Thursday, September 28, 2017

Shakespeare in passing in The Avengers

The Avengers. Dir. Joss Whedon. Perf. Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, and Chris Hemsworth. 2012. Blu-Ray.  Walt Disney Video, 2012.

Sometimes, it's the briefest allusions that help make the film.

Surely, you'll agree that, without the lines in the clip below, The Avengers would not be as aesthetically pleasing—though it probably would be as popular—as it is.

It also lets us know that Joss Whedon is unlikely to forget about Shakespeare.

And it lets us know what Robert Downey, Jr. has been up to since he played Rivers in the Ian McKellen / Loncraine Richard III.

No one's fooled by Downey's attempt at fake Shakespeare ("Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?")—we know he knows the real Shakespeare and how to deliver his lines. 

The dismissive "tourist" at the end is just the icing on the cake.

And I'm not sure, but I think I can make out a diagram of the Globe Theatre on the helmet display—just for a second.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Monday, September 4, 2017

Book Note: Too Too Solid Flesh

O'Donohoe, Nick. Too Too Solid Flesh. Seattle, Wizards of the Coast, 1989.

This is another of the books that I tackled so that you can run far away from it into the end zone.

I kept trying this book on and off throughout the summer. It took a long time because there were always books that were better, more gripping, and more attuned to the Shakespeare vibe I hope for in a work of modern Shakespearean fiction.

Too Too Solid Flesh takes us to a future in which all the acting is done by androids—and most of the audience appears to be androids as well.

There's also a murder. Someone high up in the echelons of those who program . . .

You know what, never mind. It doesn't matter, and I didn't pay that close attention.

We have an android Hamlet and an android Horatio (only he's actually a human disguised as an android to investigate the murder).

Here are the only two pages I thought interesting enough to pass along. At one point, they conjure up android (or possibly hologram) Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman—just to have a chat with them.

Later, Shakespeare himself shows up. Well, an android version of him does. Here's what happens when he does:

As you can see, there's just not much here. Steer clear.

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(despite those last two words of warning)
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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Book Note: Something Wicked

Hart, Carolyn G. Something Wicked. New York: Bantam, 1988.

And sometimes I just read them so you don't have to.

I don't remember quite how I found out about this book, but I requested it from my library and decided to give it a try.

You shouldn't bother.

In the book, a rag-tag band of actors is putting on a production of Arsenic and Old Lace, but someone is sabotaging the production.

Enter Scooby-Doo and friends.

Actually, that part didn't happen, but it was a close thing. I felt that the Mystery Machine was going to pull up at any moment.

And there's not much Shakespeare in it at all.

I went in thinking that one of the productions the company was going to put on would be by Shakespeare. Instead, we get a very dramatic moment where an actor quotes from the Scottish play in the middle of a rehearsal. I'll give you that scene:

That's very early in the novel—pages 26 and 27—and that's about all the Shakespeare we get for the rest of the generic murder mystery.

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Book Note: The Labrador Pact

Haig, Matt. The Labrador Pact. New York: Viking, 2004.

Matt Haig's The Dead Father's Club (for which, q.v.) revisited Shakespeare's Hamlet, and I enjoyed it quite a lot. When my students told me that he had written another book—this one grappling with 1 and 2 Henry IV, I was intrigued.

Having read the book, I'll admit to being a bit disappointed. My complaint is the same as always: Not enough Shakespeare! I thought the novel might retell the plays—or, if not the plays, at least elements in them.

Instead, the novel is a clever account of a dog named Prince, who, in an attempt to care for his family, ends us breaking the Labrador Pact, the most sacred rule of that particular breed of dogs:  Duty over all.

The opposing breed is the Springer spaniel, whose motto is "Pleasure not duty."

In terms of Shakespeare allusions, the boy of the house is named Hal; another character is called Simon Hotspur. There's also a foul-mouthed bully of a dog whose name is Lear. And the mother of the family is called Kate, but I don't see the relevance of that choice.

The main Shakespearean part is, I suppose, the relationship between Prince, our Labrador protagonist, and Falstaff, the fun-loving dog of a woman who has recently moved in to the neighborhood. The pages below provide the first time Adam, the father of the family and Prince's master, and Emily, the new woman, meet. It's also Prince and Falstaff encounter each other.

The long and short is that there's not much Shakespeare here—apart from names and personality traits. As a side note, be aware that this is not a young adult novel—the foul-mouthed Rottweiler is only one aspect that may be inappropriate for younger readers.

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Richard III at the Great River Shakespeare Festival

Richard III. Dir. Doug Scholz-Carlson. Perf. Caroline Amos, Benjamin Boucvalt, Christopher Gerson, Alex Givens, Stephanie Lambourn, Katie LeSuer, Melissa Maxwell, Duncan McIntyre, Christopher Peltier, Silas Sellnow, Jason Michael Spelbring, Emma Bucknam, and Adeline Matthees. Great River Shakespeare Festival. Winona, Minnesota. 2017. 

This year's Richard III was one of the best plays I've seen at the Great River Shakespeare Festival—and you know that I've seen a lot of great plays there over the years.

Unfortunately, there's not a lot of season left to see the show—and there's not a lot of time in my schedule to tell you everything you should know about the production. This post, therefore, will have to consist of a few highlights or points of note.


First, the lighting was superb. Take a look at the image above. That's from the opening of the second half. The brightly-lit spheres on sticks are wire skull-like structures that were gradually added to the back of the playing space and donned with hats whenever characters died in the course of the play. Later, they were brought forward to represent the ghosts cursing Richard to "Despair and Die" and Richmond to have victory. The silhouette is Richard, replete with forearm crutches, creeping creepily forward like some kind of bottled spider. The screen at the back changed color and had horizontal lighting effects that were extraordinarily effective. Below is another shot to show the change in lighting:


That image can lead us to talk about the set design. R. Eric Stone has done a marvelous job keeping the staging simple but having it hold significance and weight. The branches on the left of the image could swing like a door. I think both it and the screen of vertical branches at the back (which could be raised and lowered) are a visual representation of a speech given by Richard in 1 Henry VI—one that is often imported into productions of Richard III (though not, interestingly enough, this one):
And I—like one lost in a thorny wood,
That rents the thorns, and is rent with the thorns,
Seeking a way, and straying from the way;
Not knowing how to find the open air,
But toiling desperately to find it out⎯
Torment myself to catch the English crown;
And from that torment I will free myself,
Or hew my way out with a bloody axe. (3 Henry VI, III.ii.174-81)
It was beautifully done.


The GRSF takes the text of Shakespeare seriously, and this play was no exception. We got the entirety of Act I, scene iv—the two murderers meeting Clarance—played for its full comic effect. At first, it made the audience uneasy, but then they started to roll with the comic, clownish, almost slapstick characters . . . which made their sudden and dramatic murder of Clarence all the more unnerving. We also got the Three Citizens discussing the affairs of state, which is usually cut. Since these were not excised, the production had a roundedness others sometimes lack.


Related to the above, the play retained its remarkable and macabre humor. The production had a lot of fun with Richard and his play, both on and off stage. For example, here's a video they produced about Richard's intended rise to the throne:

They also supplied this program note—a genealogical table with Richard's notes and to-do list included:

There's a lot of good fun there.

And Then There's Richard

Christopher Gerson's Richard is mesmerizing. He's funny, engaging, charismatic, and utterly repulsive and horrifying. 

He uses arm crutches, making me think of Anthony Sher's portrayal, described in his The Year of the King (for which, q.v.). As a result, he spends nearly the entire play at a seventy- to eighty-five-degree angle. And he uses it effectively. Here's an image that shows the general angle well:

And here's an image that shows him using that angle to get in, in this case, Elizabeth's face:

It's threatening and unsettling, intimate and horrific in equal measures. I loved it. And it also gives him both the suggestion of a bunch-backed toad and a bottled spider—creeping along the outskirts of the stage and suddenly pouncing at various characters.

Gerson's range is delightful. He's pathetic and romantic, furious and insane, and conflicted and confident. This image is from his "I am not in the vein," delivered to Buckingham:

If you didn't know that you don't want to be Buckingham before, you know it then. Even Buckingham knows it then!

Gerson pointed out to me that Richard seldom speaks in straight blank verse after his encounter with Elizabeth in IV.iv. He used that to play Richard's deterioration through the end of the play. The night I watched, the audience seemed to be generally complicitous with Richard in the jocular, humorous opening scenes. But by the time the verse starts to break down, they had turned against him.

And the Rest

The rest of the cast was also tremendous. Margaret was vindictive and great. Anne was regretful and great. Stanley was awkward and great. Buckingham was conspiratorial and great. Clarence was fearful and guilt-ridden and great. I wish I had time and space to detail the way this show gave every role—each one would stand up to close scrutiny.

The Play as a Whole

The production had great unity, passion, and force. The Great River Shakespeare Festival has, once again, provided exceptional theatre to its audiences.

Links:  The Great River Shakespeare Festival. An album of photos from the show.

Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2016 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

—The Tempest