Of bears and sheep and gouged out eyes

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)

Daniel J. Rowe

There are seven days left to check out one of the Bard Brawl’s favourite venues for Shakespearean plays, so, those in the Pacific Northwest, what are you waiting for.

Let’s have a look at Bard on the Beach‘s production of The Winter’s Tale.

BOB’s Winter’s Tale is its traditional production of the season, and it’s a fine production to be sure. My mom was very excited about the costumes.

Classic costumes, pillars and masks all add to the excellent aesthetic of BOB’s Winter’s Tale. (Photo: David Blue)

I caught the BOB’s 2006 production, which was also good. The 2017 had a little more to it production wise, which paid off in spades.

It’s always good to catch a traditional production and also always good to catch it with your teenaged niece to see if she can handle it.

When did she get so bleeping tall?

How did director Dean Paul Gibson do?

Very good I have to say.

This play is no easy play to put on.

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

Putting a quality sheep on stage makes everything better. My aunt loved them much like everyone else it seemed. (Photo, David Blue)

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.

Get me out of court and into the country with the shepherds. Am I right? (Photo, David Blue)
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Merchant done oh so right

Daniel J. Rowe

Bard Brawl co-captain Eric Jean and I are asked often one question: did Shakespeare really write all those plays?

Ugh.

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?

Absolutely amazing.

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.

Edward Foy as Antonio gets the plays first lines:

“In sooth, I know not why I am so sad,

It wearies me; you say it wearies you;

but how I caught it, found it, or came by it,

What stuff ’tis made of, whereof it is born,

I am to learn;

and such a want wit sadness makes of me,

that I have much ado to know myself,” I,i

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.

Warren Kimmel as Skylock is outstanding in Bard on the Beach’s 2017 production. (photo, David Blue)

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.

Shakespeare plays often mirror the current climates, as seen in this Merchant or Public Theater’s Donald Trump style Julius Caesar in Central Park. It’s one reason the bard endures. Count on Othello and King Lear productions popping up very soon.

Then there is the “love story” in Merchant.

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, like the rest of the play, stay intense and dark with little room for comedy. (photo, David Blue)

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.

It ends September 16.

Kimmel and Foy are the perfect juxtaposition in a near-perfect production of Merchant of Venice. (Photo, David Blue)

 

 

Two gents, two ladies, and a dog on the beach

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.

Jacob Roberts

 

 

 

 

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.

Instead, they end up at odds over the same woman – Silvia (Adele Noronha) – even though Proteus had quite recently promised himself to Julia (Kate Besworth), who is back in Verona. Continue reading “Two gents, two ladies, and a dog on the beach”

Music, whimsy, and the Merry Wives of Windsor

A.D. Rowe

Wives singing
THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, 2016 Bard on the Beach; Photo: David Blue

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.

Photo 2Much 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.

Photo 1
David Marr, Ben Elliott & Andrew McNee THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, 2016 Bard on the Beach; Photo: David Blue

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Othello, a tale from the American Civil War

Kathleen Rowe

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,”
  – Iago

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.Photo 3_0

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.”

Luc Roderique (Othello) & Kayla Deorksen (Desdemona) OTHELLO, 2016 Bard on the Beach Photo: David Blue
Luc Roderique (Othello) & Kayla Deorksen (Desdemona)
OTHELLO, 2016
Bard on the Beach
Photo: David Blue

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?

Yes! Forsooth he would!


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The Comedy of Errors with a Steampunk Twist, a Bard on the Beach miracle

With Bard on the Beach in full swing during a sweltering Vancouver summer, Director Scott Bellis has taken Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors and given it the gears and gadgets of the Steampunk genre.
 I know what you’re thinking, “Steampunk? Was that not a thing a decade ago? I mean, how can you add to the genre when Will Smith’s Wild Wild West filled the cup full?”
Well said and I did think the same going into the main stage on Vancouver’s beautiful Vanier Park looking out over English Bay. How many times have we seen a kind of kitschy genre played out once too many much to the audience’s chagrin?
Comedy of Errors3
Photo credits – David Blue

Yet Scott Bellis and the Bard on the Beach cast delivered a delightfully entertaining performance using the Steampunk back drop to add colourful characters behind the scenes and flashy special effects right in the audience’s faces.

The widgets, levers and wire-rimmed glasses worked in and around Shakespearean forms of love, hate, jealousy, misdirection and slap stick found in his comedies.  The stage lighting tricks and quirky use of the monstrous Nurse, did nothing to take away from the fun of the mistaken identities and the foibles the followed.  It was not a nauseating ride through the planet’s core filled with distracting gooberfish  and the bigger fish that eat the gooberfish. It was a laugh fest coloured with smoke and lightening thanks to the design team including Pam Johnson (Scenery), Gerald King (Lighting), Malcolm Dow (Sound).
Comedy of Errors
Antipholus and Dromio take centre stage.

The play begins with the aging Egeon (Scott Bellis) from Syracuse thrown before the Duke of Ephesus and sentenced to death simply for being a Syracusian.  Sounds about right. Pleading for his life, Egeon tells his tragic tale of loss and how he came to be in Ephesus.  Many years ago on a voyage at sea a terrible storm separated Egeon from his wife and son leaving him with his other twin son and twin servant. Yep. All believable so far. Both children were called Antipholus and the servants Dromio and when Egeon’s remaining son left for Ephesus and failed to return, he has been on a decade long search for him.  The ever so generous Duke is moved by Egeon’s tale and grants a stay of execution granting him one day to come up with money for bail proving that all politicians are motivated by the promise of monetary reward (how can one not be cynical in these electoral times).

Comedy of Errors2
Antipholus berates his servant Dromio

Meanwhile across town, Antipholus of Syracuse (Ben Elliott) and his servant Dromio (Luisa Jojic) have come ashore unaware that they have stumbled upon the home town of their twin brothers Antipholus of Ephesus (Jay Hindle) and Dromio (Dawn Petten). In the ensuing confusion created by mistaken identity schtick that Shakespeare does so well, the antics of the Dromios and Antipholi drives the energy and comedy of the play right to the closing curtain.  Hats off to Elliott and Hindle as they are thrown this way and that and even more so to Jojic and Petten who were spectacular in making the horrors of slave ownership and abuse quite funny as they were slap sticked around the stage. Hmmm. Feels wrong.

Costume designer Mara Gottler deserves kudos for capturing the feel of Steampunk especially with the minor characters nefarious Dr. Pinch, the mysterious Abbess and the monstrous Nurse Poppy. The iron gears and twisting metal made for a darker backdrop to the play and added a mysterious element juxtaposing the comedic performances in the foreground. Gottler does well by taking the darker science fiction/fantasy look and decorating the characters with horned rimmed glasses, old aviator helmets and trench coats.
When mixed with the sights and sounds of the stage crew, Bard on the Beach delivers a production of The Comedy of Errors that is a unique and wild and fun and a show that demonstrates how this company continues to keep Shakespeare alive in Vancouver.

Bard on the Beach


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A certain kind of madness

Theatre Calgary’s production of King Lear was a good crazy.

Jennifer Dorozio

Flashes of lightening crack, thunder roars and a stumbling madman emerges from the backdrop.

His shirt is un-tucked, his hair is full of static but, most telling, is the wild spark that fills his eyes, and the angry pitch with which he yells heavenward.

So enters the mad King Lear to the bittersweet pleasure of a rapt Calgary theatre audience. What the actor, Benedict Campbell, has successfully done, is to make you want to admonish the foolish king, and give him a comforting pat on the shoulder at the same time.

The scene described is the first we see after the intermission of Theatre Calgary’s production of King Lear, directed by Dennis Garnhum which runs from March 10 until April 12.

Where the first half is full on Shakespearean plotting, dialogue and pensive monologues, the second is pure action and includes gouged eyeballs, a ranting half naked madman, and assorted “deserved” and “undeserved” deaths.

Photo credit - Trudie Lee
Photo credit – Trudie Lee

King Lear is one of the “famous” Shakespeare plays, which brings to life the tale of a King of Britain’s descent into madness, and then his journey out of it, which ends in tragedy, great loss and ultimately his death.

Intrigue abounds as brothers clash, and sisters with sharp tongues and nasty streaks are backed into corners as Lear’s kingdom is divvied up among the royal family.

The play centres on Lear and his three daughters, Goneril (Colleen Wheeler), Regan (Jennifer Lines) and Cordelia (Andrea Rankin). The aged king loves his youngest the best (hey! I’m the youngest and best too), and this leads to complications, especially after his own self-serving game of ‘how much do you love me?’ causes him to banish Cordelia. The vultures in the royal family, who try to wrest away power from his feeble hands, then betray the proud Lear.

Which of you shall we say doth love us most?
That we our largest bounty may extend,

Lear, I,i

The characters themselves feature some quirky and brooding additions in their mix. One in particular stands out among the rest: the fool, who is King Lear’s Court Jester, played by Bard on the Beach regular Scott Bellis.

*Garnhum’s Lear will follow at Bard on the Beach’s summer playbill.

The fool, imbues some much-needed levity into the first act. Wearing a coxcomb on his head, he spends a majority of his stage time leaping from place to place. Curiously, his mad interpretation of Lear’s confused reality does lend a bizarre sort of clarity to the king’s situation.

This is exemplified when the fool eerily jests to King Lear, “This cold night will turn us all to fools and madmen,” foreshadowing all the cacophonous events to come.

Heartbreaking is the excellent performance of the Earl of Gloucester, played by David Marr, who is the play’s one paternal character you can’t help but feel badly for as misfortune after misfortune befalls him.

Then there’s the scene that sticks out because of its unnecessary gore. Gloucester’s eyeballs are in stomach-churning fashion carved out his head and at one point even trodden upon. It did little to add to the production other then induce cringes and distraction at all the fake blood for a full two minutes afterward.

Lest it see more, prevent it. Out, vile jelly!
Where is thy lustre now?

Cornwall, III, vii

Michael Blake performance of Edmund, the crafty bastard son of the Gloucester, is charmingly sinister. He plots for revenge by promoting multiple sibling entanglements making him both convincing as a villain, and likable.

While actor Andrea Rankin, as the young Cordelia, does play the doe-eyed daughter well, there is something a little grating about her over the top sweetness that came off as insincerity near the end. It seemed as though her tone and countenance changed little whether responding to a marriage proposal or being angry at her father’s mistreatment.

The Shakespearean world of King Lear, so artfully woven by the troupe of Theatre Calgary actors, doesn’t seem very far off from our own world, which is perhaps why the play still feels so relevant. These themes of undying devotion, betrayal and greed still saturate news media, television and movies because they are reflections of human reality and frailty.

Getting through the more slow-paced first half is well worth the wait. The explosion of passion, blood and revenge in the second half leaves you completely sated in a way only an excellent acting troupe and script can do.

Here’s a scene.

Weather the Tempest and you will not regret the storm

Daniel J. Rowe

In the final trip to the Bard on the Beach for the Bard Brawl the Tempest awaited. It is an entirely unique play in William Shakespeare’s cannon and has the potential to be one of the most entertaining, provoking and touching. It can fall flat or be incredibly moving.

Did director Meg Roe pull it out under the tent?

To quote Omar from the Wire, ‘Indeed.’ (That was Shakespeare right?)

Meg Roe's Tempest finds the balance between wonder and soliloquy at Bard on the Beach. Photo credit - David Blue
Meg Roe’s Tempest finds the balance between wonder and soliloquy at Bard on the Beach.
Photo credit – David Blue

Roe’s Tempest executes the most difficult of things in live theatre: balance. The play bounces between incredible design, action, and intrigue and the subtle and powerful monologues of the play’s centre: Prospero (Allan Morgan).

Indeed the isle was full of noises, sounds and sweet airs that gave delight and did not hurt (wink), but first we have to get there.

Relinquishing solitude and embracing the brave new world is a wise model for theatre goers who should take in the Tempest. Photo credit - David Blue
Relinquishing solitude and embracing the brave new world is a wise model for theatre goers who should take in the Tempest.
Photo credit – David Blue

The staging of the opening ship wreck was very clever, loud, and set the play perfectly as it destroyed the ship carrying the King of Naples and left him and his crew on the island inhabited by the exiled wizard, his naive daughter and a sprite name Ariel (no, not that Ariel. She’s a mermaid).

The balance between stylized action and solitary poetry is the Tempest at its best, and Roe does not miss an opportunity to exploit this juxtaposition (even if she spells her last name wrong. Shouldn’t it be R-O-W-E?).

Morgan is great as the aging Shakespeare getting ready to say goodbye to theatre. Er I mean Prospero saying goodbye to the island and his daughter. He is lucky (or unlucky depending on your style), as he gets a handful of the most famous of Shakespeare monologues. You can bet there were a few nights when a few theatre grads had copies of the text in hand and mouthed along to:

Our revels now are ended.

These our actors, as I fortold you, were all spirits and

are melted into air, into thin air.

Gotta love theatre grads. Wait a second. Most of the cast is theatre grads. Forget I said anything.

The only thing I can ask for is what Morgan was able to give me. Even though the lines were familiar and I knew they were coming they still had that sad melancholy of an artist hanging up his quill. He made them memorable and meaningful. It’s especially difficult to draw and audience in to that level of intimacy after some of the spectacle scenes that preceded and followed the lines.

And the spectacle can’t be understated. Roe’s Tempest is full of some really incredible design and style that added as much magic to the island as any Puck infested forest.

Speaking of whimsy and wonder, Ariel (Jennifer Lines) has a dramatic and powerful presence throughout the play. She pulls a little Galadriel out in one of the most impressive scenes of the whole production. Shivers.

Go see the play. You’ll get it.

Props has to also go to the Miranda (Lili Beaudoin) as Prospero’s naive daughter flitting around the island after love of her life (you know, the third guy she’s met in her life) Ferdinand (Daniel Doheny), while having her eyes opened to the brave new world (wink) that awaits her. Oh that world is a bunch of conniving, back-stabbing, flaky aristocrats Miranda. Sorry. Welcome to reality. Have a wonderful wedding.

Trincula (Luisa Jojic) and Stephana (Naomi Wright) threw me off a bit, but showed their quality in the end; just like Faramir. The jester and drunkard were great at playing off Caliban (Todd Thomson), and gave the audience a more than a few laughs even if they were of the ‘ha ha she’s drunk’ variety. For me, I could have taken a little less from the scenes, but, hey, who am I to criticize what everyone else is enjoying? More poop jokes!

Ariel pulls out a little Galadriel in the midst of the Tempest, no complaints here. Photo credit - David Blue
Ariel pulls out a little Galadriel in the midst of the Tempest, no complaints here.
Photo credit – David Blue

Sitting waiting for the play to start both myself and my brother noted the set. The design was perfect. Not too much, not too bare. The players worked their way through the set with ease, and were able to shine and wind their way through the design. The trap door was used sparingly and to great effect.

On a side note I would like to congratulate myself for not geeking out when I saw sound designer Alessandro Juliani walk by before the play. It’s hard to resist bringing it up, and insist on going over some of the decisions Felix Gaeta made in season four of Battlestar Galactica. He used to come into a restaurant I managed in Vancouver about seven years ago. Very nice guy. What a great show.

The Tempest is one of those plays Shakespeare theatre troupes can’t resist adding to the bill especially in the summer. The play can be very entertaining or mind-numbingly boring based on choices the director makes and the performances that accompany. Bard on the Beach pulled this one off not adding too many overly clever bits and adding just enough style for the wow factor. Props to the cast and crew.

Do yourself a favour if you’re in Vancouver between now and the end of September and check it out.

 

Equivocation packed with energy and intrigue on the beach

Daniel J. Rowe

(Read in honest trailer voice) An attempt on the king’s life has been made, a plot is unveiled, the traitors are captured and the kingdom must be calmed. The hopes of all England ride one one man, a man who can sway the public and restore order.

He is…

A playwright?

William Shakespeare goes from writer to character at Bard on the Beach's production of Equivocation by Bill Cain. Photo credit - David Blue
William Shakespeare goes from writer to character at Bard on the Beach’s production of Equivocation by Bill Cain.
Photo credit – David Blue

Vancouver, BC’s Bard on the Beach sole non-Shakespeare written play for 2014 is Bill Cain‘s Equivocation, a perfect fit to the season even if the play is not a curtain-t0-curtain masterpiece. Director Michael Shamata puts on a thoroughly enjoyable and energetic piece on the Bard on the Beach studio stage.

Rather than the author of the play, William Shakespeare or Shagspeare (Bob Frazer) is the central character struggling late in his career to, well, write a play.

Think Shakespeare in Love, Jacobean Style.

In Cain’s play, we have the dark and serious playwright reflecting on a career built on piling up bodies on stage, rewriting courtly love, changing the nature of the theatre forever, and altering history with a hump here and there. He is under pressure to equivocate from political pressures in King James I’s court that want him doing more of what they want. They get it. The play is the thing. It can change things.

Shagspear (Bob Frazer) given lessons on the shady grey area of truth by Sir Robert Cecil (Anousha Alamian). Photo Credit - David Blue
Shagspear (Bob Frazer) given lessons on the shady grey area of truth by Sir Robert Cecil (Anousha Alamian).
Photo Credit – David Blue

The machiavell of the the play is Sir Robert Cecil (Anousha Alamian) who would like Shagspeare and his players to write the very current history of the gun powder plot of December 1605 in which a group of Catholics most notably Guy Fawkes (yes, the guy from V for Vendetta) sought to destroy parliament complete with the intolerant Scottish king in it. Can the greatest playwright in all of English history pull the play out, or is his quest for the capital ‘T’ truth to much of a barrier?

Who’s telling who lies? Who is really behind the plot? What are the characters’ motivations, and why are they motivated to act them out?

Consider the question central in the play:

The Spanish army invades England and a soldier is at your door asking if the king is hiding within. He is. Do you remain loyal to the crown and lie to save the king or do you tell the truth and betray he you swore to protect?

You may want to use the subtle art of equivocation.

equiv·o·cate

verb \i-ˈkwi-və-ˌkāt\

: to use unclear language especially to deceive or mislead someone

Thank you Merriam-Webster.

Cain, a Jesuit himself, is incredibly clever for the most part, weaving Shagspear’s crew of actors, King James’ politicians, clerics, and the playwright himself together to tell the incredibly complicated, but thoroughly enjoyable plot.

*Spoiler alert: he writes Macbeth.

Actors, like in Bard on the Beach’s Cymbeline, play multiple roles sometimes swapping costumes onstage. On the whole the players pull off the swaps with accuracy and style, and rarely do the roles blend into each other.

A chink that stood out in the armour of Cain’s play is the side plot involving Shagspeare’s daughter Judith (Rachel Cairns), whose scenes lack the energy and pop of the rest of the play. Cairns is a fine actress and it’s unclear whether the 21st century sarcasm her character broods the stage with is the fault of the script or the performance. I want to say it’s the former. The “I hate soliloquies” lines are a little weird as they’re typically uttered while she delivers her various soliloquies. There’s also an odd line near the end where she says that after “the Scottish Play” (ha, ha. Theatre people are superstitious about saying ‘Macbeth), her father only wrote six more plays. Six more? Those plays were Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, Cymbeline, Winter’s Tale and the Tempest (maybe Pericles). King Lear’s also around that time. Just those six? I can think of a playwright or two that wouldn’t mind if that list was their complete canon. She is meant to be the Debby Downer to the Bard, and winds up being the same for the audience.

Judith (Rachel Cairns) struggles to keep the energy left on the stage by her fellow players. Photo credit - David Blue
Judith (Rachel Cairns) struggles to keep the energy left on the stage by her fellow players.
Photo credit – David Blue

 

The Judith scenes might have been a bit more forgivable if the rest of the play wasn’t so intriguing, full of fine pace, and entertaining. The scenes between Shagspeare and Cecil are very strong and bursting with wit, as is the theological back and forth between Shagspeare and Father Henry Garnet (Gerry Mackay). Mackay pulls double duty as Shagspeare’s forever partner and friend Richard Burbage, and is great in both roles.

Oh and there’s a few heads that get cut off on stage. Always dramatic.

Bard on the Beach was wise to chose Cain’s play for 2014. Having one play that addresses the man rather than the work is always a treat. Those in Vancouver who sit in the ‘I don’t really get Shakespeare’ lawn chair would do well to check this one out, as well as those who sit on the ‘what was it really like in Shakespeare’s time’ hardback chairs.

It gives a great glimpse into a vision of what the time may have been like, and the struggles of an author to produce work that is both true, poetic and will have lasting appeal.

You know, unlike a few parts of the Henry VI trilogy.

 

Would you equivocate for your king?  Photo credit - David Blue
Would you equivocate for your king?
Photo credit – David Blue

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