Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Well Roared…..Egeus? [ A Midsummer Review ]

http://www.rebelshakespeare.org

With a Rebel yell, I cried “More, more more!”

I am so pleased that Rebel Shakespeare found me last season.  I love Shakespeare.  I have kids.  I expose my kids to Shakespeare.  Which is precisely what the Rebels do – Shakespeare for kids, by kids.  Earlier this season I saw teen Hamlet.  This weekend?  8-14yr olds doing Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Even better, the whole family, all the way down to my 3yr old, came out for the event!

I’ve said in the past that I get a little tired of Dream, because it’s produced so darned much and I’d like to see some other plays that I’ve never actually seen live.  As I get older (and my kids learn to appreciate Shakespeare as well) I’ve got new love for Dream.  It doesn’t have to be acted perfectly.  It’s pretty darned near perfect on the page, and giving children an opportunity to get up there and act it out gives them a chance to touch it. 

Many of the parts were clearly silly.  There was lots of….well, screaming.  Ironically most of the 8yr olds doing the screaming may not get this reference, but think Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone.  They screamed to announce that they were coming on stage, they screamed when they bumped into each other in the forest, the fairies screamed at each other to fly away.  I suppose that’s an interesting directorial choice.  8yr olds can be told “Scream, just go AHHHHHHH!  It’ll be funny, people will laugh.”  And we did.  Many times.

Which brings me to Egeus (father to Hermia, for those unfamiliar with the details of the play).  Normally he’s got a pretty simple role – show up, treat his daughter like property and say he’d rather have her dead than disobey him…and then show up again at the end of the play to say all is forgiven, of course now that Demetrius wants to marry Helena.

Well this time, a young lady is playing Egeus.  Fine.  She’s dressed in men’s clothes (tie, vest, funny hat) and carrying a very large shot gun.  And yes, she enters screaming, and does lots of it.  It was hysterical.  Lysander tries to touch Hermia and gets his hand slapped.  At one point Egeus goes a little bananas, I can’t remember exactly the line, but she ends up in the middle of the stage holding the gun on everybody.  She totally stole her scenes, and I think she knew it.  I honestly could not tell if this was someone who’d never acted before and was over the top out of nerves, or if she knew exactly what she was doing.  (What was weird to me, though, was that they did change script to call her ‘mother’ instead of ‘father’, even though she was dressed like father.  Made it all the more zany, like ok why is this crazy woman dressed like that and packing a big gun??  Although it did kill Lysander’s joke when he says “Demetrius you have Hermia’s father’s love, marry him.”  Saying “her mother’s love, marry her” isn’t quite the same :)).

The rest of the cast as well were really quite impressive.  I particularly liked Oberon, who went back and forth between roaring at the other fairies (Puck included), to watching Helena and Hermia fight it out with a sort of “Oh no she didn’t!” look on his (Oberon’s) face the whole time. 

One of the best staging moments came courtesy of Oberon.  Behind us (remember, this is an outdoor play) is a very large bunch of rocks, almost cliff like.  Big enough that you could find your way up there, but that you’d likely hurt yourself if you jumped off, too.  My son has pointed out to me that there are boys playing up there, and it looks like one of the stage managers has shooed them away.  A few minutes later while I’m watching the stage, my son is watching the other direction and says, “He’s gonna fall if he doesn’t get down.”

“That’s ok,” I tell him, not looking.  “Someone will make them get down.”

“No,” says my son, turning my face in the other direction, “It’s the king!”

Sure enough, while the action rages on the stage, Oberon is perched up on the cliff watching the whole thing.  Brilliant.  I bet most of the audience never even realized it, until Oberon started delivering lines from up there and they were left wondering where the voice came from.  Great idea.

Sometimes, it’s all about the little things.  For my money, the funniest moment? Not counting all of Bottom’s scenes, of course, which we’ll get to in a minute :).  The funniest moment comes after Oberon and Puck realize that they’ve screwed up the love potion and are now trying to fix it.  They’ve put the drops into Demetrius’ eyes so that he’ll fall in love with the next person he sees.  Well, as he wakes, Demetrius turns so that he is facing … Lysander.  Quick as a flash, Puck jumps on stage, grabs Demetrius’ face in his hands and points him at Helena, then disappears again.  I don’t know if everybody there thought that as funny as I did, but I laughed for a long time.  Oh how different the play would have been!

Back to Bottom.  This kid’s born to the stage, no doubt about it.  When your whole troop is basically overacting, and you need to be the guy that is the obvious overacting one, you really need to kick it up a notch.  He certainly delivered.  To their credit, the rest of the Mechanicals were not to be upstaged, either.  Thisbe, Lion, Wall… all did wonderfully in their roles and got their share of the laughs.  None of the audience lines (“Well shone, Moon!” et al) could be heard from where I sat, which was a little sad as those are some of my favorite parts.  I always say “Well roared, Lion!” whenever my son plays monsters.

Sure, there were times that my hopes were high, only to be crushed a bit.  Oberon rode right over the “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows….” speech without any recognition at all for the quality of the poetry.  And Bottom tripped up on the “Eye of man have not heard, ear of man hath not seen” bit.  But really, that was more of out of hope than expectation on my part.  Is it really possible to tell a 10 yr old (they were all about 8-14 I’m told so it’s hard to guess at exactly what the ages were and I don’t want to imply they were all 8) that she’s delivering lines that have been heralded as perfect for the last 400 years?  Would she understand what you’re saying, and, if she did, would she not crack under the pressure?  Perhaps better at these earliest ages to focus on getting the funny down, first, and then worrying about the details.  Keri Cahill, the founder of Rebel Shakespeare, has 20 years more experience than I at this.

Ok, have to wrap this up.  Can I say a couple words about the professionalism of these kids?  It started to downpour on them – twice.  They never broke stride.  As we all huddled under the tent, they persevered.  We couldn’t hear a word they were saying, of course, but they were doing their best.  I saw blood on a couple of the girls who must have banged knees on the wooden stage or something, and yet they continued.  I don’t mean scratches, I mean we the audience were watching the blood run down Helena’s leg.  That must have hurt.  It’s hot, they’re in full costume, and at times the direction calls for them to wander around out in the audience.  And I never saw anybody freeze, or miss a cue, or break character.  Not a bad job at all for a 4 week program!

I look forward to next year’s season!

UPDATE:

Geeklet Review!

7yr old : “I liked the little guy at the beginning.”
    “Puck?”
”No, the crazy one.”
   “Oh, Egeus?  Hermia’s father?”
”Yeah, Egeus.  I really liked it, I think people should see it.  I liked it better than Henry V.”

5yr old : “I liked the two girls.”
   “The ones that were fighting?  Helena and Hermia?”
”Yeah.”

3yr old : “I liked the Lion!”

6 comments:

amusings_bnl said...

duane, were you at the 5pm show? i was at 1pm.

i'm so glad all 3 kids went and liked it. and yeah -- it is about the little things in outdoor theatre. suffice to say, oberon probably figured that location and entrance out on his own.

we've still got 7 shows running for Twelfth night, which is turning out to be funnier than i'd hoped. our andrew auguecheek and sir toby pair are two of the funniest people ever. the gravedigger from hamlet gets Malvolio and rocks it.

if you can, come catch this one too. the older 2 will get it. i'm sure.

www.rebelshakespeare.org/twelfthnight

thanks for this lovely review. i'm sure keri will see it and it will do her proud...

Duane said...

Yesm we were at the 5pm show, we'd spent the day up at York's Animal Kingdom earlier. Was a long day! :)

I don't think I could get the wife to go along with even more Shakespeare so soon, but perhaps I'll see if I can sneak away for one of the afternoon shows :)

Ann said...

That sounds like so much fun! And outdoor Shakespeare is wonderful, grabbing with unexpectedness. Many years ago, I went to a short lived Renaissance Festival in a mountain park, and as I wandered, I came to a small rock cave, and there were the three witches from Macbeth. After listening to them, I wandered a little more and saw trees with notes on the trunks - lo and behold, Orlando and Rosalind were a bit further on. I sat on a rock (like Oberon) and watched. I'll always treasure those scenes.

FaerieMama said...

Duane, I'm so honored you came again. I'm sure I don't have to tell you what it means to have another TRUE and DIE-HARD Shakespearaholic close by. Just knowing there is someome other than
myself soaking up every word ( despite the screaming actors...lol) warms my heart.

And as a side note, you might find it interesting to hear that NONE of the screaming was directed by anyone. It just kind of 'showed up!' the day of the performance...but I love that, (even as much as I hate it!)...because it affirms for me that the kids feel free to make choices (albeit WIERD choices!) all on their own.

So glad you came and enjoyed it, and even happier ..that your children did as well!

Duane said...

The screaming was adlibbed? Fascinating, especially given the pattern it seemed to follow. They didn't stomp over their own lines, they kept the screaming to the transitions. Some made sense (Oberon scaring away the guard over Titania's sleeping body, for instance), some not so much (Egeus entering screaming). I suppose the opening scene is a "get your hands off my daughter" moment for Egeus, but it's not like you can just go adding lines that Shakespeare didn't give you, so you wing it.

I have to know (if you're still reading) about my two favorite parts -- Oberon on the cliff, and Demetrius waking up and almost looking at Lysander before Puck fixed it. Your choice? The kids'? Or something spontaneous? Both great ideas (both for different reasons) that explored the boundaries of the stage as well as the stage direction.

Signet said...

Hi! Glad you liked it. The first one was MUCH, MUSHC better than that one. Actually, a lot of the directors made us scream. Like when Hermia chases Helena, they made me scream the whole time. One of the directors spent a long time teaching me how to trip. I thought I had it down, but apparently not :D Halfway through a speech I glanced down at the stage and noticed all these little red puddles. I decided just to ignore it.
As for Egeus, I do not see why they made her play the part as a girl. Gracie is so NOT a girl. She doesn't just have great stage presence, she has great LIFE presence. She steals every scene she walks into. It is simply impossible not to love her.
Glad you enjoyed it!