The Name Your Mother and Father Gave You

In 2003, at the end of the Second Liberian Civil War, three women wearing American hand-me-downs live in a shanty as the wives of a commanding officer for the rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy.  For most of Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed, they are referred to by their titles rather than their given names: Number One (Saycon Sengbloh) is the oldest, around twenty-five, and serves as a matriarch to the family.  Number Two (Akosua Busia), who guesses she is nineteen, is pregnant with the commanding officer’s baby and hopes it doesn’t have “a face like dat ugly fada of it.”  The third, called only The Girl (Lupita Nyong’o), hides with the two wives before being discovered and becoming a wife herself. Continue reading “The Name Your Mother and Father Gave You”

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A Smooth and All-Able Pen

Many of the pleasures of seeing a complete Henriad are expected.  We witness the full transformation of the bawdy Prince Hal (Alex Hassell), in whom his father once saw “riot and dishonour stain the brow,” into King Henry V, capable of such rousing rhetoric as the St. Crispian’s Day Speech.  We watch old Jack Falstaff, the endlessly charismatic Lord of Misrule, begin as father figure to the future monarch and end as an anachronism, dying offstage in what Marjorie Garber calls one of Shakespeare’s “unscenes.”  There are minor moments, too, that are underlined by context.  The death of of Bardolph (Joshua Richards), thief and member of Falstaff’s entourage, has little effect in a stand-alone Henry V; preceded by Henry IV, it accentuates Henry’s own embrace of law and order and his melancholy parting with such creaturely pleasures as a “small beer.” Continue reading “A Smooth and All-Able Pen”

He Seems to Have an Invisible Touch

Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho is a nasty, tedious novel—forty pages of decent social commentary prolonged for almost four hundred.  Mary Harron’s 2000 film vastly improves on its source material, skillfully balancing comic violence with Wall Street satire, with an over-the-top performance from Christian Bale and a rocking ‘eighties soundtrack adding a vibrancy that was missing from Ellis’ extended prose descriptions of brand-name products and canine torture. Continue reading “He Seems to Have an Invisible Touch”

Presume Not That I Am the Thing I Was

Rumour (Antony Byrne), a force responsible for “Stuffing the ears of men with false reports,” enters to address the audience.  He means to “noise abroad that Harry Monmouth fell / Under the wrath of noble Hotspur’s sword.”  Typically “painted full of tongues,” this Rumour bears a t-shirt with Rolling Stones logo, a clever if somewhat irrelevant touch.  Henry IV, Part 2 is a sequel, and this prologue is meant to catch us up on the action.  But it is a little misleading; though Hotspur’s father, Northumberland (Sean Chapman), will be briefly deceived about the fate of his son, he soon learns the truth.  Unlike Part 1, this is not a play about youth and battles but about politics, death, and princely ascension. Continue reading “Presume Not That I Am the Thing I Was”

Enter, for Here Too There Are Gods!

A picture of a decrepit, present-day Jerusalem neighborhood is projected behind the actors, who sit in a row of chairs when they are not onstage.  They begin out of costume and inform the audience they are about to tell a story; during intermission, two perform the Muslim evening prayer.  The impetus, I assume, behind this revival of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s 1779 play, Nathan the Wise, is that it remains relevant to us today.  After all, its plea for peaceful religious plurality—and its setting in the Middle East—certainly speaks to its parallels with our time. Continue reading “Enter, for Here Too There Are Gods!”

I’ll Play My Father

Henry IV (an appropriately weary Jasper Britton), who had planned to alleviate his guilt over the death of Richard II with a voyage to Jerusalem (“I’ll make a voyage to the Holy Land, / To wash this blood off from my guilty hand”), soon finds his kingdom internally divided: unrest in Scotland and Wales, rebellion from his former ally Hotspur (Sean Chapman), and the carousing of his son, Hal (Alex Hassell), with the thieves and prostitutes of Eastcheap. Continue reading “I’ll Play My Father”

The Landlord of England

A coffin rests center stage.  In Shakespeare’s text, Richard II begins with the eponymous king (David Tennant) sitting upon his throne and arbitrating a dispute between Henry Bolingbroke (Jasper Britton) and Thomas Mowbray (Christopher Middleton), the former accusing the latter of participating in the successful assassination of the Duke of Gloucester, the king’s uncle.  However, in the RSC production currently running at the BAM Harvey Theater, the second scene has been swapped with the first: that is, with the Duchess of Gloucester (Jane Lapotaire) mourning her dead husband and urging her brother-in-law and Bolingbroke’s father, John of Gaunt (Julian Glover), to take revenge.

Continue reading “The Landlord of England”