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 setting for the Comedy of Error – the city of Ephesus – was an ancient trading city whose power rested on the power of its merchant ships. In this way it’s pretty similar to England in the 17th century. It’s also very similar to some other Mediterranean settings like Venice where a certain merchant ends up indebted to Shylock for a pound of flesh.
Some of these mercantile themes crop up even in a early play like Comedy of Errors.
What’s the setup?
Egeon, father of Antipholus of Ephesus and Syracuse, was found trespassing in the city while searching for his lost son(s). The punishment for that crime is death. Egeon’s story moves the duke but he states that he cannot change the law. However, if Egeon can somehow find his son and come up with bail money then he can go free.
Antonio mentions basically the same thing in Merchant of Venice but explains that the reason the duke cannot overrule the law when confronted by a sad story is that mercantile societies rely on the supposed impartiality of the rule of law:
The duke cannot deny the course of law. For the commodity that strangers have With us in Venice, if it be denied, Will much impeach the justice of his state, Since that the trade and profit of the city Consisteth of all nations. (Merchant of Venice, III, iii, 26-30)
Money keeps changing hands in other way during the play. There’s the whole plot around a gold chain. The merchant keeps asking the wrong Antipholus for cash, the chain is given to the wrong one. The goldsmith needs the payment because he owes money to the merchant who is about to set off for Persia. Seeing as Antipholus doesn’t seem willing to pay, the goldsmith tries to have him arrested for not paying his debts.
The idea of bonds is paramount. It<s not just a matter of keeping one’s word and being honest. It’s also a matter of being good for it, of paying up when the time comes.
Perhaps the most famous day in literary history. It was the day many have followed who actually sat down, buckled in and read James Joyce’s Ulysses, cover-to-cover.
It is a monumental task, and one well worth trying.
The brawlers, and a squirrel, attempted the feat this year. We started at 7 p.m. on the 16th, and really had no hope of getting all the way to Penelope. We made it to the end of Proteus.
We continued with Calypso the 17th in the AM, though we’re sure all the purists out there would be scowling through mouthfuls of kidney and other flesh of fowls and what not at us not following the Bloomsday rules.
The Jameson did help a little.
In the end, we did our best, and made it past Aeolus, and had a bunch of fun in the process. Eric was voted “Most likely to read about farts or dumps” and no reading should every be done without the musical accompaniment of Mr. Nick MacMahon.
Next year, we’ll go for the whole tome.
‘Zounds! contributor and poet Ryan Buynak, Coyote Blood, also gave it a whirl, and gave us this reflection. Enjoy:
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.