Steven Sabel's Twist on the Trade: Social Theatre

I’ve never been big on social theatre. Not that I don’t think that theatre can and sometimes should make people think, but I’m a classicist who believes in subtlety. No one ever changed their mind about much of anything by being hit over the head, or force fed with a message. The best way to affect social change through performance is doing a show containing those “ah-ha” moments that strike audience members on their drive home from the theater. The classic masters were – well – masters at this.

Aristophanes sent a message of peace to his fellow Athenians, while highlighting the power of the feminine force through humorous metaphor with his “Lysistrata” without losing its entertainment value by drilling home his message to the populace.

Shakespeare was able to make his point about anti-Semitism by giving Shylock his famous speech, wrapped inside a mostly comic play he knew would appeal to his audience. In fact he almost pandered to their views, and then sort of snuck his message in under the radar. He does this equally well in tragic terms with “Othello,” adding another layer of subtlety by making “the savage Moor” the most eloquent and intelligent speaker in the play, perhaps the entire canon.

Sophocles used a dressing of anti-tyranny for his fellow democratic Athenians to sneak in his messages regarding loyalty to a higher power and the bonds of family over government and society when he wrote “Antigone.” Jean Anouilh used the classic Greek tragedy 2,385 years later to sneak those messages past the Nazi regime in occupied France.

Moliere used his comedies to take stabs at hypocrites of all sorts, and though he was regularly condemned by the religious, political, and medical profession leaders of his time because his attacks hit them too close to home, he was popular with the public who consumed his works with fervor. He wrote 31 of the 85 plays performed at the theatre in the Palais-Royal in Paris over a 14 year period. In today’s modern French, a tartuffe is a hypocrite, and a harpagon is a greedy miser – names of two of Moliere’s most famous characters that have now become part of the French lexicon. How’s that for making an impact?

Too many of today’s playwrights lack the creative subtlety to send their social message to an unsuspecting audience. Instead they write directly to the audience they already have. They preach to the choir. This does not affect any social change. It convinces no one of anything. It merely creates an echo chamber of like-minded people congratulating themselves and each other for sharing the same view – often a tunnel vision view. There is nothing clever about that, and thus not very interesting. It may have some entertainment value, but it isn’t opening new minds to new points of view. If anything, it only pushes potential new audiences away. In essence, a hammer head message accomplishes the exact opposite of what social theatre should be aimed at doing – opening the message to new minds through subtlety.

Much of today’s social theatre is a result of social theatre, in that a group of like-minded friends get together and say: “let’s put on a play!” The play is their social outlet, not unlike a bowling league or softball team. Rehearsals become a place to hang out with friends, and performances become not much more than a precursor to socializing at a local bar or house party. The audience is composed of friends and family members like the backyard productions we used to put on for our parents as kids. Any social message contained in the material actually takes a back seat to the true intent of the gathering: maintaining a social calendar for the participants. It’s a “play” date for grown-ups.

Benedict Knitterbatch

All of that is fine indeed. As I mentioned, some people join bowling leagues, others join softball teams. Some people form book clubs, knitting circles, and model airplane societies. We are social animals, and we like to surround ourselves with like-minded people who share our same interests. The difference is in the professed intent. I’ve never heard of a knitting circle with a “mission” to affect social change through the scarves and beanies they create.

On occasion, the casual hobbyist can turn their past time into some extra dollars. I know several people who place their creations on Etsy, E-bay, or other sites to make a little money by sharing their artistic hobby with others. Unlike actors, very few of these people profess to be aspiring to a career in their chosen social outlet or hobby. People who knit just aren’t that pretentious. Either that, or they have a keener sense of their own realities.

If you are an actor, it is time to examine your reality. Is your social theatre truly reaching the unenlightened masses? Is your social theatre just social theatre, filling your nights and weekends with play dates - or are you truly working toward that career by doing projects that either increase your aptitude, strengthen your skills, advance your professional network, or get you seen by a greater audience?

Have fun. It’s called a play for a reason. But if you’re just playing around with friends, then call it what it is, and build a career doing something else. No subtlety here.


Interview With Multi-Talented Marc Antonio Pritchett About Directing Mousetrap at Theatre Palisades

Director Marc Antonio Pritchett is currently rehearsing his cast for the next main stage production Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap at Theatre Palisades. I sat down with this classically trained actor, singer, and stunt combatant to learn more about his take on this classic crime script and uncover a few details about this multi-talented entertainment industry professional.

The Mousetrap is truly a classic of the whodunnit genre. What is your take going to be?

How are you directing this production for Theatre Palisades?

It’s amazing to break into this material and really see how detailed Agatha Christie was - which she had to be, as the queen of crime! She put all of these little details, all of these “Easter eggs” into places that will pay off later in scenes. In rehearsal, it’s a challenge. But the payoff is worth it. We just have to cross all of our t’s and dot our i’s, and manage to act in there as well, to pull off this amazing show that’s been done more than any other show ever.

There will be some fun discoveries and connections for those who watch and listen very closely. We are definitely honoring the original script, and we are making it as digestible for a modern audience as possible.

Why did you choose to direct Agatha Christie?

I’ve always been into the genre! As a kid, I was into Encyclopedia Brown, the Hardy Boys, and Sherlock Holmes. I loved to try to figure out what was going on before the ending. So this is a really unique opportunity to help shape that experience for other people.

What inspires you as a director?

Probably the most impactful experiences have been working with the classics - working with Shakespeare in particular, where, in addition to the normal things you have to work with in a play, you have this heightened language that you have to make seem commonplace. You have to get the actors to emote through the language, and to get them to be able to communicate in a way that modern people can hear.

I also have a background in Opera, which is very helpful, because in many cases with that genre, the audience is just looking at supertitles and may have no idea what’s going on! So you really have to make sure the performers are communicating physically and emotively for the audience to be able to follow the story all the way through.

We know directing is only one of your many skills and talents. What are some of the others?

I’m a session singer. Recently, I sang on the new Lion King movie soundtrack, which was an amazing experience! I also do fight work, sword work in particular. I’m a fight coordinator and I run a stage combat school.

So it’s a weird, eclectic mix but it all comes together when I'm directing or acting.

I went to the University of Georgia where I was a double major in Music and Drama, and I also studied Martial Arts and Fencing. A counselor there directed me to go into entertainment where all of these skills could come together. No one cares if a concert pianist can throw a side-kick, but an actor who can play piano and throw a kick is more valuable. And this is true with directors as well. So I changed my music focus to film composition, and fighting into stage combat.

What shows are on your future wish list? Besides all of Shakespeare, of course...

Hamlet was one of my first professional gigs, which I did 170 times! I’d like to do something like David Ives (All in the Timing) again, an evening of one-acts. I love hilarious one-acts like that, so either specifically David Ives, or someone who is similar. Also, some of the parodies to the classics are fun, like Fortinbras. I’ve always wanted to direct that. So maybe have a run of Hamlet on a double bill with Fortinbras.


The Mousetrap, by Agatha Christie, is performing at Theatre Palisades from August 30 through October 6, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm.

You can purchase tickets via phone at 310-454-1970 or via http://www.theatrepalisades.com/ Tickets are $20-22.

Address: Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Cyn. Rd., Pacific Palisades.

For cast and crew interviews, join their facebook page at facebook.com/theatrepalisades.

The Mousetrap is produced by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc.


PODCAST: Interview of "Coin & Ghost's" Rob Adler and Zachary Reeve Davidson, 2nd Season and 'Bad Hamlet' at 'New American'

An interview with Artistic Director and C0-Producer, Zachary Reeve Davidson, and Director, Rob Adler, of Coin & Ghost, on their world premiere play, "Bad Hamlet: An Irreverent, Interactive, Inventive Bootleg," which opens today at New American Theatre in Hollywood and their second season, MYTH-REMEMBERED.

Davidson and Adler, discuss the interactive aspect of "Bad Hamlet," which is based on the legend of “the bad quarto," and explores the "intersection of Shakespeare, memory, modern technology and Los Angeles."

"Bad Hamlet" kicks off Coin & Ghost's MYTH-REMEMBERED, which includes Cecilia Fairchild's "Mama, Mama, Can't You See," directed by Davidson, a simultaneously "modern war story and a spirit dance on the outside edge of death," and "Breakfast in Moscow," directed by Alex Demers, which is based on Chekhov’s "Three Sisters" and reimagined as a rock-opera using music from the 1979 Supertramp album, "Breakfast in America."

In addition to Davidson, the "Bad Hamlet" ensemble includes Casey Dunn, Julián Juaquín, Akshaya Pattanayak, Chris Schultz, Hannah Trujillo, Lauren Vitz, Marguerite French, and Elisa Rosin.

"Bad Hamlet" is every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. from Thursday, July 25, 2019, through Saturday, August 24, 2019. Tickets are $25 for general admission. They will also offer a healthy mix of Pay-What-You-Can (PWYC) tickets for certain shows, which includes the Preview on July 25, 2019, as well as every ticket during the second and third weekends, August 1 - 10, 2019. For tickets and more information visit Coin & Ghost.

The New American Theatre is located at 1312 N. Wilton Place, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Suggested age limit is 16-years or older due to adult themes and conversations. Mobile phone use will be encouraged for this production.


JOAN OF ART: A Brilliant Improve Troupe, a Portrait of an Iconic Actor's Son, and Some Delicious Food

The much loved Troubadour Theatre Company is kicking of its 25th season with a new Shakespeare Jukebox Parody Mashup and as always they will kill it.

The troupe is again turning a Shakespearean tragedy into a musical comedy this time by mashing up the story of Julius with the music of the rock band WEEZER.

If you hear the word 'Shakespeare' and you think you need a degree to decipher it... not here, you don't. This show is what I'd call pop culture. You can expect a little 'Game of Thrones' and even a commercial tag line for fun. Joining the Troubies for the first time is an actor with a resume with about fifty years of credits...Andy Robinson who will be playing Julius Caesar.

The Troubies have…and are warning you to “Beware the Ides of March in May!” The terrible tidings and twisted tale of corruption, betrayal, and the quest for absolute power –no, not Washington DC – it's Rome circa 44 B.C., with Shakespeare's story of Caesar mashed up with the funk-rock riffs of the resurgent and ubiquitous band, Weezer. This hard-driving, heart pounding, adrenaline rush of a show will feature the Troubies in all their classical glory – speaking the speech and strumming the power chords. Part circus, part improv comedy show, part rock concert – with a live band that complements and compels the Troubie cast as they wind their way through the dark and dangerous world of Julius Weezer!

This show is like nothing you have ever seen so DO NOT MISS IT. JULIUS WEEZER is playing at the El Portal Theatre located in 5268 Lankershim Blvd. North Hollywood CA 91601. To purchase tickets or to learn more about this fantastic show go to ELPortalTheaeatre.com or call 866-811-4111.

The show runs from May 11th at 8pm through June 30th 2019.

And now for some delicious food. Laughter always gives me an appetite.

On Saturday May 11th 1-4 pm is the LOS ANGELES TIMES FOOD BOWL.

The event will be held at the Grand Park at 200 North Grand Avenue, Los Angeles CA.

You will be able to experience LA's Best Burgers at this outdoor celebration of LA's diverse dining scene held over five nights at Grand Park in Downtown Los Angeles.

Each night will feature dozens of restaurants with art installations throughout the park and DJs playing music. Admission to Night Market is free.

The event will be hosted by L.A. Times Food Writer Jenn Harris and Lawrence Longo. Participants will be... HiHo Cheeseburger, Banh Oui, Everson Royce Bar, Hank's, Bowery, Love Hour, NoMad, Mel's Drive In and Belcampo Meat Co.

The Los Angeles Times Food Bowl is an annual, month long destival celebrating the city's dynamic food scene. Spanning the entire month of May, Food Bowl features many of the chefs and retaurants that have helped put Los Angeles on the map as a premier dining destination alongside world renowned chefs in rare local appearnaces at hundreds of extraordinary events.

For more information go to LAFoodBowl.com and connect on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @LAFoodBowl (#LAFoodBowl #31DaysofFood).

Lastly on Sunday I will be at the Santa Monica Playhouse located at 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica CA to see an extraordinary show abou the son of an extraordinary actor. The show is entitled WILD SON; THE TESTIMONY OF CHRISTIAN BRANDO. His father of course was the late great Marlon Brando...one of our greatest to be accurate.

I attended a dress rehearsal and this is a show you will definitely want to see more then once. It's so powerful and Jesse's performance stays with you a very long time. There were so many moments on stage I thought it was Christian on stage.

Written by Champ Clark the show run on Sundays at 5:30pm through May 26th. Set under the white hot glare of Hollywood and Celebrity, Wild Son: The Testimony of Christian Brando tells the story of Marlon Brando's troubled, headline making son...in his own words.

The play features John Mese as Christian Brondo and his performance is pitch perfect. This 59 minute one-act is based on personal intervies conducted by Clark. The story is filled with the likes of Jack Nicholson, Michael Jackson, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, Anjelica Huston, Robert Blake and others. Most importantly it is the story of father and son.

According to writer Champ Clark, 'John Meese is absolutely mesmerizing. 'Damaged, volatile, darkly handsome, dangerous and dead at 49 and one of the sweetest lost souls I'd every met.' 'This was the Christian Brando I knew and the one that we bring back to life on stage in this show.'

The play has Christian Brando's words and it is his Hollywood story, about the kidnapping, the murder and the explosive relationship with his father.

Wild Son: The Testimony of Christian Brando runs at 5:30pm on May 12, 19 and 26, 2019. Tickets are $20 at WildSon.brownpapertickets.com. For more information call 1-800-838-3006.


A 17th Century Tragedy Gets A 21st Century Look

Los Angeles' premiere classic theatre, A Noise Within, has brought to the stage Shakespeare's Othello, directed by Jessica Kubzansky, one of the Southland's most respected directors. And Ms. Kubzansky has given us a 17th century script adorned in 21st century styles, outfitting civilians characters in business wear, with dress blues and camo gear for military personnel – for Othello is a tale of wartime infighting.

So, the question inevitably arises: what happens when you take a four-hundred-year-old play and dress it up in modern duds? Is it suddenly more pertinent? Does it become easier to find some relevance to our own lives as the action unfolds? Does it jolt the imagination into today's news, or add a depth of understanding to the wars we're now fighting? Do we see in the title character, Othello – a black man leading white army – as a sort of precursor of our own Colin Powell? Do Venice's battle against the Turks parallel our current troubles half-way around the globe? These are judgments each member of the audience must and will make for themselves.

But Othello is not actually about war, or even the place of the military in a society, modern or medieval. It's a tragedy of loving “not wisely, but too well.” It's a game of cat and mouse played between naïve nobility and craven jealousy, between powerful and the subservient.

The artistic tension between what the ear hears and the eye sees will depend upon the patron's taste, and the juxtaposition of a formal public social structure with 21st century informality requires constant mental adjustment on the part of the viewer, but not for the cast of this production which handles it with consummate aplomb.

But what Shakespeare wrote in 17th century poetry is as clear cut as a diamond. Othello is the taut tale of a powerful noble African warrior driven to murder his beloved wife by the scheming of a disgruntled subordinate.

Othello, an exotic, grandiloquent warrior, promotes Cassio, a charming if militarily untested junior officer, to second in command. Iago, a proud, cunning, more experienced fighter, is thus passed over in favor of a man he thinks less qualified. To be demeaned is one thing, but that it is so thoughtlessly arranged by a blackamoor general with whom Iago has fought on many occasions leaves Iago seething. And as Roderigo, a buffoonish friend of Iago remembers it, even before Cassio's elevation Iago has a thing for Othello.

“Thou told'st me thou didst hold him in thy hate.”

Why? Perhaps because everything comes too easily to Othello, for Iago's sense of fairness. Othello was written as an exotic, larger than life figure whose powers of seduction attract not just women's adoration and desire, but men's admiration, devotion, and loyalty. Cassio is a young stud, rising fast through the ranks, destined to become another privileged leader. And that what sticks in Iago's craw.

So Iago weaves his web of destruction around Othello's heart, using first his knowledge of Othello's most dangerous – most troubling – secret. Having gained the adoration of Desdemona, a Venetian politician's lily white, virginal daughter, Othello married her - in secret. But is their relationship on solid? When he is questioned, he responds:

She lov'd me for the dangers I had pass'd;
And I lov'd her that she did pity them.

Is that a firm basis for marriage between a favored, young white girl and a black battle-hardened warrior? Can it weather the raging storm of jealousy Iago sets swirling around them? This production plays down the racial tensions – allowing them, but never focusing on them.

And as if that weren't enough, Iago has another, more intimate grievance. He says – maybe just assumes - the noble Othello has slept with Emilia, Iago's wife. Does he believe it, or is it merely a charge Iago concocts to justify his hatred? The audience must decide for themselves. Whatever the truth, the stage ripe for tragedy. Game, set, match!

Director Kubzansky has also brought the casting into the 21st century. It is the mother of Desdemona who objects to her daughter's marriage to the black warrior, not the father as Shakespeare wrote it. And the council who whom this mother takes her grievance is headed by a female duke in consultation with a mixed gender council. The effect of these gender alterations is yet another issue audience must assess according to their own understanding of human relationships.

ANW's Othello presents the title character as a fine and apparently capable leader of men, but does he have the awe-inspiring nobility to elicit the depth of pathos usually associated with Shakespearian tragedy? The question is, is such “awe” necessary for the show to succeed with the audience?

Check it out. Decide for yourself. However you decide, it is a stage worthy production deserving of attention.


AUDITION: RICHARD III

A New Richard III from theatreANON
April 2019 will see the premiere of Richard III: Hour of the Tyrant, edited by David MacDowell Blue from Shakespeare's play about the last Plantagenet King (with additions from several other of Shakespeare's works). Auditions are scheduled for Saturday, January 26 starting at 11am until 3:45pm, on OMR, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd. (four blocks west of Vine), Hollywood CA 90038. Anyone wishing to try out should contact Mr. Blue at [email protected] to schedule a time. An overwhelming response has filled up all the blocs for January 26, so a second bloc is available on Sunday February 3,  at 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, and 4pm at Studio 100, 900 East 1st Street Los Angeles, 90012. This lies just east of Little Tokyo Gold Line Station.
Actors of all ages groups, genders and ethnic types are welcome. Everyone may be considered for any role. At least two performances will involve all the understudies and the leads switching roles!
Blue, a graduate of the National Shakespeare Conservatory in NYC, has been writing a successful blog reviewing Los Angeles Theatre since 2012. His past directing credits include Heartbreak House by George Bernard Shaw and The Public Eye by Peter Shaffer. He also helped co-direct (with well known actor-writer-reviewer Mark Hein) his own adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla. He was recently interviewed by the New York based podcast The Stage Door at BlogTalkRadio.com.
Richard III: Hour of the Tyrant makes for a radical edit of Shakespeare's most popular play about a “bad king.” Blue cut the almost- four hour play in half, removing extraneous characters, fusing other characters together, re-arranging some events, even introducing speeches and lines from other plays such as Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, Julius Caesar, and Titus Andronicus. His avowed purpose in the edit was to emphasize the story as a tragedy of a man who destroyed himself as well as all around him.
This marks the first full scale production by theatreANON, a new company aiming to bridge past and present into the future by re-imagining classics, while fostering original works which echo the classics in some way. Had they been produced today, theatreANON would have produced Eugene O'Neill's re-telling of the ancient Greek Oresteia, titled Mourning Becomes Elektra. Others works in development are a modern, politically aware tale a la the works of Edgar Allan Poe, and a (hopefully) mind-blowing version of Shakespeare's most controversial comedy.
Right now theatreANON has found a home at Oh My Ribs Theatre, on Theatre Row, next to the Complex. It stands at 6468 Santa Monica Blvd. , Hollywood CA 90038


Novel Entertainments - Part 1

Ever read a book and wish you could experience it, live? That's what playwrights are in business to do, isn't it? But how can the hundreds of pages of a novel be captured in “the two hours' traffic of the stage?” With nearly 600 pages, The Cider House Rules by John Irving needed two plays (well, one play in two parts for a five-hour encounter) to do it justice. The movie version reduced it to just over two-hours, leaving out so much, but wonderfully capturing the essence of Irving's intent. Shakespeare worked mostly with short stories and historical accounts, not whole novels – a chapter of Holinshed's Chronicles of England, one of the tales in Boccaccio's Decameron or Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, a section of Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans. But The Bard was mostly interested in plot points and character, not mood, tone, or style.

And most theater-goers in the 16th/17th Centuries hadn't read the story or poem that was crafted from the “best sellers” or important literary works available in their day. Today, books are often evaluated before publication for their dramatic potential with an eye to the commercial value they bring to a project. (“Everybody's read it.” “They're dying to see it on stage!” “It'll sell like hot cakes.”) And the dramatizations are usually (too often, perhaps) evaluated for their “faithful” representation of the source.

Of course, in the limited a space of a theater, with less than a tiny portion of the army of collaborators that's scrolled at the end of a film, what can you do? Obviously, it ain't easy. We've had five (and a sixth “inspired by”) such productions in Los Angeles this fall. Let's look at how they fared.

Let's begin with Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, recently presented in a relatively large-scale, rather complex production at Pasadena's popular classical repertory theater, A Noise Within.

There is a mythic conceit at the center of Oscar Wilde's late-Nineteenth Century novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. A trope that taps “into a root of Western folklore” according to the author of a recent study of the poet John Gray, who is believed to be the real Dorian Gray.

The conceit of the tale is the painted image of a beautiful young man that suffers the corrupting ravages of age while its living subject physically retains the bloom of youth. Hence, the vanity of beauty is made visibly dramatic by a Faustian bargain – a bargain that leads the living Dorian Gray to regret the deal he made, for it brings him a loveless life and the corruption of his soul. With this conceit, Wilde the novelist sets out to plumb the cost to the spirit of rampant narcissism. Originally made available to the public as a homoerotic magazine serial, the critical reception to Dorian Gray was typically Victorian – the wit and the writing were praised but it was deemed “unclean,” “poisonous,” “heavy with the mephitic odors (noxious vapors) of moral and spiritual putrefaction.” Sometime later, Wilde “cleaned up” the prose, extended the tale by a few chapters, and published it as a novel. That was 1890.

Five years later, 1895, Wilde was defending himself in a court of law against the charge of “gross indecency,” for which the main exhibit against him was his novel. He insisted that The Portrait of Dorian Gray was “a highly moral book decrying the pursuit of pleasure devoid of empathy or personal responsibility.” Does that mean that by portraying the sin of vanity as it inevitably corrupts the soul, one is forearmed against the commission of that particular sin? Isn't that like showing you the effects of excessive fatty food intake as a cure for the ills of obesity?

It is with a deep appreciation of Wilde's intent that one of the Southland's most talented directors, Michael Michetti, has created his own stage adaptation of Dorian Gray. Originally produced at the Boston Court in Pasadena, Michetti's newly revised adaptation, in a no-holds-barred, visually fascinating production aptly achieves the homoeroticism of Wilde's work.

Okay, but does Michetti's unquestioned artistry (and A Noise Within's restrained-lavish production elements) succeed in creating an effective stage work? In this case, it depends upon what one thinks is the purpose of the novel. Michetti, as director, has an abundance of theatrical ideas, filling the stage with Wilde's wit, strident music, and a wide-ranging cast of Victorian characters. At the center is, of course, the handsome youth, Dorian Gray. But there is also a loquacious Wilde stand-in, Sir Harry Wotton, the enlightening goad to Dorian's tragedy. Do these two characters give us a satisfying performance version of the novel's essence?

Unfortunately, except for a stunningly-staged finale, the real drama, the raison d'etre of the novel, seems veiled behind the verbal onslaught of Wilde's notorious wit and some over-wrought modern dancing.

While director Michetti fills the stage with movement and adaptor Michetti with a full evening's helping of the Wildean excess, “the mephitic odors of moral and spiritual putrefaction” – the corrosive effects of vanity on the soul – seems to get lost in the theatricality.

Even more than Shakespeare's Hamlet, The Picture of Dorian Gray is an internal drama – the soul as the battlefield between social values and naked impulse, the need to hold on to one's youth being at odds with the richness of experience and age. In Michetti's version, what seems to be lacking is the interior of the character. We are given a blank picture frame instead of being able to see the painting age, as Dorian's soul is increasingly devastated by the corruption of immortality.

Michetti, the ever-inventive director, has a penchant for countering expectations. In Michetti the adaptor's version of Shakespeare's Hamlet (also for A Noise Within, but many years ago) he eliminated the Ghost of King Hamlet. Why? Because, I think, Michetti the director wanted us to believe the dead monarch was not a ghost, but a deep-seated construct within the psyche of young Hamlet. So, his Hamlet is both characters, speaking the lines of the revengeful spirit facing a mirror (or really any reflective surface, for that matter). An intriguing idea that didn't always work.

Oscar Wilde, the novelist, is exploring the internal agony of Dorian's external vanity, but in Michetti's Dorian Gray, it's largely (not completely) missing – presented off-handedly, an observation here or there, buried in directorial business, or presented enigmatically in a Martha Graham-esque dance with extensive narration read from the novel. How much more moving would it be, how much more dramatic to hear – in private moments – Dorian speaking to himself, first recognizing, then denying, eventually trying to manage, finally being overwhelmed by the inner corruption that forces him to put a violent and tragic end to the conceit. But where Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray is a tragedy, Michetti's Dorian is melodrama.

Of course, there is a more contemporary way of handling Wilde's novel. It would require some modest changes to the plotting, but it would realize the hidden drama – Oscar Wilde confronting his own beliefs. What adaptor every worried about a little dramatic license? By positioning Sir Henry as the central character and Dorian as the object of Henry's influence – just as Salieri, the lesser composer in Peter Shaffer's Amadeus, sets Mozart, the better composer, on the road to destruction – it would allow the book's deeper concerns to be dramatically realized. Sir Henry would for all intents and purposes be Oscar Wilde, the narrator/novelist, living through the experience he's relating. And like Dr. Dysert, in Shaffer's Equus – a tame if wise psychiatrist, trying to cure the very pagan passions (in a young patient) he only wishes he was brave enough to experience – such a dramaturgic approach would allow the audience to experience the tragedy Wilde's novel give us.

Either approach would allow the stunningly-staged climax to bring Wilde's confrontation with the dangers of beauty to a more successful conclusion. Destroying the Picture of Dorian Gray would be the only way out.


Antaeus Academy Classes Open for Enrollment

Antaeus Academy is offering now 12 classes and this is the time to enroll for these summer sessions!
If you're interested in any of the classes below, visit http://antaeus.org/arts-education/academy/academy-3/ and click on the "Enroll Now" button to use the enrollment form on the website.
If you take more than one class, you can get a "buy one, get one 50% off" discount.
Friends and Colleagues: Harold Pinter & Simon Gray
Moderated by Nike Doukas
Mondays 12-4pm, June 25-August 27 (10 weeks)
$450 (Early Bird Discount $400, due by June 11)
Class Size: 14-16
Harold Pinter and Simon Gray wrote very different kinds of plays: Pinter is terse and mysterious; Gray is verbose and more naturalistic - but they are both darkly comic and subversive. They were great friends and Pinter directed Gray's perhaps most popular play, Butley. In this class, the class will focus on the plays of Pinter (Betrayal, Lovers, The Birthday Party, The Homecoming, etc) but also take a look at some by Gray: Butley, Otherwise Engaged, Quartermaine's Terms, and others. Both men are dazzling masters of language who demonstrate those skills with vastly different approaches. Prepare to be thrilled by the experience of interpreting their work.
Myth, Superstition & the Blues: The Poetry of August Wilson
Moderated by Gregg Daniel

Mondays 7-11pm, June 11-July 16 (6 weeks)
$310 (Early Bird Discount $280, due by May 28)
Class Size: 14-16
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson is arguably one of the great playwrights of the 20th century. His ambitious ten-part play series known as “The Century Cycle” chronicles the African American experience during each decade of the 20th century. His work has garnered a Tony Award as well as the New York Drama Critics Circle Award.
In this workshop, the class will examine the themes, sources and personal history that make the playwright's work so resonant. Through scene and monologue work, you will delve into the musicality, rhythm, prose and poetry which distinguishes Wilson's text. As Wilson stated, “the more my characters talk, the more I find out about them.”
This class is open to students of all ethnicities, races and backgrounds.
An Amuse-Bouche of Masters: A Scene Study/Technique Class
Moderated by Daniel Blinkoff

Tuesdays 2-6pm, June 12-August 14 (10 weeks)
$450 (Early Bird Discount $400, due by May 29)
Class Size: 14-16
This 10-week Intensive will focus on Chekhov, Stanislavski, and Earle Gister's technique of acting developed at The Yale School of Drama. Whether you have a lot of experience with any of these innovators of the theatre, or none at all, it doesn't matter. Your curiosity and passion is all that is required. Just like the Master's Program at Yale, this class will start exactly where you are and work from there. With a main focus on Chekhov's plays and short stories, the class will focus on The Moscow Art Theatre's approach to Chekhov, examining Stanislavski's scene analysis while combining it with the exercises that The Moscow Art Theatre utilizes in interpreting Chekhov's plays so the actor is no longer thinking about the play but experiencing it in a kinesthetic physical manner. Once this is established, Earle Gister's technique of acting will be introduced as an aid in releasing the work. Through this scene study, focusing on Chekhov and then possibly bridging out towards more modern texts, the class will experience the common threads between all of these master teachers and how they resonate in all different kinds of texts. This class is an opportunity to strip away our own misconceptions with these three masters of the theatre and to experience their approaches in a positive and beneficial way that we can use today.
Mind the (Gender) Gap
Moderated by John Sloan

Tuesdays 7-11, June 5-August 21 (12 weeks)
$550 (Early Bird Discount $500, due by May 24)
Class Size: 16-18
Every word a woman writes changes the story of the world, revises the official version.--Carolyn See
In the 21st century, female playwrights are taking center stage (and creating some of our favorite television shows too). But for so many years, the work of female playwrights hasn't been given the attention it deserves. In this class the company will focus their scene study work on plays written by women from all over the world, from the earliest days of the theater to the rich and varied works of contemporary times. Through the exploration of what dramaturg Susan Jonas called "the other canon," the class will challenge our assumptions, expand our horizons, enrich our craft, and add depth to our experience as actors and as people.
The Dive In: Othello
Moderated by Elizabeth Swain

Tuesdays 1-5, July 3-31 (5 weeks)
Tuition: $280 (Early Bird Rate $250, due no later than June 19)
Class Size: 14-16
How well do you really know this play? Through deep textual analysis, set against knowledge of Shakespeare's times, the class will dig and dive and gain more understanding of Shakespeare's meanings. In the long held Antaean tradition the actors will read the play together, playing any parts they choose. Occasionally the class participants might stage a scene to clarify (he did intend the plays for performance!) but the intention is to gain a new understanding of Shakespeare's text through extended table work, readying them all for a production. The final class will include a reading of the play, all participants alternating roles.
A Holistic Look at Dialects: UK Edition
Moderated by Lauren Lovett-Cohen

Wednesdays 1-4, July 11-August 29 (8 weeks)
Tuition: $310 (Early Bird Rate $280, due no later than June 27)
Class Size: 14-16
It's 2018, and thankfully there are more and more TV/Film/Web and theater projects that include roles from all over the world. The idea of a Standard American dialect or RP or the “correct” way to speak is giving way to the specificity of the who/what/where and the history of each character.
Join Antaeus for this class where they open up a new way of looking at dialects -- with a concentration on the UK for this round -- to give you the tools for getting more work in today's projects. There will be monologues and scene work from various plays penned by British authors from the turn of the 20th century through today.
Shakespeare: Making the Bard's Words Your Words
Moderated by Rob Nagle

Wednesdays 7-11, June 6-August 29* (12 weeks)
$550 (Early Bird Discount $500, due by May 25)
Class Size: 16-18
*no class the week of July 4
Why is Shakespeare such a challenge to so many, not only to perform, but also to comprehend? Could it be that we get caught up in the academic, an analytic study of the text through reading it, and then find ourselves neglecting the characters, the people we are attempting to bring to life. In this class, through action and scene study, participants will find a way to use the scansion and the poetry to make them bolder actors — and in so doing, participants will find his words coming out of their mouths as conversational and current, but not casual or contemporary.
Fitzmaurice Voicework
Moderated by Scott Ferrara

Thursdays 1-5pm, July 19-September 6 (8 weeks)
$350 (Early Bird Discount $300, due by June 7)
Class Size: 14-16
Whether you work in theatre, film or television, all mediums of our craft call for vocal strength, flexibility, and specificity. This class uses a holistic approach to body/mind/ voice work, to help the participant explore the dynamics between body, breath, voice, imagination, language, and presence.This approach liberates the mind, body and voice by strengthening the connection between what the participants are feeling and what they're expressing. By integrating physical exercises with mental focus, the class will bring the full richness of the actors' experiences to their work. By strengthening the “support” for the participants voice, the class will also add more variety to the expression of the performers use of it, be that in pitch, volume, singing – all without straining the voice or vocal chords. And then the class will combine Classical Text with the voice work, further developing the awareness, trust and freedom with the actors' breathing, body, feelings, imagination, and voice and add more vibrancy and presence in performance.
Shaw, Wilde & Coward
Moderated by Kitty Swink

Thursdays 7-11, June 7-August 30* (12 weeks)
$550 (Early Bird Discount $500, due by May 19)
Class Size: 14-16
*no class on July 12
"This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last." Oscar Wilde
This class will engage participants in the wit, craft and social commentary of three of the English language's most celebrated playwrights, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and Noel Coward. Participants will learn to contextualize their times, manners and behaviors, and using scene work they will embrace truthfulness, imagination, concentration and living in the actor's body while performing biting satire and high comedy. The powerful combination of technical expertise and emotional truth brings each of the playwrights to life and makes the participants understand why these three have been performed for more than a century. Open to actors of all ages.
Shakespeare 2.0
Moderated by Armin Shimerman

Saturdays 10am-2pm, June 9-July 28 (8 weeks)
$400 (Early Bird Discount $350, due by May 24)
Class Size: 14-16
This class is a further exploration of Shakespearean acting skills for people who have already studied with Armin at Antaeus. This class will further intensify the actor's awareness of the text and how to clearly communicate that to an audience. To enroll, participants must apply and be approved.
Real, Safe, and Kicka**: Stage Violence for Actors
Moderated by Ned Mochel

Saturdays 10am-2pm, July 7-August 25 (8 weeks)
Tuition: $350 (Early Bird Rate $300, due no later than June 22)
Class Size: 14-16
This class focuses on an exciting, new approach toward stage violence in the American theater that's rougher, tougher, and more realistic. This is not your traditional stage combat class; this class prepares the modern actor to engage in a more realistic, intense style of stage action.
Ned Mochel has been building stage violence for over 25 years. His violence design has been showcased in plays at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, on and off Broadway in NYC, Geffen Playhouse, as well as at Antaeus Theatre Company. He's been changing the way audiences perceive stage violence one production at a time. If you've been immersed in stage action in the past or if you're interested in diving in for the first time, this is the class for you. It's a rough, tough, fun approach--an experience you'll never forget. Learn how to make it real, stay safe, and kick ass. From hand to hand fighting and gun work to detailed sword training, you'll find yourself building new skills to set you apart from the others. This is new cutting edge stage action and it's happening at Antaeus.
Shakespeare: Getting Started - WAIT LIST ONLY
Moderated by Armin Shimerman

Wednesdays 1-5pm, June 13-August 8* (8 weeks)
$400 (Early Bird Discount $350, due by May 30)
Class Size: 14-16
*no class the week of July 4
This class is designed for those who have never studied Shakespeare with Armin before. It will include monologue/scene study and a thorough approach to acting, understanding, and communicating through language, history, religion, social mores, and - the Rosetta stone to performing Shakespeare - Elizabethan rhetoric. Any fear of performing/reading Shakespeare will be cured. You may laugh as well.


BORROWING SHAKESPEARE'S MAGIC: Five History Plays on LA Stages

For more than a year now, we've been living through the historic and historical – and at times hysterical -  theatricality of our times. To suggest that the Shakespearean heights are daily surmounted in the Tweeted Tussles of our Clownish Head of State, has become a cliché of journalism – which, like it or not (pace Donny J.), is the first draft of history.  This fall, Southland theatergoers have had plenty of opportunities to enjoy the dumb-show eccentricities of history on parade.  Here is an examination of five such plays that have recently been in LA: KING CHARLES III, KING JOHN, SOMETHING ROTTEN, THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD and PACIFIC OVERTURES. (Editor's Note: SOMETHING ROTTEN continues until December 31. PACIFIC OVERTURES has 3 more shows this weekend on Friday at 8 pm and Saturday at 3 and 8.)

Jim Abele, Mark Capri, Dylan Saunders, Laura Gardner in King Charles III

King Charles III, a play by England's Mike Bartlett, tells the what-if “history” of the current Prince of Wales, Charles Windsor, were he ever to become king of the shrunken United Kingdom. As speculative “history,” King Charles III is certainly a tale of troubles. It intriguingly projects the challenge to the British monarchy into a chaotic future.

It has a promising premise – one could call it a Shavian conceit – with the pre-crowned, 70-ish Charles taking a regal stand against Parliament's new law that will render the press “a little less free.” Like a Shakespearean history plays, Charles III develops into a crisis over the succession to the throne which sparks the threats of rebellion and war. However, in place of gutsy Shakespearean passion and psychology we are given “poor me” wailings about the rigors and strictures of being a Royal.

Written in blank verse (generally-unrhymed iambic pentameter) with syntactical echoes and dramaturgical turns reminiscent of Shakespeare's work, the script lays claim to a rarified artistic ancestry that it doesn't always live up to. Happily, the production at the Pasadena Playhouse (now closed) is well-acted by the cast of Los Angeles actors on a stage that has been extended into the audience. This brings the action out from behind the proscenium and up close to the playgoers.

Michael Hoag, Gus Krieger and Hersha Parady in King John

On the other hand, Shakespeare's The History of King John, a much larger play, with battles and ruined cities from London to the Loire, was presented by The Porters of Hellsgate (now closed) in a tiny NoHo black box at the Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center.

First performed 423 years ago, King John is in some ways just as speculative as Charles III. Written 380 years after the petty, spiteful and cruel, yet hapless demise of the titular king, Shakespeare, who lived in Tudor times, was writing about a Plantagenet, the dynasty from whom the Tudors wrested the throne when Welsh Henry Tudor defeated Henry VI. The Bard's grasp of history was never precise and never got in the way of a good bit of drama. And the anti-papist Protestant English would have been thrilled to see the trouble-making characterization of the Catholic Cardinal as the infusion of evil, if not outright villainy.

Now generally listed as the 13th of Shakespeare's works, as presented by The Porters, it plays like one of his earliest, too often shifting focus, being more work-a-day than inspired.  There are some moments to recommend it. Lady Constance's heartfelt grief when the King puts her teenage son under guard with an order to kill him, and the boy's successful pleading for his life. Perhaps the most intriguing character is a bastard son of Richard the Lionheart, a crafty young man maneuvering between politicos. Called The Bastard, he is the least historical (hinted at by Holinshed in his chronicles, from which Shakespeare drew the story) and yet, he is the first creation by Shakespeare of a character with an inner life,  the progenitor of a line of charismatic characters, loveable and detestable, that runs through Hotspurs and Falstaff to Hamlet, Iago, and Edmund – and even Caliban. For villainous as the Bastard might seem, any character with the smarts to observe:

Whiles I am a beggar, I will rail
And say there is no sin but to be rich;
And being rich, my virtue then shall be
To say there is no vice but beggary.

is a character to treasure and was Shakespeare's first psychologically self-motivating character.

Having nowhere near the finances or theatrical resources of the Pasadena Playhouse, one would not expect the lavish pomp and sumptuous circumstance that made this a popular play in the 19th Century. Instead, an intimate production in a 50-seat theater could better focus on the clarity and depth of the issues and relationships. Unfortunately, at The Porters' the dramatis personae are almost all attitude without any reality or feeling.  They are not the first to be undone by the flawed dramaturgy of King John, and they won't be the last.  It is as The Bastard says, “Sweet poison for the Age's tooth.”

While Shakespeare's King John scrambles flawed history, the charmingly produced play with music, The Heart of Robin Hood deals with a medieval folk tale from the same King's reign.  As seen at the Wallis in Beverly Hills, this touring family production toys what is now thought to be a myth based on a legend which is in turn grounded in the harsh historical truth of King John's reign: the terror of John's greed and ruthlessness. In a clever, first class touring production that turns the usual fascination with Robin on its political correct tush, Maid Marion is a heroine for the ages, dashing into the forest to teach Robin the thief the value of giving to the poor. That she saves Robin from King (here Prince) John is a feminist twist that leaves holes in the logic, emotion in the wings, and the dramatics to an Icelandic director's clever use of theatrics. And clever it is, and wants to be. As originally produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in London, it is a splendid presentation of a simplistic, often delightfully silly, script with more and more echoes of Shakespeare. It seems to exist mainly to beguile and to inspire young girls to bravery.

Blake Hammond and Rob McClure in Something Rotten

For a third work spawned from Shakespearean genetics, we are lucky to have the musical Something Rotten (Ahmanson Theater). Twenty years in the making, it's about as tuneful as a recital of operatic recitative, but makes up for the lack of melody with a surfeit of choreographic mayhem, clever direction and first-class performances.  It's a romp, with no pretensions to classic theater. It has very little claim on history, except, oddly enough, the chronicles of Musical Theater. And if you don't know the history of the American musical you'll have less than half the fun most theater-goers have. Perhaps the show too often relies on snippets of songs and famous line-references from the history of popular musicals like Oklahoma! Sunset Boulevard, Cats, and the entire Sondheim canon. It gives us puns and mugging in place of irony, intrigue, or depth, but then it has no pretensions to history, devoted as it is to entertainment.  And it delivers. It is centered on a character that goes by the name of Nick Bottom (from A Midsummer Night's Dream), one of the Bard's more captivating creations, and creates for him a brother, Nigel. They need a new show. The Soothsayer predicts the next big thing will me – musicals! Shakespeare is a character with as much humanity as you can give a spoofed-up rock star stage writer. Clever, often effervescent, it is a memorable an evening of fluff that delivers just that – but only that! Leave history to others.

The often sublime, Pacific Overtures, is on the other hand one of the deft gems of the musical theater. Born of the art of Stephen Sondheim, 41 years ago, with John Weidman's witty book, and Hal Prince's brilliant direction, it originally starred Los Angeles' great Mak0 (film and television actor and first artistic director of East West Players).

As history, Pacific Overtures is more kaleidoscopic than academic, which is to say, it gives us the feel of history without concern for narrative consistency. Like Shakespeare's The Tempest, what action there is flows from the unexpected arrival of disturbing forces on a magical island.  To suggest that The Reciter (Mako's role) in Overtures is an unintended descendent of The Bard's Prospero may not be the stretch it seems on first blush. Both characters share a magical power within the context of their individual worlds.

Pacific Overtures is one of the Sondheim-Prince musicals from the last quarter of the 20th Century (this one produced in 1976 for the Bicentennial of American Independence). And it stretched the limits of musical theater far beyond the romantic limits of boy-or-girl meets girl-or-boy, mix-and-match. It follows Admiral Perry's “opening up” of Japan's closed samurai culture to its sadly logical conclusion of crass commerciality that was in the late 20th Century seen as “Japan today.”

And as Prospero uses “my so potent art” which he calls “rough magic” to create a Tempest that will alter his fortunes, requiring “Some heavenly music, which even now I do, To work mine end…” he seems to be conjuring the musical in which The Reciter foresees a Tempest of culture that will “threaten the serene and changeless cycle of our days,” singing:

“In the middle of the world we float
In the middle of the sea
The realities remain remote
In the middle of the sea.”

It plays more as a theatrical statement of America's responsibility for spreading the evils of rampant capitalism than as a narrative drama. But the material is so dazzlingly sophisticated, pungent, and polished that it remains a delight to experience, including a charming romp by Europeans and American ambassadors that brings the show up to its somewhat regrettable end with a brash and vulgar finale about late 20th Century American marketing, Japanese style. Like a Smash-Cut, the finale shatters whatever the mood might have been created and brings home the message with a crunching SPLAT! (which is unfortunately, the “message” it's creators intended). Prospero just breaks his magic wand and begs

“As you from crimes would pardon'd be,
Let your indulgence set me free.”

While Pacific Overtures gets a rather drab re-doing by the ever-adventurous Chromolume Theater, they obviously have deep respect for the material. The company of 12 men and one woman has the material down pat, but the production lacks the style required for Sondheim's well-honed delights. And one misses the delicate balance between Japanese poetics and Samurai brutality upon which the success of the work depends. With the entire company in black – except for the one-time appearance of the brightly kimono'd “Ladies of Kanagawa” – and displaying little of the ritual discipline of Japan's theatrical tradition, the production gives us the charm of the score and little else to while away the two and a half hours trafficking.

Of course, presenting a multi-million dollar mounting of a demanding musical is not possible in an under-99 seat theater where the intimacy of scale allows intensity to do the work of extravagance! Shakespeare seems to have understood that issue as he moved between his giant Globe theater into the more intimate Black Friars. For us, Sondheim is easily his match for endlessly inventive, ironic, and perceptive writing, and Something Rotten does at least live within the madcap world of the Bard's comic genius. Meanwhile, we of the Fabulous Invalid, soldier on.


WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE FAMILY IMPLODES (On Stage and Screen)

Paul Simon wrote that there are 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, and that sounds about right.  But it's much harder to change the world around you when things are going wrong. Even harder perhaps to change oneself.

Because when the world breaks down and things aren't working out as we hoped, then we need someone to blame.  It has to be someone's fault.  Your husband, your wife, the Arabs, the Jews, the Aristocrats.  But if it's yourself?  Then how do you deal with that?

YEAR BY THE SEA, a movie written and directed by Alexander Janko, adapted from Joan Anderson's memoirIn the opening scene of this movie, Joan (Karen Allen) is at her older son's wedding reception when she finds out from her realtor that her husband Robin (Michael Cristofer) has put their home on the market without even bothering to tell her.  Her son the groom gives a toast without even mentioning her.  Her other son doesn't even ask her to dance.  She has somehow become a non-person even to her nearest and dearest.  The only friend she seems to have is her publisher (S. Epatha Merkerson), who keeps asking Joan when she's going to write her next book - which is curious, since we never even see Joan open a book, much less make any attempt to write one.  In any case, Joan finds a coupon ad for a rental cottage in Cape Cod, and she impulsively calls and rents it rather than go off to Wichita, Kansas with her husband for his new job (whatever that may be - we never find out).

The good news about this movie is that Karen Allen's smile is still an elixir for whatever ails you, lighing up the screen with her inner glow.  The camera still loves her, and her likeability quotient is as high as ever too.  You want to like her character, just as you want to like this movie, a true independent with lovely shots of seals playing on the beach and small town eccentrics doing eccentric things.  But this is where the bad news comes in, because writer-director Alexander Janko has no clue how to write a screenplay.  Even more, he's clueless about his cluelessness, saying at the Q&A after the screening that "the creative aspect of this movie was never a problem" - ha!  It's a huge problem when your main character says "my sons are going to hate me" for leaving their father, and then there is no follow-up phone call or scene addressing this.  When she tells her husband, "We had a successful marriage, we did a great job raising our kids," but the one time she tries to reach her sons (at her husband's prompting), they don't even pick up the phone and apparently never call back.  And then what's really the state of this marriage?  Did these people ever love each other?  Michael Cristofer does an admirable job trying to invest his character with some sense of reality when in fact there isn't any - he's just a type, not a human being.  And every time there's a scene between him and his wife, it is interrupted by the wife of psychologist extraordinaire Erik Erikson (how specific is that?), who wants to go dancing on the beach, scarves flying like some Cape Cod protege of Isadora Duncan.  Instead of genuine emotional discovery, we get self-help slogans and New Age psychobabble. And still, Joan never even makes a notation in her journal until suddenly in the Third Act she turns out a memoir at the same time that Mrs. Erickson is writing hers (pre-sold, of course).  Because it's just that easy!

It's understandable that Mr Janko has discoveries of his own to make about screenwriting and directing, since he has made his living up until now as a movie composer.  What is less understandable is how terrible the score for this movie is.  There are so many songs, and every single one so on the nose.  I mean, it's just cheesy to use a song about feeling depressed when you're feeling depressed.  Isn't that in Movie Scoring 101?  Against all odds, I still think this movie is worth catching - first for the seals, and then for the luminous, inventive performances of Karen Allen and Michael Cristofer.  Just imagine how great they could have been if they'd actually been given something to act!

Alan Blumenfeld and Kevin Hudnell, 2 Venetian Jews

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE by William Shakespeare, directed by Ellen Geer - There are only 3 more performances of this remarkable production at Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga - on 9/17 at 7:30, 9/23 at 3:30 and 10/1 at 3:30.  I urge to catch this show before it closes.  The cast is excellent, none more so than Los Angeles theater stalwart Alan Blumenfeld.  His Shylock is a proud Jewish man in a city that hates Jews, and that does not allow a Jew to hold any job that a Christian can do.  He is a legal alien, and he has become a money-lender because this is the only way he can provide for his family.  He has in fact become the most successful Jewish money-lender precisely because of his pride - he is determined to succeed in spite of all the obstacles that the Christians have put in his way.  The object of his deepest affection is his daughter Jessica, but early in the play we see she has fallen in love with a cavalier young Christian man, and she elopes with him, taking a huge portion of her father's wealth with her.  So when rabid anti-Semite Antonio comes to him for a loan of 3,000 Ducats for his friend Bassanio, Shylock draws up a contract demanding a pound of flesh if Antonio defaults on his loan.  Director Ellen Geer and her artistic associates have edited the play a bit to emphasize the cruelty at the core of it.  When Portia - played wonderfully by Willow Geer - recites her "The quality of mercy is not strained" speech, it seems deeply hypocritical, as she delights in Shylock's destruction, just as she has earlier delighted in the defeat of the Prince of Morocco, wishing that "no more of his hue come to court me."  Far from seeing the play as a triumph of "mercy," the Botanicum production shows us a narcissistic, self-satisfied society with no problem demonizing the Jew as "the other."  Far from diminishing the play, it has never seemed so gloriously cogent to me before.

Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz

A TALE OF TWO CITIES, adapted by Mike Poulton from the novel by Charles Dickens, directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott at a Noise Within - "It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times" is the famous opening of Charles Dickens's novel, A Tale of Two Cities.  Regarding Mike Poulton's adaptation, I would call it "the best of adaptations and the worst of adaptations" - well, maybe not the worst, but definitely lacking.  What it does best is to create the terrifying reality of the French Revolution, that began as a blow for populist justice and morphed into a frenzy of bloodlust and revenge.  The staging at A Noise Within is very inventive in creating tableaux that bring this national nightmare to blazing life.  This is embodied in the character of Madame Defarge, brought vividly to life by Abby Craden.  Madame Defarge's need for justice is entirely understandable, but her thirst for revenge has become insatiable, and Ms Craden forces us to experience the erotic urge that this has come to represent for her.

Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz

Where Mr Poulton's adaptation is lacking, however, is in developing characters of any depth that we can understand and care about.  There is simply so much plot - so much story, so many twists and turns - that it's hard to get beneath the glossy surface of the scenes from the French Revolution and feel anything for those who are trapped there.  This is not an easy problem for any adapter - Dickens's novel is bursting with storylines, and it has dual heroes - Charles Darnay (Tavis Doucette), who is at first accused in British court of being a French spy, only to end up a prisoner in the Bastille; and Sydney Carton (Frederick Stuart), a lawyer's associate who is responsible for Darnay's London acquittal.  But who is Darnay?  It's hard to get a grasp on his character in the midst of his continuing peril.  And who is Sydney Carton?  Well, that comes through more clearly, thanks in large part to Mr Stuart's memorably persuasive portrayal. Carton is intriguing but quite an enigma.  I could have used more scenes deepening his motives, especially with Lucie, the central female figure, to make his actions at the conclusion feel more inevitable.

I did love the theatricality of this production, as well as its ambitiousness.  At the very end, a young actress gives a speech in the shadow of the gallows which was genuinely heart-wrenching.  It demonstrated what happens when the human family gives way to self-destruction.  I just wish this production had more of that.

 


Shakespeare Authority Rob Clare On Teaching & Directing His Shakespearean Passions

Currently in previews, Antaeus Theatre Company will be presenting Shakespeare's AS YOU LIKE IT with openings on July 27 and 28. As in the Antaeus tradition, this production also incorporates partner-casting, hence, the dual opening dates. We had the opportunity to catch director Rob Clare for a few spare moments during previews for an insight into his life-long work incorporating his love of Shakespeare.

Thank you for agreeing to this interview.
Thanks for inviting me.

Your Shakespearean expertise spans over three decades: teaching, lecturing, directing. How many other productions of AS YOU LIKE IT have you been creatively involved with?
Three, the most recent being an outdoor production I directed in Louisville, KY.

How would you classify your directing approach to his works — Non-traditional? Avant-garde? Modernistic?
It depends on the project. But Shakespeare is so rich and open to interpretation, if you simply give yourselves to the text and open yourself up fully to what it invites, makes possible; it will resonate afresh in every and any context. It's often noted that Shakespeare was ahead of his time. I think he's ahead of ours, too. We're still catching up.

Antaeus prides itself on its partner-casting practice. Have you worked with partner-casting before?
No. But I hope I will again.

When you began your acting courses at Royal Central School of Speech & Drama (CSSD) in London, Shakespeare was not your focus. Did the opportunity of joining Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) right out of CSSD somehow influence your interest in Shakespeare?
Yes, it did. But not immediately. Most of all, it raised questions in me as to how to equip oneself to get the best out of these extraordinary, complex texts.

What do you love about Shakespeare that drives you to continue to dissect, analyze, and teach his work?
I love life. I love people. I'm fascinated by both. Aren't we all?

How do you entice a budding actor/student who's not interested in Shakespeare to eventually fall in love with his artistry?
Invite them to take part in a workshop, to play with it.

Any variance to your communications in your teaching procedures from your directing methods? As a teacher or a director, they're both from a point of authority and knowledge.
Teaching is about preparing actors to work elsewhere in the profession. Directing is about evolving one shared interpretation of a given text with whatever actors one happens to be working — and trying to shape the reading of the work as much to their individual strengths and capabilities as possible.

How do you compare Shakespeare with other classic playwrights? Or should I re-phrase that to — Do you find any other classic playwright comparable to Shakespeare?
Not really. There are some who have written individual plays that stand comparison with some of Shakespeare — Webster, Jonson, for example. But none have the astonishing range that he offers, nor the same openness to interpretation that helps them still to resonate so strongly.

What aspects do you look for when attending a performance of a Shakespeare work?
I look to be engaged and/or entertained.

Are you able to simply enjoy a performance of Shakespeare? Or do you find yourself analyzing it scholastically or directorially?
Only if I'm not engaged and/or entertained.

Any current modern day writer that piques your interest?
Does Samuel Beckett count? I know he's dead, but…

Which Shakespearean play do you consider to be his best work and why?
Whichever I am currently working on. So right now, AS YOU LIKE IT.

Who of the classic acting hierarchy have you been fortunate to see perform a Shakespeare role?
The list is too long. Among those with whom I actually worked, some of those who really stand out in different ways are Judi Dench, Mark Rylance, Bill Nighy, Anthony Hopkins, Derek Jacobi, Tom Courtenay.

Wow! Those are some actors! Can you describe the experience of watching these performances?
Uplifting, illuminating, funny, heartbreaking. Depends on the work.

Are there any Shakespearean pieces you haven't been creatively involved with that you still want to tackle?
MEASURE FOR MEASURE
.

You have taught and/or directed Shakespeare in a number of countries. Do you find there exists a preferential bias towards British actors in Shakespeare roles?
Not in my productions.

You directed A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, JULIUS CAESAR, and ROMEO & JULIET in Hindu in India. How did iambic pentameter work? Or do you just throw it out completely?
We kept the form and the poetry, where and as appropriate, but to do so, we had to simplify and/or change much of the imagery and the figured language. It can take twice as many words to say something in Hindi than in English if one tries to be as specific and as nuanced, etc. But nobody wants A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM to last five hours, however entertaining it is!

Is there one specific lesson you want your students to learn in all of your classes?
Keep going back to the text, as well as, looking to one another. And never put the text away, even once you are ‘off-book.' Shakespeare was an actor like you. He's your friend.

What do you want the Antaeus audience to leave with after AS YOU LIKE IT's curtain call?
A shared sense of joy.

Thank you again! I look forward to being joyously engaged and entertained by your latest Shakespearean endeavor.
My pleasure.

For AS YOU LIKE IT's cast scheduling and available tickets through September 10, 2017; log onto www.antaeus.org