Richard III and Twelfth Night on Broadway: A Review

Richard III and Twelfth Night are staged under "original practices."

Richard III and Twelfth Night are staged under “original practices.”

At the Belasco Theatre, New Yorkers are being treated to an all-too-rare opportunity to see Shakespeare’s Richard III and Twelfth Night performed under the “original practices” rubric favored at the reconstructed Globe Theatre in London.

All costumes are authentically Elizabethan, meaning no zippers, no Velcro, no artificial anything. The sets are period as well; in this case mimicking a university dining hall where Shakespeare’s troupe sometimes performed with a minimum of props and scenery. Some seats are on stage recreating the intimacy of The Globe. And, of course, all the female roles are played by men.

If the historical recreation was all there was to these two productions it would probably be worth the price of admission. Fortunately there is much more on offer.

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‘Cymbeline’ at Stratford Shakespeare Festival (2012)

Cymbeline is being performed at the Tom Patterson Theatre as part of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

If you’ve never seen Shakespeare’s Cymbeline there’s a good reason for that. The play is devilishly difficult to do. Start with a large, sprawling cast filled with roles that would challenge even the best actors. Then add a complex, intricate and, to modern tastes, sometimes ludicrous plot. Top it all off with some daunting stage effects (the script calls for a severed head followed closely by the torso from which it was lopped and a deus ex machine that’s a real doozy) and you begin to understand why most theatre companies and directors shy away from this “problem” play as it is sometimes labeled. [Read more…]

Stratford Shakespeare Festival 2011

I was told the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, has been suffering the effects of the world-wide downturn. Receipts are down by a third, I heard, and Americans, who once flocked there, are staying away in droves, they said, now that the once lowly loonie (or Canadian dollar) is worth about ten percent more than the once almighty U.S. greenback.

Well you couldn’t prove it by what I saw on a visit to the 2011 edition of this showcase of dramatic art that has been going strong since 1952.

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Richard III at Stratford Shakespeare Festival

In the past, I have passed up chances to see such oddities as an all-female Taming of the Shrew and generally tend to view this sort of gender-bending casting political correctness run amok. But having seen Seana McKenna distinguish herself on several occasions at Stratford, I gave in and saw her turn as Richard III. I’m glad I did, although the production failed to live up to its promise.

First, it must be said that McKenna is a much more than adequate Richard. So much so that I and several companions were left wondering why, after demonstrating that this woman could take up one of Shakespeare’s greatest villains and make you forget her gender almost immediately, the director Miles Potter (who is also McKenna’s husband) didn’t ask more of her.

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The Merry Wives of Windsor at Stratford Shakespeare Festival

If you are seeing the revenge tragedy Titus Andronicus at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival you might want to bookend that experience with The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare’s great revenge comedy.

Being given a smashing production at the Festival Theatre under the taut direction of Frank Galati (who also adapted the Festival’s staggering production of Grapes of Wrath), Merry Wives is one of the jewels of the 2011 season.

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