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.

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

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

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
, presented by Canis Tempus (Montreal, Canada). At Center
Stage Theater, Sunday, October 15. Reviewed by Elizabeth

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

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

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

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

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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