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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: April ::
Shakespeare and the Law
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0357  Thursday, 27 April 2006

From: 		Peter Holland <
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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

Lenox, Mass.

"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 
educational venture.

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 
couldn't fake.

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 
battery.

"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 
down.

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 
people."

Mr. Gurewitsch writes for the Journal on the arts, culture and creative 
personalities.

        URL for this article:
      http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114592321089534688.html

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