The past week has been an active one for me: I have flitted about like an exquisite barbarian hummingbird, glittering beautifully as I darted from theater to theatre attempting to support the dramatic arts in as many ways as my broke and uneducated mind can conceive of.
Last week, I gave you a video of a show I helped to mount at Orange Coast College over the weekend. I used to appear regularly on that stage, long ago when most of the current crop of students were not yet even teenagers. As such it was a joy to return there once again, having done something much the same a year prior and having rehearsed and performed a show in the space of 24 hours. The young lads and lasses of the “Orange Coast College Theater Repertory” were quite welcoming and few, if any, hesitated in mounting discourse about oft-taboo subjects such as ‘vaginas’ and ‘poop.’ It was like going home.
This past weekend has been no less active for me, for I have found myself in no less than four different theaters indulging in my passion for the continued presence of William Shakespeare’s words on all the world’s stages.
This has been a bit of a theme with me in recent years, and I have written about it here once before with my review of Ethan Hawke’s Broadway production of Macbeth over a year ago. The Bard-Boner I have nursed for years has only stiffened further since then, rising to a veiny, throbbing intensity that no amount of well-lubed iambic pentameter can seem to satiate. To this end, I spent my Friday rehearsing for an upcoming production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which I am set to play the role of Duke Theseus, and that on Friday we completed our first full run-through of this extremely popular play. Hopefully I will bring more happy news from that wrinkled front some time hence.
On Saturday I found myself at Chapman University to view their production of Hamlet, directed by Thomas F. Bradac, which I quite enjoyed. Parking at Chapman is a massive pain in the ass; there is only one toilet in each bathroom, causing winding lines to form outside of them, and upon being seated I discovered there was chewing gum stuck inside of my program.
Nevertheless, despite these pre-performance hiccups the production the students put on for us was for the most part thoroughly professional. The set, crafted by Don Guy, was a minimalist affair and the thundering music only drowned out the actors’ dialogue a couple of admittedly annoying times. I can’t say I loved the costume choices, which were described as “steampunk” or “dieselpunk” and were intended to evoke the timelessness of the era; to me they just evoked some kind of stupid Waterworld cosplay. Nevertheless, despite this, the student cast was quite strong. The standout, by far, was Hamlet himself, played with thorough intensity by senior Morgan Lauff. While he did occasionally tend towards melodrama, thereby losing some of the comedy in the play, this is a common failing of actors playing Hamlet – indeed, oftentimes it felt like these actors were trying to show us how good they were at weeping, whether or not the situation called for it.
Nevertheless, for a student production they did fine work. Ryan Stiffelman as Laertes was also delightful; as was Andrew Moorhead as Polonius, even if no effort whatsoever was undertaken by either the actor or costume designers to make him appear older than the students playing his children. Nevertheless, he was able to earn the plays biggest laughs in a production that tended to miss them. My favorite aspect of this version of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy was the interpretation of the ghost of Hamlet’s murdered father; rather than have a single actor portray the role, a massive human skull appeared on screen behind the stage, a red light glowed, fog poured out and the masked tragedians spoke the dead king’s line in the manner of a Greek chorus. Well, shit, if you’re going to go Ancient Greek on me you’ve got me on board. Kudos, you princes and princesses of Chapman, kudos. You have gone far to please this elderly, unrefined nerd.
On Sunday it was time for more Shakespearean theater; after a jaunt to the Samuel French bookstore we ventured to a matinee of Pulp Shakespeare OR: Bard Fiction at the Theatre Asylum. Developed from a concept by Kevin Peace and written by a multitude of online playwrights, this show was a reworking of Quentin Tarantino’s classic Pulp Fiction in the vein of a Shakespearean play. Re-interpreting classic films into Elizabethan English is a bit of a trend these days; I was reminded of Shakespeare Star Wars and a play I recently saw my friend and colleague Cameron Moore in called Five Knaves For Breakfast, a reworking of The Breakfast Club.
This Bard Fiction production was truly a hoot; although the play got off to a relatively weak start as the actress playing Honeybunny (Or “Meadsweet” in this version) was not particularly strong, the second “Julius Winfield” (Dan White) and Vincenzio De La Vega (Aaron Lyons) stepped onstage the humor kicked into high gear. I appreciated that the play payed as much tribute to the Bard himself as it did to Tarantino: Butch Coolige’s father – knowing for storing a watch in his “lowest seat” – is portrayed as a Shakespearean Ghost, garbed in the ivory trappings of a medieval plague doctor, and performed with a delightful Christopher Walken impression by actor Matthew Hudacs. Julius’ coin purse is the one that says “Blasted Oedipus” and Vincencio’s drug high is conveyed by masqued dancers. There is even a tribute to Hamlet’s famous “Country Matters” joke when Butch offers his wife “oral pleasure.” Excellent. Also, there is a brutal rape, complete with male nudity and foiled by Butch, wherein the katana is offered to him by the ghost of his father, popping out of a curtain at stage right. Delightful.
The evening would bring another Shakespearean production; the Loft Ensemble‘s energetic rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the world of a modern-day rave.
Take note, peoples of Chapman; for this is how you update Shakespearean costumes for the present day. The music was mostly techno dance raver music and indeed the preshow allowed you to come up onstage to dance with the actors (which the females in our company indeed did).
This show, despite a few lulls brought on by the director’s apparent indifference to certain scenes (coughBottomandTitaniacough), was a blast and I walked out with a smile on my face. The production was a risky one, but most of their risks paid off; when Puck appeared, it was with day-glo painted fairies and neon wristbands that set the stage for a variety of dances. The production was extremely physical and extremely sexual; all befitting a rave scene and culminating in an absolutely uproarious rendition of Pyramis and Thisbe, performed by the mechanicals who here were portrayed as employees of “Club Athens.” Lysander (Tor Jensen Brown) and Demetrius (Cameron Benton) made out onstage; Puck (Bree Pavey) mounted various cast members; and Peter Quince (Victor Kamwendo) gave his hecklers a long, scene-stealing death stare.
Director Kevin Meoak portrayed both Theseus and Oberon for our performance; he did trip over a few of his lines and didn’t quite fit the role of Oberon; and while Titania’s scenes lulled, Puck picked up the slack for her and Bottom (Sarah Claspell) held her own during her final monologue. Overall, a roaring and original production of a very-oft performed play.
I hope to return soon with more news of my experiences with the local theater, classical and otherwise, more as a chronicling for myself than anyone else, if not next week then perhaps soon.
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