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Posts Tagged ‘Folger’


John-Alexander Sakelos as Peter Quince, Jacob Ming-Trent as Bottom, John Floyd as Flute, Sabrina Lynn Sawyer as Snug

Friends and readers,

The summer is more than half over and I’ve not recommended any summer movies. I have urged as a perfect summer book the treat of an ironic romance, shadowing the gothic at its edges of off-stage of Valerie Martin’s Italian Fever, and tonight add (in haste, lest you miss it) the unmeaning (in the best sense) broad farcical fun at the National Building Museum of a Folger production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. A high compliment I can pay it is I felt at moments like I was back in New York City in the Central Park theater watching a Shakespeare play, for this MND like to many Central Park Shakespeare plays was doused in a feeling of local culture (African-American city style) and sentiment (here DC).  How happy those nights were under the stars.  This one had a little of that wondrous starlight at moments, and was also a community event:


Danaya Esperanza as Puck at the top; Rotimi Aghablaka and Nubia M Monks as Oberon/Theseus and Titania/Hippolyta on top; the four lovers on either side

I agree with Peter Marks it’s another savagely cut-down Shakespeare, and was done very broadly (precious little nuance was felt, so no sense of intimacy). Still, those central moments for the lovers in the forest, the players’ practicing and production, with the frame of Theseus/Hippolyta as Oberon/Titania(only it is he who falls in love with an ass) was enough. The best lines survived and then some.

Peter Marks omitted what was the fun: filled in was a lot of African-American and recent rock music, Jacob Ming-Trent mimicked a lot of African-American slang phrases and pop culture allusion as well as the culture itself (this Bottom rode an invisible motorcycle) as did the players to some extent and the framing of the noble and squabbling faery lover. Our Athenian pairs were left to be their usual selves. The dance and music performed by everyone immersed us. The faeries’ outfits were magical fantastical:


The same actors played the players as the faeries

I liked some of the costumes as outlandish bizzare: for example, Snug as Thisbe in the play


The red wigged braided hair is Thisbe; the other extravagant lady is Helena (Renea S. Brown)

I would not claim a lot of serious philosophic feeling about dreams and/or love despite what is interestingly claimed by Michele Osterow, in the program notes; what we are given rather is elusiveness and self-conscious self-reflexive ironic highjinks, e.g., Lilli Hokama as Hermia may be little but she is fierce, and tosses Hunter Ringsmith up to the sky.  My favorite moments came with Kathryn Zoerb as moon and Brit Herring as Wall (for whom, alas, I can find no photos). The director was Victor Malana Maog; Alexandra Beller, choreographer; and Tony Cisek (long time Folger person) did the production design.

When I could still see to drive at night and could come to night-time productions, pre-pandemic at the Folger itself they had another of these Midsummer Night’s Dreams, this one a movie with more sweet sadness and melancholy, elements missing here. But we are aging and in this at risk world of ours, don’t miss out on this vigorous or robust gaiety.

The stage and auditorium as a whole set up in a playhouse space:


Behind the scenes pre production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream stage play.

Ellen

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Mark Quartley as Ariel to Simone Russell Beale’s Prospero

Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves,
And ye that on the sands with printless foot
Do chase the ebbing Neptune and do fly him
When he comes back; you demi-puppets that
By moonshine do the green sour ringlets make,
Whereof the ewe not bites, and you whose pastime
Is to make midnight mushrooms, that rejoice
To hear the solemn curfew; by whose aid,
Weak masters though ye be, I have bedimm’d
The noontide sun, call’d forth the mutinous winds,
And ‘twixt the green sea and the azured vault
Set roaring war: to the dread rattling thunder
Have I given fire and rifted Jove’s stout oak
With his own bolt; the strong-based promontory
Have I made shake and by the spurs pluck’d up
The pine and cedar: graves at my command
Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let ’em forth
By my so potent art.
From towards the end of the play, Prospero

Dear friends,

However inadequately, I can’t resist writing about the current production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which I was lucky enough to be able to see on an HD screen at the Folger Shakespeare library last night. It’s astonishing. The producer is Gregory Doran, and Simone Russell Beale, Prospero. Paul Taylor is right to praise highly the play as experienced. Beale is brilliant, but it’s not the best performance of a character by him I’ve ever seen: he was utterly Falstaff in the Hollow Crown series, the best I’ve ever seen. What is remarkable is the production, direction, acting, the way the lines are spoken: what’s called “live motion capture” adds significantly to the experience or enhance some of the effects — at least it does not distract. The set places us inside a ship’s hold as if that’s the universe, with a floor of sand and water all about. The costumes, and body outfits for Ariel are what we expect but Caliban is something new: Joe Dixon is in a disturbing to look at body suit which makes us feel he’s living trussed up in chains around his chest, and the pain and awkwardness has swollen his stomach. His hindquarters (so to speak) are on display and one worries about possible torture. Trinculo is dressed as a Clarabelle clown, complete with horn on his side: Simon Tinder acts like a circus refugee from Waiting for Godot) Prospero, Miranda, Ferdinand, all the upper class characters are in the usual outfits but that works in context as effective. Michael Davies on the Stratford site writes of all this.

What’s astonishing about this production? I’m a lover of Shakespeare — I’ve read all the plays and poetry, and some of the plays I used to read over and over. When I was just a graduate student, I planned to write my dissertation on Cymbeline — so I especially love the late four romances. I have rarely in life found a production boring or unwatchable — only once in my memory of going to so many (there were years where I went to Shakespeare plays as often as I could in NYC) did I leave at the intermission. I say this to preface that The Tempest is still for me by this time often “sort of expected:” jokes I’ve heard before, a non-plot, so I sit and wait for the poetry and deep feeling moments.

Not this time. Everyone in this play were part of a tremendous sustained effort to make the play entertaining every single minute that passed, and it almost was. Not quite: I did think the masque somewhat overdone: the problem of the masque watched by Ferdinand and Miranda is often one not conquered in productions: I’ve seen puppets; I’ve seen attempts at comedy (undercutting), this production perhaps erred in the direction of too joyous (a wee bit forced). But otherwise the effect is from not just that every line and every pause seems to have been thought through to make it meaningful in a new or interesting way, but the ways in which the stage business was perpetually brilliant, inventive, humanizing. The way they moved their bodies, their use of accents (Tony Jayawardena as as West Indies Stephano, the butler), their gestures, and the tones of complicated complex emotion projected. Joe Dixon was a poignant Caliban. He was given time and space to speak slowly a number of Caliban’s famous speeches with an intense half-grieving gravitas, as when he tells Trinculo and Stephano about the noises they continually hear:

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.

I was riveted by a sense of intense alert attention paid. The effect is lightened by having Trinculo dressed as a silly clown and Stephano a dim-witted ship’s butler. Jim used to tell me of the creakings we’d hear from our attic, of the sounds when we first moved in (we probably had a rat in the house, at first there were insects, a woodpecker too), that I should not be afraid ,”the isle is full of strange noises …” and we are here together to talk. At the close of the play Caliban retires to Prospero’s cell to be in solitude.


The attempted rape of Miranda is the current subject here …

Taylor thinks it “a dream of David Hockney landscapes.” I thought of the strong originality of Mary Shelley’s hallucinatory Frankenstein. It’s as if Doran and all the designers were determined to match the gorgeously suggestive language Shakespeare uses of his own gifts. They were groups of fantastical dream creatures, each more unearthly and yet part of this spiritual island world than the one before. Some marvelous dancing — from overtly weird faery

to folk and pattern dances in which Miranda (Jennifer Rainsford reminds me of Julie Christie when young) and Ferdinand (Daniel Easton, perfect for the gentlemanly role) participate.

There was therefore much beyond and contextualizing Beale’s deeply effective voice and tone tragic and grave when he broke his staff, said his dreams were now ended, and every thought would end in the grave that evoked in my such a deep-seated sense of healing. Yes healing, if just for the moment of this presence communicating to me — a member of this audience — deep melancholy forgiveness — we do not forget what these men who cast him and his daughter ashore still are — with a desire to give over and die.

But this rough magic
I here abjure, and, when I have required
Some heavenly music, which even now I do,
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.

I just loved when he said after Miranda was married to Ferdinand, he would at long last tell what his life had been and then “And thence retire me to my Milan, where/Every third thought shall be my grave.” Someone has said to me that there is no pattern for someone who has lived the life I did with Jim to heal my grief. What I can find are presences in the world of thought, feeling, books, acting on films, stages, through music where I find peace because someone has understood. There is no norm for grieving, there is only tiredness, and it was a moment of joy I felt for Prospero because he forgave even if he saw the people were still not to be trusted. Only in the oblivion of the art of forgetting (that’s Samuel Johnson’s phrase) can any peace be found.

No need to miss it if you’ve an HDs screening theater which takes material from Stratford-upon-Avon (often ones which also broadcast HD screenings from the National Theater in London). The interval feature included next coming summer into fall when four Roman plays have been chosen as HD productions, each dealing with some relevant aspect of our political world today: in this order: Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Titus Andronicus, Coriolanus.

Ellen

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