Friday, February 12, 2010

Catching up: Romeo and Juliet Without Words

I've known and loved Prokoviev's Romeo and Juliet score for more than fifteen years, but until last month, I'd never seen the ballet. Films, musical theatre adaptations, puppet shows (in miniature and well, puppet-sized), directed the play twice (three when you count a staged reading); I've performed the text, all seen and done. But never the ballet? How's that possible?

The opening night included sumptuous costumes (by the dozens), outstanding dancing, and an absolutely perfect take on the tragedy. A couple of favorite moments: Richmond Ballet master and, on RJ, choreographer Malcolm Burns allows Igor Antonov and Vallerie Tellmann the time needed to fall in love through prolonged eye contact---such a rarity in any theatre. He also even has the chorus land one dance in which bodies stop moving a second before dresses settle around the dancers, to the last notes of the moment. Simply brilliant.

It was a gorgeous treatment throughout, delighting small children, adults, everyone, and had me a little choked up. At Mercutio's wounding, a man two rows in front of me leaned over to his wife and whispered, with a big smile on his face:
"A scratch, a scratch."
Richmond's terrific offerings include outdoor folk and Shakespeare festivals, performances by symphonies on piers beside the river, (in RJ the Symphony seemed so delightfully comfortable with the dancers---how cool to see their collaboration with the ballet grow with the advantages of the new home), but the ballet company, from design and conception (ages ago, with sets refurbished and looking great), to the astounding artists on stage, I was just thrilled to call myself a Richmonder.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Moving "Merchant" to Feb 24

Among all the weather postponements you're now juggling in your calendar, place the staged reading of "The Merchant of Venice," featuring Alan Sader and Erin Thomas Foley to February 24. I know, it's not a Tuesday---in fact, it's not even a second Wednesday, it's a fourth.

Tuesday, February 24, 2010 - 7:30pm
$15, includes a glass of wine/juice

Directed by Freddy Kaufman in the beautiful new Gottwald Playhouse at CenterStage. "Merchant" was first produced by RS in 2004, with Kaufman as Old Gobbo and Tubal. It was also the first Acts of Faith production in 2005 and though it's not our primary entry in the festival this year, will prove great fodder for conversation, as always. The new date will have tickets fo rsale at soon. Join us.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Shakespeare and Co. Coming to Richmond Shakes

Some fifteen years ago it was my great fortune to attend a weekend intensive offered by Shakespeare & Co. Based in Lenox, MA, S&Co. is the grand-daddy of them all in terms of actor-training. Their tremendous insights were for me astounding; they delve expertly and excitingly into the physical, mental and spiritual rigors of performing these remarkable roles.

Later I was also very fortunate to attend a weeklong clown intensive, working with the utterly wonderful Jane West. Her clown is something to behold: fearless, utterly profane, forever childlike even as the physical age of the actor increases. Amazing.

Their training department is headed by Dennis Krausnick, (at right) who simply put is a holy man. You know it in how he approaches actors, in their relationship to text; he exudes such a reassurance that even if you must face something terrifying, the spirit within will emerge.

The acting company is led by Tina Packer, a titan of humanity in a tiny frame. As proof of their method, here's a quick final anecdote: at a recent Shakespeare Theatre Association conference, Tina was performing excerpts from her one-woman show, to all of our delight. Asking for people to stand in for missing other characters, I stood in for her Romeo, a mere couple of decades separating us.

Outside the room was an aviary---a rare conference held in Baja, Mexico---and just as Tina spoke these words of the young lovers' first farewell, the entire aviary awoke and begin singing and twittering:
"'Tis almost morning; I would have thee
And yet no further than a wanton's bird;
Who lets it hop a little from her hand…
And with a silk thread plucks it back again,
So loving-jealous of his liberty."
The birds awoke and fluttered, twittered and sang---the entire audience was amazed.

Tina and I both turned, in unison, toward the sound, and then in a moment connected with the air, the sea, all those Shakespeare producers and something profound, turned back to each other. Somehow I remembered Romeo's reply:

"I would I were thy bird."

The smiles and gentle laughter were a delight. The performances connect us to our world, help us understand it, and shed light on what it means to be alive.

Don't miss this weekend intensive, if at all possible. You'll never forget it.