Monday, November 9, 2015

Women on Shakespeare: Clare Dunne as Prince Hal

Since most Shakespearean casts are male-heavy (and some are male-only), coverage tends to focus on men who create the work. Let's balance that out! This is #4 in my new interview series, Women on Shakespeare. I'm talking with the women who produce and perform Shak and related work.

Phyllida Lloyd's all-female company of Shakespeareans returns to the Donmar and St. Ann's with a Henry 4 set in a women's prison. Like the same team's Julius Caesar (St. Ann's, '13), it gives great female actors the chance to play great male roles, led by Harriet Walter. Clare Dunne returns with the company this month as Prince Hal to Walter's Henry IV. And she takes the time to email about the work.

Let’s start with Henry 4 and your work on it! It’s rare to see an all-female cast in Shakespeare, but not an all-male one. What facets of the play and playwright did this break with convention reveal to you?

A) That women and men are actually very similar. We can all identify with Hal's struggle to transform, please his parent, and grow up.

B) The term Woman was derogatory back then, and the treatment of hostess sometimes is very unfair. We capitalised on moments like that.

C) The scene of Hotspur and Lady Percy has so many layers when performed by two women. It unlocked the scene in a great way. You understand both sides of the marriage and eventually see Hotspur's tough mask drop. There is genuine love between them.

With the setting of a women’s prison, Ms. Lloyd doesn’t simply ignore her actors’ gender or ask you to play the roles ‘as men’. How does this complex approach to gender and sexuality affect your performance?

Actually, I first just aim to be physically more like a boy and to speak with lower resonance.

The prisoner as the basis of who I am lets me just make decisions quickly from a gut feeling and not worry about right or wrong. Because that's what the prisoners would do. I think the prisoner sets the actor free. Ironic.

What can you tell readers about Hal? What’s the most difficult part of the role? 

Difficult to think of myself as Royal—I'm Irish for god's sake! 

Then what’s surprised you about him?

Surprised me? The sheer scope of journey. What he thinks he knows versus what he learns by experience. 

Is there a choice he makes, or a speech he gives, that’s helped you find your way into the role?

The speech "Do not think so. You shall not find it so" is a good turning point, plus, underneath it all, he just wants his dad to love him. Also here he realises he now has to do what he promised. Before this he was all talk and no action.

Have you seen the play before? Have you played any of its other roles?

No. I saw a TV version but it didn't affect my playing. I saw Druid do it this summer but I had already played Hal before by then, so for me it was actually lively to just look at him from the outside in!

In a few interviews online, you’ve mentioned Harriet Walter’s influence on your career. Now you’ve played her wife & rival in J. Caesar and her son in Henry 4. What have you picked up from her, acting-wise?

A lot about using the words and trusting to follow through on a thought or a line. It does the acting for you! She's generally so nice to work with. Very generous.

What’s your background in Shakespeare and other classics? Do you think training is necessary to play Shakespeare?

Background: a couple of projects in drama school. I've read about verse-speaking, picked up tips, etc.

But no: training is not necessary to enjoy speaking this language. It's in us. It's instinct and words and you are expressing something to another human being. Are you human? Can you read? Do you ever try getting something across to someone? Yes, every day. Then you can for his.

Do you have any particular Shakespearean roles you’d love to perform? Not just the women either—any dream-roles traditionally played by men?

Macbeth maybe. Falstaff! Cleopatra.

In Henry 4, Shakespeare pointedly excludes women in the political arena, in the scene with Lady Hotspur. How do you try to reconcile his 16th-century views of women with your 21st-century ones?

Basically we just follow our guts and play the scenes human to human. I think context and direction help underlay political themes or views. I think just seeing us play all the roles says a lot in itself.

Don't really understand this question sorry!


The Donmar Warehouse's Henry IV runs from Nov 6 to Dec 6 at St. Ann's Warehouse in Dumbo.

photos  Helen Maybanks
photo 1  Clare Dunne
photo 2  Clare Dunne, top, with Jade Anouka

Monday, November 2, 2015

Women on Shakespeare: Christina Pumariega as Adriana

Since most Shakespearean casts are male-heavy (and some are male-only), coverage tends to focus on men who create the work. Let's balance that out! This is #2 in my new interview series, Women on Shakespeare. I'm talking with the women who produce and perform Shak and related work.

Christina Pumariega has been on an all-boro tour with the Mobile Shakespeare Unit and The Comedy of Errors. The MSU is part of the Public Theater, bringing free plays to prisons, shelters, and other community centers across NYC. Coming off the road, Pumariega emailed with me about Adriana, the "skyrocket" of Shak's comedy.

I’m a big fan of the Mobile Shakespeare Unit’s mission. How does its primary audience of non-traditional theatergoers affect the company’s approach to this Comedy of Errors?

"Accessibility" was the word that continually came up in rehearsals. Our director prioritized it, our company mined for it, our designers translated it, our producers advocated for it, again and again and again. Everything we've made in our Comedy of Errors has been in pursuit of inviting audiences to step into a world that's relatable, familiar, funny, and true. Even though the events that transpire are ridiculously heightened, as a team we worked towards meeting the truth in every scene, often confronting audience members with our jokes and insults and ideas face-to-face. And I think every member of our cast can attest to these "non-traditional theatergoers" as hands down the best audiences in the five boroughs.

What sort of aesthetic does Kwame Kewi-Armah bring to Comedy?

Kwame's concept for this Comedy brings us to the ultimate American border town, where Ephesus and Syracuse parallel South Texas and Mexico, a region that historically, depending on who you talk to from that area, cannot simply be divided by one single line or mandate. This grey zone is far more dangerous for some than others, and Kwame really sought to explore how political corruption, capitalism, and currency dictate the value of human life in a rich country shoulder-to-shoulder with a poor one. These are extreme people living extremely now, and Kwame encouraged us towards the reality of what it means to be "other" in corrupt, materialistic Ephesus. What's incredible about this play is everyone at some point or another feels the sting of this indictment.

Have you seen or performed in Comedy before?

I've never seen or performed in The Comedy of Errors prior to our Mobile Shakespeare Unit production. I actually think it's lucky that such an old play has been a brand new one for me. It's enormously freeing.

What have you discovered about the play? or about Shakespeare in general?

Every day we find dozens of new discoveries. And that's largely due to our audience. Touring has reminded me never to take for granted how completely different every audience is, simply in playing one different environment after another. The moment you assume how the story will unfold in front of people you rob them of all the discovery that lies in you as a storyteller.

What’s surprised you about Adriana? What’s the most difficult facet of the role?

Before we started rehearsing, a director friend gave me some advice about her. She emphasized how Adriana does everything out of love. I thought, “Oh yeah of course. That's a given. I love my husband. Sure.” But in skyrocketing from one tactic to the next, one emotion to another, I found conveying real love to be quite difficult.

It's the seesaw I ride every time we play. How to navigate someone powerful and sensual who knows her mind, but is shaped by fear. Every day she looks and feels more and more familiar. And every day I try to love with more bravery, less abandon.

Have you acted in Shakespeare or other classics before this?

I've acted in a good deal of Shakespeare and Jacobean plays, yes. Inevitably there are always very few women in the room, which honestly just makes things dull and dusty. That isn't the case with our production, I'm very proud to say.

Do you believe training is necessary?

I don't think formal training is necessary. Often I think rigid approaches to text work get in the way and keep me from trying new things on my feet. Still, for me classical plays require access to lots of breath and tons of curiosity. And these things aren't mutually exclusive.

Do you have any particular Shakespearean roles you’d love to perform? Not just the women either—any dream-roles traditionally played by men?

Few of the women's roles are on my list, because I've seen a lot of killer Rosalinds and Lady Macbeths and Imogens and Cleopatras. I'm very interested in playing some of those men's roles: Mercutio, Cassisus, Iago, Hamlet.

Shakespeare writes complex women, but he often begins with negative types. In Comedy, for instance, he plays with audience expectations of a shrewish wife and her good-girl sister. How do you try to reconcile his 16th-century depictions of women with your 21st-century views?

I reconcile it probably the same way most actresses do, by trying to make these bottomless needs real. The size and scope of that desire often seems towering on the page, but Adriana's fear or jealousy or love is just as real as any other human at the end of their rope. She is mouthy and muscular and that reminds me of women I know, especially the Italian and Cuban women who raised me. They make a lot of uncomfortable noise, but they fight for love ferociously, and in doing so they demand to be heard.


The Mobile Shakespeare Unit's Comedy of Errors runs from Nov 1 to 22 at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street. Tickets are $20.


photos  Joan Marcus

Friday, October 16, 2015

Women on Shakespeare: Elisabeth Preston as Banquo

Since most Shakespearean casts are male-heavy (and some are male-only), coverage tends to focus on men who create the work. Let's balance that out! This is #2 in my new interview series, Women in Shakespeare. I'm talking with the women who produce and perform Shak and related work.

This month, the role of Banquo in Fab Marquee's Macbeth is Elisabeth Preston. This production has subverted the traditional hetero casting of Macbeth in a big way. Both Macbeths are gay males, Duncan is a queen, the witches are slaves. I also saw Preston in an all-female Restoration comedy in 2014, so I emailed with her to talk about about Shakespeare and gender onstage.
Preston (r) with Mel House
in Fab Marquee's Macbeth

What was your first experience with Macbeth?

The first time I read Macbeth was in high school, and I absolutely hated the text. It felt like a silly ghost story with witches, spells, Highland mists, war, murder, and a stage littered with dead bodies… your typical Shakespeare tragedy! Hence my aversion and avoidance of the play for years, until I was asked to participate in an evening of performances for the Actor's Equity Association promoting gender-blind casting. Rebecca Patterson, founder and artistic director of the Queens Company asked me to play Macduff, in the scene where he is confronted by Malcolm, the rightful heir of Scotland. For the first time, I understood the incredible nuances and subtle shifts of the play, the political powers at work, and the humanity that can be revealed when a person is left with no other options but to fight for their life. When I saw that Tom, Antonio, and David were producing a non-traditional casting of the show, my heart absolutely leapt. I knew I had to challenge my fears, suppositions, and knee-jerk dislike of the play and give it a second chance.

Can you tell us more about the non-traditional casting?

This production intrigued me because they made a male role a female one instead. By virtue of changing the gender, the relationship, words, and moments between she and Macbeth open up to possibility. In the original text, Banquo is a Lord of Scotland who fought valiantly side-by-side with Macbeth. They are men who experienced the unspeakable horrors of war together, a camaraderie that is profound—making [Macbeth's] betrayal of Banquo that much more poignant. This relationship is still intact when Banquo is a woman, but in light of our modern military system, I found the construct of a woman fighting valiantly alongside an openly gay man quite intriguing given sexual harassment against women and the history of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

Preston (r) as a libertine
in the Queens Company's Sir Patient Fancy
I saw you a few years ago in Sir Patient Fancy with the Queens Company. You played a rake in that show, and here you play Banquo, a warrior. Have you played any other male roles?

I've played men several times, and oh how fun it is to wield a sword! When I play a man, I enact a handful of physical gender cues that help ‘sell’ the gender switch. I’ll pitch my voice down, keep a wide stance, and do the NY subway ‘man spread’ when I sit. Aside from those cues, I focus on the words and story, making it clear and heartfelt. In this way, my hope is that audiences are able to see the common human experience, which is something that transcends gender.

Do you have any particular Shakespearean roles you’d love to perform—male or female?

Oh they’re all so good. Can you imagine performing the entire canon, and saying all of Shakespeare's words?! Is life long enough and could opportunity provide?! What an insight into humanity that would be…

How do you feel about training to play Shakespeare?

Training is not necessary to love, enjoy, or perform Shakespeare, but education (via life or academia) helps to unpack and enrich the experience. I knew that if I wanted to make a living performing, I'd need a little help. After getting my undergraduate degree in Theater at the University of Kansas (special thanks to Paul Meier), and an MFA from the University of Florida State Asolo Conservatory, I was better equipped to be a more resonant artist. And that's all I've ever sought to do: speak Shakespeare's words with resonance, clarity, and truth. It's surprising the amount of work it takes to stand on stage and tell the truth in front of an audience.

Preston (r) with Antonio Minino
in Fab Marquee's Macbeth
Shakespeare has some—let’s say ‘problematic’ views about women. This play, for instance, paints powerful women (Lady Macbeth) and sexual ambiguity (those bearded sisters) in dark tones. How do you try to reconcile his 16th-century depictions of women with your 21st-century views?

The canon is certainly a reflection of its time, and reconciling his views (a mirror of his society) with our contemporary views is easy. He wrote incredibly smart and funny women like Beatrice and Rosaline, those women existed then and they do today. He wrote politically persuasive and sexually powerful women like The Princess of France and Cleopatra. He wrote Desdemona, a women accused of infidelities she didn't commit and she was killed for it. All of this is a reflection of the place of women in society then, and is still an accurate reflection of women around the globe today. So while the sexual ambiguity of the witches may be painted in dark tones, this is a reflection of how his (and our…) society view ‘the other.’ So much has changed since his time, but really so much has stayed the same. His is the voice of the human experience.


Fab Marquee's Macbeth (of the Oppressed) runs from Oct 8 to Oct 24 at the Theater at the 14th Street Y (344 E. 14th Street).

Macbeth  Michael Dekker
Sir Patient Fancy  Bob Pileggi

Friday, October 9, 2015

Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream (Pearl Theater)

A Midsummer Night's Dream
playwright  William Shakespeare
company  Pearl Theater
theater  Pearl Theater

Mark Bedard, Sean McNall, Jason O’Connell, Joey Parsons, & Nance Williamson

director  Eric Tucker
choreography  Birgitta Victorson
set  John McDermott
costumes  Jessica Wegener Shay
lights  Eric Southern
sound  Mikail Fiskel  

An exhilarating Midsummer at the Pearl reduces the show to five players, a bare stage, and no props. Yet it may be the most visually stunning production I’ve ever seen. Throughout the show, the actors mutate and contort themselves to create strange stage images and impressive CGI-like metamorphoses. The show opens with a performer aping a gorilla. Then Duke Theseus and his train arrive to hunt, bate, and shoot the beast. This is Midsummer influenced by Lynch and Cronenberg, and its fairies are the stuff of Guillermo del Toro’s nightmares.

The no-prop, all-physical style frees Jason O'Connell from the masks and prosthetics that obscure most Bottoms. O’Connell plays the part as an everyman who’s vaguely aware of and disturbed by his transformation into a monster. Opposite him, Joey Parsons makes Titania an impressively uncanny presence, moving her arms in slow ripples to suggest the billowing of her gown as her Titania floats regally in the air. Her sexual conquest of Bottom has an element of rape to it, with her fairies dragging him into an S/M scenario with no safe-word. In this Midsummer, the love-flower is a thorny trident that gets stabbed into the victim’s eyes.

Eric Tucker, the director, has already established himself as an inventive interpreter of Shak with Bedlam Theater and with Women of Will, a two-actor feminist perspective on Shak’s career. He reaches a new level with Midsummer by finding a stage correlative for the alchemy of Shak’s poetry. His performers alter their bodies in the same way that metaphor transforms an image. Throughout the play Puck describes his power of transformation, and it’s the core of O’Connell’s performance. His Puck is mercurial as the Genie in Aladdin, taking regular form as a buzz-winged demonoid.

The human characters swat at this hornet-like fairy, who from their POV is insect-sized. This trick of perspective is a signature of Tucker’s; in Midsummer he also fractures time, moving back and forth in the play at strange moments. He repeats Puck’s claims of mutability, once as a soliloquy at intermission and then backwards at the return (like a satanic record). Tucker also revisits Bottom’s transformation from different POVs over the show’s three hours.

These two moments are the foundation of Tucker’s radical Midsummer. But what makes the Pearl’s staging (co-produced with the Hudson Valley Shak Festival) a work of genius is that it doesn’t sacrifice the play’s delights to its dark vision. The lovers are still full of delightful follies, and the clowns are as bumptious as ever. O’Connell may stand out as Tucker’s onstage surrogate, but all five actors cohere as an ensemble and have stand-out moments. The staging is protean and manic, but its action is always clear as day and at the service of Shak’s tale.

Tucker’s Bedlam is one of two New York companies who are rising to the challenge that Shak’s endless linguistic invention poses (the other is the Fiasco Theater). Both companies slim the cast size and double- and triple-cast actors, ignoring gender and type. They relax the realistic impulse that lies under most productions. By following the playwright’s lead—those plots, that verse, all the plays-within-plays—they prove (if any proof was needed) that Shak is great material for experimental theater. It’s too soon to call them the vanguard of a movement. But between this Midsummer and  Fiasco’s Two Gents last spring, NYC in 2015 is the scene of superb, forward-looking Shakespeare.


The Pearl Theater's Midsummer Night's Dream runs from Sep 8 to Nov 1 at 555 W. 42nd Street.

photos  Russ Rowland

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Women on Shakespeare: Joey Parsons as Titania, Hermia, and others

Since most Shakespearean casts are male-heavy (and some are male-only), show coverage tends to focus on men who create the work. Let's balance that out! I'm starting a new interview series on The Fifth Wall, talking with the women who produce and perform Shakespeare and related work.

For the inaugural entry, I emailed with Joey Parsons. She's a member of the Pearl Theater's acting company, one of the few NYC companies to remount classics like Shak and Shaw. This fall, Ms. Parsons is part of the five-actor ensemble in A Midsummer Night's Dream, a phenomenally inventive production directed by Eric Tucker.

Which roles do you play in this five-actor Midsummer?

I play Hermia, Titania, and Snout, with a smattering of Hippolyta and a few of Demetrius’ lines.

How do you manage all the shifts from role to role?

In terms of actorly techniques, I prepare differently for each production I'm fortunate enough to work in. For this Midsummer, I put a lot of thought into physicality. I was trained in ballet and several other dance techniques, and I find that thinking about how a character moves or stands really helps me. I tried to find one gesture for each character. Nothing too crazy, just a little physical thing to put me in that body. Hermia felt most like me, so her voice is my voice. Snout is a little more innocent and in love with Bottom (the way I’m playing her), so I found her voice to be a bit higher than my normal range. Titania feels of-the-elements to me, so I naturally put a bit more gravitas into her speech.

What sort of approach did Eric Tucker bring to rehearsals?

Eric was enormously collaborative and was always open to suggestions. In fact we had a half-joke amongst the cast to be careful what we would joke about in front of Eric because he would always say “Yes! Try that!” The fantastic way we end our production, with Puck getting smashed by Bottom, was actually a joke that Mark Bedard made during a break that Eric overheard!

Of course only five of us are playing all the characters, but I (and the audience, I hope) started to see how all of these story lines intersect and weave together. I used to see Midsummer as essentially three separate stories, but we’ve woven them all together in a fascinating way.

Did the rehearsals help you discover anything new about Shakespeare in general?

I’m remembering a wonderful interview with Mark Rylance in which he called for more irreverence in Shakespeare. I saw his marvelous Twelfth Night on Broadway, and couldn’t wait to work on some Shakespeare again so that I could try it in a looser, more playful way. The whole rehearsal process for Midsummer was about play. And so is the performing of it. If I’m not having a good time on stage, for whatever reason, it's because I am thinking too much and not playing enough. It’s like a wonderful meditation. I have to work at remaining present and playful.

Have you been in Midsummer before?

I’ve seen many productions of Midsummer, but I’ve never been in one before. It’s always been a bit of a cursed audition for me, because I’ve never been 'enough of', or I’ve been 'too much of', what they were looking for. I’ve always been told I’m too tall for Hermia, not tall enough for Helena, and not old enough for Titania. Years ago, I auditioned for a production where the director had asked me to prepare Helena. He clearly liked what I brought to the audition, but he thought I was too dark and short. So he asked me to take a few minutes and prepare Hermia. I did. He liked that, but declared me just not right for that either. He had me then prepare Titania: also just not quite right. And then after Titania, Puck! I didn’t book anything in that production! That director went on to cast me in several productions, so no hard feelings!

What about Midsummers you've seen? Have they influenced how you think about the play?

Most productions I’ve seen felt stodgy to me, and the three story lines were very, very separate. But I did see one production, years ago at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, which was set in space. Yes, space. It was kooky and playful, and was one of the first times I thought that it was actually awesome to not take Shakespeare so damn seriously.

Do you think training is necessary to perform Shakespeare?

We did a lot of Shakespeare work at Yale School of Drama. I did countless hours of text analysis and voice work on any given class assignment or production. I’m grateful for what I learned there, but I do have to say that I got way too in-my-head about it for many years. I convinced myself that there was a 'right' way to do Shakespeare, and that if I wasn’t doing hours and hours of text work, underlining all the antithesis, and pause breaks and breath breaks with all my different-colored pens, I wasn’t doing my job and I wasn’t a good actor.

This is not me criticizing my education or Shakespeare study in general. My experience is part of my inherent personality; I always want to get things right. And it was a good lesson for me in that there is no right. There is only clear communication. Whatever that means for an actor and a director. For years, I was concerned with correct inflection, not illuminated communication. That is my goal now.

How do you prepare now?

I do still like to underline, and I like trying to get the iambic pentameter correct. Although, at one point in this Midsummer production, Eric asked me to not do it 'correctly' on one of my lines because it sounded too stodgy and pulled the audience out of the story, and into the text. I totally got where he was coming from.

I have to say that most of my favorite 'Shakespearean' actors have not done extensive Shakespeare study. They simply try to make the text sound sensical. I auditioned for a lot of Shakespeare out of grad school, and didn’t book any for years. Then one day, I decided to treat my audition as an experiment, and I decided to do the opposite of everything I’d been taught. I booked that job!

Do you have any particular Shakespearean roles you’d love to perform?

I’ve been so fortunate to play some lovely ones: Rosalind, Lady Anne, Ariel, and many others. I always wanted a crack at Juliet, but as the late, great Mark Rucker once said to me: “Honey, you’d better get on that soon!” Perhaps someday Eric Tucker will direct a version of Romeo and Juliet, and as he loves non-traditional, gender-swapping, age-ignoring casting, I’d maybe get a crack at it! Lady Macbeth, Constance in King John, Beatrice, Kate in Shrew, Cleopatra, and oddly enough, Queen Katherine in Henry VIII. It’s a play that is hardly ever done, mostly for good reason, but her courtroom speech is astounding, and one that I often did for auditions early on in my career when they “just wanted to see a little Shakespeare.” I think directors who would ask me for a Shakespearean monologue always thought I was about to pull out some Ophelia, but then I’d launch into Queen Katherine. It always slightly shook them!

Any dream-roles traditionally played by men?

I never really thought much about men’s roles! But now that I think of it: Iago.

Shakespeare’s plays have some—let’s say ‘problematic’ roles for modern women. Do you try to reconcile his 16th-century depictions of women with your 21st-century views?

Great question. We spoke in rehearsal about how in Midsummer and in fact in most of Shakespeare’s plays, once a resolution of sorts has occurred, the women are rarely heard from again. In Midsummer, Hermia and Helena are onstage, but not heard from again (except in this production!).

I always found this perplexing. I played Isabella in Measure for Measure years ago, and I just couldn’t get over the fact that she never answers the Duke’s proposal in the end. She’s not heard from at all! A lot of productions have clever ways of solving this problem so that it seems like less of a problem. In the production I did, Juliet went into labor at the moment of the proposal and interrupted Isabella’s answer.

In Midsummer rehearsals, we spoke about how we didn’t think it was an oversight that most of the women are not heard from again, but a clear comment on what was 'expected' from married (and engaged) women in Shakespeare’s day and age.

What about how, in Midsummerhe gets comedic mileage from pairing a queen off with a monster?

In terms of Titania being paired off with a donkey, well, yes, I would find that 'joke' very hard to forgive. But technically, Titania doesn’t know yet that it was Oberon who played this trick on her. She may have an idea. But all she knows is that Oberon has awoken her from what she thought was a bad dream, she is beside a donkey, and a pair of lovers, and she is baffled as to what has actually transpired. The last interaction the audience sees between her and Oberon is this:

Come my lord, and in our flight
Tell me how it came this night
That I sleeping here was found
With these mortals on the ground.

The audience does not see the offstage fury that may ensue. I’ve been playing this line as though this is where I’m starting to suspect that Oberon may have had a hand in this. But then the scene ends. I’ve also decided to believe the standpoint that I love Oberon with the fire of a thousand suns, and that my passion and love and desire for him at that moment of forgiveness would trump any anger I had toward him.

Midsummer also has a pair of girls who are deliberately generic (to be fair, so are the boys). As an actor, how do you make these two roles into full-dimensioned women?

I find this so fascinating! I never thought of the girls as generic! Perhaps this is because of my audition experience—that I was always 'too much' or 'not enough' of what directors wanted. Helena wants a love that is not reciprocated. Hermia wants a love that is reciprocated, but is forbidden. The women’s varying physical traits are commented on several times within the play. Helena could be seen as a doormat or a stalker, but I find her determined and active. She is not passive. She knows her love is true, and after all, she was engaged to Demetrius before the play begins.

We joked in rehearsal how in previous viewings and readings of the play, we’ve all always confused the two men! In this production, the wonderful actors playing these parts have done a spectacular job of differentiating them and giving each one a special something. But in most productions, I must admit, I forget who is who, and whom is really in love with whom. Which, now that I think of it, in a really meta way, was perhaps Shakespeare’s intention all along. To create that sort of mild confusion that comes hand in hand with falling in love, before the real confusion even begins.


The Pearl Theater's Midsummer Night's Dream runs from Sep 8 to Nov 1 at 555 W. 42nd Street.

photos: Russ Rowland

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Shakespeare in New York: Autumn 2015 (part 2)

Last week I mentioned the dozen full productions of Shakespeare and related work in NYC. But that's not the extent of NYC's Shakesphere, which should also include readings, operas, and movies. And not to snub the good work Off- and Off-Off-Broadway, but NYC's most high-profile stagings this autumn are actually onscreen. First off, the Cumberbatch Hamlet will be transmitted live from London in October. Other broadcasts from the National Theatre and the RSC also pepper art-house cinemas all fall (I'm only listing the live ones, but you can catch re-airings too).

But the culmination of this autumn season is a legit-film version of Macbeth, starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. Here's a taste, courtesy the Guardian:

Locally, the Red Bull begins a new season of Revelation Readings, a crash course in Jacobean theater. I can't overstate how important the Red Bull is to New York's theater scene. Expanding the canon of classics, Red Bull mounts the plays that get overshadowed by Shak's titanic stature. AD Jesse Berger supplements his (invariably superb) stagings with a semi-monthly reading series. The first, The Man of Mode, is also a fundraiser for their upcoming Changeling. Though unaffiliated with the Red Bull, I urge you to contribute—even if you can't attend on Oct 26!

In the meantime here's the non-legit listings for NYC's Shakesphere: opera, film, and readings. Or my best effort at a complete listing, anyway. Also visit the Shakespeare Society for a listing of talkbacks to supplement all the shows in town! 
Metropolitan Opera
Sep 21-May 6
Verdi's intense and dramatic version of the Moor gets an acclaimed new staging—now without blackface!
NY Film Festival
Oct 2
Catch one of the greatest film adaptations of Shak, Kurosawa's samurai Lear

National Theatre Live
Oct 15
Everyone's favorite Cumberbatch plays Hamlet in London while you watch him in Manhattan!
Live theater in letterbox!
Cumberbatch as the melancholy Dane
The Man of Mode
The Red Bull at Playwrights Horizons
Oct 26
A reading/fundraiser for the vital Red Bull theater; the play's a Restoration comedy, with Michael Urie (Buyer & Cellar) as the quintessential fop, Sir Fopling Flutter
Public Forum: An Evening with Cleopatra
Joe's Pub at the Public
Nov 16
Christine Baranski plays the Queen of the Nile in an inquiry with takes by Shakespeare & Shaw
The Malcontent
Revel. Reading at the Lortel
Nov 16
This Jacobean tragedy, an early response to Hamlet, is caustic as battery acid
The Winter's Tale
Branagh Co. Live
Nov 26
Branagh transmits his staging from the West End, playing Leontes to Judi Dench's Paulina. NYC location TBD
Dame Dench bundles up as Paulina
for Branagh's Winter's Tale
The Atheist's Tragedy
Revel. Reading at the Lortel
Dec 7
This Jacobean drama has an atypically moral worldview, but it still brings the corruption, rape, & gore
limited release
Dec 4
Director Kurzel (Snowtown) earned acclaim at Cannes for his period take on the Scottish play, while Fassbender & Cotillard are v. good film actors & popular to boot
Every Man in His Humour
Revel. Reading at the Lortel
Dec 28
Ben Jonson populates an urban comedy with an aristo, a merchant's daughter, and half a dozen clowns