The 2011 Oregon Shakespeare festival.
This season OSF directors Amanda Dehnert and Bill Rauch made distinctive casting choices that resonate with the theme for this volume of The Upstart Crow: "Shakespeare's Female Icons." Dehnert cast the superb Vilma Silva, one of OSF's most distinguished actors, as Caesar in a riveting production of Julius Caesar; and Rauch cast the Latina actress Stephanie Beatriz as Isabela in Measure for Measure. Silva's Caesar was serene and self-confident, spoke beautifully, and moved gracefully among the men of the play. Unlike other reviewers perhaps, I did not find watching a female Julius Caesar at all distracting. Silva's Caesar was first a political leader of immense stature and only secondarily an actress forging new roles for women in Shakespeare's plays; Silva's performance simply transcended gender. As Isabela, Beatriz convincingly transferred one of Shakespeare's most iconic female figures from Vienna to the turbulent, multi-racial barrio of an American city.
Director Shana Cooper, scenic designer Christopher Acebo, and costume designer Christal Weatherly turned the verbal feast of Love's Labor's Lost into a visual spectacle designed primarily to attract youthful spectators. The Elizabethan Stage was covered with the green AstroTurf left over from the 2010 production of Twelfth Night. The stage opening was covered by tall, knotty pine planks that created a crude fort-like structure; within this fort the youthful King of Navarre and his courtiers were to make their three-year war against affections. Tacked to the planks on a white board was a silhouette of a woman in black, surrounded by a red circle with a slash through the center. Dressed in prep school shorts and striped rugby shirts, the would-be scholars stood in front of a large trash bin into which they emptied their worldly possessions: a box of donuts, cigars, teddy bears, a rugby ball, copies of Playboy that they scanned quickly before discarding, and a large plastic female doll that they dropped head first into the can. They were oh-so-serious and oh-so-silly; in Cooper's words, "impulsive, uncontrollable youth in pursuit of impossible ideals" that were quickly undermined. (2) Jonathan Haugen as Costard, in white t-shirt and rolled-up blue jeans, swaggered onstage and immediately punctuated his betters' youthful absurdity by bragging about having been "taken with a damsel" (1.1.280) whose virginity he then denies; (3) and Jack Willis as Don Armado, a dashing Don Quixote wannabe in his billowing cape, feathered hat, leather boots, sword, and leather vest, pontificated pedantically upon love with such sweet volubility that surely the simplicity of man to hearken after the flesh would doom the four preppies hidden inside their makeshift stockade.
And it did. The Princess and her ladies were silly, giddy, eager twentysomethings in the brightly colored party dresses, matching hats, white gloves, and high heels of the 1950s. When the King and company greeted the ladies they wore brightly colored dress shirts, bow ties, and madras plaid pants that sort of matched the colors of the ladies' dresses, suggesting which erstwhile lover boy would eventually woo which courtly lady. Cooper cast Robin Goodrin Nordli as an older female Boyet, therefore creating a fascinating dynamic between Boyet and the four young women she was sent to monitor. Nordli seemed at times wistful about the younger women's romantic intrigues, and, perhaps bored with the plot's romantic nonsense, downed several martinis. At other times she was determined to guard the young women's virtue; just before the men entered as fantastically clad Russian dancers she monitored their movements with an electronic sensor and headset that allowed her to warn her charges of the men's approach. In the final scene, as the eight potential lovers slowly bade goodbye, Nordli descended to the level area below the stage perimeter, detached from the play world, and slowly walked stage right to left, gazing up longingly at the young courtiers and their ladies, wishing perhaps for a place among them. But for her, there is no one; on the perimeter of the stage, she remained an outsider.
The King and his court, determined to keep their oath yet not wanting to seem too rude, emerged from behind their stockade and "welcomed" the ladies with sleeping bags, a huge tent, and four large bags of camping equipment, including several rolls of toilet paper. (Presumably the portable honey buckets were somewhere offstage.) Suddenly the AstroTurf seemed appropriate: a green field outside the boys' impromptu fort. As the only man onstage with any sense of man's lustful simplicity, Costard (Jonathan Haugen) emerged as the play's reining deity. He and Jaquenetta (Gina Daniels) were in cahoots throughout; they deliberately mixed up Berowne's and Don Armado's love letters, and bumped fists together to celebrate their chicanery. Costard appeared often on the upper stage, gazing down on the absurdity of the lovers' antics below, and the ladies "hunted" in 4.1 from above also, again suggesting visually their superiority amid the bawdy talk of shooting and hitting targets.
Michael Winters's plump Holofernes, in an outrageous three-piece plaid suit, and Charles Robinson's more sedate Nathaniel in a parson's black suit, chatted and drank tea as they praised the pedant's wit in 4.1. With Costard peering down on them from above, the men, all in hunting gear, entered to praise their ladies. Berowne groaned his confession, as if compelled to do so by the Princess's "two eyes." As the King entered Berowne scrambled partway up a ladder stage right. The King's verses were scribbled on a long sheet of construction paper that he unfurled across the stage as he read, and Longaville's were scratched on a roll of toilet paper that was indeed, as Maria says, "too long by half a mile" (5.2.54). Dumaine entered with a boombox that played his verses as he jived to them with swirling hips, a la Elvis Presley. Once Berowne's letter was reassembled by Dumaine the four erstwhile scholars joined in a sexy dance and celebrated their liberation by smashing into each other's faces the pies left by Holofernes and Nathaniel. They made a glorious mess of the green field.
After the intermission one of the ladies erected the large tent by jumping from above while holding onto the rope that pulled up the top, and the rest of the play was staged from within and in front of this tent. In 5.2 the ladies appeared in their pajamas and lying on the sleeping bags as they mocked their gifts; Boyet, quietly tipsy, emptied her martini glass stage right as the women babbled giddily. Boyet warned them of the men's approach with her sensing device, and the mess of Russians, in sexy white tights, long beards, fur hats, and red sashes around their waists exploded onstage to Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite while Moth held up a huge red heart emblazoned with Russian letters. The men danced furiously as paper flowers dropped from the upper stage, all part of the men's plan to woo their ladies. When at 5.2.311 the men returned in their "proper dress"--i.e., brightly colored dress shirts, ties, and madras plaids--as Berowne spoke about Boyet's betrayal of their Muscovite scheme, the ladies changed back into their original dress in silhouette within the tent, a sexually alluring scene that mocked the men's denial of their desires. The Pageant of the Nine Worthies, who emerged from within the tent as if from an inner stage, was indeed one show worse than the Russians' cavorting, and was both vocally and visually hilarious. Costard as the punk rocker Pompey, in dark glasses and crowned with a laurel wreath, channeled John Belushi as he bellowed his lines into a microphone; Nathaniel as Alexander was swathed in towels; for all his earlier pedantry Holofernes as Judas was angrily "out of countenance" (5.2.603); and Armado wore numerous ties around his waist, a red cape, and a helmet with a large paintbrush glued upside down at the top. During the Pageant the men and women ate popcorn that Berowne pulled from one of the bags of camping gear, and the men mocked the poor actors incessantly. As Holofernes reminds his presumably socially superior spectators, "This is not generous, not gentle, not humble" (5.2.626). Shakespeare's impromptu play-within-a-play here emerged as a crucial factor in the ladies' decisions to assign their puerile admirers to painful, sobering penance for a year and a day.
Marcade's announcement of the French King's death suddenly silenced the stage and made Berowne's speech "Honest plain words best pierce the ear of grief" (5.2.749-72) seem totally shallow. As the couples paired off around the large stage, each Jack with his Jill yet strangely alone, they gradually parted, the ladies finally leaving stage left up the vomitorium and out a side door, the men left standing onstage, watching them walk away. Armado, who doth have his Jaquenetta, sang the songs of the owl and the cuckoo, and sent us away pondering the futures of these couples as darkness descended on their merriment.
Unlike Love's Labor's Lost, the set of 2 Henry IV was visually stark and suggested a giant erector set. A large metal staircase occupied the inner stage and was moved forward only for the final scene, when it became the stairs down which Henry V walked to meet and dismiss Falstaff. On either side of the stage stood metal scaffolding that framed the action. The play opened with a dumb show played in front of a huge banner that descended from the very top of the stage. This banner identified the dumb show, or Mummer's Play, as a quick visual summary of the main actions of Richard II and 1 Henry IV. Actors, mostly in grey clothing, presented in pantomime Bolingbroke seizing the crown from Richard and several scenes from 1 Henry IV, including the robbery at Gad's Hill, the tavern scene of 2.4, Falstaff's stabbing of Hotspur at Shrewsbury, and Hal's chivalry in battle and triumph over Hotspur. As the players disbanded, Rodney Gardiner, who had played Hotspur, wearing a black t-shirt with red tongues painted upon it, emerged as Rumour and tore down the illustrative banner to begin properly 2 Henry IV. For much of the play Rumour sat on the staircase, observing the often chaotic action, and grinning in apparent devilish glee at the violence unfolding before him.
Director Lisa Peterson employed some fascinating doubling patterns. Among these were Eddie Lopez as Travers, Fang, Wart, and Thomas Duke of Clarence; Mark Bedard as Lord Hastings, William, and Feeble; Michael J. Hume as Archbishop of York and Justice Silence; Brian Demar Jones as Snare, Mouldy, and Humphrey Duke of Gloucester; and Daisuke Tsuji as Francis, Shadow, and Prince John. Peterson's casting thus placed several actors on different sides of the play's convoluted history. As in last year's I Henry IV, John Tufts played Prince Hal, but this year's Falstaff was Michael Winters rather than David Kelly, who did not request the role of Falstaff for this season. Seeing Tufts play Hal in Part Two provided dramatic continuity between the two central plays of the Henriad, and while seeing King play Falstaff would have significantly increased the poignancy of his dismissal in Part Two after seeing his delicious theatrical triumphs in Part One, nonetheless Winters's portrayal of a less agile, less vocal, less vital Falstaff ("I am old. I am old," he laments in 2.4) seemed appropriate to the autumnal tone of this play. Winters moved slowly and, in contrast to Kelly's wide-eyed exuberance in the tavern scene of Part One, creaked around the tavern in Part Two, settling finally on a chair as if exhausted by his considerable bulk and the many diseases that his boy reports were found in his water (1.2.3-5). Other actors, including Richard Howard as Henry IV, Christine Albright as Lady Percy, and Howie Seago as Poins returned from Part One and added to a sense of continuity between the two plays.
In contrast to the grey metallic set Peterson employed colorful clothing of varied styles and eras, suggesting that the action of the play transcended a particular historical period. Richard Howard as King Henry wore a white floor-length gown throughout, ironically suggesting his innocence, that became his shroud on his deathbed in 4.5. The conspirators wore monochromatic grey/black robes, jackets, and pants; Justices Shallow and Silence sported Edwardian gentlemen's jackets, creased pants, leather boots, straw hats, and brightly colored plaid vests; York displayed the black and purple finery of a contemporary Archbishop; while the Lord Chief Justice wore stately black and a white collar. Conversely, Falstaff fumbled around the stage in vibrant motley: black boots; grey pants with the same red stripe as on Prince Hal's pants; a tie-dyed shirt appropriate to a Grateful Dead concert; and an orange leather jacket that barely concealed his rotundity. In his clothing Falstaff embodied both defiant disorder and zestful carelessness.
Falstaff's motley was replicated among the denizens of the tavern. Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet strutted in low-cut yellow and red pastel dresses and huge hair, while Pistol, Bardolph, and later Hal and Poins wore parti-colored vests of red, yellow, and orange patches that visually symbolized the tavern's vitality. The fight initiated by Mistress Quickly's anger at Pistol turned violent and nasty (Pistol pulled a gun and pointed it at her) and eerily echoed Northumberland's call for chaos in 1.1.153-58: "Now let not Nature's hand / Keep the wild flood confined! Let order die, / And let this world no longer be a stage / To feed contention in a lingering act; / But let one spirit of the firstborn Cain / Reign in all bosoms." Peterson's sense of the relationship between Northumberland's lines and the tavern brawl was superb. The food, bottles of sack, and furniture scattered about the stage after Bardolph finally chased Pistol downstairs captured brilliantly the continuing disorder plaguing England under a thieving king. As in Part One Falstaff mocks the reigning monarch with a bottle of sack in his hand and a moldy pillow for his crown, so in Part Two one sees why the laws of England must never be at his command. Doll Tearsheet's dash offstage to be with her old lover one more time seemed all the more poignant given the disorder that plagues Falstaff. As Winters hobbled offstage, one sensed the demise of this once vibrant and immensely entertaining theatrical spirit.
As in Part One last season, John Tufts as Prince Hal and the deaf actor Howie Seago as Poins worked well together using American Sign Language, especially in 2.2, where Hal complains of being "exceeding weary." Hal carried a six-pack of cheap beer into the tavern, and despite his knowing from the Page that Falstaff is still accompanied by "Ephesians ... of the old church" in Eastcheap (2.2.142), and despite having seen the violent argument minutes before, just before he left the tavern Hal embraced Falstaff. This is the last time they are onstage together until the dismissal, and Hal's embrace, while probably suggesting some lingering affection for his fat friend, might as well have signaled a final parting. Knowing what must be, and wishing that it were not so, I assumed both and felt a twinge of nostalgia.
Immediately after The Hostess's exultation of Tearsheet's sexual energy: "O, run, Doll, run, good Doll. Come--/ She comes blubbered.--Yea, will you come, Doll?" (2.4.389-90) occurred a thrilling theatrical moment. As Doll exited stage right, King Henry, weak like Macbeth from lack of sleep, stumbled forward amid the tavern's trash and knelt, cursing the god of sleep and asking why he "liest with the vile / In loathsome beds, and leavest the kingly couch / A watch-case or a common 'larum bell?" (3.1.15-17). Henry's kneeling in this filthy tavern--home to lawless swaggerers, dissolute drunks, and decadent whores, a collective image of his violent, diseased kingdom--brilliantly captured an inescapable truth about this play, this England. As Warwick and Surrey entered in contemporary military dress they helped Henry to stand, and then they sat at the same table where Falstaff had sat moments before the brawl began. One table is serviceable to two thieves; the stage is the tavern is the court is the kingdom from which all evil must be eradicated: Quickly, Tearsheet and Pistol will soon beat a man to death; the lovable Lord of Misrule must be dismissed; and death will soon remove the sickly, thieving king. In this chaotic and wonderfully symbolic setting Warwick's lines about the "history in all men's lives" that eventually prophesize "the hatch and brood of time" (3.1.80, 86) referred not just to the ailing Henry but also to his son and Falstaff.
The scenes involving Shallow, Silence, and Falstaffat their country retreat, John's treacherous "defeat" of the rebels at Gaultree Forest, and Hal's eventual reunion with his father in 4.5 were visually very different and emphasized the numerous locales of the second half of the play. Falstaff wore sunglasses and ambled slowly as he surveyed the sickly recruits that Shallow and Silence had sharked up, but exploded when Pistol told him the old king was dead, again hurling food and furniture away as he prepared to ride all night to his expected welcome. The rebels and John's men wore contemporary military coats, suggesting perhaps WWI era, and as Rumour drummed a slow rhythm they drank wine from tables placed onstage where first Falstaff and then King Henry had sat.
In 4.5, the King, wearing the white gown from 3.1, lay on a large bed that rose from below stage. Hal wore a bright red jacket and, significantly, the same grey slacks with red stripe as Falstaff's shabby version. When Hal "stole" the crown, repeating his father's crime, he seized it quickly and walked confidently from the stage. While the Oedipal struggle that this scene suggests was not apparent in Hal's initial deliberate actions, when Hal returned Henry suddenly raged at him and pushed him away. Hal was stung when he realized what he had done, and crumbled to his knees and shook as Henry berated him. When Henry, clearly exhausted, finished, Hal slowly removed the crown and returned it to the pillow. In one of his finer scenes at OSF, John Tufts as Hal evoked genuine remorse and guilt. Tufts convinced me that Hal's description of the crown as a malignancy that has fed upon his father was not mere rhetoric but rather an image that accurately described Hal's view of that which ironically he says earlier is his "due" from his father. As Hal promised to "rightfully maintain" (4.5.224) the crown, on the stage where he had embraced Falstaff, he raised his sickly father and for a long, genuinely tender moment in a hushed theater held him to his heart.
Resplendent in white jacket, pants, and cape pinned at the neck with a diamond-studded clasp, wearing a gold crown and holding in one hand a golden scepter and in the other a golden globe, King Henry V descended the metal steps now thrust center stage into the place which late had been the tavern, the court, the battlefield. Falstaff, his motley now utterly garish, hobbled up a few steps, reached out and touched Henry's right arm. Recalling his earlier vigor, Falstaff bellowed: "My King! My Jove! I speak to thee, my heart!" (5.4.46). Hal stopped, declared "I know thee not old man. Fall to thy prayers" (5.4.47-48) while staring straight ahead, and only looked at Falstaff as he completed his speech. Falstaff stumbled backwards, head bowed, and for a moment, despite all we have seen in this play, his dismissal seemed unnecessarily harsh. With his sagging body Winters evoked the pity we may feel for this wretched yet lovable old man whom we know must go to debtor's prison: "Master Shallow, I owe you a thousand pound" (5.4.72). It is a testimony to Winters's performance of this aging thief, self-deluded to the end, that one can recall the violence of the tavern scene and his damnable abuse of the King's press and still want to believe that he shall be "sent for soon at night" (5.4.90-91). But 'twill not be.
Amanda Dehnert, who in 2009 directed a fascinating All's Well That Ends Well in the New Theatre, returned to that venue to direct a production of Julius Caesar that crystalized Peter Brook's "Rough Theatre." The actors welcomed spectators to their seats by walking up to them, introducing themselves as their characters, and urging them to cry "All Hail Julius Caesar!" and to flash the "V" signal when prompted to do so. We did--vociferously. As did Lisa Peterson in 2 Henry IV, Dehnert employed considerable doubling, using seven actors to play a range of characters of conflicting and changing political loyalties. Kevin Kenerly, for example, played the senators Casca and Lepidus, as well as the rebel Messala; and Kenajuan Bentley played both Trebonius and Octavius Caesar. The principals were played by four of OSF's leading actors, all of whom were superb: Vilma Silva as Caesar; Jonathan Haugen as Brutus; Gregory Linington as Cassius; and Danforth Comins as Mark Antony. The play was staged in the round, and the actors--except for Silva's stunning Caesar--all wore grey/brown/black pants, shirts, vests, jackets, ponchos, and boots that indicated at once a "modern era" and all eras, suggesting the timeless nature of the political and historical issues at the center of many of Shakespeare's plays. The only props were rough-hewn slabs r of plywood and tables of plywood and two-by-fours that were moved around stage to serve several purposes: as the platform on which Caesar, Brutus, and Antony spoke; the raised bed on which the slaughtered Caesar lay; and the tables around which Brutus and Cassius and later Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus plotted their strategy or marked their opponents for death. The murder of Caesar was the bloodiest I have ever seen; who would have thought the emperor could have stashed so many vials of red liquid under her sparkling white gown? The use of the table on which Caesar lay murdered as the table on which Antony numbered his political enemies and plotted his attacks visually reinforced the play's insistence on the unanticipated consequences of seemingly well-intentioned political actions.
The "stage" for this production extended well beyond the confines of the actual theater. As one approached the entrance, and again as one walked through the interior towards one's seat, one encountered banners drawn in heavy blank ink hanging from lampposts, trees, walls, and ceiling of the theater depicting political leaders who had been assassinated. The victims ranged from JFK and MLK to political leaders in Latin America, Europe, and especially Africa. While few spectators would have been familiar with the history of all of these victims, the vast array of banners suggested that political murder, even in the name of democracy or for a similar ideal, has often led to unanticipated and uncontrollable violence. The murder of Cinna the Poet, played by Anthony Heald, grotesquely exemplified this point. Wearing a loose-fitting jacket and speaking calmly, Cinna realized too late that he had walked into a vicious trap from which there was no escape. He was surrounded by thugs with baseball bats--another modern updating; one thought of the San Francisco baseball fan who was beaten into a coma outside Dodger Stadium after a game in May--and then dragged offstage where he was clubbed to death. Often during the play, thumping sounds permeated the theater and were felt under the metallic seats, so that spectators not only heard but also felt sounds marking the play's descent into terror and violence. During the performance the actors sat among the spectators on chairs marked with an "X," so that actually and symbolically the killers of Caesar and Cinna, and the rival factions that resort to war after Caesar's death, sprung from among us. Dehnert's production thus deftly suggested that political violence, and the often unexamined motives that promulgate such violence, are not necessarily or always the work of distant, shadowy cabals or cliques, but rather can spring from the general populace. As Pogo famously observed, "We have met the enemy and he is us."
Given the staging in the round, the actors moved constantly lest their backs be to any one segment of the audience for too long. This staging created a sense of urgency among the characters and an engrossing kinetic energy. Cassius, Brutus, and even Antony in his long funeral oration in 3.2 often paced as they spoke and were followed around stage by spotlights, especially in the scenes between Cassius and Brutus. The assassination was preceded by a visually stunning scene that exemplified how simple props and vivid imagination can evoke vivid theater. Ako, a diminutive actress, played the Soothsayer in a white lace gown. Warning Caesar again of the Ides of March and speaking initially in Japanese, she moved slowly towards Caesar, who lay on a platform center stage as if on her bed in her house. Recall here Caesar's report of Calpurnia's dream: "She dreamt tonight she saw my statue, / Which like a fountain with an hundred spouts / Did run pure blood" (2.2.76-78). As the soothsayer spoke Caesar awoke from her sleep and slowly sat up. From across the stage emerged the conspirators, and from the hands of Decius Brutus a huge roll of white butcher paper unfurled toward Caesar's bed. The conspirators dipped their hands into a bowl of blood carried by Brutus and then poured blood or wiped their bloody hands on the paper as Caesar stepped down and walked slowly across the blood-covered paper. As if at the climax of Caesar's nightmare, the soothsayer returned to English with "Help ho, they murder Caesar" and first Brutus and then Caesar screamed as the conspirators exited and the now thoroughly bloodied paper was withdrawn by Decius Brutus. As a visual and aural evocation of a nightmare the scene worked brilliantly.
The actual murder was grotesque and terrifying. Cassius urges Caesar to "Come to the Capitol" (3.1.120) which Silva did by simply stepping onto the raised plywood platform that became the Senatorial dais. The conspirators, all wearing heavy brown ponchos and hoods (as might be worn while trekking in the Oregon rainforest), gradually closed a circle around her, and Casca's "Speak, hands, for me!" (3.1.77) launched a vicious assault on Silva's body from all sides as red liquid squirted from her many wounds, drenching her white gown, the white sheet over the platform, and the floor. Kevin Kenerly as Casca emptied red paint form a can onto Caesar's gown, as if he and the others carried Caesar's sacrificial blood with them, and the murderers dipped their hands into this can to ritualize their deed that, despite Brutus's urging them to be "sacrificers, but not butchers" (2.1.167), was savage. Silva spun around to face her killers, and, drenched in blood, reached out to Brutus on "Et tu, Brute?" (3.1.75) before collapsing onto the table. Danforth Comins as Antony spoke with convulsive grief: "O mighty Caesar! Dost thou lie so low?" (3.1.150ff), leaning over the bloodied corpse before he too dipped his hands into the can of Caesar's blood and shook hands with the conspirators. As if sealing his bond with the murderers, Antony stabbed his left hand with a knife, so he too bled on the body of Caesar. On Antony's "Passion I see is catching" (3.1.285) Caesar rose and stood amid her blood as the theater darkened.
Dehnert created several visually stunning moments in the second half of the play. Caesar entered and stood, ghostly and unseen, as Brutus spoke at 3.2.13ff: "Romans, countrymen, and lovers, hear me for my cause, and be silent that you may hear." She remained standing near center stage, in her blood-stained smock, as Antony, a passionate and articulate peripatetic, roamed about the crowded stage urging the citizens to hear Caesar's will. Comins spoke with superb clarity, a brilliant sense of Shakespeare's rhythm and punctuation, and a rising sense of his own ability to manipulate the increasingly restless Plebeians. He continually modulated his pace and volume as he sensed the citizens acceding to his arguments. Sensing victory, he climbed upon the table where Caesar had been murdered and read Caesar's will standing upon her deathbed. On "You all do know this mantle" (3.2.171) Antony held up Caesar's blood-drenched Senatorial robe as Caesar stood behind him. She put on the bloodied robe and lay down on the table, both dais and deathbed, and remained there until Antony finished his speech.
Once convinced that Caesar's murder was indeed butchery, not a sacrifice for freedom, the citizens turned to spectators and urged us to join them in their revenge. Finally alone, Antony sat again on the bloodied table, smirked, and on "Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot" (3.2.260) burned Caesar's will. It was a stunning gesture that shattered all pretense of morality or selflessness. As Antony exited, Caesar rose and again signaled to the spectators the "V" signal for victory that she had urged us to applaud as we initially entered the theater. Caesar thus visually transcended her death, as if her spirit were actually "embodying" Antony's words that turn the citizens into a raging mob seeking vengeance for her murder. The beating of Cinna the Poet and Antony's list of intended victims, which he jovially read while drinking whiskey, seemed but natural consequences of the political violence now engulfing Rome.
Caesar's ghost haunted the remainder of the play. She walked the perimeter of the stage in a clean white robe, watching Rome descend into violence, haunting her killers, and reminding us that the effects of political murder often transcend the event. She carried a small silver bowl, and each time a character died she approached the body and dappled the victim's forehead with a bit of clay that she took from the bowl, as if, like a neo-classical Valkyrie, she was marking the victim's passing and heralding his descent into the underworld. In 4.3, as Caesar silently paced the perimeter, Brutus and Cassius raged and circled each other like snarling cats; Haugen's and Linington's deeply passionate dialogue superbly captured the intensity of the men's egos and our sense of the grave dangers accompanying even what men believe to have been the purest of political motives. Only Brutus's report of Portia's death by "swallow[ing] fire" (4.3.155), which she enacted by entering and mimicking swallowing fire from a silver bowl, calmed them, but her death recalled Antony's burning of Caesar's will, as if fire were consuming all of Rome. This sense of inescapable violence was intensified by the battles; numerous soldiers, armed with pikes and shouting loudly, emerged from several openings and spilled onto the stage. As soldiers died and battles ended, fewer fighters remained onstage. At Cassius's killing by Pindarus, stabbed, as he says, "Even with the sword that killed [Caesar]" (5.3.46), Caesar touched his head with clay, left the knife by his side, and then withdrew to the perimeter. When soldiers removed Cassius's body they too left the knife, and with this knife Brutus would stab himself. In a brilliant visual irony, what Brutus and Cassius believed had been a weapon wielded for Romans' liberty became the weapon that killed them both.
The final moments were superb. As the dead reemerged and circled the perimeter, Caesar approached Brutus and knelt before him. She offered him a daub of clay which he, not she, applied to his forehead, as if accepting his inevitable death and acknowledging his terrible errors. Caesar glared at Brutus for a long, tense moment, as if asking again "Et tu, Brute?" before he stabbed himself. Comins delivered Antony's "This was the noblest Roman of them all" (5.5.68ff) slowly and deliberately, not only praising Brutus but also lamenting the waste that "ill-weaved ambition" (1 Henry IV, 5.4.88) had wrought in Rome.
Moving Measure for Measure inside the 600-seat tent in Lithia Park necessitated re-blocking the entire show in order to fit it into the tent's proscenium stage with seats arranged straight up from the front so that "Bowmer in the Park" resembled a high school auditorium. While Angus Bowmer is an amazingly versatile theater, with nary a bad seat in the house, "Bowmer in the Park" was constrictive and cramped, and necessitated the actors being miked so that spectators in the back rows (where I sat) could hear them over the intrusive air-conditioning system. Given the need to restage not only Measure for Measure but also four other plays originally designed for the Bowmer, one must compliment Rauch and company for ensuring that the shows would go on.
Scenic designer Clint Ramos's initial set was a business office: a large conference table stood center stage surrounded by several chairs, and behind the table and further stage left and right two huge glass panels hung from the ceiling. Four doors, two each stage left and right, opened onto the stage. In the blue light of late afternoon, three cleaning ladies entered the stage and began sweeping and dusting the furniture. Throughout the production they entered as necessary to change the furniture as lights turned from the sedate blue of the Duke's office to the sultry red of Mistress Overdone's other "office." During scenes in the barrio we heard sirens screaming as police cars and ambulances raced along its streets. After working for several seconds the cleaning women pulled guitars from their bins and began singing, in Spanish, a song about working while lyrics in English splashed on the back wall of the stage. Throughout the production these three musicians, Las Colibri, a female mariachi band, appeared in different costumes and sang songs appropriate to a particular moment, character, or theme in the play, becoming a contemporary version of the musicians that played at The Globe and The Fortune.
The singers also introduced the location of this Measure as the barrio of "Vienna, an American city." (4) Thus, several of the principal characters--Angelo, Pompey, Claudio, Juliet, and Isabela--were played by Hispanic actors, while the Duke, Provost, and Mariana were Caucasian, Escalus was a black woman, and Elbow and Lucio were also black. This obvious emphasis on the typical multicultural mix of a major American city was reinforced by making Mistress Overdone, the "business owner" of the strip joint/bawdy house, a gay man in drag. Rauch thus introduced into his production another subculture; his Vienna was not only racially mixed and set in a minority neighborhood, but also welcomed in the barrio's "houses," as Pompey calls them, gay as well as straight customers.
This layering of ethnic and sexual minorities in an already complex and controversial play raises an obvious question: did Rauch's production concept illuminate or obscure the script? Did Rauch make the play more "about" ethnic and sexual minority communities than about the larger issues of justice and mercy, guilt and forgiveness, active vs. passive virtue that critics find at the play's center? Alternately, one can argue that there is no reason not to set Measure in a Latino community; certainly issues of justice and mercy prevail in these communities as well as any others, especially given the strong Catholic traditions that still pertain in Hispanic families. Issues of sexual restraint and liberty apply as readily in Latino communities as in Caucasian and African American, and among all racial and ethnic communities one can find gay and straight men and women as well as very different levels of tolerance for sexual subcultures. Further, in his tenure as artistic director Rauch has striven to create racial and ethnic diversity within his acting company as well as among his audiences, and one can argue that by bringing several excellent Latino/a and African-American actors into the OSF company Rauch is creating within a prestigious repertory theater a company that reflects the extensive diversity of American society. (5)
Anthony Heald as the Duke was anxious to leave his office; his suitcase was packed, and he spoke rapidly what I take to be central lines of the play--"Heaven doth with us as we with torches do" (1.1.33-36), as if the sentiment were not at the moment important to him. Rend Millan as Angelo appeared initially in "business casual" clothes, but when he reappeared as the duke's official deputy in 2.1 he wore a dark brown suit, white shirt, and a gold paisley tie. The gulf between the worlds of Mistress Overdone and the convent of St. Clare was superbly evident in Lucio's summoning of Isabela. Kenajuan Bentley was a tall, lanky Lucio sporting an Afro, a half-open diamond-patterned silk shirt, tight jeans, and dancing shoes, while Stephanie Beatriz as Isabela wore a novice's simple black frock, white shirt, and black and white head scarf. Sitting behind the Duke's desk, Angelo was initially dismissive of Isabela, barely looking at her; while she pleaded he signed some papers, presumably death warrants for the city's newly arrested sex offenders. As Lucio urged her on, "Ay, well said," "That's well said" (2.2.94, 114), Beatriz's voice rose in intensity and volume, especially when she spoke of the souls that, once being forfeit, were saved when God found out a "remedy."
As if aware, no doubt from his Catholic training, of God's charity towards sinners, Angelo suddenly turned to Isabela and spoke forcibly of the law, not he, condemning her brother. On "Yet show some pity" (2.2.104), Isabela knelt before Angelo, and her "Could great men thunder / as Jove himself does" (2.2.115ff) was a passionate example of the gift that Claudio tells Lucio she possesses: "prosperous art / when she will play with reason and discourse, / and well she can persuade" (1.2.181-83). Isabela rose and moved towards Angelo as he turned to leave, and, innocently but also desperately, she claimed that upon returning she would bribe him. Angelo immediately turned towards her, and despite her hurried "Ay, with such gifts that heaven shall share with you" (2.2.153), Lucio's "You had marred all else" (1.154) signaled that for both him and Angelo Isabela's "bribe" was obviously sexual. In his first soliloquy Millan played Angelo's sudden sexual desire for Isabela as tortuous; he alternately clung to the edge of his desk--his symbol of authority--and paced the stage like a caged animal.
As Las Colibri sang of the need for justice, Juliet, who spoke no English, talked with the disguised Friar through a translator in a woman's prison. Behind the Friar and Juliet other women sat or walked carrying babies, suggesting both the prevalence of illegitimate children in the Duke's Vienna and the recent imprisonment of several single mothers. Juliet's "sin," despite her promise to wed Claudio, thus seemed common; perhaps these mothers were former employees of Mistress Overdone. Angelo emerged in 2.4 still in his formal suit, but now clearly distraught. His rising voice, darting movements, and finally his tense laughter as he marveled at Isabela's initial inability or refusal to understand his demands betrayed his loss of control. Her voice rising as she gradually perceived Angelo's intentions, Beatriz argued that "Lawful mercy / Is nothing kin to foul redemption" (2.4.113-14) and recoiled in genuine horror when Angelo grabbed her arms and gave his "sensual race the rein" (2.4.161). Left alone, opposite Angelo's desk, Isabela pleaded "To whom should I complain" directly to spectators, asking with a suddenly defeated and shaking voice if any one of us would believe her.
As Isabela and Angelo dominate acts 1 and 2, so the Duke dominates acts 3-5. Much scholarly kvetching about this play focuses on this structural disparity, and here Rauch's directorial concept demands scrutiny. The predominance of Hispanic culture in this production, Rauch's casting of Heald as the Duke, and Heald's sudden exuberant exercise of power in the final acts, especially given his hasty exit from 1.1, suggest that Rauch and Heald saw the Duke as a white governor who, having allowed the minority cultures of his dukedom to descend into sexual depravity, now returns with a renewed determination to rescue his Hispanic citizens from their own wickedness. Casting Bentley as Lucio, who says that he knows the Duke well and like a burr will stick to him, also suggested Lucio as the Duke's consciousness of how he has failed the Hispanic and African American communities. While most Ashland viewers (myself included) read the OSF casting decisions as racially neutral--as in last season's white Hamlet (Dan Donohue) and black Gertrude (Greta Ogelsby)-Rauch's choices in this Measure seemed deliberately calculated to promote spectators' awareness of racial diversity and of obvious differences in power.
As the play progressed through acts 3 and 4 and Angelo's depravity became increasingly clear to the Duke, Heald played Vincentio as not only increasingly frantic but also as increasingly pleased with his emerging cleverness. After urging Claudio to be absolute for death and overhearing Isabela fiercely condemning Claudio, he and Isabela shared a cigarette as he explained to her his proposed "bed trick." The shared cigarette suggested not only an emerging partnership between them but also a sudden, worldly turn in Isabela that obviously excited the Duke and emboldened him to tell her that "To the love I have in doing good a remedy presents itself" (3.2.200-01). Thereafter the Duke moved quickly: he delayed Claudio's execution; arranged the meeting between Mariana and Angelo (the Duke found Mariana in a mental hospital run by nuns); ranged about the prison filled with miscreants left over from his ineffectual rule; and endured Lucio's constant jibing about his past, perhaps sexual, exploits. As Heald dealt with increasingly challenging and unexpected situations, he became all the more joyful, almost playful, as if under the guise of the Friar he were suddenly enjoying the exercise of power that he could not effect as Duke.
Vincentio entered act five in a classy three-piece suit and silk tie, waved to the cheering crowds onstage, clapped for the mariachi players, and walked downstage center waving his hands and urging us to cheer him as well. Here was a man now obsessed not only with power itself but also with his self-image. Heald's portrayal of the Duke reified the questions critics constantly raise about the Duke's character and motivation, (6) as he here appeared manically pleased with what he believes will prove his talents and (presumably) win Isabela's love. Consistent with the contemporary setting, the Duke initially stood behind a podium and spoke into a microphone, as if addressing a holiday gathering in the barrio. Lucio, ever the Duke's scourge, spoke from among the spectators, thus distancing himself from this self-congratulatory spectacle. The Duke spoke meanly to Isabela, as if maximizing her need for courage and thus exaggerating the difficulty, if not cruelty, of asking her to forgive Angelo. Given the Duke's obvious relish of his renewed power and the surety with which he condemned both Isabela and Mariana, Heald's Duke suggested the proverbial white knight restoring order among poor, deluded women and finally exposing and condemning Angelo.
Vincentio exploded from beneath the hood, and Lucio, who had come onstage, tried vainly to return to the audience before being stopped. After first condemning Angelo to death and then pardoning him at Isabel's initially hesitant but then beautifully passionate plea for his forgiveness, and revealing Claudio, after which (unscripted) Juliet walked onstage holding her baby, the Duke made his first offer to Isabela: "Give me your hand and say you will be mine; / He is my brother too" (5.1.503-04). Isabela turned away and walked stage left. After dealing with Lucio, the Duke turned towards Isabel and again pleaded: "Dear Isabel, / I have a motion much imports your good ..." (5.2.545-46). Isabela walked slowly towards the podium, paused, grabbed the microphone, uttered a brief sound as if to speak, and the theater went dark. As with many contemporary productions, Isabela did not accept Vincentio's offer of marriage; nor did she reject it. Her approach to the microphone suggested instead that her ability to speak persuasively may become the active virtue that, in the Duke's metaphor from 1.1, will go forth from her to light the way, like torches, for others. Perhaps we were to imagine Isabel as a voice in the Latino/a community for modesty, justice, virtue, and forgiveness. Perhaps...
(1.) OSF Communications Director Amy Richards told me that after Bill Rauch announced the temporary closing of the Bowmer, ticket sales fell significantly. Apparently many ticket holders were unwilling to watch several plays in the tent and so canceled their entire season. The night I saw 2 Henry IV the Elizabethan Stage was at best half full.
(2.) 2011 Souvenir Program, 11.
(3.) All textual references are to The Complete Works of Shakespeare, 4th ed., ed. David Bevington (New York: Harper Collins, 1992).
(4.) "Director's note," 2011 Souvenir Program, 14.
(5.) Rauch has extended this diversity into the deaf community as well. See my essay "Breaking the Sound Barrier: Howie Seago and American Sign Language at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival," Shakespeare Bulletin 30.1 (Spring 2012): 21-36.
(6.) A recent, rewarding foray into this critical thicket is Herb Weil's "On Some Virtues of Inconsistent Characterization, or The Rhetoric of Teasing: The Duke and Lucio in Measure for Measure," Shakespeare Newsletter 59.3 (Winter 2009/2010): 105-10. Well argues that "Those who seek a reassuring unity for this play will not be satisfied unless the text is cut drastically. ... But I do hope that it has become clear that cuts in production and omissions by silence should not seek some specious unity that would reduce inconsistencies and thereby make far thinner this rewarding problematic play" (109).
Michael W. Shurgot, Seattle, WA
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|Author:||Shurgot, Michael W.|
|Publication:||The Upstart Crow|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2012|
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