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Popeye and Lebowski at ISC and Other Stuff upon My Return

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.352  Tuesday, 19 August 2014


From:        Hardy M. Cook < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:        Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Subject:    Popeye and Lebowski at ISC and Other Stuff upon My Return


A Note in response to ISC.


After hearing Peter Holland’s paper  ‘Spinach and Tobacco: Making Shakespearean Unoriginals’ at the ISC, I immediately ordered Two Gentlemen of Lebowski: A Most Excellent Comedie and Tragical Romance by Adam Bertocci


Upon returning home, I rewatched The Big Lebowski and then read Two Gentlemen of Lebowski.




Imagine Peter Holland presenting a paper at the ISC on Popeye and Fandom surrounding Two Gents of Lebowski.


I have been away much of this past summer. After picking up my daughter from Bryn Mawr yesterday (she broke her arm and cannot drive), I am striving to catch up with all of the stuff I put on my plate. 


Please check the Plays and Festivals page on the web site for the latest update and information about submitting omissions from the list:


I still have some play reviews from my summer marathon coming, once I finish writing them.


Then, I plan to turn to sort all stuff related to those who have volunteered to give me a hand with aspects of running the web site.




PS: I had a wonderful time in London and Stratford and then back in London. I am even considering moving. There was a nice condo near the Tate Modern and the Globe going for the bargain price of £5.5 million (about $9 million US).

Shakespeare and Science

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.351  Tuesday, 19 August 2014


From:        Hugh Grady < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         August 12, 2014 at 5:06:16 AM EDT

Subject:    Re: Shakespeare and Science


[Editor’s Note: This posting was lost in the ether, but deserves to be distributed. –Hardy]


On Jul 16, 2014, at 8:49 PM, Hugh Grady wrote:


Certainly not to go point by point with the estimable and formidable Steve Sohmer, but am I right that he has given us a parody of some of the dubious argumentation (the spirits around Jupiter in Cymbeline are surely the four Galilean moons!) evidenced in the interview? Or is Steve seriously arguing that the fictional Hamlet must be presumed (by an audience of Elizabethan English no less) to be in complete control of the actual curriculum of his putative university? Surely this is a jest! 


Hugh Grady

‘King John’ and ‘King Lear’ at the Stratford

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.350  Tuesday, 19 August 2014


From:        Hardy Cook < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         August 17, 2014 at 10:03:16 AM EDT

Subject:    ‘King John’ and ‘King Lear’ at the Stratford 


The following appeared in The New York Times online:


A Contrast of Kings: Ubiquitous and Rare

‘King John’ and ‘King Lear’ at the Stratford Festival

By Charles Isherwood


STRATFORD, Ontario — “King Lear” and “King John” reside at opposite ends of the Shakespeare canon. One is at the pinnacle, considered by many his greatest masterwork and produced about as frequently as any of his plays. The other scuttles around furtively somewhere far beneath, poking its oddly shaped head up for public consideration only rarely. (I probably don’t need to tell you which is which.)


Among the pleasures of the Stratford Festival is the chance it affords to see both a revered classic and a comparative obscurity in proximity, as I recently did with these two plays. Both were presented in traditional period productions, which can be particularly valuable when you’re seeing something as infrequently produced as “King John,” one of the least well known of the histories.

  • Tim Carroll, whose productions of “Twelfth Night” and “Richard III” starring Mark Rylance were the toast of Broadway last fall, came to the festival for the third time to stage “King John.” (He previously directed “Romeo and Juliet” and “Peter Pan.”) His production was a modified version of the “original practices” style that can often be seen at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, where the Rylance productions began: The stage was mostly lit by candlelight, and the costumes were traditional Elizabethan finery, but the female roles were played by women.

This was surely rewarding news for at least two women in the company, since “King John” features a pair of commanding female characters: Queen Eleanor (an imperious Patricia Collins), the mother of the title character, and Constance (the Stratford veteran Seana McKenna), mother of the young Arthur (Noah Jalava), John’s nephew, who she fervently believes deserves to wear his uncle’s crown.


The scene in which these two formidable women meet and exchange unpleasantries over the issue is one of the liveliest in the play, which concerns itself, like many Shakespeare histories and tragedies, with the question of right rulership and the savage battles for power that arise when a king’s authority is questioned (or, in the case of “King Lear,” unwisely dispersed).


The title character, portrayed with an amusing sense of cranky entitlement by Tom McCamus, has a slightly shaky grip on his country as the play opens. Arthur has the backing and the protection of the French king, Philip (Peter Hutt); harried by the ever-outraged Constance, Philip leads the French forces to battle the English in France, seeking to put Arthur on the throne. But in one of the quirkier scenes in the histories, neither the British nor the French can convince Hubert (Wayne Best), a representative of the citizens of Angiers, before which city the armies have amassed, of their candidate’s validity. He essentially says: You figure out who’s the darn king, and then I’ll open the gates. (Angiers is at this point a British territory.)


Looking on with derision at this embarrassing spectacle is another Philip, known as the Bastard (Graham Abbey), in many ways the most intriguing character in the play. He’s been established as the son of the dead King Richard, brother to John and uncle to Arthur, and has joined the party of John. The Bastard’s sardonic commentaries to the audience, including his most famous speech, on the ubiquity of “commodity” (meaning self-interest), are among the play’s most entertaining passages. His gradual maturing, from jocular wiseacre to loyal and honorable subject, traces an intriguing arc.


The fresh-faced Mr. Abbey doesn’t quite capture all the character’s fascinating shades — he could mix in a little more of the cocky schemer. So, too, could Ms. McKenna amplify the rage and subsequent grief that consume Constance when she learns, after the British and French eventually mix it up on the battlefield, that young Arthur has been taken prisoner and, she presumes, will be put to death. With its herky-jerky plot, “King John” could use regular infusions of gut-grabbing, chewily entertaining acting, and while Mr. Carroll’s cast is skilled, they too rarely take the opportunity to ensnare the audience’s attention when the chances come.


It’s hard to remain disengaged, however, when King John subtly orders Hubert to kill Arthur. The chosen form of assassination includes the gouging out of the poor child’s eyes. Mr. Jalava pleads with a quiet grace for mercy, playing with exquisite delicacy on Hubert’s affection for him, and his own for Hubert. (“Are you sick, Hubert? You look pale today,” he says.) Mr. Best’s haunted wrestling with his conscience over his vow to dispatch the boy is also finely rendered.


Although “King John” and “King Lear” are rarely spoken of in the same breath, this potentially gruesome scene inevitably brings to mind the more famous one in “Lear,” in which the Duke of Gloucester is blinded. No matter how gorily it’s staged, this scene always gets the audience squirming. In Antoni Cimolino’s production here, the horror is not overplayed; indeed, much in this production is on the restrained side, not always profitably.


Colm Feore, a mainstay of the festival who has logged 17 seasons with the company, is undertaking the title role at the comparatively young age of 55. (John Lithgow, currently appearing in the play in Central Park, is 68.) Although he is outfitted with generous tufts of gray whiskers and a straggly beard — and is bald — Mr. Feore does seem a bit vigorous and lacking in the intemperance of age that marks Lear in the early scenes.


But when Lear has been brought low, abandoned by his cruel daughters to the brute forces of nature, Mr. Feore comes into his own, bringing intense pathos to the scenes in which Lear’s psyche begins to disintegrate. Lear’s growing awareness of his blindness to his own faults, and his mournful discovery of the universal nature of human suffering, are rendered with affecting clarity and simplicity. Shorn of the trappings of power, Mr. Feore’s Lear acquires a spiritual majesty that is in piteous contrast to his physical and psychological frailty. His keening repetition of the word “never” in the play’s final moments, over the body of his beloved Cordelia, is as harrowing as any I’ve seen.


The other standout performance in the production comes from Stephen Ouimette, whose total seasons with the company even bests Mr. Feore’s, at 20. As the Fool, Mr. Ouimette gives a master class in excavating all the riches from a comparatively small (if rewarding) role.


From his first moments onstage, Mr. Ouimette exudes a sense of wry foreboding, his mournful eyes already seeming to see the darkness ahead. So tender is his feeling for the king that he can barely inject any impish vigor into his early taunts. And when his mocking prophecies come too true, too quickly, Mr. Ouimette grows even more touching in his solicitousness. Guiding his increasingly disordered master with an almost maternal care, he becomes a figure of quiet dignity, almost more noble in his grief and suffering than the king himself.

Chesapeake Shakespeare Moves to Baltimore

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.349  Tuesday, 19 August 2014


From:        Hardy Cook < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         August 16, 2014 at 8:47:44 AM EDT

Subject:    Chesapeake Shakespeare Moves to Baltimore


I thought you might like this from The Washington Post:


Chesapeake Shakespeare among troupes banking on Baltimore


Chesapeake Shakespeare among troupes banking on Baltimore

By Nelson Pressley 

August 15


Baltimore’s historic 1885 Mercantile Trust and Deposit building has spent most of the 21st century remodeled as a mega-nightclub, ripe for hundreds of revelers grooving to deep beats. Yet when Ian Gallanar and Lesley Malin saw it, they dreamily pictured it as an update of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.


Now “Shakespeare” is the dominant word on the smartly refurbished stone building’s new marquee at Calvert and Redwood, barely two blocks north of Inner Harbor. That’s where the 12-year-old Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, known for outdoor summer performances in Ellicott City, is making its move into Baltimore.


The $6.7 million project gets its ribbon-cutting next month, with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake wielding the scissors. Performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” begin days later, which is why CSC artistic director Gallanar and managing director Malin are closing the door behind them in one of the new dressing rooms on the basement level and turning off the lights. In the dark, resident costume designer Kristina Lambdin demonstrates a set of fairy wings with flickering light bulbs that she’s just made in the company’s modest new costume shop across the hall.


“I love it,” Gallanar enthuses to Lambdin, one of several longtime company associates that CSC has been able to bring on staff full-time with this company expansion.


A plethora of projects

The CSC’s dramatic entrance into Charm City is the latest indication that Baltimore theater is moving into — what else to call it? — a new stage. Last year, Everyman Theatre completed an $18 million relocation from its small Charles Street home to a smartly renovated vaudeville house near the Hippodrome. The Everyman architect firm, Cho Benn Holback and Associates, also designed the CSC’s appealing retrofit of the Mercantile Trust building, and has been tasked with thinking about a new plan for Center Stage — Baltimore’s flagship regional theater — that could include a new 99-seat venue.


“I’m just so pleased that the theater community in Baltimore is expanding and getting slicker and bolder,” says Center Stage artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah.


Last January, Single Carrot Theatre — created in the middle of the last decade by University of Colorado graduates who thought Baltimore would be a good place to start a company — opened a 99-seat stage a few blocks south of the Baltimore Art Museum, sharing the building with the restaurant Parts and Labor. Baltimore’s young-ish crop of DIY troupes is making strides, too. In July the Baltimore Development Corporation approved plans for three buildings on North Howard Street to be sold and operated as a center for several up-and-coming organizations, including EMP Collective, the Acme Corporation and Annex Theatre. Local developer Ted Rouse is involved, and the project’s price tag could reach $7 million.


“If block after block of D.C.’s downtown could be revitalized over the years, there is no reason why Baltimore can’t enjoy something similar,” critic Tim Smith wrote in the Baltimore Sun, praising the Howard Street initiative.


That project falls within the Bromo Tower Arts District, one of three state-designated arts districts in the city. (Station North and Highlandtown are the others.) The proposal awaits approval from the mayor’s office, which could come within the next week or so, according to Dan Taylor of the Baltimore Development Corporation.


“It’s really what we are shooting for, the type of project we would like to see,” Taylor said. “It starts to knit together the Howard Street corridor as an arts corridor.”


“We were very high on the proposal,” said Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts.


Of course, new facilities often bring new risks. “It’s a big leap,” Gilmore said. “That’s why I think the collaboration on Howard Street is the way to go.”


We wanted to take control of our own destiny,” says EMP artistic director Carly Bales, “in terms of being able to own buildings that exist perhaps even beyond the life of some of the organizations involved.”


Catalysts for change

Evan Moritz runs the six-year-old Annex Theatre, which is to be one of the three “parent” companies at Howard Street. Two years ago, Annex took up residency in the Chicken Box, a former fast-food joint in Station North, leasing the space from the city “for a song,” Moritz said. Programming and audiences have grown at the Chicken Box, but that space will eventually be redeveloped for the Maryland Film Festival.


“It’s great for us momentarily,” Moritz said. “But we’ve been hopscotching all around the city for several years now, as have many companies.”


Acme co-artistic director Lola Pierson said she loves working in the Station North church that has lately been home, even with its constraints.

“Challenge activates your creativity,” she said. On the other hand, Pierson can’t help but wonder: “What could we be doing if we weren’t spending half of tech trying to borrow extension cords? It would be great to make work where we knew the lights were going to come on.”


One catalyst driving the changes is a Baltimore audience that apparently doesn’t self-segregate into isolated communities burrowing strictly into theater, or dance, or fine arts. Current Space and other galleries are already on the strip of Howard Street where the hub is proposed; Bales, Pierson and Moritz all cite the cross-fertilization as an asset, while Gilmore said there is “a lot of market” for what Baltimore artists are offering.


“You go to these places and they’re packed,” he said.


Another catalyst: “I think enough groups have been around just long enough and are just the right size that we’re starting to feel constrained,” Moritz said. He agrees with Gilmore and Bales that way forward is ownership. The upward mobility around Station North may already be pricing scrappy troupes out.


“Everyone can see it coming a mile away,” Moritz said. “If we don’t step up and take ownership, we will not have a strong voice in the neighborhood.”


Looking ahead

Enter the Shakespeareans.


The CSC apparently doesn’t have to worry about being priced out of their new home rent-wise. The building was purchased by the Helm Foundation, run by Malin and her husband, CSC board member Scott Helm; the foundation put in $3.3 million. (Malin said more than $5.5 million has been raised overall, with $1.1 million to go.) Gallanar and Malin said the lease calls for CSC to pay $10 a month for 25 years.


The family-friendly CSC, created in 2002, has built a following with its spirited open-air shows staged among the ruins of the historic Patapsco Female Institute. (Those summer shows will continue to be offered at PFI; the company has been performing in the Howard County Center for the Arts — a converted elementary school — each winter.) The interior redevelopment of the Mercantile building makes virtues of the handsome three-story Corinthian columns and the striking coffered ceiling, painted bold purples and golds from its recent decade-long run as a mega-club.


The 266-seat CSC facility is a cousin of the courtyard stage created by D.C.’s Woolly Mammoth, only with a deeper thrust stage — the audience will sit on three sides — and more “vertical” feel. The railing of the third tier had to be raised to counter the dizzying sensation of gazing sharply down.


The CSC’s deliberately disarming philosophy is often to ignore the fourth wall and engage the audience, which sometimes migrates from scene to scene through the outdoor ruins with the performers. Creating that tone may be trickier with the new theater’s sharper boundaries separating performers and audience.


“It took us about 15 seconds to realize we can’t do what we do if the audience is in the dark and you can’t see them,” Gallanar said, during a rough rehearsal on the Baltimore stage,.


Gallanar plans to keep the house lights up slightly, so the audience doesn’t disappear. Further chances for friendly contact will be at the beer-and-wine bar upstairs (there’s another on the main floor), which stay open at least a half-hour after the show.


“It’s a bar, so an actor may show up,” Gallanar deadpanned.


The non-Equity company is doubling in size with this move: the staff has already expanded from five to nine full-time employees, and the annual budget is escalating from $600,000 to $1.3 million. The season is growing from four shows to seven, including “Comedy of Errors” outdoors next summer. All the selections are warhorses: “Vanya,” a Baltimore-set “Christmas Carol” and “The Importance of Being Earnest” are on the slate with four Shakespeares. For now, Gallanar isn’t worried about exhausting his audience’s appetite for the Bard, and the current commitment is for half the shows to be Shakespearean.


“We’ve budgeted very conservatively for the first year,” Malin said of the radical leap in size. “We’re not expecting to sell out.”


“It’s been in the forefront of most of our thinking,” Gallanar said. “Companies disintegrate, because it’s too stressful.”


Malin notes that even with only nine full-time staff and no real need for a scene shop – the ruins have usually been scenery enough, and designers can’t build anything elaborate on the new thrust stage – the organization is still “a little pinched for space.” The back of the stage is only a few feet from Redwood Street, so the honk and hum of traffic occasionally bleeds through to the theater.


Again, Gallanar is tranquil.

“I’m not concerned with blocking out the sounds of the city,” he said. “This is where we are. And we like being here.”


“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

By William Shakespeare. Directed by Ian Gallanar. Sept. 25-Oct. 12 at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, 7 South Calvert Street, Baltimore. Call 410-244-8570 or visit

Christopher Moore's The Serpent of Venice

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.348  Tuesday, 19 August 2014


From:        Hardy M. Cook < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Subject:     Christopher Moore's The Serpent of Venice


Saturday, July 26, 2014

‘Serpent of Venice’ another delight from Christopher Moore

By Anna Schles

West Virginia University


Fans of William Shakespeare will tell you that once you get past the intricate language of his works, the plays are truly wild stories of adventure, tragedy and humor with more than a little inappropriateness. In fact, it could be said that Shakespeare’s famous plays were the blockbuster movies of their day.


Christopher Moore’s “The Serpent of Venice” lives up to the Bard’s works in terms of exciting plot, emotion and often improper humor, while being written in a style and format more accessible to today’s readers. That said, while “The Serpent of Venice” remains true to the spirit of school’s assigned Shakespeare reading texts, it could be inappropriate for younger teenagers.

“The Serpent of Venice” is a sequel to Moore’s 2009 novel “Fool,” although it is not necessary to have read “Fool” in order to enjoy “The Serpent of Venice.” “Fool” is a spirited retelling of Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” and the main character in both novels is King Lear’s brilliant fool, Pocket. “The Serpent of Venice” is a comical mash-up of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” and “Othello,” with a sprinkling of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Cask of Amontillado.”


One does not need to have any prior knowledge of “King Lear,” “The Merchant of Venice” or “Othello” in order to enjoy and comprehend Moore’s novel. However if a reader is familiar with the plays, he or she can more fully appreciate Moore’s immense skill as a storyteller and his talent for bringing cultural context and classic characters to life.


“The Serpent of Venice” picks up as Pocket the Fool is about to be assassinated. His wife, the late King Lear’s daughter, Queen Cordelia, has sent him from England to Venice so he can annoy some powerful people and prevent senseless war for profit. Since, of course, preventing senseless war can anger the people who plan to profit from it, Pocket finds himself losing everything.


Three ruthless villains — Antonio, Brabantio and Iago — have executed a plan to quickly silence Pocket and slowly kill him. Pocket has been suicidal since the recent death of his wife from an apparent fever, but as he lies dying, he decides he wants to live. With the help of some familiar new friends, human and otherwise, Pocket seeks revenge and justice.


“The Serpent of Venice” is essentially a funny novel, jam-packed with subtle wit, outrageous laugh-inducing scenes and everything in between. However, when one combines “Othello” (one of Shakespeare’s tragedies), “The Merchant of Venice” (pretty much the darkest comedy ever written) and anything by Edgar Allan Poe, the result is sure to be a little dark. Christopher Moore skillfully weaves the comedy into the tragedy, creating a complex and masterful work sure to delight readers.

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