When I was twelve, I went on a class field trip to Odessa, with my beloved teacher Beth. Bizarrely and incredulously, in the middle of this mostly forsaken oil town in far West Texas, there's a replica of the Globe Theatre on the campus of
We saw The Tempest
. I don't know if it was a touring production or perhaps a college production, but I'll never forget the feeling of being there. I will also never forget "Caliban" as he bounded up the aisle, practically into my lap. I have never been so simultaneously thrilled and frightened.
I had traveled as a child but we moved to West Texas for my parents' jobs and to be closer to family...it wasn't an unhappy time but it also felt like a million miles from everywhere. Going to the theatre gave me the feeling of independence and escape. I still feel this way, even living almost 2000 miles from that little place.
Since that field trip, I've seen many productions of The Tempest
and it still remains my favorite. Most of all, it opened a feeling and a world to me that I never grow tired of visiting.
Then this past Wednesday night, I heard something incredibly rare, extraordinary and equally unforgettable. It was but a moment, but equally transportive: Dame Helen Mirren read Caliban's monologue from an iphone.
Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.
, Act III, Scene II, William Shakespeare.
This came at the end of Dame Helen's interview by Paul Holdengraber
at the New York Public Library.
I could never compare myself to Dame Helen. She's too everything
that I am not.
But I did find my past experience collide with hers as she told her own story of coming into Shakespeare. When she was also about twelve or thirteen, she saw her
first Shakespeare; a touring production of Hamlet
in her rough little coastal English town, Westcliff-on-Sea. She says she was transported and hasn't forgotten that experience in fifty or so years. What if she hadn't seen that? I shudder to think of an interruption of the fate that perhaps inspired one of our greatest actresses:
"I am a very strong believer in the fact that children, young people I should say, should have their first experience of Shakespeare should be an experience of watching it in the theatre, or an watching
it being acted. Certainly, that was my first experience....and I was utterly transported...And it lead me into this wonderful imaginative world of characters and storytelling and drama that was so different that was so different than the street I was growing up on..."
The talk was mostly about Shakespeare, a celebration of his 400th anniversary year, and Dame Helen's career as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
The interview was filmed and is still available here: http://livestream.com/theNYPL/Mirren/videos/121229330
I admit that I've been watching it on loop.
Frog & Peach Theatre Company
is throwing an all-star reading tomorrow night. Actors Zach Grenier, Judith Ivey, Austin Pendleton, Peter Gerety and the fabulous members of the Frog & Peach will read Shakespeare's text in honor of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. I am so stoked to see the thrilling Zach Grenier again, plus I'm excited to be a part of honoring the terrific Gale Brewer, who was also my city council member.
Eight years ago, I walked about 8 blocks from my apartment to be immersed in Macbeth
as staged by Frog & Peach. I was in awe and since then, they've become my favorite New York Shakespeare troupe.
The evening proceeds support free and discounted tickets to Frog & Peach Main Stage productions for under-served public school students city-wide. I love that this Company remains committed to sharing making Shakespeare accessible to kids, which is arguably is the most important and best way to learn the Master's works.
The evening takes place tomorrow, May 2 at 7 pm, at The Greenwich House Schol of Music at 46 Barrow St, in Manhattan’s West Village. Tickets are $49-$99 each, or a table of six for $499.
Tickets are available via Eventbrite.
My favorite thing about seeing Shakespeare off-Broadway is that nothing is made into everything. The Rogue & Peasant Players
is doing this now with their new production of HENRY V at The Access Theatre, a wonderfully intimate black box in Tribeca.
The production, directed by Kelly Monroe Johnston, is at once simplistic and chaotic. Out of a cacophony of sound, cleverly punctuated by a wonderful percussion set of hanging wine bottles and buckets, comes forth a clarity of text. It's interesting and entertaining. The cast is mostly female and plays the roles as they are written. At times it seems that there are a lot of actors in the space, but even then they switch characters seamlessly, thanks to simple costume changes, designed by Liliana Casabal. I also loved the lighting. The Access Theatre is fitted with typical stage lighting, but Lighting Designer Susannah Baron added very cool effects with lamps and in particular a flash camera during the battle scenes.
I saw HENRY IV last fall so I was happy to see HENRY V so soon since, as I'm making my way thru the History Plays. Shakespearean quotes are so much of every day life that I find it a bit of a epiphany to hear them in context. I was thrilled to hear the St. Crispian Day speech ("We few, we happy few, we band of Brothers") delivered beautifully by company member Brenna Yeary as Henry
The rest of this cast is represented by company members Sarah Bonner, Tim Down, Dee Dee Popper. Alejandra Venancio (a delightful Katherine), and Malka Wallick. Joining the company for this production are Alyssa May Gold, Elizabeth M. Kelly, Jess Milewicz, Adam Kee and apprentices Madeleine Escarne and Brandon Rachal.
I have to shout out to Falstaff's soldiers played hilariously by Jess Melewics as Bardolph, Alyssa May Gold as Nym and Sarah Bonner as Pistol, especially with their use of some unlikely weapons.
In this 400th year since the death of Shakespeare, it's a great idea to add Rogue & Peasant's production of HENRY V to join in on the commemoration.
HENRY V runs Wednesdays thru Sundays until February 14th at the Access Theatre, 380 Broadway, just north of White Street and close to Canal Street. Tickets ($18 well spent) are available via Brown Paper Tickets: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2473653
I loved the new play Insignificant
by Sean Michael Welch
at Infinite Variety Productions
so much that I'm going again tonight.
Set in 1925, a young female astronomy student, Cecilia Payne
, doubts her own findings. It's not the data that necessarily holds her back, but her station as a woman in the field where men are dominant and the resultant self-doubt.
Her colleague and veteran astronomer Annie Jump Cannon leads Cecilia through her own struggle as a brilliant female scientist in a male world by sharing her own story and that of her colleagues to drive home the necessity to continue the fight against the struggle of equality.
From the Press Release: Insignificant tells the true stories of the women behind the stars and their astounding but uncelebrated triumphs in the field of astronomy. Defiantly unconventional, the play reminds us that women have to break all the rules to make history.
The production is superb with almost an ethereal quality at times, perfect for it's heavenly subject matter. The story weaves back and forth from present to past, without becoming overly sentimental or maudlin thanks to a fantastic company and a deft touch by director Colleen Britt. The actresses, lead by Kathleen O'Neill in the role of Annie and Deanna McGovern as Cecilia, brilliantly and powerfully depict this true life story of these early female astronomers is dramatized beautifully, highlighting their friendship and sisterhood and sometimes even weaving back further in their past. The other real female astronomers and Annie's contemporaries brought to life are Williamina Fleming
by Laura King Otazo, Antonia Maury
by Ashley Adelman, and Henrietta Swan Leavitt
by Alla Illvosa.
The drama is also kept light by a sort of Vaudevillian troupe of male villains who also serve as their chauvinistic professors. They are delightfully played by Andrew Dunn, Jordan Gwiazdowski and Timothy Ellis Riley.
The other subject of the play is astronomy, not an easy science. Sean Michael Welch keeps it real without making it too much to understand. I'm not a complete novice, having taken astronomy in college to satisfy my requirement science component, but this is not easy stuff. That alone makes this a fascinating topic to explore especially given that these women were not even allowed to look through even the most rudimentary of telescopes by their male superiors in university. They are confined to the very tedious work of measuring distance between the stars on photo plates.
Infinite Variety Productions is a company which devotes itself to little known stories of women in our history through drama. This passionate company is producing thrilling stories and I can't wait to see more from them. Each time I've seen one of their plays, I've been compelled to learn more of the history they presenting - and inspired to make sure that my nieces are aware as well.
This is the last weekend of Insignificant,
although I'm sure it will get another, much deserved life in the very near future. It's not too late to see it - it's playing at the Kraine Theatre at 85 East 4th Street, just off 2nd Avenue tonight and tomorrow night at 7 pm. Tickets are available online via Horse Trade Theatre Group
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