Friday, July 1, 2011

Thomas Piper: Who do you love?

This summer's troupe of actors at the Stonington Opera House has a mighty task. Not only do the cast members have to memorize a gajillion lines for Much Ado About Nothing, most of them play several roles -- and are also performing the contemporary play Elizabeth Rex, which opens Thursday, July 7 at the Deer Isle-Stonington Historical Society Barn, and runs in repertory with Much Ado at the Opera House through July 17. That's a lot of brain work.

What does it take to perform several roles on the same night? Thomas Piper plays the lead romantic role of Benedick (think Cary Grant or Clark Gable) and a secondary role as the wacko petty constable Verges (think Jerry Lewis or Marty Feldman). In these two videos, Piper delivers both characters as he answers the Bo Diddley (or for later rockers George Thorogood) question: Who do you love? Piper popped in and out of character within seconds -- just as he does onstage. It's in the eyes, the voice, the shoulders. But it's also in the imagination, a relationship forged by script, actor and audience. The videos are a lesson in the elasticity of an actor's tools -- and our willingness to go with him on an adventure -- even if it lasts less than a minute (the running time of each video).

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Friar Francis: How to see the light

One of my favorite scenes in Much Ado About Nothing, which opens tonight at the Stonington Opera House in Maine, comes rather late in the play -- when Friar Francis devises a plan to save Hero's reputation and to preserve the intended nuptials between her and her beloved Claudio. The friar basically kills off Hero for a while -- much in the same way Friar Lawrence did in Romeo and Juliet but with a much more comedic outcome. Shakespeare wrote R&J first, but the device of a fake death must have lingered in his writer's mind. Friar Francis explores the momentary death idea again, this time without drugs. In a powerful monologue about remorse -- where he knows that in Claudio's "study of imagination" the young lover will feel regret over his loss of Hero -- Friar Francis gives us a moving portrait of how we cope with loss and how we remember those we have wronged yet still love.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Shakespeare's rom-com

By Alicia Anstead

Where did the romantic-comedy film genre begin? Look no further than Much Ado About Nothing, which Shakespeare scholar Yu Jin Ko, a professor at Wellesley College, calls, at heart, a rom-com. Consider this year's popular film Bridesmaids or classics such as Bringing Up Baby, both of which have themes of wacky love affairs that begin antagonistically and resolve in romance. Sound familiar? Shakespeare's Beatrice and Benedick are a study not only in the age-old chaos of falling in love but they are also characters to whom so many in our of own times are indebted. Ko, who spoke about Measure for Measure last summer, will join me for a free audience-wide post-show discussion, including members of the creative team, after the performance of Much Ado 7 p.m. Friday, July 8 at the Stonington Opera House. Here's a preview of Ko's thoughts on the play.

There's a lot going on in this story. What do you see as the main theme?
I want to heed the warning of the title and not make too much ado about nothing, but it's no secret that one of the Elizabethan meanings of "nothing" is bawdy and refers to a female body part. And that bawdy meaning of "nothing" represents what a woman is to many of the men in this play -- not only an anatomical invitation, but a blank slate that they make make much ado about, shaping and scripting (or "noting," another homonym of "nothing") it in accordance with their desires, anxieties and fantasies. To me, the romance plots in the play turn on whether the men involved make much ado about nothing in this aggressive way or discover alternative ways of treating women.

If you had to compare this play to a contemporary movie, which one would you choose?
There are so many very sweet romances that still have emotional substance. Even soupy ones can reveal something very truthful or insightful about romance and get to you. Maybe it's hard to think of one in particular since the story of Much Ado has become something of a Hollywood formula -- the story of a romance that develops between two strong, funny and engaging characters who can't stand each other at the beginning.

What character do you like best in this play?
How about characters instead? Since they form a pair -- Benedick and Beatrice. They do get set up, but they find their own way to romance -- by having fun, battling, taking a huge risk and rewriting the rules about how men and women relate to each other.

Is Shakespeare really saying that love is "much ado about nothing?" I'm confused!
I know that the Claudio-Hero romance can be compelling and a delight to watch, but for me that is much ado about nothing in the darker sense, while the Benedick-Beatrice romance illustrates what genuine love can be like.

We sometimes think of love as one of the most prevailing themes of literature. And yet I'm not sure I see it as one of Shakespeare's pervasive themes. What do you think?
Romance is at the heart of many of Shakespeare's plays, but I would add, to echo what I think is the sense you have, that with a few notable exceptions (e.g., Antony and Cleopatra and The Winter's Tale), the plays that deal with love tend to show the process of people falling in love and pursuing each other rather than the much longer journey of a relationship. When the plays do dramatize the period after the initial coming together of lovers (e.g., Troilus and Cressida and Othello), it all tends to end in disaster. Still, I think that love -- more broadly defined in its many different manifestations -- remains central to the vision of many of Shakespeare's great plays, like King Lear and Pericles.


Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing at the Stonington Opera House. By Linda Nelson/OHA
Professor Yu Jin Ko, guest scholar for this year's Shakespeare post-show conversation on July 8.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Hamlet, Prince of Deer Isle?

By Ann Dunham
Student Blogger

Millions of people love Shakespeare. Some love the emotions, some the characters, some simply the way he describes the experience of being human. For me, what’s most amazing about Shakespeare’s works is their timelessness. Like a good work of art, Shakespeare's plays express aspects of life that transcend time. Love, revenge, war, and political intrigue are just a few themes found in his work that are applicable to any era. The ideas he expressed were cutting edge for his time, yet because they focus on such universal issues they are still very “in” today.

In my sophomore English class at Deer Isle-Stonington High School, the teacher challenged us to rewrite a few scenes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. A friend and I teamed up with the idea that this play, set in a royal palace in Denmark in the late Middle Ages, could translate very well to 21st century Deer Isle. Instead of living in a beautiful palace, most characters resided in modest houses. Hamlet spent most of his time in a boat house as the son of the most successful lobsterman on the island, while his best friend Horatio transformed from man to seagull. Despite the many changes, the main themes of the play were still communicated. Revenge, death and murder were still there under all of the decorations of setting and time. We even threw in some extra comedy, and the transition was still very believable.

Next time you read one of Shakespeare’s plays, or perhaps when you see Much Ado About Nothing live in rotating performances with the contemporary play Elizabeth Rex June 27-July 16 at the Stonington Opera House, think of how you can relate to the characters, how you can see the actions on stage happening in real life, and how relevant Shakespeare really is to your life.

FMI about performances of
Much Ado About Nothing and Elizabeth Rex, please click here.

PHOTO CREDIT: Hamlet (2005) at the Stonington Opera House.