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June 28th, 2009


One of the hardest things to narrate in any storytelling art is the internal cracks of a character. One may think that with movies we could use the visual language clearly, or in a graphic novel, demonstrate the internal story a person feels, but this is not easy. It is harder on the stage, where there is no hope of CGI to save the day.
And that is the challenge of Macbeth. It was easier in Don Quixote, because the division of reality and the illusion are meant to be crossed up (and they are crossed up well.) In Macbeth there are few illusions (Is this a dagger I see before me...?) and lots of nightmares. Yeah, there's a ghost or two, but I think this time they were the director's image.

I did not like Peter Macon's Othello, and his Macbeth was, well, okay. I realized that Macon is a full body actor, and as impressive as his voice can be, he uses his entire body to display emotions or the breakdown of his mind. There were only a few places where I liked his hitting the floor, and by then it was almost too late. The reaction to the death of Lady Macbeth, however, was perfect. If there was any moment where I felt an ounce of sympathy for him, it was that moment, and then Macbeth basically says "the hell with it" and fights on.

The set was dark, as it should be. The witches came it two sets, which I didn't get. The weird sisters were mirrored with three young girls. If there was a symbolism there, I missed it. The set also has a very civilized staircase that twists into something ugly and twisted and looked hard for the actors to navigate. Some decorative sets of stairs led to nowhere, and I think I got that point: Progressing up the power ladder for the Macbeths leads to nowhere but a long drop. And drop they do.

Robin Goodrin Nordli is a good Lady M. Elegance for a higher status than she has without blood, cruel in her ambition. Give this woman a Thain and she wants the kingdom. Her madness was wonderful to watch.

The fighting was also very good. I know it's stage swordplay, but they were working on those fights. It was very, very, fun.

Again, I think the problems I have with Macbeth relate to my knowing the play, having seen it a few times too many in my life. I should just go and write my own version (as writers are wont to do) and then I may think better of the play.

Much Ado About Nothing

I heard someone, somewhere, say that Robynn Rodriquez and David Kelly are too old to play Beatrice and Benedick. Whoever said that was wrong. Stephanie adores David Kelly. He holds first place in the best ad-lib ever at Ashland (in Two Gentlemen of Verona). I understand her admiration. I don't think I've seen him in a leading part before, and that was a shame.

The production of Much Ado is set after World War Two, in Italy, and the costumes and music match the setting. No complaints there. Like Peter Macon, David Kelly is a full-body actor, but for comedic effect and he plays it well. Every move is hilarious. The hijinx as Benedick listens in on Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato made us laugh so hard we didn't hear all of the dialog, but that's okay. We knew the play.

I did have some problems with the play, but they are with the play, and not with the actors or the production. The deception of Hero's death comes from a priest, probably Shakespeare using the same idea from Romeo and Juliet (I'm not sure which was written first), but really, Benedick should have stepped forth with the idea, and calmed Leonato earlier because his vitriol towards Hero was painful in the most sympathetic way.

The play also has a problem with Don John. He is not a proper villain. Like Iago, he doesn't really explain why he's the way he is, and he doesn't come up with the great plan. A minor character, Borachio, comes up with the plan. I may just have to write his story. Hell, I'll write a story where Iago, Borachio, and the other villains from the Italian plays are part of a family. I'll write it as letters back and forth, as they explain their "brave deeds" of mischief and cruelty to each other as updates.

Don John is such a nobody, Keanu Reeves was a good casting choice.

But we celebrate the fighting between Beatrice and Benedick, we weep for Hero, and we applaud loudly and at great lengths at the last kiss. That's all I ask from a comedy.


This morning I was thinking about theater and its limitations in storytelling. This evening, I realize I was a fool. Bill Cain has written a wonderful play, one that is damn near perfect in writing, was perfect in casting, and simply amazing in production.

Yes, I am smitten. I joined the rush to purchase the script after the show.

This afternoon we watched Equivocation, written by Bill Cain and dealing with Shakespeare and the King's Men. Shakespeare is called Shag (from one of Shakespeare's own misspelling of his name) and he is commissioned to write a play of current events, a piece of propaganda that he finds a poor story at best, and unbelievable, and if Shag says something is unbelievable, it is.

The cast consists of six people: Shag, his daughter Judith, and four men who play another 15 roles or so. I love plays where actors get to play more than one part. The fifth man of Bullshot Crummond, for example. Usually I find there is little reason for this other than convenience or comedic effect.

In Equivocation, it's damned necessary, and I hope Kenneth Branaugh remembers that as he butchers this script into a movie. No, there's no movie yet, but there should be, so there probably will be. The actors have to play multiple roles because the story, both external for us and internal for Shag, can't be told easily without it.

Parts of the play are in "real time" and flash foward to a rehearsal, then back to the "real time" of the story. And it all makes sense. The actors are so quick to change from one role to the other they don't always need the costume. Their bearing and voice and the context tell you exactly what is going on. Time is flexible, space is flexible, but morality is constant.

Not that that makes it easy, that would be bad drama. It would be a play without a plot. There were also a bunch of great lines that I will have to write down and use as signatures in my emails.

Okay, I'm gushing, I get that. Part of me wants to write down everything that happened because it was so fucking cool, but it's a new play and even now my spoiler alert alarm is going off. So instead let me say that when you need to laugh, you laugh; when you need to cry, you cry; and when you need to grip your knees in anticipation, you give yourself a cramp in the hand. It is all timed perfectly.

Simply put: See this play.

Get to Ashland, or see it in Seattle Reperatory Theatre in November and December.

Now one caveat: You might not get all the jokes if you don't know your Shakespeare, and if you don't know Macbeth you may be lost at times, but I'm not sure that will really hinder you.

The play has swearing, gunpowder, and simulated executions that scared the crap out of me. "How are they going to fake that hanging?" I thought to myself.

I left wanting to be bolder than myself, larger than myself, more myself than myself, and that is what theatre is supposed to do.

I also left wanting to speak extemporaneously in iambic pentameter, but that is Shagspeare's fault.


Non-Ashland explanation

Celebrity deaths come in threes. I don't know if this an LA county statute or the mortuary lobby rules or the agents trying to get special deals on final publicity for their clients. But there have been four deaths in the past week, so something doesn't fit.

I've examined the evidence and I am sorry to say Farrah was the odd death out. Ed McMahon, Michael Jackson, and Billy Mays all worked towards being annoying. Farrah was the exception to the rule.

I also have a brief conspiracy about Mays. He probably died of a terminal disease, like bravura glossolalia (the inability to stop shouting bullshit), and he knew his fate. That's why he started that hideous show Pitch Men, so he could find someone to takeover his sadly successful Selling Crap by Shouting on Television business.

But that's just a rumor.

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