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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: June ::
Re: Small Cast Hamlets
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1551  Tuesday, 19 June 2001

[1]     From:   Geralyn Horton <
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        Date:   Monday, 18 Jun 2001 13:42:59 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1526 Re: Small Cast JC (was Hamlets)

[2]     From:   Ivan Fuller <
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        Date:   Monday, 18 Jun 2001 14:07:48 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1526 Re: Small Cast Hamlets

[3]     From:   William Proctor Williams <
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        Date:   Monday, 18 Jun 2001 15:22:36 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1526 Re: Small Cast Hamlets

[4]     From:   Toby Malone <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 19 Jun 2001 09:58:47 +0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1526 Re: Small Cast Hamlets


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geralyn Horton <
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Date:           Monday, 18 Jun 2001 13:42:59 -0400
Subject: 12.1526 Re: Small Cast JC (was Hamlets)
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1526 Re: Small Cast JC (was Hamlets)

>Shakespeare & Company, in the Berkshires of Western Mass. does an annual
>touring production (for area schools) of a Shakespeare play, with a
>small cast and reduced to 90 minutes. This year, my school brought them
>in to do Julius Caesar, with 6 actors.

My experience of the "Bare Bard" Julius Caesar at S&C was quite
different from Paul's.  I saw it in 1992-- at least that's the date on
this review I did of it:

JULIUS CAESAR SHAKESPEARE & COMPANY directed by Tina Packer

JULIUS CAESAR is the prep school specimen tragedy, stuffed full of
history and rhetoric, free from embarrassing bawdry or corrosive wit or
poetic flights that would undercut the exemplary actions of the
politicians who jockey for power in the name of patriotism.  Nothing in
this play to threaten status quo: it's a man's world where they are
"all, all honorable men": brave warriors, kind masters, the husbands of
honest and devoted subordinate wives.

What happens when six Shakespeare & Company actors who have performed,
studied and taught together over the years combine forces under Tina
Packer's direction to do a stripped-down and doubled "Bare Bones" JULIUS
CAESAR? A production without any of the rich trappings that are the
visible legitimation of a successful hierarchy? A production for which,
Ms. Packer says, a central question is "Why are the women's voices so
completely stifled"?  Strangely, beautifully, the result is essential
Shakespeare, Shakespeare of a rare and piercing clarity, complete with
thunderous crowd scenes and pin-drop pathos, shot through with
lightning-bolts of passion.

The Stables stage at The Mount is bare, a white room with a black back
drape.  Six kitchen stools, each with an attached dagger and sheath,
flank a central wooden seat that is a military version of the director's
chair, and over this "throne" is hung a shield painted with the Roman
Eagle in red-the whole effect more Elizabethan than classic.  The
costumes, too, are in line with 16th century convention: contemporary
dress modified to indicate the characters' age, sex, and status.  Over
black pants and tee shirts, the actors wear a draping garment that is a
cross between a toga and a bathrobe, in shades of off-white and beige.
At the left side of the room is a drum and a tin thunder sheet to
underscore the action.

Five men and a woman step forward one at a time to tell which characters
they play, and give a one-line history of what happened to the
principals before and after the time-frame of the plot. Using techniques
from the "theatre of images" the cast will slip in and out of character
to physicalize the poetry, hoisting Caesar aloft, or at "let slip the
dogs of war," melting onto all fours to become a snarling hunt pack.
Sometimes the acrobatics are a bit hard for the spectator to reconcile
with the legendary Roman "gravitas". But then, an aristocrat wearing his
senatorial toga is simply not togged out to be an assassin.  He needs
one hand to hold up his draperies, he has no place to hide a dagger, and
all that blood is bound to make an awful mess of those yards of white
wool.  Here, all that blood is represented by Caesar's crimson-dyed and
slashed undertunic.

Within the Rome of the play, the right to leadership belongs to the man
who most represents the Republican ideal. Not  intelligence, or wealth,
or charm, or military prowess entitles him. He is to rule by virtue of
his virtue. The Roman patrician must be brave, public spirited,
magnanimous: but he must also be seen to be so, and if there is a clash
between seeming and being, as a politician his first business is to get
the appearance right and then work out his feelings as best he can.

James Goodwin Rice plays a Caesar who wears his honors well, balancing
his sense of his own superiority with a nice consideration for the forms
of civic restraint.  Still, Rice lets us glimpse the ruthlessness Brutus
fears: "The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power."
Caesar's shuffle fools the vulgar mob, but his peers, those who really
know his weaknesses, have reason to believe that Caesar's rise to
unchecked power will mean the end of the system that has brought them
all prosperity and respect.

The conspirators are vivid, even when two or more are played by the same
actor in almost the same costume. James Daniels is a deliciously languid
Casca narrating the scene at the games where the crowd cheers to have
Caesar crowned king. Jason Asprey is a youthful Antony who must struggle
to be heard at the funeral, and seems surprised to discover the power of
his own oratory as he goes along. Tod Randolph plays both the wives and
most of the retainers, and gives a clear impression of what is lost when
men wrap themselves in self-importance and refuse to listen. Randolph is
even more impressive outside the text, when she glides silently from a
tableau of Portia's suicide to become the embodiment of the troubled
sleep of Lucius, Brutus's loyal page boy,  drawing a dozen unspoken
metaphors through the mind as she does so.

In spite of also playing artisans and minor conspirators, Jonathan
Epstein has the scope to build a towering central characterization. His
Brutus has a full measure of pride but no pretension, and in him every
flaw is an outward flourish of his ingrown virtue. Because this actor
has the ability to make thought visible, it is possible to watch Brutus
underestimate others and deceive himself and yet credit him with the
best of intentions: "the noblest Roman of them all."

Epstein is at the top of his talent when, after the famous quarrel with
Cassius, Brutus tells Cassius of his wife Portia's death.  There is
stark grief and guilt in him, driven deep by battle-tension, and the
audience and Kevin Coleman's Cassius are moved to pay Portia's passing
the tribute of tears. When in the next moment Brutus pretends to Messala
that he has not heard about his wife, and greets the "news" of her death
with a feigned stoicism, Cassius-and the audience- gasps in shock.

If every line was wrought to the pitch of passion, clarity and nuance
Epstein supplies in this scene, the intensity of the performance might
be unendurable. As it is, this JULIUS CAESAR is merely the best
production of this musty old favorite you are ever likely to see.
Individual parts might be elsewhere as well or even better played, but
here the working of the ensemble reaches a mythic level, a kind of
choral imagination that summons up a whole much greater than the sum of
the parts.

Geralyn Horton, Newton, Mass. 02460
<http://www.stagepage.org>

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ivan Fuller <
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Date:           Monday, 18 Jun 2001 14:07:48 -0500
Subject: 12.1526 Re: Small Cast Hamlets
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1526 Re: Small Cast Hamlets

Thanks for sharing your experiences with small-cast "Hamlet"s and
others.  I have had some great luck with 11 cast productions of several
shows, thanks to a marvelous summer with the Ralph Cohen and the
Shenandoah Shakespeare (then) Express, but a cast almost half that size
is something new for me.

For my production of "Hamlet," while I am a long ways from nailing down
all the doubling of parts, I DO know that the same female performer will
play Horatio, Ophelia and one of the gravediggers.  I am fascinated to
see what I can get out of having the same performer play Hamlet's two
best friends AND the person who prepares her "own" grave.  I also intend
to cut most of the political references and characters, much as Brooks
did with his recent production.  That should also help with the small
cast size.  Additionally, I'm planning to make the play within the play
a one-person show (since the other five actors will be busy playing
Hamlet, Ophelia, Claudius, Gertrude and Polonius).

If anyone has further ideas about doubling choices, I'd love to hear
them.

Ivan Fuller

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Proctor Williams <
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Date:           Monday, 18 Jun 2001 15:22:36 -0400
Subject: 12.1526 Re: Small Cast Hamlets
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1526 Re: Small Cast Hamlets

A group of Cambridge students, not the group mentioned by Peter Holland,
tourned the US last year with a small cast Hamlet.  Do not, whatever you
do, double the gravedigger and Ophelia unless you are going to put her
body in a box.

William Proctor Williams

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Toby Malone <
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Date:           Tuesday, 19 Jun 2001 09:58:47 +0800
Subject: 12.1526 Re: Small Cast Hamlets
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1526 Re: Small Cast Hamlets

I have been involved in two shortened productions in the past year -
both so successful that we are remounting them for tour later in the
year!!

Both were adapted by Scott Kaiser of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival,
and our performances were the first of either script in Australia.  We
did both Othello and Titus Andronicus with three actors each - two men
and a woman.  In Othello, one actor played Iago; one played Cassio and
Othello; and the third played Desdamona, Emilia and Bianca.  This made
for some interesting moments when Desdemona was required to rise from
her death bed to discover her own murder!

Titus worked a lot better than Othello, and was performed in a Artaudian
style.  Again, we used three actors: one doubling Titus and Chiron; one
playing Marcus Andrnicus, Demetrius and Saturninus; and the third as
Livinia and Tamora.  Tamora was a combination of Tamora and Aaron, with
the more beastly of lines from either character going to the one actor.

Both shows were very successful, but Othello lost a lot in the
retelling, as it assumed that the audience knew a lot of prior
information. Titus used ribbons and confetti as blood and by the end of
the show, the theatre, stage, and audience (very intimate theatre - 40
max.) were covered in the stuff!

I think Scott has also got three-actor versions of The Winter's Tale,
Henry IV, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Cheers
Toby

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