I am thrilled to have Rebel Shakespeare performing in my home town this year! I’ve spoken of them many times over the year, because I simply love what Keri Cahill is doing.
In short? Think Summer Shakespeare Camp. Spend a few weeks learning Shakespeare, and then at the end? Put on a play out in the park for all to see. I’m not sure if the younger kids tour, but the teen program takes their show on the road.
This year I took my kids to get some books at the local library, and while checking them out made a joke about getting Shakespeare next time. I always do that. ;) This caught the librarian’s attention, and I learned that they wanted to sponsor some Shakespeare. “I know just the group…” I said.
Badda-boom badda-bing, Othello’s playing in my town. Love it!
Anyway, on with the show. I had fun wandering around in my Shakespeare shirt and having people ask me, “Are you with the Shakespeare group?” I answered truthfully in each case, “No,” because I’m not big on riding on other people’s hard work. All I did was play connect the dots and put up some posters. For which they put my name in the program, thank you :).
What I did do, however, was wander around outside and talk Shakespeare with anyone that would listen. This included one mother who’d brought her children to the acting workshop and was desperately looking for more info. When I said the Rebels would be back in August she immediately asked, “And will there be another workshop?” So, I think they have a fan.
The show itself had to take place inside the library, which was a big upsetting. Too hot, and as pointed out the dead grass was way too pointy. At first I thought this might have to do with the bodies hitting the floor, but a number of the actors were barefoot. Fair enough. I was worried that they wouldn’t get the sort of foot traffic they would outside, and that inside the library the noise might be a problem. I was … disappointed. There’s something special about being outside and hearing Shakespeare on the wind. It’s a lovely sound (and actually the subject of another post I’m putting up shortly).
Anyway, on with the show! When I first saw the cast assemble and noticed one of them carrying a pillow I thought, “Oh, that’s a cute touch, is that going to stay on stage the whole time?” Shows what I know. One girl, not Desdemona, starts singing the Willow song, acapella. Then the rest of the cast, all in black, joins in harmony. It is very cool. Then begins, can I call it a dumb show? Enter Othello, Iago, Desdemona, Amelia…and we watch as the whole play is performed in mime. At first I just think they’re doing the wedding between Othello and Desdemona, but handkerchiefs are dropped, accusations made, the whole nine yards. While this goes on, the singing continues and grows louder until we sit in awe as Othello smothers his wife, the singers are shaking the walls. the audience is sitting with their jaws on the floor (seriously, the words “holy f*ck” kept leaping into my brain) and then it just … stops. Bang. What an absofrigginlutely amazing way to start the show.
Then the real show begins. Those who’ve heard me speak of Rebel previously know that I don’t care to review the acting, as such. These are kids performing Shakespeare, the fact that they’re doing that at all deserves praise, not criticism.
Let’s talk about Iago, since that’s what everybody typically wants to know. I don’t know his name, since they do a rotating cast, but he’s … nerdy. Sorry, Iago actor guy. He’s wearing nerdy glasses, and I’m not sure if those are a prop or not because when he does his soliloquies he takes them off. Our Iago is very patronizing. He rarely loses the smirk on his face. His soliloquies are all clearly directed right at the audience – here’s my plan, here’s what I’ll do next, here’s why. Actually, the “here’s why” bit seemed pretty lost. I mean, it was obvious that he thought he was far smarter than Roderigo (who was played as a staggering drunk) and Cassio (that sort of “I’ve had everything in life handed to me” guy) , so there was a bit of “I want to mess with these people just because I can.” More on this in a minute.
I have to say I wasn’t crazy about the first half, which was played up for the comedy bits. I think I understand their intent to ease the audience into the dark side in the second half, but … and I didn’t think I’d ever string these words together … a rubber chicken? In Othello? There’s comedy in the text, I don’t think you need to go so over the top with it that the laughs are coming in between the lines when the actors fall all over themselves. Given the crazy intense opening to the show, it was a complete 180 to suddenly switch to Comedy of Errors hijinks.
Anyway, back to the good stuff. The second half, when the bodies start hitting floor, starts to get a bit … rebellious? The volume picks up, noticeably. Othello charges at Iago so forcefully at times that I’m worried he’s going to put him through a window – and this is when he still *likes* Iago. The sword play is very impressive, especially given the closed quarters. And when Othello slaps his wife, the *crack* sound they produce makes you jump.
Iago’s character changes accordingly when the killing starts. He’s not brandishing a sword, he’s got a tiny knife that he’ll stick in your back when he spots his chance. It was an interesting turn to the character, who was previously nothing but a manipulator, and now he’s a killer. I’ve seen Iago done where he’ll give you nightmares, and this was not that (maybe a big part of that is because these kids are less than half my age, and it’s hard to fear a 17r old villain?) But you know what did come to mind? Columbine. That sort of mental state, that kid who *is* smarter than all the people around him, who for whatever reasons are going on in his brain is capable of taking somebody else’s life if he spots the opportunity. If they’d dressed him in a black trenchcoat and had him brandishing a concealed weapon instead, I would have absolutely bought it.
The big scene goes to … Amelia. I’ve never really thought of her character as anything but a supporting role to string together some plot points – steal the handkerchief, give it to her husband, then be in the right place at the right time to figure out the truth of what’s going on. This Amelia was far deeper than that. In her few scenes you got to see a wife who clearly had a mind and opinions of her own, who was saddled with a husband who couldn’t care less about her other than to order her around and tell her to shut up and go home when she got in the way. Unfortunately for her situation, she had no choice but to do it.
Until the climax, when she pieces it all together. I absolutely loved this. Because our patronizing Iago who was smarter than everybody else in the play? Has to stand there, with nothing to say, while his wife lays it all out for everybody. He keeps screaming (the Shakespearean equivalent of) “Shut up and go home” and she keeps screaming over him that she will not, until finally his master plan falls into chaos as he stabs his own wife. When Amelia says to lay her next to Desdemona I actually felt something. It wasn’t like Paris asking to be placed inside Juliet’s tomb, which is something of a “Yeah yeah whatever” moment. This time you actually felt that this woman truly loved her mistress, knew that she’d betrayed her, and had done her best (albeit too late) to set things aright.
Volume was certainly not a problem. As emotions became more intense, voices rose until in the final act everybody was shouting all of their lines. I noticed children’s faces pressed on the glass, looking in from outside our rotunda. The library staff all stood and watched, and nobody seemed unhappy at the noise. The director (of the library, not the show) was right there at the end to thank everybody for coming, Rebel Shakespeare for calling them (ahem….), and to remind everybody that we’re doing it all again in August with Much Ado.
Success! Great show.