free!) certainly was right!

June 27, 2009

Alas, Poor Yorick!


I saw another Hamlet this evening as part of a class field trip to Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts. The production had some strong points--I liked the Claudius in particular--and was presented energetically in front of a house that was, at best, 25% capacity. We left New Haven at 4:00 p.m. and I am getting home over nine hours later, so to bed I go!

July 3, 2009

Final Day At Yale


I am about to head into my last Shakespeare class at Yale at the end of a five-week term. It's been a treat to come down here 4-6 times a week during the past month or so. I started in the last days of the school year at Choate and am wrapping up a week into summer school, so the bookends have been a bit hectic for me, but this course was well worth the time, effort, and expense.

July 1, 2009

Shakespeare's Roman Plays

This week I read two plays by the Bard that I had not yet been exposed to in any form: Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus. These are great dramas, right up there with the more famous tragedies Shakespeare produced.

June 30, 2009

Slings & Arrows


Slings & Arrows is a Canadian television series about a Shakespearean theater festival and the people who work in it. It's sort of a dramedy, I guess. On the heels of my visit to the Stratford Festival earlier this month, I thought I'd give this show a whirl, as it comes highly recommended. So far, it's pretty amusing.

July 7, 2009

BBC's Complete Shakespeare


Today I purchased the 37-disc collection of the complete canon of Shakespeare plays produced for BBC television in the late '70s through the mid-'80s. I've seen excerpts from this series in class during my recent course on The Bard's histories and tragedies, and some of them are quite good. Many feature some of the biggest names in British acting (including John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Patrick Stewart, Alan Rickman, John Cleese, Jonathan Pryce, Richard Griffiths, Ben Kingsley, Nicol Williamson, and David Warner, to name just a few).

Unfortunately, the full set is hard to get in America. There are several sets of five-DVD packages that sell for about $140 (though you can find them for under $100 on Amazon if you look hard enough) but the majority of the plays--including some of the best productions of the bunch--are not on the market at all. On the other hand, you can get the complete set from Amazon if you have the means to watch Region 2 coded DVDs. The U.S. Amazon site sells the complete package for a little more than $160, but I went through the Amazon U.K. site and got the same set from the same merchant for under $140, including international shipping (go figure). The U.K. site also now converts the currency automatically such that the prices show up and my payment is processed in U.S. dollars, which is awfully convenient.

In order to watch these discs, I also purchased a region-free Philips DVD player for under $60, which is supposed to upgrade the image quality to 1080p, which should look good on my HD Samsung 52" screen. So even including the technology purchase, this was a far cheaper way to get all 37 Shakespeare plays on disc than it would have cost me to get just the 15 of them available in the U.S. market on Region 1 DVDs!

I do own a handful of other British DVDs, which only work on Region 2 players. My solution was to switch the setting on an old iBook laptop to Region 2--Macs let you change the regional code setting up to five times before it's locked for good--but that meant I could only watch those discs (mostly British TV series) on a computer screen. So now I will be able to watch DVDs from anywhere in the world on my home theater system. Ah, progress!

July 11, 2009

Pericles On The Hudson


I am surprised Pericles--which is rarely performed in America--is not one of Shakespeare's more popular plays. There's a lot to like it it. The show I saw tonight over in New York State was very entertaining, with good humorous bits, some effective use of music and dancing, and tight pacing.

July 19, 2009

Another Hamlet


Just booked a ticket to the Broadway transfer of the critically acclaimed London production of Hamlet with Jude Law in the title role. I'll see this show in October.

July 18, 2009

Blackfriars I: Much Ado


After being introduced to the American Shakespeare Center last summer during my program at UVa, I returned to the Blackfriars Playhouse this year to catch a trio of Shakespeare productions. This first of these, a matinee of Much Ado About Nothing, was an enjoyable romp. The philosophy of this company is "we do it with the lights on," which means the indoor theater lighting replicates what existed in Jacobean times, when the actors could see the audience, rather than having a lighted stage and a darkened house. So there is lots of interplay with playgoers seated near the stage (and no one is very far from it in this venue!). The ASC this incorporates a lot of improvisational bits, which are especially effective in the comedies.

Blackfriars II: Merry Wives


The Merry Wives Of Windsor has been described as the Shakespearean equivalent of a situation comedy. In it we see Sir John Falstaff of the Henry IV plays as the comic centerpiece of the action. Some critics dismiss the Falstaff of this work as having nothing to do with the magnificent creation inhabiting the taverns of Eastcheap in the history plays. That seems a bit snobbish to me. This is certainly another angle on Falstaff. As one observer noted, the Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II is arguably not the same man we saw onscreen in its antecedent film. At any rate, there was much merriment indeed, especially in the antics of Master Ford and Doctor Caius, who milked their roles for laughs.

July 19, 2009

Blackfriars III: Titus Andronicus

The third of the three ASC Shakespeare plays I saw this weekend was the "hook" that brought me down to Virginia this weekend. Titus Andronicus is not performed very often, so I jumped on the chance to see it done at one of my favorite theaters by one of my favorite acting companies. Clearly this is not a show for the squeamish, as there is plenty of gore as well as psychological horror on display on stage. This has a reputation as being one of The Bard's worst plays, but when done well--and it was today--it was pretty gripping stuff. The bad guys here are about as bad as they get in Shakespeare--even Iago and Edmund and the Macbeths are (somewhat) more sympathetic. But the "heroes" don't get off lightly either. Glad I made the trip down from Connecticut for this.

July 26, 2009

Two Gents


I returned from Boston via Rhode Island so I could see the outdoor production of Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona, one of his earliest comedies, in a park in Waverly. It was drizzling during the early scenes in the show and the audience numbered only a few dozen, with perhaps about 25 hearty souls staying through the end of the play. The rain petered out about a half hour into the production and I'm glad I toughed it out.

July 29, 2009

Antony and Cleopatra


I traveled a little ways across the Pennsylvania border, a drive of just over three hours, to see a production of Antony and Cleopatra staged by the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival. This was a particularly strong show, with a terrific cast--the two title characters were especially effective--and fine production values. The play itself was heavily edited, with about a third of some 3600 lines eliminated from the staged action, but this helped maintain a brisk sense of pacing and streamlined the plot without losing too much detail.

August 1, 2009

The Winter's Tale


The Bridge Project has been performing The Winter's Tale in repertory with The Cherry Orchard all over the world this year. I saw this Anglo-American hybrid cast do the Chekhov production at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this past winter and then this afternoon caught them here in London doing the Shakespeare play. This was my first exposure to The Winter's Tale and I liked the staging by Sam Mendes quite a bit.

As You Like It


Two Shakespeare plays in seven hours, both of them new to me! It's always a treat to see something in the Globe reconstruction. As You Like It is a perfect vehicle for this space, with broad comedy, music, creative use of the stage as the forest, and some of the Bard's best dialogue. The casting was spot on and this production clearly clicked with the full house.

One could do worse than spend a summer's night in Shakespeare's Globe Theatre on the south bank of the Thames, I think!

August 3, 2009

My Daily Routine At Cambridge

Here's my routine for the first week of classes in Cambridge's Shakespeare summer school program:

7:45 a.m. - breakfast served in Great Hall, Clare College
9:15 a.m. - 10:45 a.m. - "What Happens In Hamlet"
11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. - plenary lecture (different topic each day)
2:00 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. - "Political Shakespeare"
6:30 p.m. - dinner served in Great Hall, Clare College
8:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. - plenary lecture (different topic each day)

Even with some generous breaks built in, this is a fairly ambitious schedule. The courses change for week two (I will be taking classes focusing on King Lear and Macbeth). The "Political Shakespeare" class is centered on Richard II and The Tempest.

August 5, 2009

Refighting The Battle Of Agincourt


I joined the Medieval Studies program this afternoon for a practical demonstration about the Battle of Agincourt in 1415--a memorable part of Shakespeare's Henry V with the St. Crispin's Day speech--led by a military historian and a master armourer (pictures with a bow and arrow above). This was a fascinating presentation that included a hands-on exploration of the armor and weapons of the time as well as a fascinating overview of the context for the battle as well as the strategy and tactics of the English and the French. I visited Agincourt (in France, it's Azincourt) in 1990 and have a much better sense now of what happened in this momentous showdown.

August 12, 2009

Tempest In The Gardens


Since I'm immersed in studying Shakespeare for a couple weeks here in Cambridge, I decided to take in one of the al fresco productions of the Bard's work that is being staged each night on all sides of me. I've been hearing the dialogue from The Tempest come wafting through the window into my top-floor rooms in Clare College in the evening hours ever since I arrived a week and a half ago, so I bought a ticket in adjacent Trinity College Gardens to see the production.

It was a ten-actor affair and staged pretty effectively, given the spare resources--both human and otherwise. A mostly creditable, lean show.

August 10, 2009

New Courses This Week

Two new courses started for me today in week two of the program: "Shakespeare's Stagecraft in Macbeth" and "King Lear: Sources, Texts, and Significance."

August 11, 2009

The Other Cambridge


I have enrolled in a Harvard class this fall, though will be taking it mostly via the Internet. It's a course with Shakespeare scholar Marjorie Garber. Apparently the only time I have to physically appear in Massachusetts is for the final exam (if there is one).

August 15, 2009

An Afternoon With The RSC


I saw a performance of The Winter's Tale for the second time in fourteen days, this time at The Courtyard Theatre--the Royal Shakespeare Company's temporary home as the main theatre complex is being rebuilt. Seeing the play for the second time, I came to appreciate a lot of its nuances, especially the character of Paulina. The staging of the bear--an important element in evaluating any performance of this play--worked for me, though it was very different from what they did at the Old Vic. The first half of the play--set in Sicilia--was stronger than the Bohemia scenes, but overall the production succeeded because of some very strong acting, particularly in the parts of Leontes and Paulina.

August 16, 2009

Two "Problem Plays" Today


I debated whether to see another play this afternoon or to enjoy an unstructured afternoon in London. But the National Theatre's current production of All's Well That Ends Well got strong reviews and the tickets cost only £10, so I figured I might as well take advantage of the opportunity to see another show.

I'm glad I saw it. The director/designer pair was the same that worked on War Horse, which I enjoyed immensely last weekend. The staging cleverly evoked the fairy tale quality of the story, and I thought the expressions on the faces of the actors playing Helena and Bertram in the closing moments of the play effectively captured the "problem" that critics have found in this work: the "happy ending" may not, in fact, be so happy.

Troilus And Cressida


It was an ideal night for a production at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre on the south bank of the Thames: the weather was ideal and the play itself was thoughtfully executed. I sat in the first row of the middle level, and I felt as though I was right on top of the action. Of the various vantage points I've had in this space the past couple of years, I'll have to remember Bay E on the middle level, A13, as just about the perfect seat!

Troilus And Cressida is another of the Bard's "problem plays"--works that do not fall neatly into the established categories of histories, tragedies, and comedies. Because the two title characters do not end up together in the end, it's not a conventional comedy, but neither of them meets a tragic end, either. I can see why this play--one of the least performed in the canon--enjoyed a resurgence of popularity after the horrors of World War I, for its open as it is about the horrors of war itself.

Tonight's show effectively blended humor, music, battle scenes, and effective acting to produce a satisfying night of theater.

August 18, 2009

A Different Sort Of Shakespeare


Tonight I trekked up to Prague Castle on the other side of the river to see The Comedy Of Errors performed in the Czech language. Of course I understood almost none of the dialogue, but I've seen the play a couple times and I wanted to see how much, if any, of the humor came through without the language. The answer is: not much. Comedy is probably more dependent on language than tragedy, I suppose. It was interesting to follow the structure of the play without getting all the jokes. An interesting experiment, though one I don't feel compelled to repeat again!

August 22, 2009

Henry IV, Part I


The Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre staged a bare bones production of Henry IV, Part I, meaning the theater was a black box set-up, with no sets to speak of and minimal costumes. The actors were part of the PST's youth company (in their early 20s, I'd say) and did a creditable job with the material. This is, of course, the play in which Falstaff is introduced and the depiction of Sir Jack was pulled off fairly well.

August 25, 2009

Something Wicked This Way Comes


I am in Ashland to see a bunch of plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for the second year in a row--I drove up here when I finished up at Stanford last July and fell in love with the bucolic town nestled in the foothills and the chance to see so much theater in one place.

This afternoon was a matinee of Macbeth. This production worked well because of the strength of the two lead actors, I thought. Peter Macon--whom I saw portray Othello in 2008--was effective in the title role and Robin Goodrin Nordli was especially good as his ambitious wife.

A Little More Ado


I first saw Much Ado About Nothing in a castle courtyard in Oxford in 2008, and again this past July in Staunton, Virginia. Tonight's OSF show was the grandest production of Much Ado I've seen staged, and appropriately so for the open-air Elizabethan Stage here in Ashland. At first I didn't quite buy this particular Benedick--he seemed outmatched by the very impressive Beatrice--but I was won over by this particular pair by halfway through. The play was set in Sicily in 1945, which made the witty interplay between the two seem like it was lifted from a Hepburn/Tracy screwball comedy.

August 26, 2009

All's Well Once More


I just saw All's Well That Ends Well ten days before in London, so today's stripped-down, small-theater version at the OSF inevitably suffered in comparison to the National Theatre's lauded production with a large cast and spectacular staging. While the latter emphasized the "fairy tale" aspects of this play, today's production certainly imposed a happy ending in the final moments of the show. with "home video" scenes of Bertram and Hero and their young son at play years later. An interesting (if not entirely convincing) attempt to solve the "problem" of this problem play.

Shakespeare's Last Play


The chance to see Henry VIII--a rarely-staged play in the Shakespeare canon--was really what attracted me back to Ashland this summer. The production was full of pageantry and spectacle and though its closing scenes seemed to derail the drama that had built up earlier, the final tableau of (Queen-to-be) Elizabeth's christening was a fitting coda for a body of work closely associated with the Elizabethan era.

Shakespeare Under The Stars


Heading to the Elizabethan Stage here in Ashland for the second straight night. This is a spectacular outdoor theater. On a nice summer night like this one, it's a treat to begin an 8 p.m. show in the remaining sunlight and have a canopy of stars overhead by intermission.

August 27, 2009

A Brilliant Play


Wow. Equivocation is a new play that explores playwright William Shagspeare (using one of the various spellings of the Bard's name) being commissioned by royal authorities to write a play about the Gunpowder Plot (e.g., Guy Fawkes and company trying to blow up Parliament in 1605). This play touches on so many provocative topics: the nature of theater and of history, the interplay between Shakespeare's acting troupe and the court, and political power in Jacobean England, just to name a few. This was a tremendous production of a truly excellent piece of work.

August 28, 2009



I came to San Diego pretty much just to see this play, and Coriolanus at the Old Globe delivered. This was my seventh play in four days, but fatigue was conquered by a pretty gripping production. The role of Volumnia--the mother of the title character--is critical to this piece, and the actress filling those shoes was well cast.

September 1, 2009

My Summer With The Bard


It's now September, Labor Day is just around the corner, school is about to start, and I think it's safe to say summer is now officially over for me. Looking back on the last three months, it's staggering how much time I've spent with William Shakespeare's works. Not only did I take an intensive course at Yale on his histories and tragedies, but I spent two weeks in Cambridge, England studying the Bard and saw no fewer than 22 stagings of his plays (as well as 8 other productions) in such far-flung locales as New York City, Ontario, western Massachusetts, Richmond, upstate New York, Staunton, VA, eastern Pennsylvania, London, Cambridge, Stratford-upon-Avon, Prague, Philadelphia, Oregon, and San Diego!

September 27, 2009

Chicago Shakespeare Theater


I just arrived at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater here on the Navy Pier overlooking Lake Michigan. This is a terrific modern facility nestled among the many attractions on the pier, with a spectacular 500 seat main theater--an intimate and gorgeous thrust stage arrangement.

Richard III


Wow. I just watched a matinee performance of Richard III and was blown away both by the play--probably the most famous of the Bard's works that I hadn't yet seen staged--and by the quality of this particular production. The title character was appropriately both charming and Machiavellian, with a seductively oily stage presence and wonderfully sardonic delivery of his lines. The rest of the cast was first rate, too, and the production design was excellent.

October 4, 2009

One Day University


Just finished a slate of lectures as part of the One Day University program. This meant getting up in time to take the 5:45 a.m. train from New Haven so I could be at the New York Hilton before 9:00 for the first lecture on Moby-Dick. Subsequent presentations were on the psychology of art appreciation, Shakespeare, the philosophy of the ancients, and connections between Beethoven and The Beatles. Pretty interesting day overall. Now back to Grand Central for the train to Connecticut.

October 16, 2009

Hamlet #3


Tonight's Broadway production was the third Hamlet I've seen on stage--the first was in June of 2008 in Central Park, and the second in Lenox, Massachusetts this past June. Jude Law played the Danish prince. A pretty effective staging, I thought: solid acting and strong production values. Was it great? Probably not. But pretty good.

October 13, 2009

Tracked Down A Rare Book


I first encountered this Ted Hughes book at the National Theatre bookshop while (or "whilst," as they'd say there) I was in London in August. The wild boar on the cover attracted my attention. The volume has been out of print, but the wonderful Internet enabled me to track down a copy at a reasonable price and it arrived today.

October 25, 2009

Much Ado At The Folger


I saw my fourth production of Much Ado About Nothing this afternoon, this one at the Folger Shakespeare Library's Elizabethan Theatre. Previous stagings I've seen were set in Spain and in mid-20th century Italy. This one employed Caribbean themes set in a contemporary American city (presumably Washington, DC). A pretty engaging rendition of the play.

October 28, 2009

The Last Comedy


Tonight's performance of Love's Labour's Lost was a touring production staged by the company from London's Shakespeare's Globe Theatre--a venue I have enjoyed numerous times in recent years. This play represents the only one of Shakespeare's comedies I hadn't yet seen. I already completed all the tragedies in the canon, so I have only a handful of rarely-performed histories to go, plus a couple of quasi-canonical works (Two Noble Kinsman and Edward III).

After tonight's show, I connected with a Choate alum from the Class of 2009, who gave me a quick tour of the Penn campus and took me to a Halloween party in frat house for a brief visit before I had to catch my middle-of-the-night train back to New Haven.

October 30, 2009

Update On The Shakespeare Canon


So some eighteen months after I embarked on my quest to see each of Shakespeare's plays staged, I have worked my way through most of the canon (though at this point it's the rarely staged plays I still have ahead of me):

1. 4/24/08, Macbeth, Broadway
2. 6/20/08, Hamlet, Shakespeare In The Park, The Public Theater, New York City
3. 6/26/08, King Lear, American Shakespeare Center, Staunton, VA
4. 6/27/08, Twelfth Night, American Shakespeare Center, Staunton, VA
5. 6/28/08, Measure For Measure, American Shakespeare Center, Staunton, VA
6. 7/3/08, All's Well That Ends Well, Shakespeare & Co., Lenox, MA
7. 7/18/08, The Comedy Of Errors, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, OR
8. 7/19/08, Othello, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, OR
9. 7/22/08, Romeo And Juliet, Old Globe Theater, San Diego, CA
10. 8/8/08, The Merry Wives Of Windsor, Shakespeare's Globe, London
11. 8/9/08, The Taming Of The Shrew, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford, U.K.
12. 8/13/08, Much Ado About Nothing, Oxford Castle, Oxford, U.K.
13. 9/9/08, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hartford Stage Company, Hartford, CT
14. 10/3/08, The Tempest, Classic Stage Company, New York City
15. 5/14/09, The Merchant Of Venice, Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York City
16. 6/13/09, Julius Caesar, Stratford Festival, Stratford, ON, Canada
17. 6/20/09, Henry V, Richmond Shakespeare Festival, Richmond, VA
18. 7/10/09, Pericles, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Garrison, NY
19. 7/19/09, Titus Andronicus, American Shakespeare Center, Staunton, VA
20. 7/26/09, Two Gentlemen Of Verona, Colonial Theater, Westerly, RI
21. 7/28/09, Antony And Cleopatra, Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, Center Valley, PA
22. 8/1/09, As You Like It, Shakespeare's Globe, London
23. 8/1/09, The Winter's Tale, The Old Vic, London
24. 8/16/09, Troilus And Cressida, Shakespeare's Globe, London
25. 8/22/09, Henry IV, Part I, Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, Philadelphia, PA
26. 8/26/09, Henry VIII, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, OR
27. 8/28/09, Coriolanus, Old Globe Theater, San Diego, CA
28. 9/27/09, Richard III, Chicago Shakespeare Festival, Chicago
29. 10/28/09, Love's Labour's Lost, Annenberg Center, Philadelphia, PA

And here's what's left:

30. March 2010, Richard II, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Washington, DC
31. May 2010, Timon Of Athens, Actors' Shakespeare Project, Boston, MA
32. Cymbeline
33. Henry IV, Part II
34. Henry VI, Part I
35. Henry VI, Part II
36. Henry VI, Part III
37. King John

Plus the two plays now attributed, at least in part, to Shakespeare's hand:

38. Edward III
39. The Two Noble Kinsmen

Pretty good progress in just a year and a half!

December 10, 2009

King John


Last weekend, while lining up some 2010 travel arrangements, I stumbled across the fact that the Cap and Bells theatrical troupe at Williams would be staging King John during the last few days of the College's fall term. Tonight was opening night. So once my team's practice wound up at 4:30, I jumped in my car and drove to Williamstown so I could knock off this rarely-performed Shakespeare work in my attempt to complete the canon. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the play is a rather enjoyable work. The Williams production--directed by a senior--was a very creditable endeavor, presented in the vastly scaled down Adams Memorial Theater (the College built a new Mainstage and converted the AMT into a much more intimate space). I thought this might be the hardest play to find on stage, but I suspect the three installments of Henry VI will be the final entries in the Bard's traditional canon that I will see produced.

December 7, 2009

The Bridge Project Redux


Having enjoyed both productions by The Bridge Project that I saw this year--The Cherry Orchard in Brooklyn in January and The Winter's Tale in London in August--today I booked tickets for both of 2010's offerings: As You Like It and The Tempest. I'll catch both at the Brooklyn Academy of Music: one in January and one in February.

December 20, 2009

Me And Orson Welles


As the roads were relatively clear after last night's storm--southern Connecticut didn't get dumped on as much as points south and east, apparently--I trekked down to New Haven to catch up on a couple of theatrical releases before things get busy with family time later in the week. First up was Me And Orson Welles, an account of a late 1930s Broadway production of Julius Caesar staged by Welles, told from the point of view of a high school senior (Zac Efron) who stumbles into the director's orbit. Lots of nice touches in this film, and the actor who played Welles was pretty convincing capturing the man physically and vocally.

December 26, 2009

A Boxing Day Hamlet


Over in England, today is celebrated as Boxing Day and the BBC is airing a filmed version of the RSC's 2008 Hamlet production featuring David Tennant as the title character and Patrick Stewart as Polonius. It's being released on DVD the first week of next month and I pre-ordered a copy on the U.K. site. (Nice to have a region-free DVD player handy to fire up this Region 2 disc.)

January 10, 2010

The Two Noble Kinsmen


Just saw a production of The Two Noble Kinsmen, which scholarly consensus now attributes to William Shakespeare and John Fletcher--both resident playwrights for The King's Men acting company. The show featured nine actors from the Guerrilla Shakespeare Company [I am not sure why "guerrilla" is spelled with two r's.] This play was likely first staged at the Blackfriars indoor theater. Clearly this is not among the best of The Bard's works, of course, but it moves me just a bit closer to my quest to complete the canon, which it looks like I will be able to do before the end of this school year.

January 16, 2010

Am I A Trainspotter?

Interesting piece in today's New York Times on people like me trying to complete the Shakespeare canon by seeing each of The Bard's plays in performance. (Though I'm not sure about the reference to "trainspotters"!) The English couple described in the article took twenty years to complete the quest. Looks like I am going to finish the cycle in about 25 months!

January 20, 2010

Shakespeare In Brooklyn


The Bridge Project mounted a terrific As You Like It, which I caught at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theater tonight. The play depends heavily on strong acting in two particular roles, I think: Rosalind and Jaques. Juliet Rylance and Stephen Dillane were wonderfully up to the task. Production values were outstanding, as well: sets and lighting created a bleak, snow-covered Arden Forest in winter, as well as a lush version in full bloom for the later acts. And a small band of musicians added to the atmosphere effectively.

February 2, 2010

The Last Piece Of The Puzzle


I just ordered a ticket to a Timon Of Athens performance on June 10 in Boston, which will be the last of the 39 plays in the Shakespeare canon I'll have seen staged. I plowed through this list in a little over two years (and I even included Edward III and The Two Noble Kinsmen--which some scholars don't consider part of the "official" canon--in my quest).

February 1, 2010

The Wooden O


This summer's season at Shakespeare's Globe in London is "Kings And Rogues," and I have booked tickets for three of the history plays--Henry VIII, Henry IV Part One, and Henry IV Part Two--around the beginning of August. Shakespeare's Globe is a recreation of the original outdoor space used by The King's Men in the early 1600s and it's a fantastic place to see productions of The Bard's plays in period costume.

February 13, 2010



I left the Choate campus about 3:00 this afternoon to drive down to the University of Delaware campus for a performance of Cymbeline, one of the few remaining plays in the Shakespeare canon I had not yet seen. It was an easy--if lengthy--drive, but the play was worth it. This work is an under-appreciated gem, with an intricate plot that weaves together elements found in a handful of the Bard's other plays. This production was staged by the graduate students in the university's drama program and the acting and production values were quite good. The theater was a black box, with seating on all four sides and the show employed no scenery to speak of and very few props. This kept the focus squarely on the language and the action, and thus was a memorable evening's entertainment.

February 16, 2010

Our Revels Now Have Ended


The Tempest is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays and I battled through the snowstorm in Connecticut to get down to Brooklyn to see it tonight (New York City has virtually no snow on the streets, while there is over a foot on the ground back home). I've now seen all four productions by The Bridge Project, an Anglo-American collaboration that stages two plays in repertory and takes them around the world for the better part of a year. Last year in the inaugural season for this company, The Cherry Orchard and The Winter's Tale were paired; I saw the former in New York in the winter and the latter in London in August. The cast of tonight's play was the same one I saw perform As You Like It a few weeks back.

I liked this version of The Tempest. British actor Stephen Dillane was a marvelous Prospero in particular. The sets and lighting were inventive, with the rear of the stage filled with a couple inches of water. The play was staged without intermission, running a bit more than two hours, but it was engaging throughout.

February 20, 2010

Closing In On The Canon


Here is an update on my progress seeing all of Shakespeare's work staged. I am within a few months of completing my quest.

Thank God for the Internet; without the Web, I don't know how I would have tracked down some of the more obscure theatrical offerings I have arranged. For example, a little Shakespearean company in New Jersey is staging the Wars Of The Roses plays (all three parts of Henry VI along with Richard III) in the space of one day in early March, dubbing the experience the "War-A-Thon." Attending this enables me to knock off three hard-to-find Henry VI shows.

Here is what I have seen thus far (not counting anything I saw before the spring of 2008):

1. 4/24/08, Macbeth, Broadway
2. 6/20/08, Hamlet, Shakespeare In The Park, The Public Theater, New York City
3. 6/26/08, King Lear, American Shakespeare Center, Staunton, VA
4. 6/27/08, Twelfth Night, American Shakespeare Center, Staunton, VA
5. 6/28/08, Measure For Measure, American Shakespeare Center, Staunton, VA
6. 7/3/08, All's Well That Ends Well, Shakespeare & Co., Lenox, MA
7. 7/18/08, The Comedy Of Errors, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, OR
8. 7/19/08, Othello, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, OR
9. 7/22/08, Romeo And Juliet, Old Globe Theater, San Diego, CA
10. 8/8/08, The Merry Wives Of Windsor, Shakespeare's Globe, London
11. 8/9/08, The Taming Of The Shrew, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford, U.K.
12. 8/13/08, Much Ado About Nothing, Oxford Castle, Oxford, U.K.
13. 9/9/08, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hartford Stage Company, Hartford, CT
14. 10/3/08, The Tempest, Classic Stage Company, New York City
15. 5/14/09, The Merchant Of Venice, Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York City
16. 6/13/09, Julius Caesar, Stratford Festival, Stratford, ON, Canada
17. 6/20/09, Henry V, Richmond Shakespeare Festival, Richmond, VA
18. 7/10/09, Pericles, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Garrison, NY
19. 7/19/09, Titus Andronicus, American Shakespeare Center, Staunton, VA
20. 7/26/09, Two Gentlemen Of Verona, Colonial Theater, Westerly, RI
21. 7/28/09, Antony And Cleopatra, Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, Center Valley, PA
22. 8/1/09, As You Like It, Shakespeare's Globe, London
23. 8/1/09, The Winter's Tale, The Old Vic, London
24. 8/16/09, Troilus And Cressida, Shakespeare's Globe, London
25. 8/22/09, Henry IV, Part 1, Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, Philadelphia, PA
26. 8/26/09, Henry VIII, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, OR
27. 8/28/09, Coriolanus, Old Globe Theater, San Diego, CA
28. 9/27/09, Richard III, Chicago Shakespeare Festival, Chicago
29. 10/28/09, Love's Labour's Lost, Annenberg Center, Philadelphia, PA
30. 12/10/09, King John, Williams College, Williamstown, MA
31. 1/10/10, The Two Noble Kinsmen, Guerrilla Shakespeare Project, New York City
32. 2/13/10, Cymbeline, University of Delaware, Newark, DE

(I have seen some of these plays two or three times in the last two years, but I am only counting the first viewing in tallying the canon.)

And here's what I have on tap in the next few months (I already have booked tickets for each of these shows):

33. 3/7/10, Henry VI, Part 1, Collingswood Shakespeare Company, Collingswood, NJ
34. 3/7/10, Henry VI, Part 2, Collingswood Shakespeare Company, Collingswood, NJ
35. 3/7/10, Henry VI, Part 3, Collingswood Shakespeare Company, Collingswood, NJ
36. 4/3/10, Richard II, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Washington, DC
37. 4/13/10, Edward III, Richmond Shakespeare Festival, Richmond, VA
38. 6/10/10, Timon Of Athens, Actors' Shakespeare Project, Boston, MA
39. 8/1/10, Henry IV, Part 2, Shakespeare's Globe, London
(Technically I saw Henry IV, Part 2 as part of a combined Henry IV production a Lincoln Center some years back, but I am not counting that as part of this series.)

Fitting, I think, to finish my quest in the recreated Globe Theatre in London!

March 7, 2010

Gearing Up For The Wars Of The Roses


I am driving to New Jersey this morning to spend most of the day in the theater, seeing the "War-A-Thon," which is all three parts of Henry VI along with Richard III performed by the Collingswood Shakespeare Company.

March 11, 2010

There Ain't Nothing Like A Dame


Judi Dench was the star attraction in the Rose Theatre's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Kingston-upon-Thames, not far outside of London. Her Titania was clearly the center of this Peter Hall-directed production. I took the bus straight here here from my afternoon flight to Heathrow, settled into my hotel, and walked to the riverbank to this shiny new two-year-old playhouse based on the original Shakespearean theater in the city.

March 5, 2010

Equivocation Redux


I saw a second production of Equivocation in New York tonight; I liked the play a great deal when I saw its premiere outing in Oregon last summer and wanted to see if this version was any better. It wasn't, I think, but this still was an enjoyable show. I know a bit more about the background--the Gunpowder Plot, the King's Men (Shakespeare's theatrical company), and the Catholic vs. Protestant angle in late 1500s and early 1600s England--now than I did the first time I saw this play, and so was more attuned to some of the details in the work. Pretty provocative stuff.

March 7, 2010

Henry VI


So I knocked off the Henry VI plays--the ones I thought would take me longest to cross off on my quest to complete the Shakespeare canon. I was in the theater from 10 this morning until about 5:30 this afternoon, and decided to pass on the last installment of the War-A-Thon, which was Richard III--I have already seen this play and likely will see it again soon, and I clearly needed a break. I am very glad I got to see this production and liked the Henry VI trilogy a lot more than I thought I would. I can see exactly what parts of these works I will want to excerpt for my spring term class on Shakespeare's history plays.

March 18, 2010

Knee Deep In The Bard


I've been using a good bit of time this week prepping my new spring course, "Shakespeare And The Death Of Kings," about the history plays. It will include Richard II, both parts of Henry IV, Henry V, Richard III, and King Lear. I've got the syllabus more or less set at this point and am fleshing out paper assignments and support materials. I've also prepped much of the first play so I can hit the ground running next week.

April 3, 2010

The Fall Of A Poet


I saw Richard II on stage for the very first time today here in the nation's capital. Michael Hayden (who will step into the title role of Henry V tonight) assembled a most impressive performance as the king. The play started with a couple of scenes I was entirely unfamiliar with, and I was pretty confused before the action got to the Bolingbroke/Mowbray "trial" scene and the familiar elements of the text I had both studied and taught. It turns out this production incorporated material from an anonymous play (sometimes attributed to Shakespeare) about Thomas Woodstock; these scenes lengthened this particular version of Richard II, but certainly added a useful context to anyone in the audience unfamiliar with this era in British history. Overall, an impressive staging, with very good acting and first-rate production values.

The Warrior King


The second play in today's Shakespeare double bill was Henry V. I sat up in rear of the balcony for this one (a few of us were to the right of the stage and very close to the action this afternoon for Richard II). Like the earlier show, this production might have benefited from a bit of cutting to keep the overall length a bit more manageable, but it was similarly well executed. Michael Hayden's Henry was very different than his King Richard (and appropriately so) and the acting throughout the cast of about 30 was of a high caliber. I thought there were some missed opportunities for humor from the Welsh captain Fluellen (this character had the audience in stitches when I saw the play outdoors in Richmond, Virginia, last summer). But it's clear that The Shakespeare Theatre Company is indeed a top-flight acting troupe and knows it's business when it comes to producing the Bard's works.

March 24, 2010

Brando's Marc Antony


I showed my Shakespeare class the 1953 film Julius Caesar tonight to introduce some of the themes we will be covering in this course on the history plays. Marlon Brando is great as Antony in this movie. As one whose first exposure to Brando was in his later life roles in Superman and Apocalypse Now, seeing him as a vital young actor in top form is pretty thrilling.

April 6, 2010

The Adventures Of Prince Hal


I am really enjoying teaching Henry IV, Part One this week. So much good stuff in this play!

April 3, 2010

The Folger Library


Our party of five young scholars and one teacher left Wallingford at 6:15 this morning, made good time driving south to DC, picked up another student at Union Station, and then checked out the Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill. Since we had plenty of time before our 2:00 curtain for Richard II, I wanted to show the kids some of the First Folios (the collection of 79 is the largest in the world) on display in the exhibition hall. We lucked out while there, as we got to watch the resident acting company rehearse the final scene of Hamlet for an upcoming production in the Elizabethan theater in the building.

April 13, 2010

Destination: Richmond


In an unusual midweek getaway from boarding school life, I am flying down to Richmond, Virginia, tonight to see Edward III performed. My flight back departs at 5:43 tomorrow morning, so I'll be at work in Wallingford mid-morning before my team's trip to Northfield Mt. Hermon.

Edward III is a play only recently considered part of the Shakespeare canon. It's very rarely staged, so this is an unusual chance to catch this work in performance.

Penultimate Play


I saw the rarely-performed Edward III tonight presented as a staged reading by the actors of the Richmond Shakespeare Company. This work is one that has been commonly accepted in the Shakespeare canon only in the last couple of decades. Lots of echoes of Henry V in the second half of the play, what with the fighting in France and the heroics of Edward the Black Prince ("Ned"). There were about 15 actors performing in front of an audience maybe twice that size. I guess this one-night-only take on Edward III brought out just the die-hard crowd!

I now have seen 38 of the 39 Shakespeare plays on my list. All that's left is Timon Of Athens, which I am scheduled to see in Boston in early June. (And I'll see both halves of Henry IV in London on August 1, which technically will be the true end of my quest, since I've seen Henry IV, Part Two only in the conflated version in Lincoln Center some years back.)

May 18, 2010

Round Trip To London For $200

I cashed in some miles from my credit card and was able to arrange a trip to London and back for a weekend at the end of July. My out-of-pocket cost for airfare--in peak season--was only $200. I have tickets to see four plays in two days, including three Shakespeare histories at the Globe: Henry VIII and both parts of Henry IV.

May 12, 2010

Locking In Shakespeare In The Park Tickets


I am a fan of the Shakespeare In The Park series staged each summer in New York's Central Park by The Public Theater, so I became a supporter in order to guarantee ticket access. This year, I will see The Merchant Of Venice (with Al Pacino in the title role) and The Winter's Tale--one of my favorite Shakespeare plays.

May 14, 2010

Returning To Lear


Today is the first day of King Lear in my EN437 class. This is the play I have taught most often in the past decade, but it's been a few years since I have done it. I have, however, seen it performed a few times in the interim. I find new things in this work with every exposure.

June 10, 2010

The Canon Completed


I have just finished seeing the entire canon of Shakepeare's 39 surviving plays produced on stage. Timon Of Athens--the last drama remaining on my checklist--was presented by a troupe called the Actors Shakespeare Project, and this show turned out to, perhaps surprisingly, a very compelling piece of theater, and well worth the trip up to Boston to see it.

I hasten to add I am not "finished" with the Bard in any sense. I still have a schedule of plays I intend to see all over the place this summer. And I am scheduled to take a course on Shakespeare's comedies and romances at Yale this summer. But it is nice to have a sense of closure to this challenge I set for myself two years back.

Hmmmm . . . what to do next?

June 13, 2010

A Blood-Drenched Macbeth


The production of Macbeth at Shakespeare's Globe was as good a presentation of "the Scottish play" as I've seen. The entire theater was done over in black, with a blood soaked backdrop, and groundlings in the yard--me included for this show--had the option of standing under a canopy extended from the stage with dozens of holes cut into it such that seemingly decapitated heads floated on a sea of black to take in the spectacle. And the show had its fair share of blood-drenched bodies and gruesome encounters, along with spooky music to add atmospheric effects. This take on Macbeth was a hellish one indeed!


June 19, 2010

A Masterful Lear


Greg Hicks is a spectacular Shakespearean actor. I saw his impressive turn as Leontes in The Winter's Tale last summer here at the RSC and this afternoon I watched him command the Courtyard Theatre as King Lear. Though a youngish Lear--whose age the text places at "fourscore and upward"--the fifty-something Hicks managed to convey an astonishing emotional range in this tragedy. Kathryn Hunter made the Fool work for me better than ever before, too. And the actors portraying Goneral, Regan, and Edgar were similarly top-notch. The nuances of the acting in this performance brought out elements of the play--the Shakespeare work I probably know better than any other--that I had never appreciated before.

Queen Of Egypt


The second half of today's RSC double feature was Antony and Cleopatra, featuring more or less the same cast as this afternoon's Lear. I was stunned to discover at the interval that it was Kathryn Hunter--whose Fool captivated me earlier in the day--who was playing Cleopatra. Her Queen of Egypt is very different from the usual portrayal of this character--the accent and almost raspy vocal shadings gave the role more of a exotic Earth Kitt-type vibe. While the diminutive actor doesn't convey sex appeal the way most actors who play this role do, there was no denying her chemistry with Darrell D'Silva's Marc Antony.

June 29, 2010

Exit, Pursued By A Bear


I was in Central Park tonight for the Public Theater's 2010 Shakespeare In The Park series. The Winter's Tale is in repertory with The Merchant Of Venice (I am scheduled to see the latter next Tuesday)

The Winter's Tale is one of my favorite plays by the Bard. It's a late play, a romance--not quite fitting into the usual breakdown of comedy, tragedy, or history. The cast was quite strong and the production generally solid. I saw two stagings of this play in England last August: the one at The Old Vic was The Bridge Project's presentation, which played around the world, and the other was the RSC's in Stratford. The Public's version tonight held up well next to those two excellent renditions.

And who wouldn't enjoy a night of al fresco drama at the Delacorte Theater, with the beautiful Turtle Pond visible behind the stage and a moonlit sky overhead on a clear summer's night?

July 6, 2010

A Pound Of Flesh


On a hot and humid evening in New York City, I watched the flip side of The Public Theater's summer Shakespeare In The Park repertory offerings: The Merchant Of Venice. Al Pacino's Shylock was the big name here, but the cast--most of whom appeared in The Winter's Tale that I caught last week--was very capable indeed. This was a gripping take on the play, and Pacino made Shylock generally sympathetic without undermining the character's complexity. The "comedy" aspects of the play--principally the relationship between Portia and Bassanio--worked quite well to balance the drama onstage.

August 3, 2010

The RSC's Glorious Summer In New York


In the summer of 2011, the Royal Shakespeare Company will be setting up shop in the Park Avenue Armory as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. The slate of plays to be transplanted from the RSC repertory has just been released: "King Lear" and "Antony and Cleopatra"--the two productions I saw in Stratford-upon-Avon in June--as well as "The Winter's Tale" (which I saw in in Stratford in 2009), "As You Like It," and "Romeo and Juliet." The latter two have garnered favorable reviews, so I will be aiming to snag tickets for these shows.

July 31, 2010

A Play Of Pageantry


Henry VIII is not performed all that often. This is a shame, because I think it's an underrated work. Scholars disagree as to how much of Shakespeare's hand is in the text. But no matter, it's a sweeping work about Tudor royalty and court intrigue best known for a couple of huge set pieces that offer a chance to display visually sumptuous costumes and sets. The OSF did that in its Elizabethan Theatre in the Ashland production I saw last summer. Shakespeare's Globe did the same tonight here in London. I appreciated the intricacies of plot a lot more the second time around, too.

July 10, 2010

Blackfriars Bound


Next weekend was supposed to be a Montreal getaway, centered around a U2 concert Saturday night. But since the tour is postponed until 2011, I canceled my plans to head north and today I decided to go south instead, specifically to Staunton, Virginia, where I will see two plays at the American Shakespeare Center: The Taming Of The Shrew and Othello. Booked both theater and Amtrak tickets this morning.

August 1, 2010

Henry IV Double Header, Part I


What a splendid play Henry VI, Part I is. And what a terrific job the company at Shakespeare's Globe did in bringing this piece of theater to life. With a wonderfully amusing and rascally Falstaff and a mischievous but calculating Prince Hal, the play hit all the right notes, and was equally adept in portraying the fun of the Boar's Head Tavern, the power struggles in King Henry's court, and the climactic battle between Hal and Hotspur.

Henry IV Double Header, Part II


Henry IV, Part II is a darker play than its prequel. The same cast I saw in Part I this afternoon adapted ably to the different material at the heart of tonight's play. While there was still plenty of buffoonery on hand among the denizens of Eastcheap, the resolve of the young prince on his way to becoming Harry the king was in evidence. The scenes between the prince and his dying father worked quite well. It was a treat to see the two parts of this story back-to-back like this. Six hours of theater can be a long time (and a butt-numbing experience!) but I was thoroughly dialed in during tonight's show.

July 22, 2010

A Midsummer Night's Play


No better circumstances under which to see A Midsummer Night's Dream than a comfortable July night on a lawn under the stars! Since one of my colleagues was playing Puck, there were a few other Choate folks in attendance. A fun staging of one of Shakespeare's most endearing and accessible plays.

July 17, 2010

Othello At The ASC


Othello at its best is hard-hitting stuff and I enjoyed the ASC's take on the tragedy. Good casting, of course, is the key: a deliciously manipulative Iago and a Moorish general who can be both an imposing leader and a gullible jealous husband are essential and the folks at Blackfriars were convincing.

The Taming Of The Shrew At The ASC


I love the approach to Shakespeare that the ASC takes: lightning-quick pacing, judicious cuts to keep the action to roughly two hours of stage time, lots of interaction with the audience, and appropriate injections of humor wherever possible. So this company has turned me around a bit on The Taming Of The Shrew. I've only seen this performed once before--two years ago in Stratford-upon-Avon--and if you asked me before today which of The Bard's plays was my least favorite, this one would be at least in the top three. But today I came to appreciate the work a lot more.

July 18, 2010

A Worthy Richard III


After a twin bill of Shakespeare yesterday, I drove to the Berkshires to join a newly-minted Choate graduate, one of the students in my spring class on The Bard's history plays, to see Richard III, one of the texts we studied. This was a strong production, probably the best of the handful I've seen at Shakespeare And Company. John Douglas Thompson tackled the title role with great energy and in general the cast and director made the most out of limited stage space and production values.

August 7, 2010

In The Forest Of Arden


The As You Like It I saw this afternoon was an engaging production, one that made me appreciate this play--one of my favorite Shakespearean comedies--in new ways. The previous stagings I had seen (at the Globe in 2009 and he Bridge Company at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last winter) were also quite good. It may speak to the strength of the play itself that a decent company might have to work hard to screw up this work!

Returning To The Stratford Festival


This is my second visit to the Stratford Festival, a annual season of theater--mostly, but not entirely, Shakespeare works--in Ontario. My weekend here starts with a "table talk" lecture in conjunction with lunch at the Festival Theater. Then I will see two of my favorite Shakespeare plays, As You Like It this afternoon, followed by The Tempest tonight.

Rough Magic


Christopher Plummer showed why his reputation is anchoring this summer's slate of offerings at the Stratford Festival by turning in a terrific performance as Prospero in The Tempest. At the age of 80, he was a commanding lead in this generally strong take on one of Shakespeare's last works. The modern indoor space at the Destival Theater gave this production the opportunity to do a lot more with effects to emphasize the magical qualities in the story: a hydraulic stage, extensive use of the trapdoor, dropping Ariel in from the ceiling, and top-notch lighting and sound design all added to the supernatural ambience.

August 17, 2010

Returning To Ashland


I am back in southern Oregon for the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland for a third straight summer. I will see five plays here this week before flying home early Friday morning. Ashland is a beautiful town nestled into the hills and boasting world-class theatrical offerings.

A Most Impressive Prince Of Denmark


Hamlet was presented as a matinee offering at the OSF today. The production was first-rate (though perhaps I would quibble with the choice of rappers presenting "The Mousetrap" play-within-a-play) and Dan Donohue's work in the lead role was positively stunning. This was as good a portrayal of the Danish prince as I've seen. Full stop. I expected good things from Donohue, have seen his excellent Iago in 2008's Othello in the OSF's Elizabethan Theatre, but was unprepared for just how masterful his Hamlet would be. Ample support from a strong Polonius and a very good Ophelia, too.

Prince Hal And Falstaff


Henry IV Part 1 is one of the Shakespeare plays I know best. Having seen a production in London just a few weeks ago with the best Falstaff I have yet seen, I was ready to be disappointed with this show, but there were some very strong elements in it worthy of praise, especially in the form of a compelling performance in the Hotspur role. Not everything the OSF stages is necessarily a triumph, but I have yet to see anything bad here.

August 18, 2010

Macbeth Via Kurosawa


The OSF's Throne Of Blood is a staged adaptation of the Kurosawa film which was loosely fashioned from the story of Macbeth. This tale of murder and mayhem was set in samurai culture and was a very effective piece of theater. The costumes were particularly stunning. Like "that Scottish play" this production was short (about 1 hour, 40 minutes with no intermission) but powerful.



Tonight was my second Merchant Of Venice of the summer and this one did not disappoint. Though I've seen better Bassanios, the OSF's Shylock was first-rate. Lots of good energy and appropriate pathos assembled in this production.

August 19, 2010

A Sublime Comedy


If one is going to see a Shakespearean comedy under the summertime night sky, Twelfth Night (like A Midsummer Night's Dream) has to be at the top of the list. This was a particularly funning evening of theater and made good use of the material with some inventive staging and production values.

October 13, 2010

The West End Comes To New England


When setting up my post-Christmas travel, I investigated trying to get a ticket to see Derek Jacobi portraying the title role in King Lear. It's playing at the Donmar Warehouse and is a tough ticket to get, apparently. But the NT Live series is broadcasting this production in high definition all around the world later this winter, so I will see such a transmission in Amherst in February rather than try to hunt down a ticket to see it in person. So instead, while in London on New Year's Day I will see the NT's production of Hamlet.

October 21, 2010

Rome And Egypt


The Hartford Stage Company has mounted a very strong production of Antony And Cleopatra--a tricky masterpiece to stage effectively. The theater has undergone a recent renovation and made good use of the improvements with terrific set and lighting designs to capture the action in Rome, in Egypt, and at sea. But this play succeeds and fails based on the performances of its two leads; John Douglas Thompson and Kate Mulgrew were more than up to the task in presenting powerful but nuanced characters. A satisfying evening at the theater!

May 12, 2011

Sir Derek Jacobi's Lear


The Brooklyn Academy of Music hosted the Donmar Warehouse's recent production of King Lear, and this was probably the strongest staging of Shakespeare's masterpiece I've yet seen. Derek Jacobi was a formidable Lear and the actresses portraying Goneril and Regan were especially strong too, bringing out colors in these roles I had not seen before. The scene in which Gloucester has his eyes plucked out was never more violent than in this performance, though it worked well in context. The set was appropriately spare and all the production values seemed to click. A terrific night at the theater (and I was able to bring two students from "Shakespeare And The Death Of Kings," the senior English elective I am currently teaching).

May 22, 2011

Richard III In Beantown


I drove my class to Boston today to see Richard III staged by the English all-male theater troupe Propeller. For many of the kids, this was the first time they had seen a Shakespeare play performed. (We had finish reading the play about a week ago.) They liked the show, and I thought it was the most effective version of this play I have yet seen. The approach to the material created a nightmarish atmosphere through lighting, set designs, and very effective use of music. And the violence was over the top, in almost a black comic way. The actor portraying the lead was wonderfully seductive. A thoroughly engaging performance.

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