The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0585 Wednesday, 24 June 1998.
From: Jimmy Jung <
Date: Monday, 22 Jun 1998 17:20:02 -0400
Subject: DC in Shakspeare Saturation
This message may become untimely during the SHAKSPER Hiatus, but
Professor Cook provides an invaluable service and deserves every
vacation he gets.
I, for the longest time, assumed that the center of the Shakespearean
universe was Stratford, or maybe London or New York. To my surprise,
its right here in Washington DC.
Currently, there are 5 companies performing 9 different Shakespeare
plays (obviously some in repertory). It's quite a feast, with prices
ranging from free to $60, and the opportunity to see at least three
rarely produced plays.
The Royal Shakespeare Company is currently camped out at the Kennedy
performing Henry VIII, Cymbeline, Hamlet (as well as Everyman and
Krapp's Last Tape). Being uncertain if I would ever get the chance to
see HVIII again, I opted this creaky production, rather than the more
warmly received Hamlet. And when I say creaky, I mean it, the stage
seem to clatter with stomping and slamming. Naturally, reviewers in
Washington, have compared it to an exercise in spin control, with Henry
trying to politically manipulate the scandal of his divorce. To me, it
seemed at its best when the production looked at the impact of divorce
on the people involved. Henry's most powerful moment was as he sat in
complete and painful silence as the woman he is turning away tears at
our hearts, while pleading her case. Without a doubt it is Queen
Katharine whose portrayal keeps the show afloat (sorry, no program, no
name). Occasionally, the stage transforms itself into a brilliant gold,
other times, the words "ALL IS TRUE" loom over the stage. Could someone
more informed that I tell me if the phrase has some specific source or
meaning? I also was wondering if anyone else who saw the production
noticed Queen Anne put a foretelling hand to her throat in her last
entrance (or did I imagine it?)
I'm also counting the RSC's Cymbeline as a rarely produced play and The
Washington Shakespeare Company's production of Pericles. There has been
some debate in my family about the need for Shakespearean productions to
"re-set" the play's in other eras; but compared to the pomp and
pageantry of the RSC's Henry VIII, setting Pericles in the 60's and 70's
is a relief. The episodic aspect of the play is curiously reinforced by
a corresponding movement through time, represented in staging, costume
and music. During the play, we watch pot smoking hippies, become
cocaine snorting yuppies. There is also a corresponding movement
through space; that is, the stage actually moves. The production is
staged in a warehouse, with eight separate "stage areas." The audience
is invited to follow Pericles as his journey from Tyre to half a dozen
other countries and cities, including two ship-board scenes, one of
which may have you reaching for the dramamine. Exciting staging and an
exciting cast make one of Shakespeare's "bad" plays worth seeing.
One of the coolest things about seeing the Shenandoah Shakespeare
Express is that you can sit on the stage. They are currently performing
Richard III, Taming of the Shrew, and Measure for Measure. Richard the
Third has received a shade more attention, because Richard is being
played by a woman. While standing in the hallway, I heard a woman say
that having a woman play Richard made all of his motivations clear, but
for me, the fascinating aspect of the production was how it seemed to
make absolutely no difference. Kate Norris simply makes a mean Richard
(no program, but they have a web site). I suspect that many folks on
this list are more familiar with SSE than I, but if not; they are a cast
of 11, who perform all the roles in the three plays they are currently
performing. Needless to say, there is some doubling. Perhaps the most
fascinating and amazingly convincing cast doubling was seeing Scott Nath
as both Queen Margaret and the young Prince of Wales. If I make it back
to see taming of the Shrew, I wonder how it will be to see Kate
Norris/Richard III as Kate.
Creative shopping has lead to some reasonable prices for these tickets
(even the overpriced RSC), but nothing beats the Shakespeare Theater's
production of Alls Well for free. Originally staged 3 or 4 years ago,
the most notable change is the casting of Sabrina LeBeauf for Helena (I
believe it was Kelly McGillis before). You get a Helena whose youth and
excitement seem more suited for the strange collection of obstacles
Helena must overcome, but some of her other characteristics seem too
giddy, too teenage. It made me realize the tough middle ground required
to play these young heroines who must be mature enough to survive the
risks they take up for love, but young enough to take up those risks in
the first place. Another interesting comparison is how the Shakespeare
Theater "modifies" plays for the wider audience of the summer run.
Scenes with Paroles seemed played a little broader, and I don't
rememeber Helena being that suddenly, obviously and comically pregnant.
The staging is particularly interesting, as there is a "chorus" of
masked hooded white figures that hover and pose during most of the
scenes in the play.
Both the All's Well Production and Henry VIII seemed to have action that
drifted past the boundaries of the play "proper." All's Well, had a
young version of Bertram and Helena who played together before the
lights went down. In fact they played during announcements read from
the stage and a drawing for T-shirts. At the intermission, the lights
came up, but Helena remained on stage in relative darkness, continuing
to read a her letter from Bertram. During the intermission of Henry
VIII, women came out to hang laundry and chat, well before the play
"officially" resumed. I found both cases worked to draw me a little
closer into the play, difusing that formal boundary of the lights coming
down and suddenly transitioning from "reality" to "play," but I was
wondering if this device is recently fashionable, having seen it twice
in as many weeks.
The ninth production (and fifth company) is another version of Hamlet
being produced at the Keegan Theater, on the Virginia side of the city.
Perhaps knowing of the Shakespeare glut planned for early summer, The
Shakespeare Theater itself has elected to do Tennessee Williams in their
home space, The Lansburg Theater. I would not have gone, except for
having a subscription ticket. That would have been my mistake.
Elizabeth Ashley is great in a role that seems to ominously echo her own
life. THAT IS NOT TO SAY THAT I ENDORSE TOO MANY NON-SHAKSPEARE
PRODUCTIONS FROM A COMPANY THAT BEARS HIS NAME, but it is still worth
seeing. Could someone pass a note to Michael Kahn, I understand he is
probably sick of doing the same plays over and over, but I subscribe
cause I like Shakespeare. By the way, if you have seen the
advertisement in the post, the action at the bottom of the photo, that
is being obscured by ticket prices and times is her placing her hand in
the "poor" boy's pants.
As an aside, having seen Henry VIII and Pericles, I realized there are
only four plays I haven't seen. Eventually, I believe I will see The
Winter's Tale, and a production of King John is planned in the city next
year. So let me suggest to Michael Kahn either Timon or Titus as a fine
addition to next years schedule. They may seem like odd choices, but
what likelihood do I ever have of seeing them?