Tag Archives: William Shakespeare

Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays Book Review

On the surface, writing is a very simple process. It is turning the computer and opening the word processing program or taking out the pad and pen and beginning to write.

But the reality is that writing is both an art and a skill. Especially if the writer is playwright. Writing a play is very different from writing prose. Beyond the standard issues of character and narrative development, there is also the very specific format and the idea that the play is not just in the hands of the writer. It is in the hands of the director, the actors, etc. All have a part in creating the final product which will hopefully be seen by an audience.

Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays, written by David Ball and with a foreword by Michael Langham, is about the craft of writing plays. The book touches on everything a playwright would need to know about including character and narrative development to imagery, conflict, theme, etc. Using William Shakespeare’s Hamlet as an example, this book should be required reading for every playwright, especially if they are just starting out.

This book was recommended to me by a writer friend. It was an educational and eye-opening read. It was also a reminder that writing plays and writing prose are two different animals and requires writers to think differently when writing a play vs. writing a novel.

I recommend it.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, William Shakespeare, Writing

Indecent Play Review

Morality and art are often subjective.

In 1923, the play God Of Vengeance hit Broadway. It closed in one night. It closed not because of poor reviews, but because it was considered immoral. It is the love story of two women against a backdrop of false piety, false modesty and the worship of the almighty dollar. Written in the first decade of the 20th century by Sholem Asch, it has been compared to Romeo and Juliet for its portrayal of love against all odds.

The Broadway play Indecent, is about not only the production of this play, but the reaction to the play over the years. Written by playwright Paula Vogel and directed by Rebecca Taichman, the play starts in the early 20th century in Warsaw. Sholem Asch (Max Gordon Moore), a newlywed and a budding writer, has written a play called God Of Vengeance. Young and enthusiastic, he is eager to see his play on stage. It becomes a success in Europe, but in America, it is a different story. The years pass, the culture changes and the question of what is art and how morality plays into the question comes into the forefront of the battle to see the play on stage again.

The thing that struck me about this play is how relevant it feels in 2017. It asks questions about politics, immigration, morality, diversity, etc. It also has a love story with two women, which was unheard of in the early 20th century and only now is slowly becoming more acceptable.

I absolutely recommend it. Indecent is only open until this Sunday, August 6th. See it if you can. I guarantee that you will walk out of the theater blown away.

Indecent is at 138 West 48th Street in New York City. You can find more information at http://www.indecentbroadway.com.

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Filed under Broadway Play Review, History, New York City, Writing

Lady Macbeth Movie Review

Desperate times often calls for desperate measures. The questions are, what are we willing to give up in the process and how does that process change us?

In the new movie, Lady Macbeth (which has no connection to William Shakespeare character other than the title of the film), Katherine (Florence Pugh) is a young woman sold in the name of marriage to an older man. Forbidden from doing much of anything, Katherine is left alone with only her servants for company while her husband and father in law go out into the world. She starts sleeping with Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), one of her husband’s groomsman. The affair quickly becomes an affair of the heart. But things get messy when her husband and father in law return home. Katherine and Sebastian try to clean up the mess they have created. But the more they try to clean it up, the messier it becomes.

The best way to describe this film is that it is a hybrid of the psychology of an Alfred Hitchcock film with the imagery and narrative of a Wuthering Heights adaptation. It also speaks truth to power about what a woman will do when she has no direct power and must use other means to get what she wants. The three things that stand out for me are a) the diverse cast b) the lack of music and how background sounds play a role in telling the story and c) how I felt as an audience member when the film was done. I disliked Katherine for her actions, but in understanding her motivation, it made for a very well done film.

I absolutely recommend it.

Lady Macbeth is presently in theaters.

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Filed under Books, Emily Bronte, Feminism, Movie Review, Movies, William Shakespeare, Wuthering Heights

Still Star Crossed Book Review

*Warning: This review contains spoilers about Still Star Crossed. Read at your risk.

My new favorite television show is Still Star Crossed. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the source material is not just Shakespeare’s play, but also a novel by Melinda Taub.

The plot of the book somewhat mirrors the plot of the television show. Romeo and Juliet are dead and the streets of Verona are drenched in blood. To restore peace, young Prince Escalus sees only one way to end the violence: unite the Capulets and Montagues in holy matrimony. The surviving heirs, Romeo’s cousin Benvolio is to marry Juliet’s cousin Rosalind. The problem is that neither the prospective bride or prospective groom care for each other. Add to the fact that Escalus and Rosalind were once in love and there are forces at work who would prefer to see Rosalind and Benvolio not marry.

As expected, there are changes between the book and the novel. While most of the language is Shakespearean English, Ms. Taub does switch to modern English a couple of times in the book.

Do I recommend it? I will answer the question this way. If I only knew the book, I would say yes. But being that I am a fan of the show, I am leaning toward maybe.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, History, Television, William Shakespeare

Still Star Crossed Review

We all know the end of Romeo and Juliet. The star-crossed lovers commit suicide and their families are held responsible for the bloodshed, the destruction and the loss of life.

In the new television series, Still Star Crossed, the violence, bloodshed and murder has continued in the wake of the double suicide of Romeo and Juliet. To restore peace, Prince Escalus (Sterling Sulieman) proposes a most unlikely and unwelcome solution: Rosalind Capulet (Lashana Lynch) marry Benvolio Montague (Wade Briggs). Neither are pleased with the match, especially Escalus, who has been in love Rosalind (and she with him) for years. But it must done, for the good of the city. The question is not only will the marriage take place, but can it heal the open and bloody wounds between the Capulets and the Montagues?

I am not a huge Shonda Rhimes fan, but I am a fan of Shakespeare and I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed the pilot. It has everyone one expects from a Shakespeare play (or at least a decent adaptation of a Shakespeare play): violence, danger, romance, greed etc. I also very much appreciate the diversity of the cast. To see a rainbow of skin colors and ethnic backgrounds just adds another layer of authenticity and realism that already exists in not just Romeo and Juliet, but in all of Shakespeare’s plays.

I recommend it.

Still Star Crossed airs on ABC at 10 PM on Monday.

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Happy Birthday, Dearest Jane

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241 years ago today, George Austen, an Anglican Rector from Steventon, Hampshire and his wife, Cassandra welcomed into the world their 7th child and second daughter, Jane to the world. They had no idea that their daughter would become immortal.

Jane Austen was one of the most extraordinary writers in the history of the English language. Only William Shakespeare stands beside her as an icon of literature and language.

Her novels are full of unforgettable characters. No matter who you are you or where you come from, there is always a character to love, a character a hate and the character you relate it. Some may call her books romance novels, but they are so much more. They are coming of age stories, stories of love, both romantic and familial and stories of what it is to be a human being.

I have been a Janeite for nearly 10 years. It has been a pleasure to be fan.

Happy Birthday dearest Jane, wherever you are. I raise my glass to you.

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Filed under Books, Emma, Feminism, Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

400 years ago today, William Shakespeare breathed his last.

While he lived and died in Elizabeth England, his characters and narratives are universal.

Falling in love, growing old, falling out of love, conflicts with friends, family and neighbors, jealousy, hate, greed were all used within the various narratives of his plays. In addition to being a playwright, Master Shakespeare was poet.

His poetry is so brilliant that it does not have to be translated into modern English to be understood or appreciated.

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind; and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.

To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.

Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.

One of his brilliant strokes as a writer was to create characters that we all can relate to. We have all had to read at least one of his plays in an English class during our school days.

To show how universal his work is (and how easily it can be altered to a new interpretation), I present to you this clip from 10 Things I Hate About You.

A modern high version of Taming Of The Shrew, the Stratford Sisters, Kat and Bianca (Julia Stiles and Larissa Oleynik) are not allowed to date, until their father changes the rules. Bianca can go on a date when Kat does. The only problem is that Kat does not want to date and there is no boy at their high school who would dare approach her for a date.

Enter Patrick Verona (the late Heath Ledger). Initially bribed to take Kat out so Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), can take out Bianca, Patrick is the only one who would dare ask the fierce Kat for a date.

What this adaptation does brilliantly is keep the narrative and characters mostly intact while removing the almost virulent sexism and updating the plot to the late 1990’s.

Rest in peace, sir. Your physical remains are long since dust, but your name and you work lives on.

 

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Flashback Friday-West Side Story (1961)

Among the many plots that writers have used across the centuries, one of the most common is forbidden love. One of the most famous stories of forbidden love is William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

In 1957, Romeo and Juliet was transformed into West Side Story. The warring Montague and Capulet families are taken out of 16th century Verona and placed in 1950’s New York City. Instead of two warring families, two gangs of young men, one white (The Jets) and one Puerto Rican (The Sharks) fight for territory. The play’s title characters are now Maria and Tony.

In 1961, West Side Story hit the big screen. Playing the iconic lovers are Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer. Trying to keep them apart is Maria’s brother, Bernardo (George Chakiris) and Tony’s best friend Riff (Russ Tamblyn).  Maria and Tony, like their previous incarnations are in love and must keep their love a secret. But when it is revealed, the consequences are devastating.

This movie and this musical is profound. It proves that love can conquer hate and prejudice. What makes it more profound is the bi-racial element of the plot, in both tension between the gangs and romantic relationship between the lead characters.  Especially in the years that led up to the civil rights movement.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

 

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Filed under Broadway Musical Review, Movie Review, Movies, New York City, William Shakespeare

Macbeth Review

William Shakespeare was a man of many genres. His ability to seamlessly write both laugh out loud comedy and heart stopping drama is a skill that many writers wish they could have.

The most recent film adaptation of a Shakespeare play is Macbeth. Macbeth is the tale of one man’s road to power, the choices he makes to reach power and the damaging effects of those choices that are made to become powerful.

Set in Scotland, Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) is intent on gaining the crown. Promised by the weird sisters that he will be king, Macbeth going a murderous path to become king and maintain his throne. At first his wife, Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) encourages her husband to go for the throne at all costs. But then Macbeth goes too far and she begins to question if he is capable, mentally and physically of being king.

I was excited to see this film. Being a little bit of a Shakespeare groupie, I was naturally excited to see a real and raw adaptation of Macbeth. The play, like the movie is not light and funny. It is dark, political, violent and not for the faint of heart. Unfortunately, my excitement was tempered by the end of the film.  While the cast is terrific and the visuals of the natural landscape of England and Scotland are incredible, the individual elements that come together to make a film don’t quite gel as well as I had hoped they would.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

Macbeth is presently playing in theaters. 

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Throwback Thursday-A Midsummer Nights Dream (1999)

Some stories are meant to live forever. No matter how they are interpreted, the nothing can change what keeps the story fresh and alive with every re-telling.

William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream has it all. A battle of the sexes between royalty, actors looking to make their mark on the world and lovers whose lives are turned upside down by magic.

In 1999, the play was made into a film. Oberon (Rupert Everett) and Titania (Michelle Pfeiffer) are the sparring royal fairies. Theseus (David Straithairn) and Hyppolita (Sophie Marceau) are the non magical sparring royals. Nick Bottom (Kevin Kline) is part of an acting troupe hoping to impress Theseus and Hyppolita, who is for a short time, turned literally into an ass. Lysander  (Dominic West) and Demetrius (Christina Bale) are happy to marry Helena (Calista Flockhart). But Helena has only eyes for Demetrius and her best friend, Hermia (Anna Friel) is desperate for Lysander to notice her. If that is not enough, Puck (Stanley Tucci) likes making trouble and mixing things up a bit.

This is how Shakespeare should be done every time.  This film is funny, very entertaining, modern while most importantly true to the text and the characters.

I absolutely recommend it.

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