Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Book: The Wide and Universal Theatre - Shakespeare in Performance Then and Now, David Bevington

If anyone be steeped in Shakespeare, it's David Bevington. Distinguished Service Emeritus Professor in Humanities at the University of Chicago, he has written or edited more than 30 books on Shakespeare, including the Longman complete edition of Shakespeare's works in 1992, Bantam's 29 paperback editions of the plays, and the Norton Anthology of English Renaissance Drama (2002).

This compact and readable volume shows that Bevington is devoted as well to the art of staging Shakespeare.

His introductory chapter Actions That A Man Might Play gives his three-fold intent for the book:

"to provide an account of Shakespeare's theatre in all its complexity of physical space, casting capacities and audience expectations;

to place Shakespeare's plays in that original theatrical space as a way of suggesting how an awareness of their theatrical dimensions can illuminate numberless dramatic situations inherent in the dialogue; and

to juxtapose those insights with more modern instances in film, television, and theatrical performance in order to appreciate some ways in which changed modes of presentation can arise out of, and contribute to, changed perceptions of the text."

David Bevington delivers handsomely on that time-machine approach, in a thoughtful text amply illustrated with sketches, reproduced images and photographs.

The opening chapters contain the information basic for any introduction to the plays. Bevington describes Shakespeare's career, his companies and rivals, and the physical conditions of Elizabethan stages, both those at court and the specially constructed playhouses such as the Globe.

Remarkably vivid in his overview and in discussions of the plays are the alterations made by producers and actors over the centuries to accommodate the tastes of the changing times. Bevington stresses the
presentational nature of the drama of Shakespeare's times, in which the actors and their complicit public could with words and gestures covert the relatively bare stage into virtually any setting.

In contrast, English theatres in the 19th century saw increasingly
representational stagings with vast and elaborate sets. Beerbohm Tree's production of Twelfth Night in 1901 featured "a garden for the mansion of the Countess Olivia replete with trickling fountains, live grass, pathways, and descending steps" and for his 1910-11 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, he provided a "carpet of thyme and wildflowers" and rabbits scampered through an enchanted forest.

The storm-besieged ship at the opening of
The Tempest was a showpiece of artifice and illusion for productions from the 1840s through Beerbohm Tree's times.

Beginning with William Poel's Elizabethan Stage Society in 1901, the twentieth century saw a return to far more austere, presentational stagings of the plays. Bevington comments,
"One reason that such a comparative study of presentational modes can make special sense today is that modern Shakespeare in production is excitingly closer to that of Shakespeare's own theatre than was the theatre world of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Or so, at any rate, we like to think, in our desire to make him one of our own."

At the same time, the development of cinema and television have made possible a Shakespeare of a different idiom -- in which the director and the cinematographer can establish instantly with the magic of camerawork the scenes or settings evoked in the mind's eye of the public. Bevington offers telling comments on filmed versions of Shakespeare -- in which a BBC company doing
As You Like It can be seen uncomfortably swatting flies in a literal forest, Zefferelli or Branaugh can enchant us with celebrity turns, or Kurosawa can transform Macbeth or King Lear and abandon the texts entirely.

Bevington examines the plays in chapters grouping them by genre and in rough chronological order:

- - Stage Business in the Comedies
(Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, and brief comments on six more)

- - Thus Play I in One Person Many People - Performing the Histories
(I Henry VI, sieges and battles, Richard III, Richard II, I Henry IV)

- - Like A Strutting Player - Staging Moral Ambiguity in Measure for Measure and Troilus and Cressida

- - The Motive and Cue for Passion - Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Othello in Performance

- - A Poor Player That Struts and Frets His Hour Upon The Stage - Role Playing in King Lear, Macbeth, and Anthony and Cleopatra

- - Insubstantial Pageant - Shakespeare's Farewell to the Stage (Pericles, Cymbeline, Winter's Tale, and The Tempest)

For each play Bevington lightly outlines the action, paying particular attention to conventions of the stage and to those central characters who propel the action through their contrivances, scheming, disguises, and orchestration. These principal characters openly or implicitly avow their actions to the audience while concealing them from other characters. His discussion of siege warfare and combat in the histories is particularly entertaining.Bevington does not dwell on the verse or themes, but invokes them principally when they reinforce dramatic convention or plot development. His aim is not to summarize plots but rather to establish through-lines for the actions, highlighting Shakespeare's references to acting, deception, theatre and make believe.

For each play, once these concepts are established for the reader Bevington skims through the historical record. The 17th and 18th century references are relatively scarce. For example, he notes in passing that the tradition of Juliet on her balcony originated from stagings of that time; Shakespeare mentions Juliet's "window" but never uses the word "balcony" at all.

The 19th century is inevitably good for some astonishing account such as the 1884 production of
Romeo and Juliet featuring a garden with "a cascade of descending terraces receding into a distant moonlit haze" and machinery that "made possible the transformation of houses into gardens and cloisters into tombs."

Bevington gives good account of notable productions in the twentieth century, both on stage and in the visual media from Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks to Anthony Hopkins, Leonardo Dicaprio, and Bill Murray. In effect, it's a catalog of reimaginings of Shakespeare, noting many that are surprising, provocative or particularly apt to the mood of the time. It's a big-city theatre list, focused on London and New York with an occasional mention of a Chicago production.

Bevington notes that Shakespeare only rarely makes use of the deus ex machina -- Jupiter in Cymbeline being one exception -- and that in tragedies and comedies alike the resolutions remain resolutely on the human plain. Sleep, enchantment and dreaming occur as themes, as do the mystery and inevitability of death. References to the theatre and acting are fundamental to Shakespeare's texts.

This Wide and Universal Stage is gracefully written, thoughtful, perceptive and informative, a text to be kept for bedside reading or for a brush-up before attending the theatre. One can hope that this is not Bevington's farewell to the stage, even though he has retired from teaching and recently contributed $100,000 to help sustain the University of Chicago Press, which published this volume.

His comments on The Tempest can serve as as a medallion both for the book itself and for the art of performing Shakespeare:

". . . Prospero knows that he is no god. Yet as theater artist he play acts a godlike role in the world of artifice given to him as his realism. The fallen world outside the island will continue to go its ways. Persons from that world will visit Prospero's island for a time, much as audiences come to the theater and then return to their daily lives. Those visitors will be moved to varying degrees by what they have seen and experienced in the artificial world presided over by the theater artists. Such is at once the potential and the limit of the artist's efforts to make some difference in the ways that people live."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Images: Hamlet, City Theatre, October 22 - November 15

Images received directly from City Theatre Austin,


October 22 – November 15

Thursday – Saturday 8:00 p.m. Sunday 5:30 p.m.

The cast includes Aaron Black (Hamlet), Tim Brown (Claudius), Christy Smith (Gertrude), Shannon Davis (Ophelia), Jeannie Harris (Polonius), Collin Bjork (Laertes), Bryan Headrick (Horatio), McArthur Moore (Fortinbras, Ghost, Gravedigger), Clay Avery (Rosencrantz), Alexander Hall (Guildenstern/Marcellus), John McNeill (Player King), Leslie Robinson (Player Queen/Barnardo/Osric), and Colter Creech (Captain/Voltemand/Cornelius).

The City Theatre Company production of Hamlet will have a run time of two hours and thirty minutes including intermission. The director and cast invite audiences to the talkbacks after shows on Sunday, October 25 and Sunday, November 8.

The City Theatre. 3823 Airport Blvd. – east corner of Airport Blvd. and 38 ½ Street.

View more images at . . .

Upcoming: The Broom, Sight Ain't Seeing Productions at Boyd Vance Theatre, October 23 - 24

Found on-line:

Sight Aint Seein' Productions

The Broom

Friday, October 23, 7 p.m.
Saturday, October 24, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Boyd Vance Theatre, George Washington Carver Museum, 1155 Angelina St.

The play that started it all! Ma Pattie Wilson, the mother of the church after years of being put on a pedestal is faced with the problem of telling a long buried secret to show the Lord’s redemptive power to several hurting and misguided women from her church. deal with life-changing issues. Ma Pattie dispenses old-fashioned mother-wit in poignant if sometimes humorous ways. The theme of putting the good of others before our pride resounds today.

Info Phone: 512.974.4926

Monday, September 28, 2009

Upcoming: Hip Hop Theatre Explosion with Zell Miller III, Vortex Repertory, October 8 - 17

Found on-line:

VORTEX Repertory Company & Uprise! Productions

Hip-Hop Theater Explosion

Hosted by Zell Miller III
Oct. 08-11 (Thurs-Sun) at 8 p.m.
October 15-17 (Thurs-Sat) at 8 p.m

Featuring 7 nights of rhymes, beats, dancing and more, Hip-hop Theater Explosion runs for 2 weeks, 7 nights only - It's an interactive theater experience that no one else can provide you in the capital city. Featuring members of Blacklisted Individuals, Public Offenders, The Cipher and members of the Uprise Theater company, DJ Statik and so much more..... By popular demand, 2 weeks, 7 nights!

Read more at . . . .

Upcoming: Murder Ballad Murder Mystery, Vortex Repertory, October 23 - November 7

UPDATE: Click for ALT review, October 26

UPDATE: Lisa Scheps on KOOP-FM writes on the website for Offstage and On The Air: "Today my guests were all from Tutto Theatre Company's production, Murder Ballad Murder Mystery playing October 23 - November 7 at The Vortex (click here for tickets). We had Tutto Artistic Director and Director of the show, Dustin Wills; playwright, lyricist, and performer Elizabeth Doss; Composer and performer, Mark Stewart and performer Kelly Bland. It was a fun show and most of the music was played live in the studio." Click here to listen. (30 mins)

Found on-line:

Vortex Repertory Company and Tutto Theatre Company
present the world premiere production of

Murder Ballad Murder Mystery

by Elizabeth Doss
Directed by Dustin Wills
Oct.23-Nov.07, 2009

Murder Ballad Murder Mystery unearths a host of dank and dirty bayou bandits whose names once marauded headlines, wanted posters, and LP sleeves. Watch these corpses whittle out new murder tools to make mincemeat of fair maidens and turn your sweetest dream into your worst nightmare. This psychedelic bluegrass symphonic romp through the swamp spins infamous southern-gothic tales of torture and true crime into a circus massacre of whodunits. A blast from the past straight up from the grave. Get caught at the crossroads, October 23rd at The Vortex. Halloween Drink Specials. Costumes welcome.

Read more at . . . .

Friday, September 25, 2009

Upcoming: Nunsense, Tex-Arts, Lakeway,

Found on-line:


Tex-Arts, Lakway
September 25 - October 11, 2009
Friday and Saturday 7:30 PM
Sundays 2:00 and 7:00 PM

Nunsense is about five of 19 surviving “Little Sisters of Hoboken,” a one-time missionary order that ran a leper colony on an island south of France who discover that their cook, Sister Julia, Child of God, accidentally killed the other fifty-two residents of the convent with her tainted vichyssoise while they were off playing bingo with a group of Maryknolls. Upon discovering the disaster, Mother Superior had a vision in which she was told to start a greeting card company to raise funds for the burials. From there, you can imagine just how funny it gets! Nunsense includes solo star turns, madcap dance routines, and an audience quiz. It’s positively “habit forming!”

Tickets at NowPlayingAustin
Info Phone: 512.474.8497

Kam and James Morris Theater
2300 Lohman's Spur Austin, TX 78734

Upcoming: IN.CAR.NATION by Electronic Planet Ensemble at the Hyde Park Theatre, October 15-17

Received directly:

Electronic Planet Ensemble presents

A Celebration of Cool Cars

October 15-17, 2009, Thurs-Sat 8pm
Hyde Park Theatre

Electronic Planet Ensemble presents IN.CAR.NATION, a multimedia
environment of sight, sound and words to celebrate the cultural elegance of cool cars.

IN.CAR.NATION, words riffed in jazz and blues, with favorites like “Healing Your Inner Car” and ”55 Chevy.” David Jewell and Sergio R. Samayoa team up for a performance of reverence and reverie with some of America’s automobiles, especially the 1940’s to 1960’s bulgemobiles.

First performed in 1997 at Hyde Park Theatre in Austin,
Texas, IN.CAR.NATION is a trip on life’s by-ways and highways in spoken words, electronic sounds, and experimental video created by collaborative improvisation and synergistic Dada epiphanies.

In the lobby, a collection of original photographs and art on display and for sale by David Jewell and Sergio R.Samayoa used in the making of the show. T-shirts, CD’s and DVD’s of IN.CAR.NATION will also be available.

Tickets $10 Tickets at the door or call 512-479-PLAY
Where: Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W 43rd St Austin
Phone: 512.669.3409

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Upcoming: The Little Mermaid, Scottish Rite Children's Theatre, October 3 - November 22

Click for ALT review, November 13

Found on-line:

The Little Mermaid

October 3-November 22

Saturdays: 10:00AM
Sundays at 2:00PM
Wednesdays: October 14, October 21 and November 11 at 10:30AM
Thursdays: October 15, and November 12 at 10:30AM

A little mermaid in the sea, Ariel is enchanted with the human world, and disobeys her royal father to swim to the surface for a peek above the waves. When she sees Prince Eric wreck his ship and fall overboard, Ariel rescues him and falls in love! Ursula, the tricky sea witch, promises Ariel she can become a human and stay with the Prince if she will trade her lovely voice for the opportunity. Narrated by Ariel’s friend the Crab, this interactive new musical encourages the audience to sing along and save the day! Great for ages 3-9.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Collection by Harold Pinter, Hyde Park Theatre, September 17 - October 3

First of all, you are NOT going to get to see Joey Hood frolicking naked in a bathtub. That's just the way it goes. The Collection is not that kind of play. I guess that photo was just to good to pass up.

Ken Webster's a Harold Pinter man. During Hyde Park Theatre's FronteraFest of short stage pieces back in January, the usual program of five thirty-minute pieces came up short when a couple of performers cancelled at the last minute. WKen hustled and got performers from a Long Fringe piece to provide an excerpt from their piece. For the remaining slot, he appeared himself, reading Pinter's stern Nobel Prize acceptance speech. One didn't have to agree with Pinter's adamantly leftist, anti-government sentiments to appreciate the eloquence of the text or the restrained ferocity with which Webster delivered it.

So it's no surprise that to see Pinter's The Collection mounted by Ken and his collaborators. "Fellow travelers" would be an appropriate term if it didn't have a McCarthyesque tinge. After all, Webster and the Hyde Park Theatre just celebrated his 30th anniversary of theatre work in Austin.That's a long trip and one hopes that it will go on and on.

Read more at . . . .

Reviews from Elsewhere: Remembering San Antonio's Sterling Houston, by Thomas Jenkins, San Antonio Current, September 16

San Antonio theatre writer Thomas Jenkins remembers the playwright and producer Sterling Houston, a voice of the town's African-American, Latino and gay communities who died in 2006. Jenkins assesses Houston's significance while severely panning the Jump-Start Theatre production of
High Yello Rose, the playwright's all-female musical romp through one of Texas’ foundational myths.

Excerpts from the article of September 19 in the San Antonio Current with emphasis added by ALT:

This month, Jump-Start celebrates the art and leadership of Sterling Houston, who guided the performance company through its formative years before his untimely death in 2006. By everybody’s definition, Houston was a quintessentially “San Antonio playwright,” a designation that now seems a double-edged sword. By concentrating so narrowly — indeed, almost exclusively — on his hometown, Houston obviously gave voice to communities — African-American, Latino, and gay — that had been traditionally elided from most historical narratives of South Texas. But Houston also assumed an audience steeped in (and fascinated by) San Antonio lore: a tall order for even Austinites, and tougher still for audiences further afield.

So it’s doubtful that Houston’s literary corpus — now partly anthologized in a new collection edited by Sandra Mayo and published by San Antonio’s Wings Press — will ever gain much traction outside of San Antonio, and ultimately this will hobble Houston’s artistic legacy [. . . ].

Houston’s commissioned pieces — which are largely historical in focus — are among the weakest in the collection [. . . ] Fortunately, Houston is on firmer ground when unfettered from the constraints of commission. Cameoland, his strongest play, mixes music and jaunty prose in a sweeping, time-traveling exploration of the city’s largely African-American district of St. Paul’s Square. Driving Wheel, a short autobiographical one-act, takes a spin through Houston’s tortured coming-out process, while the antithetically named Black Lily and White Lily explores a war of the Lilies in segregated SATX. (This short play is compelling until Houston paints himself into a corner; the dénouement is preposterous. In sum, a checkered Lily.)

Biography of Sterling Houston published by Jump-Start Theatre in 2006

High Yello Rose and Other Texas Plays by Sterling Houston, edited by Sandra Mayo (San Antonio: Wings Press, 2009)

Click to read more at the San Antonio Current. . . .

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Three Days of Rain, Penfold Theatre Company at the Hideout Theatre, September 17 - October 3

This play by Penfold Theatre is a gem. Coming after their play The Last Five Years in January of this year, it confirms that the Penfold company has a vision and a talent for choosing and staging pieces that fit it.

Richard Greenberg's Three Days of Rain might just as well have been titled Two Generations or Hopes and Enigmas, because those three days are mentioned only in a scribbled note in a diary. They become emblematic after the death of the man who wrote them, a famous and successful New York architect, when his children realize that those were the same three days of a family catastrophe from which they have never recovered.

Through the grace of theatre we discover this story in displaced time -- somewhat as was the case in The Last Five Years. Here, the voyage is in only two steps. The first act occurs in a disused apartment in 1995. Walker and Nan, a brother and sister in their early 30s, meet there before the reading of their father's will. They encounter their childhood friend Pip, the son of their father's partner. The second act gives us their parents at the same age -- two aspiring male architects Ned and Theo, and Lila, the woman who became the mother of Walker and Nan.

Greenberg's text is rich in image and imagination. He creates a small world of gifted but vulnerable and uncertain characters in both generations. The younger ones are backward looking, seeking explanations; the older generation, in act two, strives with anxiety and apprehension toward the future. Greenberg gives us the elements of a solution, but in such a way as to remind us that there is really no single simple story or solution for the thirty-five years of events separating these scenes. Causes are inchoate; personal history arises amidst unexpected events; we are left to formulate our own explanations and myths.

Read more at . . . .

Arts News: ACOT becomes GACA, so Get Your Art On in October

This just in, as the newscasters used to say, waving a teletype:

On September 24 Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell will proclaim October the month to Get Your Art On, and the Austin Circle of Theatres will announce the replacement of its 35-year-old organizational title with a new one: The Greater Austin Creative Alliance.

Here's the digital tear-sheet from ACOT:

WHO: Mayor Lee Leffingwell and The Greater Austin Creative Alliance (formerly Austin Circle of Theaters), in partnership with the City of Austin Cultural Arts Division and CreateAustin, with sponsor Capital One Bank

WHAT: Mayoral Proclamation that October is time to “Get Your Art On,” Austin’s month-long celebration of art, culture and creativity in honor of National Arts and Humanities Month. Immediately following the Mayoral Proclamation, Austin Circle of Theaters will hold a press conference to announce their re-branding as The Greater Austin Creative Alliance.

Read more at . . . .

Upcoming: There's A Boy in the Girls' Bathroom, University of Texas, October 2 - 11

UPDATE: Feature published by AustinOnStage, September 29

Found on-line:

There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom

Written by Louis Sachar
Directed by Brian C. Fahey

Performances: October 2 (with reception), 3, 7, 8, 9 at 8 p.m.
October 3, 4, 11 at 2 p.m.
Oscar G. Brockett Theatre, University of Texas

Tickets: $20 adults, $17 UT faculty & staff, $15 students available online at or by phone at 477-6060.

Adapted by Louis Sachar (Holes, Sideways Stories from Wayside School) from his Texas Bluebonnet Award winning children's novel, There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom perfectly captures the frequent adolescent re-definitions of friends and enemies. Told in a series of hilarious and poignant interactions, Sachar's play brings the beloved characters from his wildly popular tale to the stage.

Read more at . . . .

Monday, September 21, 2009

bobrauschenbergamerica, Mary Moody Northern Theatre at St Edward's University, September 17 - 27

Don't go looking for Robert Rauschenberg the 20th century modern artist in this grab bag. This is homage purely by reference.

Playwright/facilitator Charles Mee is frank in his admission that the piece is a collage of ideas and random bits that had as their starting points some of the images that appear in Rauschenberg's work.

Mee and others free associated about those images. They collected texts and images and other random bits to share in theatre workshops. Mee says that he told his collaborators, "Anyone can steal anything I brought in to make whatever piece they might want to make, and I could steal whatever they brought in."

He sifted through the material, workshopped it again, threw half of the results away and worked the rest up with the SITI Theatre in New York in 2001. We Austinites can think of that ensemble theatre company as the Rude Mechs of New York City.

Read more at . . . .