Posts Tagged ‘staged reading’

On Thursday, March 30th at 7:30pm in 205 Gorgas Library, Improbable Fictions will present a staged reading of Pedro Calderon de la Barca’s Life is a Dream, an early modern Spanish drama. The reading is directed by Deborah Parker and will involve actors from UA and from the Tuscaloosa community. Free and open to the public.

Life is a Dream poster.png

This Thursday!

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Readers
Steve Burch
Mark Hughes Cobb
Alanna Fagan
Erin Hildebrand
Mark Hulse
Annie Levy
Bert McLelland
Courtney Parker
Deborah Parker
Mary B. Prondzinski
Will Ramsay
Sarah Scarr
Exa Skinner
Matt Smith
Elizabeth Thiel

Directors
Steve Burch
Mark Hughes Cobb
MK Foster
Nic Helms
Courtney Parker
Deborah Parker

Respondents
Prof. Michelle Dowd, Hudson Strode Program
Zoё Winston, Women and Gender Resource Center

The Bechdel-Wallace test, created in 1985, applies three simple criteria to fictional works:

  1. Does the story have two named female characters
  2. who have a conversation together
  3. about something other than a man?

The test can begin to tell us whether or not women have active roles in that fictional world.

Shakespeare’s plays seldom pass this test. After all, he wrote plays during the English Renaissance, a time when women were forbidden to act. That meant that boys and young men would dress as women to play the women’s roles. Perhaps Shakespeare couldn’t create many female characters because he couldn’t find enough skilled actors to play the parts.

Even so, today we’re left with a body of Shakespeare’s works where women have far fewer voices than men. Can those voices still speak for women’s experiences over four hundred years after they were written? And how can we, as actors, audiences, and readers, make sure that the Cleopatras, Desdemonas, and Margarets are not drowned out by the Octavians, Othellos, and Richards?

Scene and Soliloquy Summaries

Please note, while tonight’s scenes stage only one moment of physical violence — Cleopatra’s suicide — they do contain verbal abuse, descriptions of rape, and accounts of murder and trauma. Shakespeare’s stories depict a wide range of women’s experiences in the Renaissance, and much of that involves violence in all its forms.

Merchant of Venice, Act V, Scene 1

Portia and Nerissa are kicking back, having a cool beverage — metaphorically —  after having gone through elaborate disguise, trickery and insightful wit to bring justice, or perhaps mercy, its kinder cousin, to Venice. Though a good bit of what comes before and after in Merchant is about love and bonds, at this point the friends take a moment to notice the little things, to feel how context can clarify or obscure, and revel in the feeling of grateful relief that comes at the completion of an arduous task. Bonus: Listen for a line Willy Wonka paraphrased.

Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene 1

In this stellar, much-quoted monologue from a show rich with those, Portia, in disguise as a male legal scholar, has found her strength in being able to speak from behind a mask. It’s not that being in drag made her stronger, but that being a male in the 16th century meant being freer to speak truth to power. Here she connects god to duke to Shylock, to establish the lines that can connect them all. She’s giving Shylock an out, a chance to back off his demand for a pound of flesh, before lowering the justice boom on him.

As You Like It, Act III, Scene 5

Shakespeare predicted “Oh no she di-ent!” 400 years ago, and one of his sharpest-tongued practitioners is Rosalind, with a fire and wit like Beatrice’s, brought out when in guise as Ganymede. Here she’s met with the rustic Phebe, who is being pursued by the equally sheepish Silvio, who longs for Phebe, who has instead cast her eyes on this new dude Ganymede. Where Viola, being lusted after as Cesario, pushes Olivia to reconsider the worthiness of her suitor Orsino, the rougher Rosalind rebukes Phebe, urging her to settle for Silvio.

Richard III, Act 4, Scene 4

Old Queen Margaret, the Duchess of York, and Queen Elizabeth lament the deaths of husbands, brothers, and sons from the hand of newly crowned King Richard and Elizabeth learns to her horror Richard’s next victim in her family is to be her daughter. While these women all have names and have lengthy scenes and talk about power and survival, the fact is they all focus on the King and his evil plans. Bechdellian? Perhaps.

Antony and Cleopatra, Act V, Scene 2

This is the final scene of Antony and Cleopatra. They have been defeated by a very young Octavian. Antony has already killed himself, and in this scene Cleopatra meticulously stages her own suicide. It is important to keep in mind this is still the Roman Republic – Octavian is not yet the Emperor Augustus. The only royalty in the play is Cleopatra. What is interesting about this final scene is the contrast between Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, in her dealings with Octavian and what is revealed when she speaks about Antony.

Othello, Act IV, Scene 3

Just before this scene, the jealous Othello has made his decision to murder his wife Desdemona, suspecting her of infidelity. Desdemona has intuitions about her coming death, and she and her maid Emilia discuss Othello’s erratic, abusive behavior and the unequal standards society places on men and women’s sexuality. While this scene clearly fails the third step of the Bechdel-Wallace test (the conversation must be about something other than a man), what we see here are two close friends struggling to navigate a world perilous to women.

Titus Andronicus, Act II, Scenes 3-4

Tamora, conquered Queen of the Goths, and Lavinia, her archenemy’s daughter, meet in an isolated and dark forest.  While her sons look on, Tamora seeks revenge on Lavinia’s family for the humiliation she suffered at the hand of Lavinia’s father, Titus Andronicus.  Ultimately, Tamora’s sons enact her revenge by raping and mutilating Lavinia.  While no physical violence occurs onstage in our scene, the language is some of the most graphically violent in Shakespeare’s works. Two named women engage in a power struggle using the weapons they know best: unadulterated violence and womanly virtue.  While the topic of their conversation is not a man, men’s actions have propelled them toward this life-or-death moment of confrontation.  Men weave through the action of this scene silently and seamlessly – does it pass the test?

(crosspost from irrecollections.com)

 

Aside from poor acting, poor design, and poor direction (most versions commit one, two, or all of these sins), most productions appear to misunderstand–and therefore misrepresent–the text. Though a lot of misconception stems from a misrepresentation of Machiavelli himself (preferring the mustache-twirling villain over the historian, linguist,  and political writer), a lot of confusion proceeds from a misunderstanding of the play’s goals: The Mandrake is a test of Latin language, themes, and types. Machiavelli borrows characters, scenes, and beats from Terence and Plautus and reworks them for a contemporary audience. And it’s funny when these moments fall flat; it’s funnier still when Machiavelli calls direct attention to them: we laugh at Siro’s lack of enthusiasm in Callimaco’s plan; we chuckle at Lucrezia’s disenchantment with (literally) everything. These self-aware, awkward, clunky moments are funny in much the same way The Princess Bride’s overblown acting, over-dramatic score, and cliched script are funny.

The Productions

To illustrate, here is Malachi Bogdanov’s production of The Mandrake Root. You can watch all of it if you like. I wouldn’t:

This production fails to humor me. I didn’t smile once during its 1 hour and 14 minute run time, and you likely didn’t either (or at least you shouldn’t have). I wouldn’t waste my time showing this to students.

And my distaste for this film has nothing to do with its Wiseau-esque opening credits or its painfully wooden acting–or even its standardization of Machiavelli’s already standardized characters (as if that was even possible!). My problem is one of intention: The Mandrake Root attempts to play The Mandrake straight; the characters take themselves seriously, undermining the humor that has kept the play alive for almost 500 years. Again, The Mandrake is a testing-ground for existing tropes in Latin comedy–and, better, a testing-ground for Machiavelli.

Machiavelli’s script is self-aware, and The Mandrake is as much a parody of the author as it is a parody of Latin comedy. Stylized, discourse-ish dialogue (vis a vis The Prince) is funny when magnified and tested. Callimaco’s grand speech in 1.1 is repeatedly undermined by Siro’s interjections and disinterest. Nicia’s hyperbolic love for Latin language and culture is undercut by Callimaco’s faux-Latin gobblety-gook. The play repeatedly parodies ‘Machiavellian’ archetypes, and it should be played lightly.

Here is a clip from The Princess Bride:

Though this isn’t a clip from The Mandrake, it illustrates my point well. Wallace Shawn, who translated The Mandrake in 1971, plays the scheming Sicilian Vizini. Note the discourse-like quality of the dialogue–how quickly both Vizini and The Dread Pirate Roberts recite overblown, faux-intellectual dialogue; how the score heightens and dramatizes the scene, despite talking heads; and how incredibly disinterested Buttercup looks, despite the knife at her throat. Though this isn’t a production of The Mandrake, it might as well be; and Shawn brilliantly executes this scene–from his smug grin to his sudden, anticlimactic death. The scene (and the film) is self-aware and lighthearted. It pokes holes in 80s high fantasy by embracing the genre’s tropes and exaggerating them.

This is what The Mandrake should do, and this is why most productions suck.

TL; DR: The Mandrake is a really smart play that’s smart about being dumb, and everyone plays it as a smart play trying to be smart, which is dumb. Don’t be dumb: be smart: be dumb.

Just a brief note about everything IF will be doing this spring:

  • There will be a production of Aristophanes’ The Assembly Women, directed by Steve Burch, on March 25th at the Tuscaloosa Cultural Arts Center. The production will be part of “Women, Democracy, and the Ideology of Exclusion from Antiquity Through the Early 20th Century”, an international conference will be held at 205 Gorgas from March 24-25, 2016, organized by Prof. Tatiana Tsakiropoulou-Summers (Modern Languages and Classics): womenanddemocracy.ua.edu
  • In conjunction with UA’s EN 208 courses (World Literature II), IF will hold informal readings and film screenings about once a month in Morgan 301, featuring the work of Voltaire, Dostoyevsky, Beckett, and Soyinka. Details TBA on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/313455652125964/
  • Finally, the Strode Shakespeare Film Series continues, starting tomorrow (Jan 13) with Billy Morrissette’s 2001 appropriation of MacbethScotland, PaFor details, check out our department page: http://english.ua.edu/grad/strode/films

scotland-pa-original

We hope to see you at one of our many events!

~nrhelms

Program Notes for Scotland, Pa. by Tyler Sasser:

Macbeth

Theatre people always say that Macbeth is the unluckiest of plays, particularly for actors who literally risk “breaking a leg” should they bid each other “good luck” before a performance. Such a hapless reputation, however, has not taken away from the immense popularity of the Scottish play. With Romeo and Juliet, Juliet Caesar, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth has long been a staple of American high school education. The Scottish play often serves as our introduction to Shakespeare, if not to theatre more broadly.

One reason is because of its brevity. At merely 2,000 lines long, Macbeth is approximately half the size of Hamlet. Macbeth speaks almost 30% of those lines, thus making him more central to his play than any other Shakespearean protagonist, except Hamlet who speaks about 38% of the lines in his play. Since we spend so much time with Macbeth—by comparison, Lady Macbeth essentially exits the play in 3.4, only to return briefly in 5.1—audiences and readers at times find themselves identifying with him. Bloody career aside, Macbeth’s intense human desire to see his ambitions realized—no matter the cost—can become very personal for us.

Macbeth was first published in the Folio (1613), the collection of Shakespeare’s plays published seven years after his death. It most likely was written near the end of 1606, and it is often identified as the last of the so-called “great tragedies” of Shakespeare (Hamlet, King Lear, and Othello). As is so common in Shakespeare, the playwright borrows his narrative from another source. In this case, Shakespeare turns to the famous Chronicles (1577) of Holinshed, a popular history of England, Scotland, and Ireland familiar to the playwright and his contemporaries. Chronicles tells the story of Lady Macbeth, a high noble woman and cousin to King Duncan, whose husband and son are murdered. Macbeth marries her, and becomes king after Duncan dies in battle. As in the play, Macbeth never fathers a child.

Shakespeare significantly alters this history, and in the process provides us with fast-paced action and tragic characters. To be sure, Macbeth is a dark and bloody play. Probably the most famous and controversial (and there are many) adaptation of the play is Roman Polanski’s 1971 film, produced in the aftermath of the murder of his pregnant wife Sharon Tate by members of the Manson Family. As you will see with Scotland, PA, the play does not always inspire gloomy productions, but it is simultaneously unsettling and compelling. It forces us to realize, with Macbeth, that “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, / And then is heard no more.”

Scotland, PA

Scotland, PA irreverently repackages Shakespeare’s Macbeth into a 70’s style mystery, and like all good satire, this one is based on disgust.

Writer-director Billy Morrissette began drafting his script while forced to read Macbeth in high school and flip burgers at Dairy Queen. Of his employment, Morrissette disingenuously states, “I hated my boss, and I wanted to kill him.” Hence, while Shakespeare’s play is about murdering the king of Scotland so Macbeth can take his place, the movie is about murdering the owner of a burger joint so Mac can become owner. The movie also is about the fast-food style bloodbath that follows.

Joe “Mac” McBeth (James LeGros) and Pat McBeth (Maura Tierney) are unhappy with their life working at Duncan’s, a burger stand operated by Norm “The King of Burgers” Duncan (James Rebhorn). After Mac is passed over for promotion, the McBeths elect to take things into their own hands and make true the prophecies of one fortune teller (Amy Smart) and two stoned hippies (Tim Levitch and Andy Dick). Scotland, PA faithfully follows in the tradition of Macbeth being Shakespeare’s bloodiest drama, as a gruesome murder brings the amiable scatterbrained Lt. Ernie McDuff (Christopher Walken) to investigate.

Anyone familiar with Macbeth will enjoy, even if superficially, the parallels Morrissette creatively imbues into his movie, such as Pat’s grease-stained hands. Yet despite the comedy, Scotland, PA maintains much of what makes Macbeth memorable. For instance, LeGros’s Mac resembles a feckless Macbeth easily led by his wife, and Tierney’s Pat recalls traditional performances of Lady Macbeth when she challenges her husband’s manhood. Further, this fast-food themed appropriation uses food and hunger not only for laughs, as when viewers see Christopher Walken with a carrot hanging out of his mouth, but also recalls its Shakespearean original. With approximately 30 references to consumption, Macbeth is chock-full of food-related imagery, whether Macbeth’s metaphorical hunger for ambition or the physical hunger noted by the witches. Even one of the most famous lines from the Scottish play—Lady Macbeth’s lamenting that her husband is “too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness”—suggests a dramatic concern with nourishment. The film’s fantastic soundtrack, composed almost entirely of Bad Company songs, also makes telling connections between play and film. “Bad Company” playing as Mac first approaches the stoned hippies (i.e., witches) is a hard rock caution, and “Can’t Get Enough” sums up the ethos of both Mac and Macbeth.

Morrissette happily dedicated Scotland, PA to all the burger flipping students who, like himself, read Cliff Notes instead of Shakespeare. If you are one of those people, then bon appetite!

Next Wednesday, October 7th, 2015, at 7:30 PM, Improbable Fictions will present a staged reading of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Come join us! Free and open to the public.

TN (Eyelashes) for IF copy

The Facebook event: here.

The program: TN (Lips) for IF

This Thursday, Feb 12 at 7:30pm in the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center, IF presents a staged reading of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. Come join us! Free and open to the public.

Faustus, IF

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Jan 15th, 2015, 7:30pm at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center in downtown Tuscaloosa. Starring Michael Witherell as Prospero. Our script can be downloaded here: The Tempest, adapted by Steve Burch and Emily Pitts Donahoe

RSVP to the Facebook event!