William Shakespeare (#110 of 32)

A Thrilling (Re)discovery Jeannette Winterson’s The Gap of Time

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A Thrilling (Re)discovery: Jeannette Winterson’s The Gap of Time
A Thrilling (Re)discovery: Jeannette Winterson’s The Gap of Time

The Hogarth Shakespeare series calls up two of literature’s most iconic names. The Hogarth Press, founded in 1917 by Leonard and Virginia Woolf, not only published the Woolfs’ work, but it also boasts having published the U.K. edition of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland. To this day, the publishing house, now an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, remains an influential space within modernist literary history. As for Shakespeare? Well, his plays, constantly read, taught, and performed, are so ingrained in our culture it almost makes any introduction to the famed British playwright moot.

The series matches bestselling authors with the Bard’s classic texts to produce updated visions for the classroom and stage. Next year, we’ll be able to read Margaret Atwood’s take on The Tempest, while later down the line, we’ll learn if a Gillian Flynn retooling of Hamlet will obligatorily feature an empowered Ophelia. It’s an idea that feels both old and new. Because what were Shakespeare plays themselves but “updated” versions of myths, histories, and other popular stories?

Giving Shakespeare His Due Brian Selznick’s The Marvels

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Giving Shakespeare His Due: Brian Selznick’s The Marvels
Giving Shakespeare His Due: Brian Selznick’s The Marvels

In the middle of Brian Selznick’s newest picture book/novel hybrid, The Marvels, a young boy sneaks into a theater where he’s enraptured by a performance of William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. The play, one of the Bard’s late romances, is perhaps best remembered for its late-act feat of magic wherein a statue of queen Hermione, who had presumably died 16 years prior, comes to life only to be greeted by the repentant husband whose accusatory cries of adulterer had caused her death. “The play had left him strangely sad, even though he knew it was supposed to have a happy ending,” we’re told. It’s one of many moments in Selznick’s latest endeavor that feels indicative of the type of story we’re reading, as this is a stage-bound spectacle that depends on its own theatricality to craft a narrative about how families are made and unmade.

Just as George Méliès was at the heart of Selznick’s instant classic The Invention of Hugo Cabret, so does Shakespeare haunt these pages. It’s no surprise cross-dressing, mistaken identities, aimless young men, and a family tragedy are at the center of this centuries-spanning chronicle that begins in an all-too familiar Shakespearean scenario: a tempest at sea.

Film Comment Selects 2015: Cymbeline

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Film Comment Selects 2015: <em>Cymbeline</em>
Film Comment Selects 2015: <em>Cymbeline</em>

In Cymbeline, director Michael Almereyda, working with cinematographer Tim Orr, strikingly calls attention to the flimsiness of the story's settings. Characters hatch out a plan at a Chinese restaurant and the audience is allowed to ineffably sense that this location was selected, perhaps the week before shooting, for the strip-mall bareness of its interior and for its overall chintziness, which contrasts with the heightened poetic dialogue that's taken from Shakespeare's play of the same name. Other locations, which include warehouses, dilapidated mansions, bridges, and spartanly furnished cabins, exude a similarly purposefully contrived aura of isolated, cherry-picked formality: They're theatrical sets as found objects, and Orr often casts them in silvery hues that convey a nihilistic impression of decay and apocalyptic impermanency.

Review: Macbeth at Park Avenue Armory

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Review: <em>Macbeth</em> at Park Avenue Armory
Review: <em>Macbeth</em> at Park Avenue Armory

The Macbeth now playing at the Park Avenue Armory, co-directed by Rob Ashford and Kenneth Branagh, achieves a remarkable theatrical feat: It makes the experience of entering and exiting the theater more exciting than watching the play itself. That's not to say that this latest interpretation of Shakespeare's Scottish Play, in which Branagh plays the titular tyrant, isn't full of swashbuckling excitement, frightening depictions of murder and madness, and performers at the limits of their vocal and physical capacities. But these are the hallmarks of Macbeth in the modern age, when the 1606 play is typically rendered like a Hollywood action movie, with an antihero knocking off all the bad (well, good) guys until his own violent demise. Ashford and Branagh's unsurprising Macbeth might have passed without much notice, or complaint, were it not for a set design that reminds us how much more this play can be.

Red Velvet Interview with Adrian Lester

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<em>Red Velvet</em> Interview with Adrian Lester
<em>Red Velvet</em> Interview with Adrian Lester

In Red Velvet, a new play by Lolita Chakrabarti now at Brooklyn's St. Ann's Warehouse, Adrian Lester plays Ira Aldridge, a famed African-American actor who made history playing Othello at the London Covent Garden in 1833. Aldridge, who'd left New York as a teenager, was in his late 20s when he stepped in for the ailing Edmund Kean, the reigning English Shakespearean thespian of the day. He went on to build an illustrious career in Europe, touring with the classics until his death in 1867.

Since his affecting performance in the early 1990s as the cross-dressing Rosalind in the all-male Cheek by Jowl production of As You Like It, Lester has moved easily between Sondheim musicals, Shakespeare, a long-running British television series (Hustle), and playing the idealistic campaign manager in Mike Nichols's Primary Colors. The English actor, who's married to playwright Chakrabarti, talked to us about bringing Aldridge's story, their labor of love, to the stage.

How did Red Velvet come about?

I was asked to do a reading at the Garrick Club about Ira's experiences in London and in the provinces. I had never heard of the guy before. So after I finished the reading I took those six sheets of paper about him back home and I asked my wife Lolita if she'd heard of him. She said no. She read the pages and said, “I think there's a story here.” She started doing some research and she realized that Ira's connection to European history was quite strong. A lot of the significant moments in his life coincided with a lot that was happening in Europe—the people he influenced and the people he met. Lolita found it fascinating that the manager of the company at Covent Garden, which was a major theater in London, said he wanted Ira to step in and play the part. You can believe that from a manager who's from France, who's perhaps the son or the grandson of people who pushed through the Revolution—people who wanted change and fought for it. At that time, we know that the actresses Fanny Kemble and Ellen Tree played Romeo and Juliet opposite each other, and we know that the bill to abolish slavery on all British soil was also going through. So it was quite a turbulent period.

Lolita began collecting this research all together thinking she'd write a film. She told Indhu Rubasingham, who was directing her in a play, about this story and Indhu said, “Write it as a play, it's much quicker, I'd love to direct it.” From that point, Lolita was writing draft after draft and she was handing it to me and to Indhu, and we were feeding notes back until we got to the point that it was ready.

Review: The Last Goodbye at the Old Globe

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Review: <em>The Last Goodbye</em> at the Old Globe
Review: <em>The Last Goodbye</em> at the Old Globe

The marks most of us leave, even those etched in stone, eventually wash away. That's why the Guinness Book of World Records gets revised every year. Ironically, the rare thing that does survive is often tinged with death. For instance, Romeo and Juliet's romance ends in side-by-side suicides just days after the teens meet. If they'd had a happier ending, it's doubtful that William Shakespeare's play would be produced year after year for more than half a millennium. Indeed, there were adaptations, some even eclipsing the original for a while in popularity, which ended with Juliet waking from her slumber just in time to stop Romeo from killing himself. These versions died with the nineteenth century.

Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is currently running on Broadway with Orlando Bloom and downtown at the Classic Stage Company with Elizabeth Olsen. The dueling productions have been left bloodied by most critics and will soon be forgotten, but a new musical adaptation, The Last Goodbye at San Diego's Old Globe, has a shot at making a more lasting impression. It tries something fresh, wedding a slimmed-down version of the Bard's text to songs written or covered by Jeff Buckley. Some of it comes off as a shotgun marriage. Having the cast sing “Hallelujah”—both Buckley and Leonard Cohen's biggest commercial hit—over the teen lovers' corpses seems inevitable, and plays as a benediction. But to deliver “I've heard there was a secret chord/That David played, and it pleased the Lord/But you don't really care for music, do you?” to a character who's been singing for the past two-plus hours takes us out of the moment. Still, much of the production works and, if nothing else, makes a strong case that several of Buckley's own songs should survive even without the benefit of his glorious voice.

Watch the Trailer for BBC Two’s The Hollow Crown Series, Coming to iTunes, VOD, and DVD Aug. 27

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Watch the Trailer for BBC Two’s <em>The Hollow Crown</em> Series, Coming to iTunes, VOD, and DVD Aug. 27
Watch the Trailer for BBC Two’s <em>The Hollow Crown</em> Series, Coming to iTunes, VOD, and DVD Aug. 27

Like your buzzworthy British stars and venerable greats in the same place? Then you can't do much better right now than The Hollow Crown, a Shakespearean miniseries first broadcast on BBC Two in 2012, and coming to iTunes, VOD, and DVD Aug. 27. Produced by Sam Mendes, the four-part epic includes adaptations of The Bard's Richard II, Henry IV Parts One and Two, and Henry V, and features Ben Whishaw, Tom Hiddleston, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Irons, John Hurt, Patrick Sterwart, and Simon Russell Beale. The great Whishaw and Beale both won BAFTAs for their work in Richard II, which was also up for Best Single Drama. Focus World is releasing the complete, talent-packed series stateside. Check out the official trailer below.