Summer is upon us, and as such that brings a slew of Shakespearean productions ready to be gobbled up by those venturing into the open air for some culture, comedy and maybe cultish murders.
The Bard Brawl has been entertained by a number of companies in various places, and, as a promo/bumper/preview of what’s to come, we’re going to highlight some of our favourites, all of which are putting on some exciting plays this summer.
Vancouver, BC’s premiere Shakespeare festival of the summer is the one at Vanier Park, and this reviewer has seen upwards of dozen renditions of various plays. BOB always has a few gems, and even the ones that aren’t four-star productions, still wind up being worth a look.
You’ve got a week left to check out the play with the bard’s most famous stage direction of them all at Bard on the Beach. The Winter’s Tale will leave you roaring or bleating, depending on your spirit animal. (Photo & Image Design, David Cooper & Emily Cooper)
For those who haven’t read or seen it a brief synopsis:
King Leontes (Kevin MacDonald) of “Bavaria” (with a coastline and everything. Who said global warming is a modern issue) is all in love and happy with his wife Hermoine (Sereana Malani), but then he notices his wife is spending a little too much time with his bestie King Polixenes (Ian Butcher). Are they holding hands?! OMG, kill them all. So yeah a bunch of jealousy, the pregnant queen “dies” in jail, and the king wants to kill the baby too, so ferried away the young Perdita (later Kaitlin Williams) is. She’s saved from a bear (poor Antigonus (Andrew Wheeler)), found by a Sicilian shepherd, meets Florizel (Austin Eckert) 16 years later, who may also be royalty, and then it’s all wrapped up in the end back in Bohemia. There are sheep, there’s a bear, there’s magic and there’s a guy picking everyone’s pockets throughout.
Just go see it. It will all make sense.
Before anything else, the question is: do they pull off the following quote.
Antigonus: This is the chase, I am gone forever.
[Exit, pursued by a bear]
This is the highlight of the show that everyone is waiting for, and like Mark Antony’s speech, “my kingdom for a horse,” the murder of Duncan or “to be or not to be,” directors need to nail this one.
Does Gibson in fact, nail it? Absolutely.
Wheeler is great as Antigonus and the bear is incredible, as is the creepy appearance of Hermoine with eyes pulled out and everything. I was actually a little worried my niece would be traumatized by that image.
Props to designers for choosing a bear breed native to the Pacific Northwest, and extra credit for actually having the bear on stage and attack Antigonus rather than the always disappointing roar offstage.
Ok. That’s out of the way, and how about the rest?
This play is not easy to direct or produce, as it’s essentially two plays in one: the cold world of men and court in the first half, and the pastoral matriarchal world of the second half. How do you make them both work, so the play comes off as a single story. Both bard brawl co-captain Eric Jean and I studied this under the wise tutelage of Dr. Kevin “K-Pax” Pask, and it helped a bunch to understand the finer points that can whizz right by if you’re not paying attention.
Gibson does a good job at balancing the two halves, and using simple, but effective stage pieces to illustrate greater themes.
One criticism I had was the intensity of some performances in the first act.
My brother and I were chatting after about actors taking it up to 11 and keeping it there for too long, which a few did. It’s a little wearying and a few of the performers could have used a drop in intensity at times during the first half.
MacDonald, however, gets top marks for his jealous and tortured tyrant turned suppliant and guilt ridden victim. He, most of all actors on stage, varies his performance giving it a depth needed in such a complex character.
Oh, and the sheep… Amazing
The second half, with it’s pastoral airiness and light humour is incredibly designed, well acted, fun, funny and a joy to watch. Williams and Eckart are all charm and aided by the humour stylings of Autolycus (Ben Elliott), who’s great.
The play wraps in one of the bard’s finest endings that Gibson’s production does incredibly well. The magic of it all leaves that, dang. Yes! That’s why I like the bard feeling inside, and makes the whole thing wrap in a nice bow.
So, in answer to the “what did you think?” question everyone gets after leaving a play. Here goes.
The BOB’s 2017 version of The Winter’s Tale is a well-balanced, well-acted and incredibly designed show though almost too heavy at sections towards the front of the play. The play is one of the purists to be sure. The theme is tricky, the language heavy and some of the aspects of it take a little suspension of disbelief as well as critical study. That study, my friends, makes everything better.
Be well and let us be all so luck as to exit, pursued by a bear.
Bard Brawl co-captain Eric Jean and I are asked often one question: did Shakespeare really write all those plays?
Ok maybe two questions.
What’s your favourite play?
Neither of us have one “favourite,” but we both say almost always Othello for tragedy and Merchant of Venice for comedy, and then add a couple more, but none as much as those two.
This meant I did not want to miss and was pumped to check out Bard on the Beach‘s production of the Merchant knowing BOB always pulls out at least one or two truly quality productions per season.
I saw BOB’s production of Merchant in 2003, which was very good.
How is the 2017 production?
Go see it.
Director Nigel Shawn Williams nailed it, and I walked away thinking, ‘was that the best Shakespeare production I’ve ever seen?”
Merchant is one of the most important plays, and particularly vital in the current xenophobic culture drowning in intolerance of the other and an obsession with sticking to one’s own. Williams’ modern day Italy style replete with drunk, loud hipster douchebags completely self-involved cackling at others’ misfortunes and gobbling up their misogyny and racism like a gaggle of entitled rich kids in a boarding school is completely appropriate and completely successful.
Every production I’ve seen (including BOB’s 2003 one) sets Antonio as melancholy, thoughtful and tortured, but Williams does not.
Antonio is an asshole here.
This choice, to play Antonio thus, is the first of many excellent choices in a great production.
Short break for a plot rundown:
Antonio is sad, loans his friend Bassanio (Charlie Gallant) money to woo a pretty orphan named Portia (Olivia Hunt). Antonio doesn’t have the money on him so he borrows it from the Jew Shylock (Warren Kimmel), who says, ‘sure man. You can have it, and if you forfeit the bond I won’t even ask for the money, just a pound of your flesh.’ Antonio says sure, loses all his money, and…. Well, go see the play.
Kimmel steals the show. As Shylock, he is stoic and honourable and powerful, while also being tragic and sympathetic and vulnerable. He chews up ever scene with grace and understated rage.
The audience is struck silent when Gratiano (Kamyar Pazandeh) spits in his face.
The dichotomy between the douches and Shylock is incredible and unnerving to watch. There are few moments of comedy in this “comedy,” and more a growing rage at a dominant class of people stomping on those of an other group.
Thank you, thank you, thank you Williams for recognizing what a sick and twisted world it is that produces a situation where a Portia’s status, money, house, and identity will be taken from her because of a test her father concocted.
Portia is stuck. She must marry whichever suitor chooses the right casement, which comes with a riddle. Generally, this is where directors go for comedy. The arrogant Morocco, the crazy Aragon often blast onto the stage and make everyone laugh at their pomposity.
Not this time.
The suitor scenes are just uncomfortable and the discomfort is even greater when Bassiano (on the short list for all time sleaze bag characters of Shakespeare) guesses right.
Consider this: Bassiano only gets to woo Portia because Antonio lent him money. Antonio loses said money and Bassiano runs to help his one true love. The case is lost when Portia (in disguise) shows up to bail him out with her money that Bassiano offers back to her and then he gives her the ring she told him not to.
These people are idiots, and the coupling up at the end is far from a happy ending. Williams pushes this particularly with Jessica (Carmelo Sison) and Lorenzo (Chirag Naik), which is particularly apt.
Lorenzo’s seduction of Jessica causes her to lose her identity and people for a complete zero, and it’s is hard to watch her killer line – “I am never merry when I hear sweet music” – is powerful and tragic, and beautifully foreshadowed by Shylock singing from his room.
Speaking of Shylock. Williams did well to cast Solaria (Adele Noronha) and Solania (Kate Besworth) as female, and Kimmel nails the most famous speech:
“I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” III,i
You just gotta see it.
A couple other notes: this play shows how to act in slow motion. The video projections are unnecessary (the only small complaint I had). The sound is great, and the set is solid.
Don’t let the label “comedy” fool you. This play isn’t funny. In a modern context it’s a tragedy on three fronts.
It’s a tragedy of the outsider. It’s a tragedy of feminism, and it’s a tragedy of law. Those with power, Shylock, Portia and the law of Venice, are by the end torn apart. Those with arrogance win.
Williams somehow manages to get all three messages through. Well done.
Tragedy. Tragedy. Tragedy.
I loved this performance, and for those in BC who want to see a modern, stylish and near-perfect rendition of one of the Bard’s finest plays, do yourself a favour. There’s not much time left.
Bard on the Beach always pulls an obscure play out of the cannon this year opting for the early comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona. The play runs through the summer and would be wise to catch while it’s around.
Okay. Let’s break this down.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona follows Proteus (Charlie Gallant) and Valentine (Nadeem Phillip), two young gents from (where else?) Verona to Milan where they are supposed to be expanding their minds and bettering themselves as young, affluent gentlemen.
The Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeare’s greatest physical farces, full of lively action, touching love stories, reconciled families and wonderful roles for both men and women.
It is also his earliest comedy.
The Shakespeare Kelowna production, which wraps Sunday, although starting slow and draggy gained energy and ended in a hilarious conclusion, which had the audience laughing and applauding.
Matt Gunn in his first acting role gave a strong performance as Antipholus of Ephesus, and he steals the show.
*If you want to understand who everyone is in the play and wonder why there are two characters named Antipholus and two called Dromio, check out the Bard Brawl podcast on the same play.
Both of the Dromios (Craig Paynton & Alyosha Pushak) were fantastic with their over-the-top physical theatre and crazy antics giving the play the much-needed zaniness. They are the key comedic performances in the play and without a solid Dromio (or two), the play falls very flat.
Corrine J. Marks appeared late in the second act but gave a forceful portrayal as the Abbess Emelia and exuded confidence with her commanding presence. The Hallelujah Chorus was a nice touch too.
The decision from directorStephen Jefferys to use music by the Barenaked Ladies played throughout the play gave it the modern touch which was alright, but I was not too impressed with the slang and would have preferred they stick to the original language.
Mentioning Justin Trudeau?? Come on now!
I will miss the Shakespeare Kelowna offering in the vineyard in August but the RCA Mary Irwin Theatre is a cozy venue and brings the audience close to the action so you feel part of the play.
What sets the productions of Bard on the Beach in Vancouver, BC apart from other Shakespeare performances is their style.
To be honest, the average person going to work unclogging a drain, filing papers, ceaselessly one-upping a coworker just to keep on top of the pedantic pyramid, doesn’t have time for Shakespeare. (Hmmm, it’s actually quite ironic Shakespeare writes many of these seemingly mundane human behaviours into his plays so really, we should be constantly reading and watching Shakespeare so as to be aware of the ruts we are in. But that’s a discussion for another time.) What Bard on the Beach does so well is to appeal to the people while staying true to Shakespeare. Sure, I see a few people nodding off during a long-winded soliloquy, however, I rarely find a person come away from a production regretting they had gone.
Bard of the Beach in their 2016 slate has again produced a magical musical version of The Merry Wives of Windsor set in Windsor, Ontario in the late 1960s that holds both the comedic Shakespeare in tact with the bar style kitsch Canadiana of Windsor.
The lifeless eyes of the stuffed moose head looks down on the Garter in where the wives Mrs. Ford and Page take the stage to kick off with These Boots are Made for Walkin’ while young Slender and Dr. Caius pine for Miss Page and the fat Falstaff looks to swindle the lot.
Much of the play’s success rides on Falstaff as Shakespeare’s popular buffoon (whom it is rumoured the Queen really liked) holds much of the energy between the various parties. He pursues the wives while Mr. Ford in disguise plies him for information about his schemes and all the while, Mrs Ford and Page are playing Falstaff for the fool he is. Ashely Wright plays the bombastic Falstaff and does an excellent job of capturing the sleazy businessman who thinks himself the true ladies man while being totally clueless at the same time.
While the entire cast from Bard on the Beach is exceptional, a few others stood out that night. Andrew Chown was spectacular as Dr. Caius in ridiculous valour suits and a French accent while Ben Elliott channeled his Jim Carrey (you know. When he was funny) to play a gangly Slender who unenthusiastically pursues the mistress Page. And the two wives of Windsor, Amber Lewis and Katey Wright (not this Katie Wright), were outstanding as they ran the stage both in verse and in song twisting Sir Falstaff every which was and into the laundry bin.
The joy of the show came from the musical that worked it’s way through script as characters would come from the wings to take up instruments and play and the bar keep and host of the Garter Inn, played by Anton Lipovetsky, did a great job with his guitar keeping it all together. The cast used the music of the late 60s to enhance the story and give the actors a chance to express their character through song which worked well with keeping the audience engaged. You could tell by scanning around the room and seeing the smiling faces that this production was a hit and one that is a must see this summer down in English Bay in Vancouver, BC.
We were really psyched about that. And Nick was excited that he’d finally get to see the last two acts of the play after walking out of the last production he saw to protest the death of Caesar. Indeed Nick,
[Caesar] hath left you all his walks,
His private arbours and new-planted orchards,
On this side Tiber; he hath left them you,
And to your heirs for ever, common pleasures,
To walk abroad, and recreate yourselves.
Here was a Caesar! when comes such another?
Unkind cut doesn’t begin to describe it.
As tradition dictates, we arrived just early enough to lay out the blanket and then have assholes set up with chairs in front of us. Then, resigned to not being able to see the very bottom of the stage for the next few hours, I reach for a cold beer to to slake our thirst only to have a petty caesar stop us with an injunction: “No beer here!”
What?!? Shakespeare in the Park, Bard Brawlers, pretzels, but no beer? Well, there was nothing for it. We had our programmes, we’d stretched out blanket, the play was about to begin.
It had to be endured. But be warned: no picnic beers at the CCA.
The setting for this Julius Caesar is a sort of post-apocalyptic pseudo Rome. The set for the first three acts of the play features columns of corroded metal and what looks like a rusted fountain. Peeling posters of Caesar are pasted to the columns and walls. Across the top of the set is a platform with drums and various percussion instruments which would be manned throughout the play by percussionist and composer, Catherine Varvaro.
Scaffolding and ladders also made it easy for the actresses to ascend, descend or perch in-between the two levels. The space was used to great effect, particularly in the scenes where Brutus and Marc Antony address the people of Rome, and the set itself evoked the public spaces of Rome and the Capitol nicely.
The near-constant percussion score really helped animate the play, particularly in the final two action-heavy acts of the play. However, there were times where the music itself was too loud and it became difficult to hear the lines being spoken by the actresses. In the last two acts of the play in particular, the music really set the frantic pace of the action, despite the lengthy slow-motion Capoeira-esque stage fighting which did not add much to the drama.
Kellock also chose to open and close with a song which I feel did not particularly work well with this play. For the last scene in particular, the addition of a song at the end of the play took all of the power away from Mark Antony’s final speech in which he identifies Brutus as the only conspirator who did not kill Caesar out of jealousy but because he believed in the principles of the Roman Republic. It’s a central concern of the play – the conspirators’ reason for killing Caesar are should seem suspect – and moving to a song to close deflates what is a powerful moment in the play.
Repercussion Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar features an all-female cast. To be clear, the characters themselves are not re-gendered (Julius Caesar didn’t become Juliet Caesar, for instance) but rather the roles are played by female actresses. While this may seem to indicate that the artistic director had a specific point to make about the relationship between power and gender in the play, it seems that there was no such vision guiding this choice. The programme just describes it as “an idea whose time has come,” something one should have the freedom to do in order to spark conversation.
For the most part, I didn’t find that an all-female cast changed much of anything to the play, possibly because much of the play involves fights and discussions between characters of the same gender. The casting choice becomes much more interesting when the scene features characters of different genders played by actresses of the same gender.
The scene where Portia asks Brutus to confide in her is perhaps the best examples. Portia’s speech is full of references to her gender and expresses a strong desire to be thought of possessing masculine qualities. When delivered to a female Brutus the speech seems much more poignant and underscores the relationship of gender to power in the play.
This year again, Repercussion Theatre’s production was hindered by unevenness in the acting.
For the most part, the leads of the play were quite good. Deena Aziz delivers an energetic and powerful Marcus Brutus, though her performance is sometimes undermined by a tendency to race through her lines a little too quickly.
Gitanjali Jain was also excellent in the role of Marc Antony, a role made thankless by Marlon Brando’s iconic performance of the role in Mankiewicz’ 1953 production of Julius Caesar. Jain’s Marc Antony’s vengeance seems somewhat more calculated and less impassioned than Brando’s but still well acted.
The titular role of Julius Caesar was ably acted by Leni Parker, who continued to range around the set of the play either as a ghost, or as one of Saruman’s Uruk-Hai. Your pick. (She had a white hand painted on her face,)
A nice way to tie back to Marc Antony’s curse, spoken over Caesar’s corpse. You know, this one:
The performances of the supporting actresses varied greatly. While many were excellent – such as Holly Gauthier-Frankel‘s Portia, or Warona Steshwaelo‘s Casca – others felt forced and over-acted and really detracted from the performance.
In the end, this year’s production of Julius Caesar feels like a better and more interesting effort than last year’s Twelfth Night though it does suffer from some of the same problems. A lack of focus in the direction of the play seems to be one, though Julius Caesar itself can feel like two plays in one, making it hard to bridge the two halves in a way that makes them feel connected.
Still, I am extremely encouraged be the choice of plays which Repercussion Theatre has chosen to tackle in the past few years and look forward to finding out what they have planned for next year!
It was a beautiful July evening and we enjoyed wine from the Vibrant Vine which made it even better. The Villa is set in the hills above Kelowna and the view is amazing as well as the magnificent gardens.
One of the best-known love stories ever written (is it a love story though?), this play has been translated into dozens of languages and has inspired art, song, ballet, opera and film. The challenge in presenting Romeo & Juliet is to breathe new life, freshness and relevance into the production.
“These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which, as they kiss, consume. The sweetest honey
Is loathsome in his own deliciousness
And in the taste confounds the appetite.
Therefore love moderately. Long love doth so.
Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.”
– Friar Lawrence, II,vi
Neal Facey, long time theatre instructor, director and producer has done just that. In his own words, “This production is set in a fictional modern Verona where the Montagues and Capulets are the heads of rival fashion houses. The vibrant looks of haute couture thinly mask the corporate covert wars and rivalry of the fashion world.”
Matt Brown as Romeo brings a strong brooding presence to the character and Sarah Goddard as Juliet brings passion and life to every scene she is in.
“Ah me! How sweet is love itself possessed
When but love’s shadows are so rich in joy!”
– Romeo, V,i
Romeo’s cousin Benvolio (Justin Gaudio) and his loyal friend Mercutio (Alyosha Pushak) display their true devotion to him and also add some comic relief with Mercutio’s pink socks and loud outbursts of devotion.
Fred Way, formerly of MBSS teaching fame, and Bard Brawl co-captain Daniel J. Rowe’s high school drama teacher, was the set designer.
William Shakespeare would have loved this production of Romeo & Juliet, and the story of love, grief and loss, hatred and violence, loyalty and counsel are as fresh today as they were over 400 years ago.
*EDITOR’S NOTE FROM DANIEL: Right on Mr. Way. Right on. Mr. Way was obsessed with Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet, and did a production in tribute of it once. Funny story. Facey didn’t watch it telling me, “film is film and theatre is theatre.” Classic drama teacher line.
Having never seen or read Othello, and only using Iago as a crossword answer for ‘villain’ I was intrigued to find out just what this Shakespeare play, written when he was at the top of his form, was all about.
The Bard on the Beach production of Othello is set in 1864, towards the end of the American Civil War and it fits perfectly with the underlying theme of racism which is evident throughout the play.
Even though Othello has been promoted to Union Army General, he is treated with suspicion and has to wed Desdemona secretly has her father, Brabantio would not approve.
“Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe,”
In the 1600s people with dark non-white skin were put in cages an displayed in the town square as curiosities. Even though the Union Army were fighting for emancipation in the Civil War there was still an acceptance of slavery and racism throughout the north and south.
Kayvon Kelly as Iago, in his fourth season of Bard, was very compelling, and a strong presence on stage. Indeed the play lagged a little when he wasn’t on stage. You could always feel his loathing for Othello.
Othello was an imposing character but easily duped by the cruel Iago.
Why does he “Hate Othello?” It was stated with great vehemence more than once. Iago’s racism is at times very overt and other times subtle and poisonous.
Was it because Othello is black, or is he truly jealous?
It’s part of what makes the play so fascinating, Iago so delightfully evil, and Othello so utterly tragic.
Iago was both jealous and racist and felt passed over as Othello had chosen Cassio as his lieutenant
Even the handkerchief that Iago uses to spur jealousy in Othello was said to have special powers instilled from Othello, as if there was ‘black magic’ involved.
The death scene was a little weak and some members of the audience were even laughing although I could not see the humour in it. It kind of showed that Othello’s character, played by Luc Roderique, was not as strong as Iago although his physical presence on stage was imposing (tall and dark).
Director Bob Frazer says “by setting Othello during the American Civil War, we are shining a light on what many suspect to be the beginning of the new, deep-seated and subtle racism in North America.”
Frazer has been at Bard on the Beach since playing Hamlet in 2005. Since graduating from Studio 58 he has amassed almost 100 theatrical credits both as a director and actor.
He feels Shakespeare’s Othello is a “timeless story that moves audiences on a personal level, all while creating some of the most memorable characters in his canon.”
The folk and instrumental music used throughout the play captured the patriotic fervor of the Civil War and the mournful ballads brought the themes of slavery, loyalty and love to life. Costumes were authentic to the period as well.
A well done and timely Shakespeare experience!
As always, we have to ask ourselves: would the bard approve of this production?
Oh dang. Watching American Horror Story Freak Show the other night, I realized, after seeing the always charming, chilling and a little bit creepy, Lily Rabe, that I had neglected to post the review I wrote in the summer of Cymbeline in which she starred. Twenty-eight lashes and three monologues of private lamentation later, I thought, why not just post it, and remember warm nights in the summer and brilliant productions of the bard.
Here it is.
I have always, always, always wanted to see a play in Central Park, NYC. It’s one of those things all bard brawlers must do at some time, and, thanks to a lovely person from New Zealand, I got a couple of tickets. Oh, and I took a friend who had never been to a Shakespeare play before! So many lovely things right there.
(My friend Rene won the free tickets and gave them to me. Such a darling)
First off, the opening of the play was great. Director Daniel Sullivan has those “turn off your phones” guys both welcome people, and thank sponsors (people actually clapped for the Bank of America. Weird). Then, the cast came out on stage and real audience members asked questions to get the crowd into the play, and, BANG, play starts. So smart. The effect was perfect. Everyone was laughing and ready to get set for what is a very strange and great play.
Rabe and Linklater were great.
Rabe has this incredible ability to be beautiful, and tragic, and funny, and weird all at once. A think I loved about her performance in Cymbeline was the way she moved. She didn’t do that predictable puffed out chest, “Victorian” stance that I seem to see so often in Shakespeare productions. She moved more hunched over and slinky, so, while she definitely commanded attention on stage, she also gave the character a bit of needed vulnerability.
Linklater was side-splitting hilarious as Cloten, as well as mopey, love-torn, romantic as Posthumous. A particularly incredible scene featuring both leads was the “Hark, hark the lark” song, Cloten serenades the girl who is “supposed” to love him! Why don’t you love Cloten?! It’s perfect.
Linklater even was able to make the particularly troubling speech about killing Posthumous and raping Imogen ridiculous and funny. He delivered the intense line with the false bravado of a 14-year-old spazz, and thus could be laughed at without feeling horrible that you’re laughing at some pretty gross stuff. Hey. Dark comedy is still comedy am I wrong?
Patrick Page was also great as Iachimo; full of energy, conniving spirit and all of that fun stuff. Actually, pretty much every cast member did their job and did it well.
The set was very well-built. Props for making sure it was whimsical, but not overbearing. A single circular platform that came up from the floor was the only moving part, which was effective and gave a nice throwback to the Elizabethan trapdoor trick.
Oh, and a racoon scurried onto the set during the production I went to. It was delightful, unplanned, and had nothing to do with the play, but, hey, animals should always get a nod if they happen to show up. I’m pretty sure the racoon just wanted to catch a bit of the play. Why wouldn’t he?