Thursday, July 29, 2010

Henry VI Part III

I agree--this Henry was terrific. It reminded me of an Ionesco play in a way. The play began with a chair dropping from the rafters and landing with a thud on the floor as audience members were chatting away from their seats. Then another hit. I noticed a pile of them were pushed off to one corner of the theater.

The story of the play is less complicated than it appears. There are dozens, or seemingly hundreds of characters here, but it is basically the story of Henry who, in his sunset years, no longer has the desire for the hurly-burly of governing:
My crown is called content:
A crown it is that seldom kings enjoy

His wife, meanwhile, sees this weakness as a threat to their royal line, and a band of usurpers want the crown for themselves. There is a remarkable amount of side-switching.

This production is propelled by some terrific acting. It was full of subtle, tiny gestures, like Henry's reluctant sigh when he once again must remove his crown, that stay safely away from over-doing it.

The play ends on a note that stayed with me. Henry ends the play slain, and blood pours from the ceiling dripping on his flattened body. The play ends, the actors take their bows, and still there he lies, and still the blood pours, a metaphor for the chaos that the politicking in the play as unleashed on society.

Before writing this post, I have to say that I scoured the Internet for reviews of productions of this play. Unsurprisingly perhaps, I could find none. If Henry 6 Part 3 is as capable of holding productions as terrific as this one, let's hope the future newspapers are filled with reviews of thsi play

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hooray for Henry

I didn't even manage to check the program once during Wide Eyed Production's Henry VI, part 3. It was three hours long, and the third part of a history play I knew nothing about yet the play had me hooked from the moment the action began with a chair falling onto the stage from the rafters.

Chairs were the only props, and an over-sized throne that was alternately used to represent a rampart or a torture device reminded me of a Tom Petty music video. This association may have been encouraged by a long-haired Nat Cassidy cast as Henry IV.

This was seriously excellent acting across the board. People died drawn out deaths proclaiming fabulous lines and managed not to seem melodramatic parodies ("Is nothing left me but my body's length" asks Warwick...).

The production decisions, from the carefully considered costumes to the utterly new reinvention of blood-spattering in the finale, were executed impeccably throughout providing the kind of stage support that really good actors deserve. Though all the performers, including the boy Rutland (Anthony Doqaj) were outstanding, of particular note were Moses Villarama as Clifford and Ben Newman as the future Richard III. Kelly McCrann also added an important note of naïveté to her role as Lady Grey/Queen Elizabeth. This was the best tragedy I've seen so far (a rich man's Titus Andronicus), and only partly thanks to the Bard.

Annualists, if not completists

While we struggle to balance busy summer schedules with New York City's penchant for more Midsummer Night's Dreams, here's a story dear to my heart. I find myself jealous of the folks featured here who have now completed their quest to see every Shakespeare play. It took them 20 years.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Love's Labour's Lost

While Love's Labour's Lost suggests that living beauties better deserve contemplation than books, I found myself quietly reading at the edge of the Drilling Company's recent Shakespeare in the Parking Lot production. I didn't want to. I just couldn't hear most of the play. The snatches of speeches I was able to catch seemed compelling, and Jordan Feltner in particular managed to project his voice consistently despite the obvious challenges of sirens and s.u.v.s pulling in and out of the parking lot.

There was a Chinese teenage couple nearby bitterly angry with one another who wandered through the lot and then stood at the edge, anguished in their frustration with one another. First he would hang on the wire fence showing cruel indifference, then with her fingers wagging in his face, she berated him. His arms crossed angrily over his chest he seemed at times to approach her and then suddenly to repell her as his anger rose to meet hers. I watched these two alternately between pages of my book. Sometimes the play grabbed my attention too. But the theater of life was just that much more compelling even if it was only the backdrop. The bright street lamps provided such comfortable night lights that I was still grateful to the Drilling Company for making the space habitable. But I was hardly convinced by Shakespeare's play that reading books is any less of a way to engage the world than acting in it.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

New York Classical Theatre's Richard III

I am more and more coming to believe that the New York Classical Theatre company is one of the real gems of this city. We saw an earlier production of theirs--Hamlet, at the World Financial Center--and it has still stuck with me, particularly the way that they transformed the mall-like confines of the WFC into a castle in Denmark.

The last play we saw of theirs was Richard III, a sprawling complicated work about the bloodlines of the British royals. The play is a long one, and the NYCT confidently pared it down so that we were out of there just after dusk.

There is something supremely democratic about these productions. The audience is not full of nodding graybeards, or "theater people" but New Yorkers of all kinds who munch on food and bring their dogs, and the shows gather more people as they go on.

I think my favorite part about them however is they insert their lines into the text in order to move the audience from place to place around (in this case) Central Park or use directions found in the play and highlight those to give us our cue. In Hamlet, for example, when Claudius ask Hamlet where Polonius is, he calmly responds, "In the lobby," and on cue, we are all rose to our feet and hustled down there where the next scene was awaiting us.

These lines happened throughout Richard III. "Sit down," one character says, and then, emphatically, when the crowd seems unwilling to follow, he repeats, "SIT DOWN!!"

"Make way for the king," another goes, as the king comes up from behind the audience, and we all scooched to make a path for him.

One final note: Sean Haggerty played Richard in this performance, and played him marvelously, in all of his sweaty, twitchy, conniving glory.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Across the bridge

An update to our own responses to the Bridge projects' plays: