The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0357 Thursday, 27 April 2006
From: Peter Holland <
Date: Tuesday, 25 Apr 2006 12:53:47 -0400
Subject: Shakespeare and the Law
Shaksper-ians might be interested in the following piece which appeared
in today's Wall Street Journal:
Each Actor Doth Possess a Rap Sheet
By MATTHEW GUREWITSCH
April 25, 2006; Page D6
"Are you, like -- criticism me?!"
Moments before, the Spartan assembly hall at the First United Methodist
Church had been ringing with the shouts of teenagers exploding from
closets, bellowing lines of the witches in "Macbeth." "Very exciting
entrances," came the verdict from Barby Cardillo, of Shakespeare &
Company, the 29-year-old classical repertory troupe of the Berkshires.
"But you could come out more. Use the whole space."
Hence that protest from Tommy Esposito, a lanky 17-year-old who goes by
his last name, shaves his head, and was growing a Lincoln beard.
Some criticism. "That was an Oscar-winning performance," seconded
Michael Toomey, Ms. Cardillo's co-conspirator in this out-of-the-box
Mr. Esposito was by no means appeased. "I came running out like a damn
idiot," he said testily. "I should have been louder. Make the people
fear the actors! You made me risk my reputation."
Still, Shakespeare was getting under his skin. Moments later at that
February rehearsal, as Macbeth was hiring a few assassins, he threw a
leg over an arm of his throne and whetted a prop dagger with a spark you
Mr. Esposito is one of 16 local youngsters sentenced by Paul E. Perachi,
66, Presiding Justice of the Trial Court of the Commonwealth, Juvenile
Court Department, Berkshire Division in Pittsfield, Mass., to three
months of twice-weekly two-hour sessions of Elizabethan acting.
Shakespeare in the Courts, an annual program running from January to
April, was launched in 2001 as an alternative to such community service
as shoveling crosswalks or raking leaves. (At the court's request, the
participants' names have been disguised.) "It's not about the text," Mr.
Toomey explained. "Shakespeare's been dead for 400 years. The goal is
for the kids to work together as a group."
A self-styled jock, Judge Perachi came to the bench from a career in
education, first as a coach, later as a principal. "When I read
Shakespeare in high school," he says, "I hated it." But Shakespeare &
Company supports a vigorous education program, and when he was a
high-school principal in the Berkshires, he felt obliged to invite the
troupe to his school. Hardly had a Romeo in doublet and hose started
reciting when a leather-jacketed student bounded onstage to heckle. Not
to be intimidated, Romeo coolly decked him. The heckler was a plant, of
course; but from the moment he went down, the actors were in charge.
"I fell in love with the program," says Judge Perachi. "I saw nothing
but a demand for excellence, the love for what they're doing." Moving to
the judiciary, he wanted to get those qualities to rub off on his
juvenile offenders. "They're angry, and they're angry for good reason.
Most of them haven't had much success in life, or much reinforcement
from their parents. But on performance night, when the program ends,
their parents are beaming."
Shakespeare in the Courts is meant to boost the kids' self-esteem, to
improve their communications skills, to develop a spirit of community
and cooperation: "components for future success" that also help them
with anger management. The participants' rap sheets vary; the judge
mentions false bomb threats, shoplifting, moving violations, assault and
"Kids want structure," Judge Perachi says. "They'll fight you tooth and
nail. But if they think the rules are because you care, they respect
that. That's not to say there aren't some who would step on the
accelerator when I cross the street. But they're the exceptions.
Finishing this program doesn't mean they've become model citizens. I
can't prove it, but I firmly believe that the benefit may not manifest
itself until some future time." Exhibit A: the former gang member who
stopped him on the sidewalk to say, "Hey, Judge, I've got a job now. I'm
doing good. It's a new me."
On April 11, with Shakespeare's birthday (the 23rd) just around the
corner, it's time for the Courts program's grand finale: a fully staged
half-hour show before an invited audience of family and court officers.
This year, it's a capsule "Macbeth." From the First United Methodist
Church, operations have moved to the First Baptist Church, where a rocky
gateway covered in mock ivy dominates the stage like a fragment of
Stonehenge. Judge Perachi sits in the first row. His probation officer
Nancy Macauley, indispensable liaison to Shakespeare & Company, is in
the wings, directing traffic and occasionally thrusting a reluctant
thespian into the spotlight.
For a while there, the kids were calling the gig "Survivor:
Shakespeare." For infractions within or outside the program, several
members had disappeared; the head count was down to 11, all doing duty,
in shifting formations, as witches. (Shakespeare calls for three.) Blood
took the form of handfuls of red ribbons. The part of Lady Macbeth was
carved up four ways, with each of the young women in the program getting
a piece. The concluding sleepwalking scene, however, was staged,
ingeniously and nightmarishly, as a quartet.
Of the seven guys, five shared the title role. Hustled onstage too early
by Ms. Macauley, the strapping African-American Jack Bronson beat a bold
retreat and then returned, bravely, on cue. Next Mike Jeffries, an elfin
skinhead, knocked off a few lines of "Is this a dagger which I see
before me?" with the deep, dark eyes of a man hunted. Cast wildly
against type, the giant teddy bear Seth Silvano (in glasses) spoke
mostly to the back wall but brought down the house with a silent
vaudevillian riff between two tragic scenes.
Presumably placing that reputation of his ever further at risk, Mr.
Esposito did himself proud not only as Macbeth with the murderers, but
also as the drunken porter -- the play's only bit of authentic
Shakespearean comedy -- and the stillest, scariest of the witches. The
last of the Macbeths was Nate Horton, who expired behind the stone gate
with blood-curdling cries. "For a moment, I thought, 'Oh, no! I'm gonna
see 'em back in court,'" Judge Perachi ad-libbed when the applause died
There was a certificate and a bouquet for each player, as well as Ms.
Macauley's sheet cake, and enough cupcakes and soda to spoil everyone's
dinner. Their job done, the cast looked mostly nonchalant or bashful,
and though their fans flocked around, the hubbub seemed strangely muted.
"Your son?" I asked a trim, sprightly man all in denim who had been in a
brief huddle with Mr. Horton. "My grandson!" he answered, his face the
brightest in the room. "The first time I picked him up in the hospital,
I couldn't let him go. His grandmother wanted to hold him, and his dad
wanted to hold him, but I held on. That's how far back it goes. That's
when we bonded. He's living with me now." In a matter of minutes, the
room was left to the cleanup crew: the pros from Shakespeare and Company.
"I still don't understand Shakespeare," Judge Perachi confessed as he
headed for the door. "But I get a kick out of it. I try to go to as many
non-Shakespeare plays as possible because I understand them better. With
Shakespeare, I still have to read the synopsis. But I really love the
Mr. Gurewitsch writes for the Journal on the arts, culture and creative
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