Measure for Measure,
Julius Caesar, Henry IV Part Two, Love’s Labor’s Lost, The African Company
Presents Richard III, and Ghostlight, presented
by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, February-November 2011.
Southern Oregon University
Geoff Ridden, "Review of Measure for Measure, Julius Caesar, Henry IV Part Two, Love’s Labor’s Lost, The African Company Presents Richard III, and Ghostlight, performed by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, February-November 2011." EMLS 16.1 (2012): 16. http://purl.org/emls/16-1/revosf.htm
Measure for Measure. Director:
Bill Rauch. With Anthony Heald (Duke of Vienna), René Millán (Angelo), Stephanie
Beatriz (Isabela), and Isabell Monk O’Connor (Escalus).
Julius Caesar. Director:
Amanda Dehnert. With Vilma Silva (Julius Caesar), Jonathan Haugen
(Brutus), Gregory Linington (Cassius), and Danforth Comins (Mark Antony).
IV, Part Two. Director: Lisa Peterson. With John Tufts
(Prince Hal), Michael Winters (Falstaff), and Richard Howard (King Henry).
Love’s Labor’s Lost. Director:
Shana Cooper. With Mark Bedard (King of Navarre), Kate Hurster (Princess of
France), Gregory Linington (Berowne), and Stephanie Beatriz (Rosaline).
Jonathan Moscone. With Christopher Liam Moore (Jon), Robynn Rodriguez (Louise),
Bill Geisslinger (Prison Guard), and Derrick Lee Weeden (Mister).
The African Company Presents Richard III.
Director: Seret Scott. With Charles Robinson (Papa Shakespeare), Kevin Kenerly
(James Hewitt), and Peter Macon (William Henry Brown).
- This was a
longer than usual season for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, extending into
the first week of November, and one that included an unusual piece of drama: a
crack was discovered in the roof of the larger of the two indoor theatres (the
Angus Bowmer), resulting in its closure from June 16th to August 2nd.
During that period, plays scheduled for that theatre were re-staged in other
venues in and around Ashland, including a tent in the park. The logistics of
keeping the schedule of performances going were daunting and would have
defeated some other companies. The season included four productions of
Shakespeare plays, two in indoor theatres and two on the stage of the outdoor
Allen Pavilion, together with productions of two other plays (Ghostlight
and The African Company Presents Richard III) which had clear connections with Shakespeare.
Measure for Measure
- Most of us go to Measure for Measure wondering how the final
moments will be played: will Isabella take the Duke willingly or not? This
production provided an intriguing answer to that riddle by adding a cultural
division between the two characters.
- Ashland is a small town, and I had heard talk of this production
having a Spanish setting. As a result, I had some concerns about how the
nominal setting of Vienna would be employed. The place name occurs nine times
in the text, and Vienna is no Illyria to be fashioned as you will, but a real
location. I wondered whether it would become, for example, Valencia. And I
wondered why Spanish was being used at all. The playbill note told us that the
setting was “Vienna, an American city”, and there were US flags on the stage on
a number of occasions. Although the playbill did not specify a time, the
clothing, music and hair-styles suggested the 1970s. This Vienna was, moreover,
a multi-cultural American city, with substantial Hispanic and black
communities, even if, for the most part, it was the white population that was
- The playbill also told us that “This production of Measure for
Measure is part of Shakespeare for a New Generation, a national
theatre initiative sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts in cooperation
with Arts Midwest”, and this was certainly a version of Measure for Measure which was designed for a US audience: the evocation
of a Catholic, Hispanic community was not one which could have been employed as
effectively in a UK production. The sense of a rift in this
community was brought home in the use of English and Spanish, and especially in
the pronunciation of the names Claudio, Julietta and Lucio: these were
pronounced quite differently by the white characters (and even the spelling of the
principal female character was altered in the playbill to ‘Isabela’). In an
even more pointed directorial decision, Julietta could speak no English, and so
her words in II.iii had to be translated for Duke Vincentio, a man so far from
being in control that he did not even speak the language of his people.
- The set, in the Angus Bowmer Theatre, was a simple but substantial
cuboid, from which stairs were sent out from time to time, allowing actors
access to the stage from the audience level. I counted nine separate modes of
access to the stage, including the use of the vomitaria, and of the doors through
which the audience came into the auditorium.
- There were actors on stage before the play had officially started
and while the house lights were still up, and this practice was repeated after
the intermission. It was during this pre-show that the audience realized that
the rear of the cuboid contained windows with views onto a narrow corridor
behind it. As the play proceeded, there were back-projections on the wall of
this corridor, or the windows themselves became screens, or were lit in such a
fashion as to become mirrors that reflected the audience.
- The cuboid itself was a permanent fixture, but the use of the rear
corridor, and the swift transformation of the cuboid from boardroom to
nightclub, to homeless shelter, to prison, to convent, to community centre and
so on aided the swift pace and fluid action, a quality complemented by a
judicious editing of the text. One consequence of the cuboid was that audience
members sitting to the sides of the theatre had a somewhat restricted view of
the action, impeded by the walls of the cuboid itself.
- It was left to the house lights to signal that the performance had
begun, and, like many recent Oregon Shakespeare productions, the play did not
open with what are usually considered the opening lines. When the lights went
down there were three Latina cleaners on stage, who quickly transformed
themselves into a mariachi band, Las Colibri; they provided the musical accompaniment
throughout the play, sometimes as a trio, sometimes as soloists. There was
often a risk that the music would become more significant than the words which
were being spoken as the music was being played, but, ultimately it did not
prove to be a problem.
- One problematic choice became apparent when action was taking place
in the corridor at the same as downstage in the cuboid itself; it proved a
distraction at times, for example in the eavesdropping by the Duke in III.i. However,
in general this was not a production stocked with theatrical trickery: a
telephone stood in for the messenger in the opening scene, but there were very
few other noticeable pieces of twenty-first-century updating. The Duke put on a
wig (complete with tonsure) when he disguised himself, and wore contact lenses
when he returned as himself at the end of the play, and at one point he sported
a baseball cap with ‘V’ on it, but there was little else which caught the eye.
I did wonder, however, why Friar Peter did not have a tonsure.
- Unusually we had a handsome Angelo and a Duke who was not especially
physically attractive. There is little in the text to account for the Duke's
expression in the final scene of his desire to marry Isabella, other than his
declaration in the first Act that he is not retiring from the world because of
love (I.iii.2), and in this production, his dawning sense of the attractiveness
of Isabella was flagged by the tenderness of their sharing a cigarette in III.i,
just before the intermission, and by the pattern of hearts and flowers which
came up in lights around the proscenium arch just as the intermission began.
- The production included a transvestite Mistress Overdone (in a play
about 'seeming', even s/he is not what s/he seems). The low-life scenes were
the part of the play most subject to cutting. For example, Pompey's speech at
IV iii.1-19 was cut completely, and the pacing was all the better for this.
- There were some innovations in entrance and exits which worked very
well. In I.iv, the Nun remained on stage which added to the potential for comic
business. In II.ii Angelo made to exit at line 143, only to come back at the
word 'bribery'. Lucio, who might have stepped from an episode of Starsky and
Hutch, had a wonderful southern accent and a fine Afro. His delivery of the
simple words “Is she your cousin?” (I.iv) released a comic potential that few
of us knew were there in this line.
- In terms of individual lines, I would have changed the stress in
'perpetual honour' in III.i to emphasise the first word, and I expected more to
be made of the word 'substitute' throughout the play, especially in a
production with a male playing Mistress Overdone. However, I really liked the
pause before 'What think you of it?' in the same scene. and I very much admired
Isabella's delivery of her speech pleading for mercy in the last scene of the
play, which was all the more powerful for being understated and hesitant in its
- The intermission came after the revelation of the Marianne plot (III.i.167)
at what in some editions is halfway through. The Duke lost his tonsure-wig as
the house-lights came up, and the second half began with the mariachi band
performing the Joan Baez song El
Preso Numero Nueve, with the lights around the proscenium arch bearing the
legend “Song for death row”. In a striking departure from
convention, the song in IV.i, ”Take, O take those lips away” was replaced by a
Spanish translation performed by Angelo, with the title ”Song for lost love”
- Mariana herself was situated in an asylum, driven there, no doubt,
by her treatment by Angelo, and we had one or two textual adjustments in the
second half: Abhorson affected a comic stammer on “mmmystery” in IV.ii (the
influence of The King's Speech perhaps?), while the reference to “the
gates” (portales in Spanish) from IV.iii onwards transformed the
location of the final scene to the Portales Community Centre.
- Trial scenes are something of a speciality for OSF - we have seen
them in recent seasons in Henry VIII and in The Merchant of Venice,
and there was another this season in To Kill a Mockingbird - and this
one continued that tradition of fine staging. The house lights were partially
brought up, so that the audience could be involved, either in applauding the
return of the Duke, or being engaged by the excellent Lucio. The setting
included a dais and a microphone, which were well-employed in the final moment
of the play, although it was slightly awkward to have that microphone so far
- Isabella was very much back to being the novice in these last
moments of the play - her head-dress was reinstated, for example, and this is
not the case in all productions I have seen. The ending was left open - after
the Duke delivered his final line, Isabella stepped up to the microphone, and
the stage went dark - but the production as a whole did not encourage the
audience to see the match between the Duke and Isabella as an ideal pairing: he
does not understand her culture or her language.
- Reflecting on my responses to this production, I realised that I had
said nothing about the acting, and that is because the acting of the OSF
company is of such a high calibre that I took it for granted.
- Measure for Measure includes a couple of
'Caesar' references, as well as a character called Pompey, and these gained extra
resonance when Julius Caesar was shortly to be playing across the
street. Julius Caesar was staged in the smallest of the
OSF venues, the New Theatre, which has some 300 seats. In this production, the
audience sat on all four sides of the performance space.
basic premise for this production was that Caesar's assassination is but the
start of a process which ends only when the play ends and Caesar comes to rest.
The realization of this premise led to some interesting dramatic choices,
especially in the second half of the performance. Shakespeare's text may have
furnished a Ghost in IV.iii, but this version of the play took that notion much
production was set up very much like that of a touring company performing in an
arts centre or a school auditorium. Chairs for use by the actors were scattered
around the front rows of the audience, and the cast either sat in them there or
moved them to centre stage. Loudspeakers were brought out in Act One to relay
the off-stage offering of the crown to Caesar, and floodlights were wheeled on
for some of the scenes, especially for the battles (these proved to be
distracting for some members of the audience, who were holding up their hands
as the lights shone in their eyes).
stage was bare for the most part, with very basic furniture (chairs, boxes, a
table or two) brought on as necessary. The action, therefore, flowed very
rapidly, and some potentially difficult transitions (e.g in the heat of battle between
V.i and V.ii) proved quite unproblematic, because, as a rule, scene breaks were
not marked. Stage groupings were always interesting - circles of characters, or
opposing lines - and added to the visual variety, compensating for the stark
overall picture. Occasionally, the bare stage caused incongruity; once the
assassination had taken place, and the plans to talk to the people were being
formulated, the word 'pulpit' was repeated several times, even though there was
no such pulpit for the either Brutus or Mark Antony to speak from.
were four entrances/exits, and, at the start of the play, each had a crude
banner hanging over it with Caesar's name on it: by the end of the play, only
one of these banners remained in place: there were banners of a similar style
in the theatre lobby and in the street outside, all reflecting political
deaths. The costumes were modern dress, although some of the men wore kilt-like
skirts over their jeans. Cassius (pronounced Cashus in this production) carried
a bag emblazoned with the word, 'REPENT' and, when he took off his shirt,
revealed 'SPQR' tattoos on his back and his chest.
had a female Caesar, and so there were pronoun changes. But the name 'Julius'
occurs so infrequently in the play (only three times, in fact) that it was not
changed, either on stage or in the programme. Pronouns were also altered
elsewhere in the performance when women played roles usually taken by men. The
reference to a “sick girl” (I.ii.128) acquired an extra resonance with a woman
as Caesar, as did the description in the same scene of Caesar’s inability to
swim the Tiber: this was a very vulnerable Caesar.
the most notable departure from a traditional staging followed from the choice
of a female Caesar: there was no Calpurnia. And so, instead of pleas from
Caesar's wife for him not to go to the Forum, we had pleas from Mark Antony.
This worked extremely well, and seemed all the more justifiable because of this
line (transferred into the mouth of Caesar):
We'll send Mark Antony to the senate-house: Despite
Calpurnia’s absence, the dream to which she refers in II.ii was present, acted
out with a bucket of blood and long roll of white paper: (we also saw the
physical burning of Caesar's will by Mark Antony in III.ii).
And he shall say you are not well to-day (II.ii.54-5)
proximity of the cast to the audience opened up possibilities for audience
involvement, and the play started with the house-lights up, the cast mingling
with the audience, and with an encouragement from Vilma Silva that we should
all cheer, stamp our feet, whistle and applaud whenever Caesar made the gesture
to invite this reaction. We duly rehearsed this cheering, and played our part
when invited to do so. However, I was somewhat surprised that this audience
participation was not carried into the scenes of the post-assassination
orations: we had an on-stage crowd responding to Brutus and then to Mark Antony,
but no encouragement for the audience to be involved. I am told that the degree
of audience involvement varied from performance to performance. Curiously, one metatheatrical
reference to audience involvement was cut: “If the tag-rag people did not clap
him and hiss him, according as he pleased and displeased them, as they use to
do the players in the theatre, I am no true man” (I.ii). However, a later example
of meta-theatre remained (and was played to laughter, at least at the
performance I attended):
many ages hence Sometimes
the pace of the action was accelerated by having two characters speak over each
other, as Cassius and Brutus did in II.i: Cassius interjected “Yet I do fear
him” after line 165, repeating that line at the end of Brutus’s speech. This
was a device used in last year's production of Hamlet, notably with the
children of Polonius chiming in with what were clearly, to them, his
all-too-familiar lines. In another strategy to maintain momentum, Portia and
Brutus actually went behind the audience in II.i, whilst continuing their
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over
In states unborn and accents yet unknown (III.i.111-13)
four principal roles were taken by highly skilled, highly competent actors, and
the ensemble work was also very strong. My only reservation as far as the
acting was concerned would be about Ako, who had a very different acting style,
from a different tradition. As the soothsayer, her exoticism was credible, but
she did not blend in with the ensemble in her other roles.
left for the Senate clothed in a beautiful white coat over the white tunic she
had worn before, and this clothing became a crucial motif in the second half of
the play. The assassination was an especially bloody one, and that coat moved
rapidly from virgin whiteness to a ruddy mess. The final thrust from Brutus
became, in this casting, almost an embrace, although I was not sure about the
pronunciation of ‘Et tu Brute’, which seemed almost French to my ears.
alone with Caesar's body, Mark Antony goes to stab himself (III.i), and begins
the separation of the mantle from the corpse of Caesar which was to prove so
significant in the second half of the play. We were also given a hint just
before the intermission that this was not to be out last glimpse of Caesar, for
it was she who cried 'Havoc' as Mark Antony spoke of letting loose the dogs of
second half began with III.ii (although the programme indicated that the
original intention had been to run the show with no intermission at all). Mark Antony's
famous oration began with his having to shout the first few words above the
noise of the on-stage 'crowd' to get their attention, and it was punctuated by
their vocal reactions of agreement and disagreement. The bloody mantle stood
for Caesar's corpse, while Vilma Silva herself was a silent and ubiquitous
presence throughout the second part of the play, her body as white as her tunic
now, and her white hands touching each character as he or she met death, so
that each corpse carried that white mark. This was a powerful visual reminder
of the euphemism used in II.i in the planning of Caesar’s assassination: “Shall no man else be touch’d but
only Caesar?” (II.i.154).
actor playing Cassius (Gregory Linington) did not look older than Brutus, as
their exchange in IV.iii suggested that he should: maybe he should have removed
his hat rather earlier then he did? But I loved this scene: the interplay and
tension between these two actors here was one of the highlights of an excellent
was a cruel world: Cinna the poet, complete with a stammer which made him
unable to say the word 'conspirator' was audibly executed off-stage in III.iii
even if the other, unnamed poet in IV.iii was removed from this version of the
play. On the other hand, Lucilius, claiming to be Brutus in V.iv, had a
different fate from his usual role in the play: both he and the man taken
prisoner with him were shot.
production had a most effective final tableau: those who had died in the
closing scenes lay on the stage, with Caesar's mark of death upon them, as
Caesar herself laid down to rest: the results of the assassination had finally
worked themselves out.
IV, Part Two
IV, Part Two continued OSF’s staging of the second tetralogy of
Shakespeare’s English history plays: we had Henry IV, Part One last
year, and we will have Henry V next year (curiously, the cycle did not
begin with a production of Richard II).
- This production
was performed on the outdoor stage, and did not play to large audiences. It was
never going to be a crowd-pleaser, and one has to admire the courage of OSF in
presenting a play in which so little happens and so many of the speeches are
declamatory and expository. The playbill had a helpful note on the English historical
background which explained the action of the play, but there can be no
guarantee that all members of the audience had read this note before the play
started, and there is also a powerful argument that the drama on the stage
should be sufficiently comprehensible in its own right. It might have been
better if more continuity had been maintained between the plays in this series:
the two Henry IV plays featured different actors as Pistol and very
different design concepts.
the outdoor stage has a wonderful replica of an Elizabethan tiring house, which
allows for action on several levels, that feature was masked in this production
by scaffolding reminiscent of what is called in the USA an Erector Set, and in
the UK Meccano. The effect was to create a setting which was remarkably clean,
even in the tavern scenes (in some of which both upper and ground levels were
used). In the centre of the stage was a staircase, on which characters occasionally
sat, but which was not used as a staircase until the newly-crowned King Henry V
came down in regal splendour in V.v.
production opened with a recapitulation of the events prior to the play: the
cast, in battle greys, performed an ensemble dumb-show in which the crown
passed from one actor to another, and in which Hotspur was killed. In Henry
IV, Part One last year, Hotspur had been played by a black
actor, Kevin Kenerly, and, in this dumb show, the role was taken by another
black actor, Rodney Gardiner, presumably for the benefit of those who had been
in the audience the previous season. I was not convinced of the effectiveness
of this opening – it seemed to serve only to demonstrate how much the audience
needed to know, and reminding patrons of their ignorance may not be a wise
move. It certainly reminded us that Hotspur was dead, and this is one of the
first problems which this play sets its directors: Hotspur in Henry IV, Part
One is as vivid a creation as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, and the
killing off of each of these characters poses a real dramatic threat.
moved directly from playing Hotspur in this dumb-show to speak the opening
lines of the play in the character of Rumour, resplendent in a T-shirt with a
large ‘tongue’ logo, reminiscent of the Rolling Stones; he then segued into the
role of the Porter, staying on stage to sit on the steps and listen to the
action unfold. He was to be a ubiquitous figure throughout the play, as Gower,
Harcourt and various messengers, each time with tongues featuring somewhere in
his costume, and his own tongue flicking from his mouth. This was an effective
piece of doubling, underlining the dubious nature of the ‘truths’ carried by
this informants. However, it fell apart badly in the decision to cast Gardiner also
as Pistol. We had grown so accustomed to this actor playing with us and
enlivening what might have been pedestrian scenes, that it was difficult to
accept that Pistol was not Rumour too – and we waited for that tongue to pop
out of his mouth. It never did.
this is a play about old age and decay, it was hard to see why it was quite so
drab in appearance, unless the intention was to make the coronation robes of
Henry V all the more splendid by contrast. His predecessor makes only a single
entrance in the first half of the play, and never wears anything more royal
than his nightshirt. That single entrance came in III.i, in which, in this
production, the King seemed to have wandered in error into the tavern milieu of
II.iv, perhaps because the director did not wish to slow down the action just before
the intermission which came with Henry’s wish to depart for the Holy Land.
language of the play seemed to pose some problems for the director and the
cast. The reference to Smithfields at I.i.50-4 was excised along with the pun
on ‘stews’ (in their place we had ‘butchers’ and ‘brothels’). I would have
preferred Shroaz-bury to Shrooz-bury in the opening scene, and I would
certainly have liked Bayz-ingstoke rather than Bazz-ingstoke in II.i.
were other oddities too, such as the presence of anachronisms such as
binoculars and Union flags, and the fact that, in IV.iii Falstaff waves a
bottle as he talks of wine, and yet the bottle is evidently not a wine bottle.
script had been pruned quite substantially; for example, much of the discussion
of Mowbray’s past in IV.i was taken out. One scene was removed entirely: the
opening scene of Act V was replaced by V.iii - another scene in
Gloucestershire. Nothing was lost from the plot in this decision, except that
the audience has earlier notice of the death of the King than it would in
productions which retained the scene.
were some moments of broad comedy in the tavern scenes, not least when Kimberly
Scott, as Mistress Quickly, matched the action to the words in II.iv, shaking
and swaying each time she uttered ‘swagger’. But these moments remain memorable
because there was so little life in these scenes as a whole, and less life
still in Gloucestershire.
the end of this production, the epilogue was retained, albeit in an
edited version, and thus we were reminded that this has been ‘a displeasing
play’, and we are given ‘the promise’ of ‘a better’. These disarmingly frank
words are Shakespeare’s own, but it is a brave company that includes them.
Love’s Labor’s Lost, we move from the wordy to the Worthies, and to
another play which refers to Pompey.
was the second Shakespearean production in the open air theatre, but the set
designer clearly felt that it was not open air enough, because the stage was
covered with fake grass. Furthermore, a fence was placed across the bottom
level of the ‘tiring house’ (on which a ‘No Ladies’ sign was placed early on in
the action), and the upper level was scarcely used at all in this play. In
consequence we had a realistic park setting (with a large tent erected during
the intermission), but which apparently needed to become an interior scene at
some points, and to have furniture moved on to it (for example in IV.ii with
Sir Nathaniel and Holofernes). I would happily have foregone the fake grass,
enjoyed the empty stage, and used my imagination to conjure up the settings.
play opened with pieces of business before a word was spoken. There was a large
trash can in the middle of the stage, into which the four male students
solemnly deposited objects symbolizing what they were renouncing – a football,
donuts, cigars and pornography. The business was developed so that the porn magazines
had no sooner been discarded by one of the men, than they were retrieved and
pored over by the others. The garbage can then received an inflatable doll,
and, at the end of the scene, after the proclamation had been brought in by Sir
Nathaniel and Holofernes and signed by the young men, the garbage was found to
production was set in the early twentieth century: the young men wore football
clothing from that period (and Shriner fezzes), and the young women were clad
in pajamas in the second half. In addition, Berowne added a ‘C’mon’ before
taking his oath in the opening scene, while Dull confused ‘Armado’ with
‘Armadillo’ in the same scene – a good joke, but not one we find in
text had been radically cut, almost always in ways which were helpful to a
twenty-first-century audience. Much of the jokes involving Latin tags in IV.ii and
V.i, for example, were taken out, along with interchanges between Boyet and the
young women in IV.i, and jokes at the expense of Costard in III.i. What was
less easy to understand was the removal of the reference to Rosaline’s
‘darkness’ at IV.iii.243ff. There was also an odd choice in the opening scene,
where the reading ‘Vizgerent’ was preferred over ‘vice-regent’; the former has
some textual authority, but the latter makes some sense. The final syllable of
‘Berowne’ was consistently and properly pronounced to rhyme with ‘moon’, but I
could not but feel that, in the opening scene, the emphasis in ‘complete’ in
the line “A maid of grace and complete majesty” (I.i.136) should be on the
play had a very strong cast, and the young men were just youthful enough to be
credible as students: they clearly revelled in all the business added to IV.iii
(including rap music, custard pies and interaction which the audience) which
led us breathlessly up to the intermission. Jonathan Haugen as Costard was a
revelation: not only was this role a total contrast to his Brutus in Julius
Caesar, it also demonstrated that Costard need not be played as a country
yokel: he might not understand everything that the aristocrats were saying, but
he was street-wise, and smarter than them in many respects.
production had a female Boyet – the wonderful Robin Goodrin Nordli – a change
which required very few textual adjustments. It is customary now for Moth to be
played by a woman, and that tradition was followed, except that much was made
in I.ii of the fact that she was a woman pretending to be a man (Armado
carefully fitted on her wig), just as, it transpired, Don Armado was not really
a Spaniard but a rogue pretending to be one in order to make a profit from the
third male role to be taken by a woman was that of Marcade, who was played by
Ako. Although Marcade has few words, the impact of this character far outweighs
what is spoken: the entry of Marcade in the final scene brings the news of the
death of the King and the translation of the Princess to become Queen of
France. I did not feel that this casting did justice to the gravity and weight
of the role, and, indeed, this moment was a disappointing one, in what was in
many respects a fine production. Surely, when the Princess becomes ‘your
majesty’, everyone else on the stage at that moment should bow or curtsy?
production did have a sting in its tail, however. The final line, which directs
the cast en route off-stage - “You that way: we
spoken by Armado, but was a signal that he and Jacquenetta should go in one
direction, as the married couple, while the unmarried couples should take the
- Ghostlight is a
new play directed by Jonathan Moscone, and written by him in collaboration with
Tony Taccone. It explores the impact of the assassination of George Moscone in
1978 upon his son, Jonathan. Mayor Moscone was killed on the same day as Harvey
Milk in what was the most recent (and hopefully the last) political
assassination in US history.
play’s conceit is that Jon Moscone is a theatre director, struggling with a
production of Hamlet, in particular with the representation of the ghost
of Hamlet’s father. There are clear parallels between the ghostly father
figures in Hamlet and in Moscone’s play, but there is also an attempt,
which is less clear, to establish parallels between the Shakespearean ghost and
Moscone’s memories of his grandfather, who was a prison guard and who appears
to Moscone on several occasions in the course of this play, sometimes speaking
lines from Hamlet. I am not sure that this link was one which was made
by all members of the audience, but it did not undermine the power of this play
as a piece of theatre, and nothing could take away from the magnificent
performance of Christopher Liam Moore as Jon.
African Company Present Richard III
African Company Presents Richard III by Carlyle
Brown is not a new play: it was first staged in 1988 in St Paul, Minnesota. It
is based on events that took place in 1822 when a black company of actors put
on a production of Richard III in New York City just at the time when a
white version of the same play was also being staged next door.
play centres on a significant moment in the history of the staging of
Shakespeare in the USA, and uses the stories of real historical figures,
including the black actors William Henry Brown and James Hewlett. It adds a
developing off-stage romance between Hewlett and Ann Johnson which mirrors
their onstage roles of Richard and Lady Anne, and a black father-figure actor
called Papa Shakespeare.
sense was that the play expected a closer acquaintance by the audience with
Shakespeare’s Richard III than was actually the case. Moreover, while
the importance of the African Company ‘owning’ Shakespeare was made clear in
this play, it was not so evident why the company felt so strongly that it must
stage Richard III, rather than another Shakespeare play. Richard III,
with its depiction of the evils of the English monarchy was hugely popular in
the USA at this time, especially in the version ‘improved’ by Colley Cibber,
but the political significance of its popularity is not brought out in Brown’s
play. One line from Richmond’s final speech in Shakespeare’s play was enough to
bring a US audience to its feet in the nineteenth century: “England hath
long been mad, and scarr’d herself” (V.v) and, in 1822, the white company
playing Richard III next door to the African Company had an English
actor in the title role: Junius Brutus Booth.
- In conclusion,
aspects of this OSF season were familiar to regular patrons: for example, none
of the Shakespeare productions began with what are their conventional opening
lines. Business was less brisk than usual, as audiences were curtailed in part
by the closure of the Angus Bowmer Theatre at the height of the season; although
alternative venues were found, not everyone liked them, and audiences were not
always interested in or swayed by the efforts that had been made to stage the
plays at all.
was another possible problem: OSF did not seem to have an appropriate Shakespeare
play in repertory for spring break to cater to the needs of school groups (Measure
for Measure had opened but, oddly, was announced as not suitable for
younger audiences, whereas a far more bawdy version of Molière’s Imaginary
Invalid did not carry this warning). Julius Caesar opened in late
March, and proved popular with school groups. Some were intrigued, others
puzzled, by seeing a female Caesar, but the groups I spoke to seemed buy my
prediction that, ten years from now, they would see the play again and express
surprise that the role was being played by a man.
playbill for Henry IV, Part Two attempted to
make a link between some of the Shakespearean plays on offer this season, by
observing that the history plays, like Measure for
have civil unrest at the centre. However, nobody could have anticipated how
resonant one of these productions was to become. While The
African Company Presents Richard III emphasised the
significance of Shakespeare in nineteenth-century USA, Julius Caesar
underlined, through the banners which hung outside the theatre,
that politics and assassination are still with us: it would have been a brave
company which added banners for Osama bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi as the
summer went on – OSF did not rise to that particular challenge.
- On a
personal note, I look forward to the time when productions on the outdoor stage
use the tiring house and that alone, as the set, and work on the ‘imaginary
forces’ of the audience: next season’s Henry V might be just the place