Saturday, February 26, 2011

Shakespeare's Henry VI - To the YouTubes!

I've now finished reading Shakespeare's three-part early history Henry VI. Here are my brief thoughts on Parts One, Two and Three.

Productions of this early cycle of plays are rare, but I did find several productions of the play on YouTube.

The 1965 Royal Shakespeare Company production of The Wars of the Roses takes many liberties and does some rearranging.

The English Shakespeare Company put on the whole cycle split into two parts called "House of Lancaster" and "House of York."

There are also some good clips from a 1983 production of Henry VI part 3

It's tough to find the order of the clips, maybe if I have time I'll be able to organize them.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Shakespeare's Henry VI Part 3 - Embracing the Villainous, Pondering the Void

Richard, son of York, who later is to become the Richard the III of one of Shakespeare's most popular plays, makes quite an entrance at the beginning of the third and final part of the Bard's Henry VI trilogy.

Carrying the head of Somerset, York's rival, young Dick makes a grisly joke. All of the parties are speaking of how they fared in the battle when Richard raises Somerset's head and addresses it: "Speak thou for me and tell them what I did."

Shakespeare loves his villains. Joan of Arc is the remembered presence from Part 1, and the populist scoundrel Jack Cade breaks Part 2 open from the cloistered halls of the court into the frightening tumult of rebellion. Young Richard steals this show of this last installment, not by his stage time, but by the force of his eloquence and his voice. His evil intelligence is displayed by his ability to speak the declamatory language that he needs for the politics he must navigate with the other characters combined with his ability to manipulate US expertly.

For instance, here he sways his father to go for the crown:

Richard:Therefore to arms! And, father, do but think
How sweet a a thing it is to wear a crown,
Within whose circuit is Elysium
And all that poets feign of bliss and joy.
Why do we linger thus? I cannot rest
Until the white rose that I wear be dy'd
Even in the lukewarm blood of Henry's hear

And, when he is alone, with only us to listen, he arranges his verses to achieve our sympathy by pointing out his deformity, only to then reveal the darkness of his heart. But he is cunning enough to take us on the journey with him:

And yet I know not how to get the crown,
For many lives stand between me and home;
And I - like one lost in a thorny wood,
That rents the thorns, and is rent with the thorns,
Seeking a way, and straying from the way,
Not knowing how to find the open air,
But toiling desperately to find it out -

This is followed by an admission of his moral blankness:

I'll drown more sailors than the mermaid shall
I'll slay more gazers than Ulysses could,
And like Sinon, take another Troy.
I can add more colors to the chameleon
Change shapes with Proteus for advantages,
And set the murtherous Machevil to school.
Can I do this, and cannot get a crown?
Tut, were it farther off, I'll pluck it down.

Richard has two rivals for the spotlight in the play, though they are distant. One is Margaret, the other is, in fact, Henry VI himself, who is very overshadowed in the whole trilogy. Here he is a soul caught up in large circumstances, having trouble sorting it all out.

At a key point of the play, the King sort of wanders the fields and thinks on existence and his seeming impotence in the midst of it all. (The painting above is William Dyce's Henry at Towton.)He wonders if life would have been better as a "homely swain." Of course, it is a bit overdone, but it has the power to move though. And you can't read these sections without thinking of Hamlet.

Below is a video of a 1983 version of the 3rd Part of Henry VI - this clip ends with the Richard monologue I referenced above:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

IRNE Nominations are out!

The 2011 Independent Reviewers of New England have released their nominations for this this year's IRNE Awards!

The complete list is here.

Shakespeare's Henry VI Part 2 - Ambitious Animals

After the wild battles on the fields of France that ran all over the stage in the Shakespeare's Henry VI Part One, Part Two settles quickly into palace intrigue proper.

Nobody in the court of young Henry VI seems happy with the way things have turned out. In fact, the very central piece of the treaty worked out at the end of Part One - the marriage of Henry to Margaret - is shown to exist on a shifty foundation. Margaret is more attracted, it seems, to the sceptre of the Duke of Suffolk.

If there is a hero, a central protaganist in this play, it would appear to be the Lord Protector, Humphrey - Duke of Gloucester. He is dispatched quite early by murderers though. Sad, as he seems to see all the treachery about, and often comments about the dangers of ambition and false claims. Shakespeare even has Gloucester expose a false miracle!

What strikes me in this play is the recurring images, metaphors and similes of conniving or striving creatures in Nature. For instance, a scene of falconry gives way to a discussion of the heights of ambition and thoughts, and characters talk of their rivals as cunning or innocent animals.

Queen: Ah, what's more dangerous than this fond affiance!
Seems he a dove? his feathers are but borrow'd,
For he's disposed as the hateful raven.
Is he a lamb? his skin is surely lent him,
For he's inclined as is the ravenous wolves.

Salisbury gives warning to the King:

Salisbury:Yet notwithstanding such a strait edict,
Were there a serpent seen, with forked tongue,
That slily glided towards your Majesty,
It were but necessary you were wak'd,
Lest being suffer'd in that harmful slumber
The mortal worm make the sleep eternal.

Jack Cade, the rebel populist who leads the uprising that nearly overthrows the King, is described by the Duke of York as a dangerous porcupine.

Scorpions sting, crocodiles lie in wait, bird bushes are limn'd, and lambs are slaughtered.

Ambition is mentioned over and over, and even Cade, the villain that steals the show - much as Joan did in the first part, pronounces: "Fie on ambition!"

Perhaps the most lasting impression of this play will always be Gloucester's famous moment with his wife. He meets with her briefly after she has been sentenced to walk in punishment amidst the streets, (painting above is Edwin Austin Abbey's The Penance of Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester), and then to be exiled for her consulting with nefarious spirit-summoners about possibly gaining rank for Gloucester. It is a touching, but still complicated scene.

After she has departed, and Gloucester is murdered, Shakespeare is not done with this couple. For they are the obvious early prototype of the Macbeth's.

Another viewing option online for the Henry VI trilogy is the RSC production from 1965:

Friday, February 18, 2011

Shakespeare's Henry VI Part 1 - Hurlyburly, Indeed!

Even though it is his first play, (by many scholarly accounts,) Shakespeare's Henry VI Part 1 hints at great thematic mastery amidst its showy and, quite frankly, sentimental set pieces.

From the very first, the English, having suffered the death of Henry V, are cursing the stars and wondering about the effectiveness of prayer:

Duke of Bedford: Comets, importing change of times and states,
Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky,
And with them scourge the bad revolting stars
That have consented unto Henry's death...

In the very next scene, the French, led by Charles (Dolphin) enter ecstatic from their fortunes in battle and also turn thoughts to the heavens:

Charles: Mars his true moving, even as in the heavens,
So in the earth, to this day is not known.
Late did he shine upon the English side;
Now we are victors, upon us he smiles.

In the larger thematic structure, this is quite ironic, for as the play unfolds it is the squabbling, fickleness and mistakes of men that seem to influence the fortunes on the field. Both the French forces, (led by Joan of Arc,) and the English, (led by John Talbot,) capture, retreat from and then recapture objectives. Allies turn allegiances 180 degrees, and the brewing dispute between Somerset and York finally does in the brave Talbot.

One of Talbot's men, Sir William Lucy, comes to plead with Somerset to finally send the needed armies into battle - for Talbot cannot last much longer. However, he finds a less than sympathetic ear. Lucy tries shaming Somerset:

Lucy: The fraud of England, not the force of France,
Hath now entrapp'd the noble-minded Talbot:
Ne'er to England shall he bear his life,
but dies, betrayed to fortune by your strife.

And in the end, Joan of Arc herself is abandoned by the fiends that she conjures through spells (the painting above is William Hamilton's famous rendering of this scene.):

Joan: Oh hold me not with silence over-long!
Where I was wont to feed your with my blood,
I'll lop a member off and give it you
In earnest of a further benefit,
So you do condescend to help me now.

(The fiends hang their heads.)

No hope to have redress? My body shall
Pay recompense, if you will grant my suit.

(They shake their heads.)

Cannot my body nor blood sacrifice
Entreat you to your wonted furtherance?
Then take my soul - my body, soulod and all,
Before that Enladn give the French the foil.

(They depart.)

See, they forsake me!

Online, you can watch the English Shakespeare Company's production of the Henry VI cycle of plays. The clip below is the legendary meeting of Charles and Joan

Monday, February 14, 2011

Don't Swamp The Lifeboats

Seattle's Intiman Theatre is in big trouble, like, North Shore Music Theater trouble (for those from the Boston theatre community.)

They have to raise 1 Million by September, or they will have to close the doors.

Coming on the heels of NEA Chair Rocco Landesman's recent comments about the problem of supply and demand in the non-for-profit theater sector, it was inevitable that this announcement would prompt the question: Should the Intiman be saved?

Isaac Butler has posed the question on his blog, and several commenters from the Seattle community have weighed in there, including playwright Paul Mullin.

Mullin has expanded on his comments over at his own blog Just Wrought, and he wants to be very clear:

Allow me to honor the clarity of Intiman’s ultimatum with some clarity of my own: I hope they die. I hope they do it soon and with a minimum of suffering. And most of all I hope they do it without siphoning precious funds from the rest of us who make theatre in the Pacific Northwest.

In her note on the Intiman’s blog which I quoted at the top of this post, Artistic Director Kate Whoriskey invokes the ghosts of The Empty Space and The P-I as if she actually suffered their loss instead of showing up on the scene quite recently and long after those beloved institutions succumbed. She merrily previews the upcoming season: “I will be directing my husband in The Playboy of the Western World,” assuming we would be delighted by this nepotism. She must imagine we were similarly delighted when we learned that she had been hand-picked for her position by her predecessor Bart Sher without any input from the community, the patrons, and very little, it seems, even from board “Without the Intiman, will we be as strong?” she implores in closing. And all I can think of is the Lone Ranger joke. He and Tonto are surrounded by a band of Apaches. He says, “Looks like we might die here, old friend.” And Tonto replies, “What’s this “we” shit, Kemosabe?”

Seattle theatre is alive and thriving. Buy me a beer and I will name you at least 100 theatre organizations in Western Washington more deserving of your donation than the Intiman.

Some of my Boston readers may remember Kate Whoriskey as the "hand picked" protege of Robert Brustein. Fresh out of the ART Institute, she co-directed The Master Builder on the Loeb Mainstage in 1999.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Boathouse Window

Boathouse Window, originally uploaded by arthennessey.

File Under - Did They See The Same Show?

Terminus, Mark O'Rowe's interlocking monologues presented by the Abbey Theatre of Dublin, is on at ArtsEmerson. Two critics in town are suggesting you might not want to miss the show, but for very different reasons...

Don Acouin of The Boston Globe writes:

If Hieronymus Bosch were alive today and decided to turn his hand to playwriting rather than painting, he might concoct a nightmarish vision akin to that of Mark O’Rowe’s “Terminus.’’

In a mesmerizing Abbey Theatre production that will be at the Paramount Mainstage through Sunday, O’Rowe takes us on an allegorical odyssey through the evil that men (and a couple of women) do. “Terminus’’ is extraordinarily bleak yet streaked with redemptive moments, and even some flashes of humor.


It was a century ago, in September 1911, that the Abbey Theatre, cofounded by William Butler Yeats, launched its first American tour with a performance in the Hub of John Millington Synge’s “The Playboy of the Western World.’’

I’m not saying “Terminus’’ is destined for classic status. But now, as then, Boston theatergoers would be ill-advised to miss a provocative offering by a talented Irish dramatist.

Tom Garvey writes the following at The Hub Review:

You keep thinking it has to be a joke.

You think that when the heroine pops out the eyeballs of the crazed lesbian abortionist who's brandishing a sharpened spear. And you think it when she wakes up (after having been knocked out cold with a folding chair) to find a guy masturbating over her, ready to shoot. You think it when the other leading lady reaches orgasm with a flying demon made of worms. And you really, really think it when the serial killer is strung up by his intestines (which have been pulled out through his arsehole), and swings face-down from a construction crane, singing (I'm not kidding) "The Wind Beneath My Wings."

But it seems it's not a joke. Indeed, it's deadly serious (even though the audience every now and then breaks out into guffaws).


You keep waiting for some slightly arch phrasing, some flicker of an eyebrow, to nudge the whole thing into the hilarious parody of current pop culture it's screaming out to be. But no such luck; the stark lighting, the smashed set, the grim, downer line readings - they're taking this thing (and themselves) very, very seriously. And so I just don't want to acknowledge the director or designers or even the actors - they may be taking themselves seriously, but that doesn't mean I have to.

And you don't have to, either. Of course it would be rude to actually throw rubber eyeballs at the stage, but you can still do that mentally. And to be honest, theatre geeks may not want to miss this show; it has the aura of legend about it, as Carrie and Moose Murders did. People may be bragging that they saw it for years to come.

For the record, I literally was in the same theater as both men. However, I must have missed the show that Mr. Acouin saw - as I was seeing almost exactly the show Tom describes.

Doing a search on my tags, I found that I actually kind of reviewed the Abbey's production of Playboy of the Western World at the Wilbur back in 2004. Yikes, I didn't even remember writing that. Have I really been blogging that long?

Cutting the Bard

Over at 2AM Theatre, Director Kate Powers talks about where and how to cut Shakespeare:

Granville Barker wrote, “Topical passages …show like dead wood in the living tree of the dialogue.”

Sir Toby Belch, for instance, in Twelfth Night, refers to the Bed of Ware in England; there are great annotations to be read about the estimable size of the bed in question (think John Denver on The Muppets, singing “Grandma’s Featherbed” or The Witches of Eastwick, lounging with Jack Nicholson), but none of that research can be conveyed in performance, so my blue pencil goes gamely through it every time. Conversely, in the same play, Malvolio tells us that “the yeoman of the wardrobe married the Lady of the Strachy” and, even though there is a nearly inexhaustible supply of scholarship amounting to a bibliographical shrug about the meaning of this, it kills onstage, so I always leave it be.

If the production is pressed for time, if is a school tour, for instance, or some other exigency applies, and I have to adhere to two brisk hours’ traffic of our stage, I will cut repetitions of ideas or language. I am comfortable cutting the senators who appear for the first time late in Cymbeline, never to be heard from again; I can sacrifice one or two of Autloycus’ tunes in The Winter’s Tale, because once we’ve established his character, the additional songs don’t shed a correspondent amount of light.

One must take care that one doesn’t start solving one’s own problems through cutting. Cutting, difficult at first, can grow on one, and it can be easy / lazy to say, “well, that language is dense and I don’t get it, so I’ll just get rid of it” instead of working to solve it. It is often to the point in Shakespeare that the language does not immediately yield the heart of its mystery.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Late Tennessee Williams

New York Magazine has a piece about the resurgence of later Tennessee Williams plays.

Boston audiences recently got a great production of one of these late pieces, The Remarkable Rooming House of Madame Lemonde. Tom Garvey's review of the performance by Beau Jest Moving Theatre is here, Bill Marx reviewed it here.

Here is New York Magazine's Scott Brown:

Late Williams isn’t some fragile vitrine unicorn. It’s rubbery, pliant, inchoate. Some of it is antic and gruesomely funny, some of it is ridiculous. And some of it is merely awful. All of it needs work, the way people need friends, lovers, collaborators—all things that the aging Williams didn’t have. With his collaborators gone, he was living in a mausoleum, scolded by the docents for his inability to write another Streetcar, perhaps the greatest American tragedy this side of Death of a Salesman. I say “tragedy,” but Robert Falls remembers a night near the end of Williams’s life when the playwright attended Falls’s small production of Streetcar in Chicago—and abruptly transformed the gothic drama into a comedy. Basically, he “broke” it. In the concluding moments, when the white-coats enter with a straitjacket for doomed Blanche, Williams cackled: “Oh, look at her! Look at Miss Blanche! You know she’s gonna talk her way out of that institution in one week!” Was it a joke? And if so, how entirely inappropriate, how sacrilegious, how near Simpson-ic in its absurdity: Was this Tennessee’s final transgressive fantasy—the negation of his own legend—or just the Tourettic outcry of a Tom Sawyer who couldn’t keep quiet watching his own funeral?

Williams could never keep quiet, even when the critics and fans begged him to. He seemed bent on shattering the myth of himself, which might have been the point of that despised shadow canon he left for the theater to finish. It’s certainly kept him talking, long, long after we were all sure we’d heard everything he had to say.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Rare Footage Confirmed to be of Ballet Russes