Tag Archives: shakespeare

Theater: Shakespeare OC presents ‘Pirates of Penzance’

Alex Bodrero (The Pirate King, foreground) with Max Black and Nikolai Fernandez (immediately behind him) in Shakespeare Orange County's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, September 10-26, 2015. In background, left and right, are Jacob Lansberg and James Quesada. Photo by Amelia Barron

Alex Bodrero (The Pirate King) with Max Black and Nikolai Fernandez in Shakespeare Orange County’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance.” Photo courtesy of Amelia Barron

To close their summer season, Shakespeare Orange County cordially invites the audience aboard the goofiest opera-singing pirate ship around with a uniquely intimate production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance.”

Director Peter Uribe, whose background in rock operas includes a six-month tour of the UK working on a Pete Townshend-approved production of The Who’s “Quadrophenia,” said he hopes to infuse Shakespeare OC’s debut musical with this kind of energy.

“The kind of mantra we live by is, ‘This is not your great-grandmother’s Pirates of Penzance,’” he said. “A big fight scene happens that’s kind of an homage to The Who and ‘Quadrophenia.’ We have a sound cue: at the count of four or five, the lights all go out, and it’s just Roger Daltrey screaming at the apex of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.’ The lights just go black, that all happens, the lights come back up, and the fight’s over.”

“Penzance” is more of a comic opera that is best known for one specific song (“I am the very model of a modern major-general, / I’ve information vegetable, animal and mineral,” etc.), but Shakespeare OC hopes to show Southern California theatergoers how entertaining it is in its entirety. Because the 1879 opera is now in the public domain, the cast has had more freedom to reshape the material for today’s audiences.

“We’ve thrown in every gag we can,” Uribe said. “While we’re pretty faithful to the script, I encourage the actors the entire time, ‘Any time you see a space for a joke, improv a joke. If it makes me laugh three times in a row and it’s somewhat appropriate, it can stay in the show.’ It’s been kind of fun to work fast and loose with the script.”

The opera’s storyline follows Frederic, a 21-year-old who has just completed an apprenticeship aboard a pirate ship. However, as Frederic is preparing to be on his way (hopefully alongside the Major-General’s beautiful daughter Mabel), the Pirate King discovers a loophole: because Frederic was born on leap year, he won’t technically turn 21 for many more decades and has to rejoin their crew.

Alex Bodrero, who plays the Pirate King in Shakespeare OC’s production, said he’s enjoyed combining elements of serious opera with the comedy of “Penzance.”

“This is probably the most classical singing I’ve done in a long time, despite it being such a crazy, off-the-wall show,” he said. “It’s an interesting dichotomy. It’s got that legit thing while having fun like you’re on the playground in elementary school.”

For “Penzance,” Shakespeare OC decided to make the most of the expansive Garden Grove stage: instead of utilizing all 500 seats in the amphitheater, they will include audience seating right there in the midst of it.

“I don’t think people know what to expect when they’re going to come see this,” said Nikolai Fernandez, who plays Frederic in the production. “What’s exciting about that is you’re going to have audience members who are uncomfortable and look away when you’re trying to talk to them and invite them in, and you’re going to have audience members who want to, like, jump up and be a part of it when you give them that permission.”

In recent years, Shakespeare OC has been working to make classic theater productions more accessible to the local community. Earlier this season, a production of “Romeo and Juliet” staged its famous ball scene as a traditional Mexican quinceañera, and the Montagues delivered their lines in Korean. Uribe hopes “Penzance” will prove that musical theater also has a place in the OC.

“The stigma is that in LA, everything is better, but [Uribe] really brings a lot that you won’t find anywhere else to the theater,” Fernandez said, “and I think that’s a huge reason why I decided to commute down here two hours every day to be a part of it.”

‘The Pirates of Penzance’
12762 Main St., Garden Grove, Calif.
7:30 p.m. Thursday – Sunday through Sept. 26
Tickets are $20
For more information, visit www.shakespeareoc.org.

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Theater: UnMasqued presents ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

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Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros plays from a stereo in the background as audience members take their seats upstairs at the Pieter Performance Art Space for the UnMasqued theater company’s second week of “Much Ado About Nothing” performances.

As we wait, the Friar (Daniel Ryan Wallach) approaches everyone individually and warns us that there is going to be some “audience stuff” later. He hands me a neon pink business card that, on one side, identifies him as “that one guy you met at that one party who thought you were awesome.”

It was the most interesting reinterpretation of “Much Ado About Nothing” I’ve ever seen.

In the UnMasqued production, the characters join together to form The Arragons, a touring band of bluegrass/folk musicians, who are returning to their favorite venue, The Messina, to perform songs they have written about their adventures for an upcoming album called “Much Ado About Nothing.” It’s really amazing how well this concept works and how seamlessly the original music is woven into Shakespeare’s text.

The story — with all its mischief, romantic entanglements and comedy — lends itself remarkably well to a cast of cool, young modern-day musicians.

The production begins with an impressive, rousing opening number featuring several of the multi-talented actors that comprise the cast on a range of instruments, including the accordion, fiddle and harmonica. It is understood that this is a homecoming concert after the band has been away on a year-long tour.

“That’s when I first met Hero,” Claudio (Dillon Horner) says of the last time the band appeared at The Messina when the song is finished. Then, the backdrop of colored handkerchiefs is moved aside, and the play begins.

The production is extremely well-executed, and elements of the unique bluegrassy theme are consistently evident in every scene.

Ty Fanning and Torey Byrne are especially entertaining as Benedick and Beatrice. They have great back-and-forth chemistry and are hilariously expressive as the characters evolve from hating each other to being tricked into realizing that they love each other.

Kristyn Chalker gives another standout performance as Don Pedro, the Prince of Aragon. She has a strong, commanding stage presence, and the gender-reversal of this role adds an additionally compelling element to the character’s story — most notably when it comes to her relationship with her troublemaking brother Don John (Josh Henry).

Before the second act begins, everyone in the audience is presented with a handful of confetti and a balloon, and Leonato (Neil Fleischer) leads us in a call-and-response sing-along of “My baby’s getting married, / But Benedick’s got the blues.”

It becomes clear that UnMasqued’s “Much Ado About Nothing” is not just a play and not just a concert. It becomes a much more immersive experience as cast members climb through the audience, pulling people up to join in on the dancing and, at one point, to take notes on a chalkboard during an interrogation of Borachio (Parker Wilmoth) by the night watchmen, who include the exceptionally amusing Dogberry (Harriet Fisher) — the real star of the second act.

Altogether, I was quite blown away by the quality of this production. Though the company is so new, “Much Ado About Nothing” is incredibly fun and outstandingly well-produced. I left the theater tapping my toes, feeling strangely excited about Shakespeare. It’s a good feeling.

‘Much Ado About Nothing’
420 W. Ave. 33
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Tickets are $15
For more information, visit www.unmasqued.org.

Theater: CityShakes presents ‘Romeo & Juliet’

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Colin Martin begins the City Shakespeare Company’s production of “Romeo & Juliet” as Mercutio. SCREAMfmLondon

It was a hot summer night in Santa Monica, and the audience was pressed closely together on rows of wooden benches lining the either side of the stage — pressed even tighter when Romeo scooted us over in his efforts to hide from Mercutio and Benvolio at the Capulets’ ball.

Last week, the City Shakespeare Company concluded its latest run of “Romeo & Juliet” with a semi-modern interpretation of the classic story.

“Romeo & Juliet” is always, at first, the ultimate tale of rebellious teenage love against all odds. Until you get older and begin to recognize it as a valid example of why 13-year-olds should not be making important life decisions.

The CityShakes interpretation did an impressive job illustrating both perspectives of the story. David Hartstone and Megan Ruble are expressive and passionate as Romeo and Juliet; both actors had moments onstage where their true innocence (and irrationality, really) shone through. Likewise, the supporting cast (Gilbert Martinez as Father Laurence and Mallory Wedding as the Nurse in particular) represented the outsider’s “adult” perspective on the romance that ends in tragedy.

Wedding as the Nurse was perhaps the most entertaining part of the play. Her interpretation was unique and gave unusual life to a character I would have otherwise considered unremarkable. Wedding’s stylistic choices were really amusing as the Nurse toed the line between wise and ridiculous, serving as a big sister-like figure to Juliet and a solid contrast to Juliet’s youthfulness and naiveté. Wedding would make a great Polonius — just sayin’.

Although the playbill states that CityShakes’ “Romeo & Juliet” takes place “now” in “Anytown, USA,” there was only a little bit of evidence to support this. The biggest anachronism was Paris (Daniel Landberg), Juliet’s would-be betrothed, who still carried around a large sword strapped to his waist. As Paris is clearly the most oblivious character in the play, this only further emphasized how out-of-touch he is from his surroundings. So, it worked, whether or not it was actually intentional.

Immediately following the performance, the cast and crew held a Q&A segment for the benefit of the high school students in the audience, which was a nice touch. CityShakes performances are especially great for students, parents and teachers because they are more traditional adaptations with minimal sets and costumes, but the actors express clear respect for the original text, which makes the performances clear and accessible.

The size of the theater (such that I probably could have reached out and touched Romeo during his dramatic final scene in the crypt) as well as the size of the cast (only seven actors, most of whom played two or more roles) make the experience feel all the more like community outreach. And the City Shakespeare Company really is a great asset to the community — it continues to offer simple, relatable and charming adaptations of Shakespeare’s classics. I already look forward to the next one.

Theater: CityShakes presents ‘The Merchant of Venice’

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Underneath twinkling rope lights in the exposed-brick back room of a storefront in Santa Monica, the City Shakespeare Company brings to life “The Merchant of Venice” with a strong cast, effective stylistic choices and a beautiful performance space.

The company makes the most of a minimal set and places the audience on a few rows of wooden benches right in the middle of the action.

If it’s been a while since high school English class, the plotline of “The Merchant of Venice” essentially follows Antonio (Todd Elliott), who takes out a loan from Shylock (Peter Nikkos) in order to fund his friend Bassanio’s (David Hartstone) quest to woo Portia (Allison Volk), the heiress, under the condition that if the loan is not repaid, Shylock is entitled to take a pound of Antonio’s flesh.

Although typically considered a comedy, “The Merchant of Venice” throws in some intense dramatic scenes (Shylock’s attempting to forcibly remove the aforementioned flesh from Antonio’s chest in open court comes to mind, for instance). These moments are especially powerful in the intimate space: the audience members in the front row are directly confronted by Nikkos as Shylock during the famous “Hath not a Jew eyes?” monologue, among others.

But, really, this production’s excellence lies in its brilliantly-executed comedy. The supporting cast is as strong as the leads, and the jokes land effortlessly.

Daniel Landberg and Gilbert Martinez are particularly fantastic in their comedic ensemble roles. These two are instrumental in making CityShakes’ production of “The Merchant of Venice” as accessible and laugh-out-loud funny as it is. Additionally, Landberg scores the play with acoustic guitar-playing throughout and interjects a few original songs during key scene changes that help advance the storyline.

CityShakes’ production is so well done, the only real flaws come from the source material itself. “The Merchant of Venice” isn’t often performed in contemporary theaters — most likely because of the hard-to-ignore, heavy-handed anti-Semitism. Shylock is clearly portrayed as a villainous, vengeful Jew in contrast to the righteous and merciful Christian characters. During the play’s denouement, they tell Shylock that they’re going to force him to convert to Christianity, and that’s the happy ending to his story.

Considering these problems exist within Shakespeare’s text, the theater company does a fair job presenting the story and emphasizing mercy and forgiveness as the overall themes of this production. Although, even the play’s portrayal of mercy is questionable, since Shylock is unflinchingly hell-bent on revenge and has to be lectured about compassion by Portia. Director Brooke Bishop addresses this issue in the playbill, writing, “The Merchant of Venice is often thought to have been written from a place of hate — we invite you to watch out production from a place of love, and see what you discover.”

Still, the City Shakespeare Company’s “Merchant of Venice” is an outstanding artistic production. It is incredibly charming in its moments of comedy and romance, and thought-provoking in its most dramatic scenes. It is, altogether, definitely worth watching.

‘The Merchant of Venice’

1454 Lincoln Blvd.

8 p.m. Thursday – Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday

Tickets are $20, or pay-what-you-can at the door on Thursday

For more information, visit www.cityshakes.org.

Theater: Eric Rudnick, ‘Day Trader’

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The Bootleg Theater. SCREAMfmLondon

“Everyone knows a career in Hollywood is a gamble, and this play asks if people can ever come to grips with the fact that a large part of gambling is losing,” playwright Eric Rudnick is quoted as saying in the playbill for the Bootleg Theater’s current production of “Day Trader.”

The play is expertly staged, using sound bites of Mo Gaffney’s soothing narration from a how-to book on day trading to break up the scenes. The ongoing theme of day trading (the buying and selling of financial instruments before the market closes for the trading day) mirrors the plot of the play as unhappily married screenwriter Ron (Danton Stone) uses his family and friends as bargaining tools in an attempt to score a fortune from his wealthy wife and, thereby, make himself finally feel meaningful.

The Bootleg Theater makes excellent use of the space, projecting elements onto the minimal backdrops and revealing a jazzy drummer (Josh Imlay) to accompany the narration during scene changes. Although Ron’s wife Brenda never makes an onstage appearance, her presence is still felt through the shadows in the background and the snippets of Shakespeare she leaves for Ron to discover at opportune moments, foreshadowing the development of the plot (“A little more than kin, and less than kind”).

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Particularly impressive is the performance of 14-year-old Brighid Fleming as Ron’s daughter Juliana. While the audience sees her deal with the dissolution of her parents’ marriage and crave a better relationship with her father, in true Hollywood fashion, we also see that she is smarter and more capable than anyone anticipates.

Ron has long been yearning for a way out of his marriage, but, as per his prenuptial agreement, he is unable to file for divorce without forfeiting the share of his wife’s fortune to which he would otherwise be entitled. When he meets a beautiful young waitress/aspiring actress named Bridget (Murielle Zuker) who wants to help him get his hands on the money (and is willing to accompany him on overnight trysts in Solvang), he thinks his luck is finally turning around.

The plot is exciting — particularly in the final act, wherein the characters show their true, twisted, morally corrupt selves. The resolution is delightfully cynical and entirely satisfying.

And, moreover, the Bootleg Theater is impressive. It’s an interesting space that hosts a number of art events, from dance and theater to live music and spoken word. The set designers and stage managers are clearly very talented. It will definitely be worth checking out what they come up with next.

‘Day Trader’ at the Bootleg Theater

2220 Beverly Blvd.
7 p.m. Thursday – Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, through Feb. 16
General Admission $25
Students & Seniors $20
For more information, call 213-389-3856 or visit www.bootlegtheater.org.

Capsule film reviews: Four foreign LGBT movies

‘Plan B’ (Argentina)
Release Date: March 27, 2009
Director: Marco Berger
Starring: Manuel Vignau, Lucas Ferraro and Mercedes Quinteros
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A+

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Photo courtesy of Rendez-vous Pictures and Oh My Gomez! Films.

“Plan B” is a great film — a Spanish-language romantic comedy with a strong emotional, dramatic element. The pacing is perfect as the plot progresses toward an excellent and satisfying conclusion. The storyline is almost Shakespearean in its use of plotting and scheming, zany high jinks, and secret identities: Manuel Vignau excels as Bruno, who is set on exacting revenge after his girlfriend (Mercedes Quinteros) leaves him for another man, Pablo (Lucas Ferraro). First, he aims to befriend Pablo, infiltrating his world and possibly setting him up with another woman. But, when that doesn’t work, he decides to go with “plan B,” which is to just do the seducing himself. But as silly as the set-up is, the story is sweet and romantic with effective rising tension leading to a touching resolution. The script is well-written, the acting believable, and, again, this film is a great one.

‘Water Lilies’ (France)
Release Date: May 17, 2007
Director: Céline Sciamma
Starring: Adèle Haenel, Alice de Lencquesaing and Warren Jacquin
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B-

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Photo courtesy of Balthazar Productions.

This French film centers on three girls during the summer they are 15 years old. Primarily, the focus is on Marie (Pauline Acquart), who is captivated by Floriane (Adèle Haenel), the captain of the girls’ synchronized swimming team. And, although Marie is dealing with her first personal sexuality crisis, she’s quite often expressionless and emotionless, which drags the film on a bit. More interesting are the other two girls, Floriane (who is negatively perceived as promiscuous by her other classmates, doesn’t get along well with girls and is anxious to lose her virginity to some creep) and Anne (Louise Blachère, who is Marie’s heterosexual childhood friend she finds herself now drifting away from). The minimalistic cinematography is a little boring, but the storyline certainly is not, and “Water Lilies” is an interesting look at female sexual awakening.

‘Eyes Wide Open’ (Israel)
Release Date: Feb. 5, 2010
Director: Haim Tabakman
Starring: Ran Danker, Zohar Strauss and Tzahi Grad
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: C

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Photo courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures.

Unfortunately for me, I had to start and stop this movie several times in order to make it through. I wanted so badly to not find it boring, but I managed to do it anyway. “Eyes Wide Open” is a film, in Hebrew, that centers on an Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem. Zohar Strauss stars as Aaron, a married father of four, who hires Ezri (Ran Danker) to work as an apprentice in his butcher shop and eventually falls for him. The consequent crisis of faith and social ostracizing are the most compelling elements of the film, posing questions such as, “Is Aaron’s faith hurting or helping him? Is following his heart a good decision or a bad one?” But the acting is just so-so. Neither Danker nor Strauss is particularly compelling or convincing in their respective roles. Also, you know what’s weird about this movie? The promotional picture on the cover features a guy who is not really even in it (he appears in two scenes, I think).

‘North Sea Texas’ (Belgium)
Release Date: November 2, 2012
Director: Bavo Defurne
Starring: Thomas Coumans, Nina Marie Kortekaas and Nathan Naenen
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: C-

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Photo courtesy of Kinepolis Film Distribution and Strand Releasing.

There was probably a time I would have loved “North Sea Texas,” a Belgian coming-of-age film about a boy living with his good-for-nothing lounge singer/accordion player mother. Pim (Jelle Florizoone) carries off some amazingly angsty scenes dressing in his mother’s clothing and collecting mementos that remind him of the neighbor boy, Gino (Mathias Vergels). His mother (Eva Van der Gucht) does some lousy parenting, and Gino does some lousy boyfriending as he struggles with his own sexuality and his bleak family situation. It’s all very run-of-the-mill gay drama stuff, and that’s why I found this film to be so tedious. It’s well-acted, and it’s even emotionally-captivating. I just feel like I’ve seen this movie a million times over, and there are so many more diverse and interesting queer stories that could be told instead.

Book review: John Green, ‘The Fault in Our Stars’

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Photo courtesy of Dutton Books.

“The Fault in Our Stars” is designed to make the reader cry, but it is a bit more complicated than that.

John Green’s fourth novel centers on Hazel Lancaster, a 16-year-old cancer patient, as she considers exploring young love with Augustus Waters, a fellow cancer patient who has lost a leg to the disease.

This book is obviously designed to make the reader cry. That much is obvious from even the most vague of plot summaries.

Green, a YouTube personality who worked as a student chaplain in a children’s hospital, planned to become an Episcopalian priest before pursuing his writing career, and is now quite successful, having enjoyed some time on the New York Times bestseller list as well as a number of awards for young adult fiction. A film adaptation of “The Fault in Our Stars” starring Shailene Woodley (“The Descendents”) as Hazel is scheduled to be released in June 2014.

Naturally, Green’s time working at the hospital inspired much of the content of “The Fault in Our Stars,” and who doesn’t love to see affluent white men achieve success by exploiting the less fortunate souls they encounter while doing charity work?

Regardless, the novel is a quick and easy read that is predominantly enjoyable (except, of course, for the aforementioned inevitable crying).

Hazel and Augustus meet at a support group for children living with cancer that meets in a church basement (“the literal heart of Jesus,” according to their hapless counselor Patrick, who will be played by the excellent stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia in the film). Hazel recommends her favorite book to Augustus, and the pair embarks on a quest to track down the ne’er-do-well author to answer their questions about the novel’s cliffhanger ending — obviously falling in love along the way.

The progression of the relationship is not exactly seamless, but it is sweet and absurdly romantic (to a ridiculous degree, even, when it gets to the point of sipping Dom Pérignon by candlelight in Amsterdam).

Where “The Fault in Our Stars” deviates most from stereotypical young adult “sick lit” or romance is the extended philosophical element that carries throughout. The characters are witty, interested in the world and spend a great deal of time ruminating on the human condition and the meaning of life as they deal more closely with mortality than typical teenagers.

Because the two main characters are also devout readers who are deeply committed to symbolism (Augustus, at least, actively creates and points out metaphors in his own life, such as a never-smoked pack of cigarettes he carries at all times), there are a number of literary references that parallel the story’s plot. The most obvious literary allusion is the novel’s title, which refers to a line from “Julius Caesar”: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” The characters discuss this excerpt at one point in the story, concluding that Shakespeare was incorrect because the fault is, in fact, often in the stars — lots of things happen to people outside of their control.

However, the most poignant allusion comes when Hazel recites some of T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” to Augustus from memory on the precipice of a pivotal moment in the progression of their relationship. The poem is a particularly resonant choice because of the narrator’s famous indecision (“Do I dare / Disturb the universe?”), all the while Augustus and Hazel struggle to decide if temporary pleasure would outweigh long-term pain, if their lives and the lives of all the other “dead people” will have mattered at all in the long run.

Ultimately, all of the characters are likable and dryly humorous, specifically Hazel and Augustus, but also their parents and friends. And, for a novel about teenagers with terminal cancer, it was surprisingly lacking in angst and instead portrayed the protagonists as intelligent, thoughtful people who made mature decisions about their lives.

The love story wasn’t as impactful as expected, but “The Fault in Our Stars” is interesting, and its popularity alone may warrant it a read before next summer.

‘The Fault in Our Stars’

John Green

Release Date: Jan. 10, 2012

Genre: Young Adult

Pages: 318

Grade: B