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 Odessa College
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
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