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Tragedy Abounds


Lit Moon Shakespeare Festival’s First-Week Wrap-Up

We are barely four days into the first Lit Moon World Shakespeare Festival, and Santa Barbara has already witnessed an astonishing 12 performances of six different Shakespearean tragedies. From King Richard II to Timon of Athens, with stops in between for versions of Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, and Macbeth, it has been a wild ride, and it’s not even half over. The bias toward tragedy will be righted this upcoming week with a puppet theater version of As You Like It and Lit Moon Theatre Company’s world premiere of The Tempest.

thatplay.jpgDance with a Dagger That Play, presented by Teatr Antonie-Kalis (Prague, Czech Republic). At Westmont College’s Porter Theatre, Thursday, October 12. Reviewed by Charles Donelan

In collaboration with the late Milon Kalis, Antonie Svobodová has created an emotional and convincing Macbeth out of a fascinating collage of elements, including spoken English and Czech, acting, dance, and contact improvisation. The group consists of Radek Bar as Macbeth, Andrea Jerabkova as Lady Macbeth, Ivana Milbachova in a range of men’s roles, and Svobodová herself as various “Others.” An assistant creates the music and occasionally reads or recites from the script.

While compelling use was made of Kalis’s signature white paper, the real story here was Svobodová’s choreography and direction. The dance technique drew from the vocabulary of release and contact improv, and was serious and disciplined without being fussy or labored. Dancers moved in loose relation to the action, in tandem with, counterpoint to, or as commentary on the central focus. The production suddenly veered into Czech at some moments of high emotional tension. It was as though the performers got so involved with the scene that they forgot that the play was in English, or even forgot that they were in a play, making it a wonder to behold. n

Teatr-Modjeska-Othello.jpgAll in the Same Boat Othello, presented by Teatr Modjeska (Legnica, Poland). At the Lobero Theatre, Sunday, October 15. Reviewed by Elizabeth Schwyzer

Director Jacek Glomb and the actors of Teatr Modjeska uncovered a new theater space in town by setting their nautical rendition of Othello backstage at the Lobero. A complex set of risers and rigging made for a convincing ship and set the stage for this chilling tale of misfortune and misery, brutality and bloodshed.

Raw hatred, desire, and cruelty were the storms that ravaged this ship, and frail, quivering humans seemed pitifully ill-equipped to weather such vicious gales. As Othello, Przemysław Bluszcz pulsated with vengeful jealousy and impulsive violence — his booming voice and thundering steps reverberated off the hollow deck. Ewa Galusinka’s Desdemona was more subtle — the key to her character perhaps lay in verbal clues lost in a foreign language. Like the characters aboard the ill-fated Esperanza, the audience watching Shakespeare in Polish was forced to search for hope in unlikely places. The evocative soundscape of bells, gongs, squealing strings, and human speech came from three musicians perched above the action behind a black net scrim. They built a haunting world of sound that gave this play beautiful buoyancy, even in its eerie doldrums.

Genuine Gender Bending Juliet and Romeo, presented by Canis Tempus (Montreal, Canada). At Center Stage Theater, Sunday, October 15. Reviewed by Elizabeth Schwyzer

It’s an experiment, to be certain, to attempt gender role-reversal in any context. It’s a particularly bold move to try it on the greatest love story of all time. Canis Tempus director Andrew Cuk played Juliet himself, but he didn’t take the experiment far enough. Cuk and his fellow castmember Julie Lowe deserve credit for a clever reordering of the play’s pivotal scenes and lots of good concepts for prop-play. In practice, though, their surreal physical theater production lacked convincing physicality, its young lovers suspended between sexes and distracted by the demands of constantly shifting roles.

From the moment the two rushed onstage and began a jousting session interspersed with slow-motion sword-play, their tentative movements cried out for more oomph. And though the ladders and carnival masks brought clarity to characterization and scene-setting, their management of these elements was often hesitant. As the play developed, this warmed up noticeably. High points included Cuk as the many-faced apothecary with stepladder legs, and Lowe as Juliet’s mother, disowning her daughter in a cockney accent while smoking a cigarette spiked on the tip of a sword.

hamlet.jpgRip Him to Shreds Hamlet, presented by Lit Moon Theatre Company. At Westmont College’s Porter Theatre, Thursday, October 12. Reviewed by Sara Barbour

The Lit Moon Theatre Company’s initial collaboration with scenographer Milon Kalis, Hamlet develops from its first moment a haunting vividness that only intensifies as the production progresses. James Connolly’s original music created an appropriately dark mood as Victoria Finlayson, Stanley Hoffman, and Peter John Duda performed their multiple characters with vibrant grace and harmony, while Andrew Cuk brought to the title role a new level of depth and imploring intensity that is no less than mesmerizing.

Filling the stage with such a presence that it could almost be called the fifth player is Kalis’s initially blank backdrop of white paper, which is gradually transformed to mirror the desperate demise of the main character in this modern version of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy. The paper backdrop is virtually torn to shreds in the memorable final scene. It’s a dizzying finale that is worthy of this passionate and relevant production, which highlights not only Shakespeare’s immortal genius but also the talent and ingenuity of those who bring him skillfully into the present day.

UCSB-TIMON-3.jpgThe Last Days of Disco Timon of Athens, directed by Risa Brainin. At UCSB’s Hatlen Theatre, Sunday, October 15. Reviewed by Charles Donelan

This stylish and delightful production of one of Shakespeare’s most unusual plays is certain to be a highlight of the festival. Irwin Appel took hold of the title role with both hands in the first scene and never looked back. His supporting cast was uniformly excellent, with Richard Klautsch particularly memorable as the wisecracking, pot-smoking cynical philosopher Apemantus.

The action took place in the high society of ancient Athens, with Timon the town’s most notorious and wealthy soft touch. The party scenes were propelled by electronic dance music, and the costumes, rather than aiming for ancient simplicity, imitated the excesses of the disco era, right down to leather pants and iridescent sharkskin suits. Aja Naomi King cast a spell as one of Timon’s fair-weather friends, bringing excitement and a distinctive attitude to every scene she played. The story, which involves the loss of Timon’s fortune and a subsequent decline in his popularity, became fable-like in the second half, when Timon, now self-exiled to the woods outside of town, discovered gold in the ground while digging for carrots. While Timon’s misanthropy eventually drowned out all other voices, following the course of his downfall offered many delights.

Lit-Moon-Richard-II-5.jpgFalse Power King Richard II, presented by Lit Moon Theatre Company. At Trinity Episcopal Church, Friday, October 13. Reviewed by Bojana Hill

This physical, energetic representation of Richard’s fall from power simultaneously deepens Shakespeare’s spiritual truths. Like King Lear, King Richard II undergoes a humbling transformation and becomes a gentler human being. The main sanctuary of Trinity Episcopal Church — which was not the only performance space — acts as a metaphor for Richard’s divinely ordained and thus sacred kingship. The sanctuary also holds many secrets in its vaults and crevices, just as Richard’s court intrigues are never fully exposed. After the opening sequence in the church, escorts led the way to a nearby rectory, where the audience was seated at long tables. The final performance space, smaller and mostly bare, was appropriate for Richard’s abdication of the crown and his subsequent murder.

As queen, Amber Angelo was willowy and fragile-looking dressed in a white tutu holding a white balloon. She fluttered desperately until she bade goodbye to her husband. Mitchell Thomas as Richard delivered a deep and passionate performance, while Richard’s rival, Bolingbroke (Zak Landrum), provided a fitting foil. Victoria Finlayson had two distinctly different roles, both of which she handled well — one as a dying John of Gaunt and the second as the feisty Duchess of York.



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