Shakespeare

Theater

DruidShakespeare: Richard III, directed by Garry Hynes at Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival

Garry Hynes’ concept, which balanced respect for Shakespeare’s text with its many parallels with current events in the United States, Russia, and the UK, was, well, unimpeachable. Last year I enthusiastically reviewed a compelling, if rough and ready production directed by Austin Pendleton, which arose out of a feeling that Richard III—actually The Wars of the Roses, incorporating excerpts from Henry VI, Part 3—urgently needed to be put before an American audience for them to see the evils of contemporary politics reflected in it, no matter what limitations the situation placed on production values. The niceties of scansion and rhetoric were at times compromised by a passion to get the message across. Druid’s Richard III was impeccably, beautifully spoken, and costumed with an elegance which went against the contemporary trend towards plainness and recalled the sumptuous look of early twentieth century productions. Yet the messages were brought out with adroitness and eloquence.
Theater

The Wars of the Roses (Shakespeare’s, Henry VI, Part 3 and Richard III), directed by Austin Pendleton, starring Matt de Rogatis, at the 124 Bank Street Theater—Closing August 19th

The violent reign of Richard III was a popular subject from the time of Henry VIII on, according to the several chronicles and plays that preceded Shakespeare's The Tragedy of King Richard III (ca.  1592), and his own play was an immediate success with the public, as the five quarto editions published before his death attest, and has continued to be a favorite until the present day—not least because of the rich meat it provided for star actors, from Richard Burbage on.  Popularity creates expectations.  Richard's opening monologue is one of the purple passages that sticks in the mind of even the most casual Shakespearean, and Shakespeare gives some hint of the story's rootedness in the minds of his audience by meticulously chronicling all ten of Richard's most heinous murders, recapping them in Act V in the successive entrances of their ghosts.  Even though some of Shakespeare's predecessor felt no compunction to be so thorough, he felt the need to satisfy his audience's appetite for guilt and gore with each and every one of them, and that may well have been one of the keys to the play's success.
Theater

Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, Cheek by Jowl, at BAM

The Winter’s Tale has had a checkered career over the centuries. Its bipartite structure, with two lines of action, separated by many years, of strongly contrasting character offended the Aristotelian canon all-too-blatantly for the classicizing generations of the Restoration and Enlightenment. Acts I through III have every promise of ending with the most bitterly tragic outcome. This current is diverted to a happy ending in the last two acts, introduced by yet a third genre, the pastoral, in a staged enactment of a sheep-shearing festival. When the play began to find its way to the stage in the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, producers and actors saw in it a vehicle for over-the-top, classically inspired spectacle, as well as one of the great Shakespearean roles, Leontes, who is Iago and Othello rolled into one. It provided a powerful vehicle for Garrick, Kemble, and Kean. And three rich female roles as well, None of which were lost on the great actresses of the past 250 years.
Dance

​Thorns of the Crown, Choreographed and Staged by Ramon Oller

The phrase “less is more," attributed to many sources, is very appropriate for Thorns of the Crown. The dance is vaguely about royal power—wanting it, getting it, losing it. This is a strong theme but the piece is a potpourri of steps, sounds, ideas, music and musical styles and would be stronger had it focused on fewer. Sounds include clashing swords and whinnying horses with snatches of spoken Shakespeare including Macbeth and Hamlet, with “To Be or Not to Be” voiced by Kenneth Branagh. Music runs the gamut from quasi- (or perhaps genuine) ecclesiastical to medieval selections to pipes and flutes to a blend of original compositions by composers Thomas Lentakis and Bruno Axel with too-abrupt shifts that are jolting.
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