Othello – Alberta Ballet

On Friday evening I had the privilege to see Alberta Ballet’s production of Othello. Now, I will state up front that while I really enjoy watching ballet, I have absolutely no technical knowledge. This post is less a review and more a discussion of how the play translates to the wordless medium of dance. And also a chance to talk about how gorgeous the whole production was.

As in the play, the ballet really pivots on Iago and the dancer in the role did not disappoint. I was a little concerned as Iago’s primary tool in his quest to bring down Othello is his words and I wasn’t sure how that would come across in dance. But the ballet did it brilliantly, giving Iago such sinuous movements, a costume that dripped villainy without being over the top, and the stage presence of Iago himself was truly brilliant. His opening solo was fascinating to watch and whether he was dancing or malevolently lurking at the edges of the stage his performance was riveting.

Iago

With my focus predominantly on Iago, I’ll simply say that Desdemona, Othello, and Emilia were all as they should be with lovely performances. In terms of performance, the highlights for me were, as mentioned above, anything that involved Iago and the great swordfight between Cassio and Roderigo. Ballet and swordfighting is always a good time.

Othello and Desdemona

Now on to the pretty. The costumes for production were amazing, with my particular favourites being Emilia’s great dress which reflects her marriage to Iago and yet also implies her innocence in all his plotting and Desdemona’s night gown (and that gorgeous robe). The stage design was beautiful, clearly evoking northern Africa. But the real show-stopper was the bedroom set for the final scenes. With a rich red curtain as the dominant backdrop that pooled on the floor beneath that fateful bed and beautiful lanterns hanging in the foreground, there couldn’t be a more fitting design for a death scene.

Iago on the bedroom set.

Impressively reflecting the narrative of the original text, Alberta Ballet’s production of Othello was a thoroughly enjoyable evening (even with the tragic ending).

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Romeo and Juliet

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The Play’s the Thing: Amidst the feuding Montagues and Capulets in Verona, Romeo (a Montague) and Juliet (a Capulet) meet at a party and fall in love. They chat for a bit at night and then get engaged and secretly married the next day. Following the marriage, Romeo kills Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt, after Tybalt kills Romeo’s friend, Mercutio, which leads to the Prince banishing Romeo from Verona, who only gets to spend one night with Juliet. Just after Romeo leaves, Juliet’s parents inform her she’s going to marry Paris in three days which leads to her hatching a plot with Friar Laurence to fake her death to get out of the marriage and allow her to run off with Romeo. Romeo doesn’t get the memo about the fake death, buys poison, and drinks it over Juliet’s “corpse”. Juliet wakes up and stabs herself when she sees Romeo is dead. The Montagues and Capulets end their feud as a result of losing both their children.

Heroes and Villains: While the main focus is on Romeo and Juliet, my favourite character in this play has always been Mercutio, who’s a bit lewd but is a great friend to Romeo right up until he dies.

Pick-up Lines with Style: “the all-seeing sun/ Ne’er saw her match since first the world begun.” (I.ii)

Wordsmith:

  • “burn daylight” (I.iv)
  • “that which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet” (II.ii)
  • “parting is such sweet sorrow” (II.ii)
  • “A plague o’ both your houses” (III.i)

Speech to Know: When it comes to Romeo and Juliet, the choice of speech is pretty obvious. Romeo’s first speech from the balcony scene.

“But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun! –
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid art far more fair than she:
Be not her maid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green,
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off. –
It is my lady; O, it is my love!
O, that she knew she were! –
She speaks, yet she says nothing: what of that?
Her eye discourses, I will answer it. –
I am too bold, ’tis not to me she speaks:
Two of the fairest stars in all heaven,
Having some business, do entreat her eyes
To twinkle in their spheres till they return.
What if her eyes were there, they in her head?
The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars,
As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing, and think it were not night. –
See how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
O, that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!”  (II.ii)

View from the Pit: I’m an unabashed lover of Romeo and Juliet. Their relationship is brief and (I’ll admit freely) highly unrealistic, but the dialogue is so beautiful and romantic and the plot puts all emotions at such a fevered pitch that it’s just irresistibly enjoyable. The conflict between the Montagues and Capulets serves as a brilliant counterpoint to Romeo and Juliet’s relationship and the tragedy is heightened by its inevitability as the entire plot is outlined in the prologue. The play is so familiar to me (from multiple readings and viewings – theatre and film) that the play is one of the few where I anticipate and relish in the dialogue. Whether I enjoy it because the plot and dialogue is so embedded in the social consciousness or just for its own merits, the results are the same: I ❤ me some Romeo and Juliet.

King Lear

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The Play’s the Thing: King Lear is getting old and allocating his kingdom to his three daughters (Goneril, Regan,  and Cordelia) based on how much they say they love him with Cordelia ending up cut off because she won’t lie like her older sisters who really pour it on thick. Goneril and Regan almost immediately turn on Lear and treat him horribly causing him to go mad. Goneril and Regan also backbite with each other, both trying to get rid of their current husbands for Edmund (the manipulative bastard son of Gloster; see subplot) and eventually with one sister poisoning the other and then killing herself. Cordelia returns to England, helps her father recover a bit but is murdered by an assassin sent by Goneril and Edmund. Cordelia’s death drives Lear off the deep end and he dies of shock.

Subplot Edmund is the bastard son of Gloster who masterminds a plot to knock Edgar (Gloster’s legitimate son) out of the position of heir by causing Gloster to believe Edgar is going to kill him. Edgar goes into hiding and pretends to be a crazy man and hangs out with Lear’s entourage during Lear’s crazy phase. Gloster is blinded by Regan’s husband. He eventually joins up with Edgar (not knowing who he is) and Edgar prevents him from committing suicide. Gloster eventually joins up with Lear and he and Edgar reconcile, while Edmund is injured in battle (did I mention there’s a war going on in Act V?) and dies just before Lear.

Heroes and Villains: Cordelia really is the only likable and sane human being in this play so she wins the prize this time around.

Insults with Style:

  • “A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking whoreson, glass-gazing, superserviceable, finical wouldst be bawd, in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pander, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: one whom I will beat into clamorous whining, if thou denyest the least syllable of addition.” (II.ii)
  • “thou whoreson zed! Thou unnecessary letter” (II.ii)

Wordsmith:

  • “although the last, not least” (I.i)
  • “take her or leave her” (I.i)
  • “more sinned against, than sinning” (III.ii)
  • “that way madness lies” (III.iv)

Speech to Know: There’s no speeches in King Lear that I found super impressive, but there’s a brief moment of dialogue when Lear appears on stage in Act V carrying Cordelia’s dead body that brilliantly evokes the intensity of his grief.

“Howl, howl, howl, howl! – O, you are men of stones:
Had I your tongues and eyes, I’d use them so
That heaven’s vault should crack. – She’s gone for ever!” (V.iii)

View from the PitKing Lear is fascinating study of madness and family relations. Lear himself goes really far round the bend and big chunks of his dialogue are truly batty. The parallel plots of Goneril and Regan betraying their father for more extensive power while Edmund does the same to Gloster provides for some truly heinous actions from some repulsive human beings. Admittedly, I have issues keeping Edmund and Edgar straight (dear Shakespeare, couldn’t you make their names a little more distinctive?) but Edgar is intriguing as one of the more heroic characters as he doesn’t just reveal himself to his father or Lear right away but maintains his disguise of madmen for much of the play after his banishment. And of course Cordelia is just the lovely human being who loves her father the right amount, is punished for not lying and saying she loves him more, still gets to marry a French royal, but ends up dead after doing her daughterly duty. Really, King Lear is all about the daughters and Cordelia is the best of them in the intriguing but horrifying mess that her sisters create.

Film Review – Timon of Athens (1981)

So what feels like ages ago I sat through yet another production from The Complete Dramatic Works of Shakespeare series. As set out earlier, when it comes to these adaptations I’ve now gotten to the point where I’ll pick just one act to watch. In the case of Timon of Athens (follow the link to refresh your memory on the plot) I went for Act IV. However, as I’m writing this review probably 3 months after I watched the single act it probably won’t be the most detailed.

The first thing worth noting is that Jonathan Pryce is playing Timon! Now while my first filmic encounter with Jonathan Pryce was probably in Tomorrow Never Dies he will always be Governor Swann to me. And boy is Governor Swann having a rough time of it in Act IV. He’s got strange body make up that makes his skin look like it’s peeling and burnt and he’s wearing nothing but a loincloth although everyone else he encounters are in full Elizabethan dress. Apparently the only things I felt were worth noting when I watched Act IV was that the gold is simply gold coins which are just hanging out in the ground (as gold coins are wont to do) and that I quite liked the dresses on the harlots. Jonathan Pryce carries the bulk of the acting and is lovely but it’s definitely not a film to write home about (although I did manage this post).

Jonathan Pryce, Timon of Athens

Poor Governor Swann in a loincloth.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre

Prior to the post proper (I do love me some alliteration), an apology fair reader. There has been far too long a gap in posts (slightly over two months!) and I have little excuse. But I do promise a true blitz in posts over the weeks that are left in this year. Now with that over…

The Play’s the Thing: Pericles has come to pursue the dangerous business of courting Antiochus’ daughter which requires solving a riddle (otherwise he’s executed), but while Pericles figures out the riddle he doesn’t give his response as it will reveal that Antiochus is having an incestuous affair with said daughter and instead goes into hiding. Pericles is shipwrecked in his flight and ends up meeting Thaisa whom he marries. Pericles then receives word he needs to return to Tyre and sails with his pregnant wife but there is a storm, Thaisa “dies” while giving birth to Marina, their daughter, whom Pericles leaves with Cleon as he continues on to Tyre, and Thaisa is rescued from her coffin and joins a convent.  Cleon’s wife is jealous of Marina’s beauty which outshines her daughter’s and sells her to a brothel (telling Pericles she’s dead) where Marina repeatedly manages to avoid doing the deed. Pericles, Thaisa, and Marina eventually reunite despite some truly ridiculous odds.

Heroes and Villains: There’s no real standout characters in this play due to its episodic nature, but I guess the prize goes to Marina for the strangest means of keeping her virginity.

Speech to Know: Pericles gives a highly romantic speech at the beginning of the play when he courts Antiochus’ daughter. Prior to finding out about the incest, of course.

“See where she comes, apparell’d like the spring,
Graces her subjects, and her thoughts the king
Of every virtue gives renown to men!
Her face the book of praises, where is read
Nothing but curious pleasures, as from thence
Sorrow were raz’d, and testy wrath
Could never be her mild companion,
Ye gods, that made me man, and sway in love,
That have inflam’d desire in my breast
To taste the fruit of yon celestial tree,
Or dies in the adventure, be my helps,
As I am son and servant to your will,
To compass such a boundless happiness!” (I.i)

View from the PitPericles, Prince of Tyre is highly episodic and a little reminiscent of Henry V (although not nearly as cool). Reading the play for the first time I was in honest suspense as to whether it would have a tragic or comic ending and have to admit that after reading many, many, many tragic endings, it was nice to have everything turn out right in the end. But due to the episodic nature of the play, the action feels extremely over the top. Each plot development feels even more insane than the last until we get to Marina in the brothel who avoids losing her virtue by shaming her potential clients for wanting to take away her virtue. Not super realistic that (I would guess). The play definitely has a heavy dose of Greek drama around it with each act opening with the equivalent of a chorus delineating the action but it never reaches the empathetic emotional heights that Shakespeare is capable of.

Titus Andronicus

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The Play’s the Thing: Titus Andronicus is a war hero coming back to Rome (with captives in tow) who is initially renowned by the about to be emperor Saturninus but the tide turns when Bassianus takes Titus’ daughter, Lavinia, against her will and marries her, leaving Saturninus to marry Tamora, former queen of the Goths, who has a serious grudge against Titus for killing her firstborn son. Tamora’s two sons make a plot her lover Aaron, a Moor, to set up the murder of Bassianus so they can rape Lavinia (and afterwards cut out her tongue and cut off her hands) while everyone’s out hunting, and then the brothers pin the murder on two of Titus’ sons. Titus’ sons are executed even though Titus cuts off one of his own hands to try and save them, another of his sons is banished and heads off to ally himself with the Goths, and Titus learns what’s happened to his daughter and plots revenge. Lavinia manages to communicate who her rapists were to her father and uncle, who continue to further their revenge plot while we also learn that Tamora gave birth to a black baby which could be seriously bad news if her husband finds out. Titus kills Lavinia’s rapists, feeds their heads to their mother, reveals her infidelity to Saturninus, kills Lavinia and Tamora, and is killed by Saturninus who in turn is killed by Titus’ son, Lucius, who is named the new emperor who will save Rome from the Goths and all this tragedy.

Heroes and Villains: The prize this time around goes to Marcus Andronicus, Titus’ brother, who is just such a sympathetic character and treats everyone in his family with such respect and dignity.

Speech to Know: Titus’ speech in Act III when his sons are taken away to be executed is so beautiful and sad.

“Why ’tis no matter, man: if they did hear
They would not mark me; or if they did mark
They would not pity me; yet plead I must,
And bootless unto them.
Therefore I tell my sorrows to the stones;
Why, though they cannot answer my distress,
Yet in some sort they are better than the tribunes,
For that they will not intercept my tale:
When I do weep they humbly at my feet
Receive my tears, and seem to weep with me;
And were they but attired in grave weeds
Rome could afford no tribune like to these.
A stone is soft as wax, tribunes more hard than stones;
A stone is silent, and offendeth not, –
And tribunese with their tongues doom men to death.” (III.i)

View from the Pit: I have been avoiding Titus Andronicus for years, having been familiar with the basic plot elements, I didn’t feel compelled to spend time immersed in such a dark work. And there’s no denying the plot is bleak with the utter hell Lavinia is put through and the slow descent of Titus Andronicus and all of the obligatory deaths that a tragedy requires. But the play is also riveting in its tragedy like a train wreck in slow motion. The beautiful dialogue also goes a long way to making this play worth encountering despite the dark subject matter. While the characters mostly exist for things to happen to, Titus and his brother, Marcus are truly dynamic men whom it is sad to watch suffer as their family is slowly picked off. Also of note is Aaron the Moor who is a pure villain. While he’s not as nuanced as that delightful creation, Iago, he is an interesting character to study as he takes such glee in the vile acts perpetrated on the Andronici that leaves the reader so horrified.

Cymbeline

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The Play’s the Thing: In ancient Britain, Imogen, daughter of Cymbeline, the king, is in trouble because she married Posthumus Leonatus rather than her idiot step-brother, Cloten, like her evil step-mother (who is trying to kill Imogen) wanted so Posthumus is banished to Italy where he makes a bet with an Italian named Iachimo that Iachimo won’t be able to seduce Imogen in his absence. Iachimo smuggles himself into Imogen’s bedchamber, steals her bracelet while she’s sleeping, and gets enough details to convince Posthumus that he slept with his wife, which drives Posthumus ’round the bend a bit. Imogen gets a letter from Posthumus and head’s off to Wales (much to the consternation of everyone at home) only to discover it was a plot to have her servant murder her but the servant refuses and tells her to disguise herself as a man until they can straighten everything out, leaving her in Wales to meet her (unkown to her) long lost brothers and Cloten heading off with an evil plan to rape Imogen. Cloten gets his head chopped off by one of the (still unknown) brothers, Imogen looks a little dead for a while (thanks to evil step-mother poison) and then joins up with one of the Roman military leaders as they head off to attack Britain while the brothers head off to defend Britain with their kidnapper in tow. Posthumus hearing false news of Imogen’s death regrets his assassination of her, the Brits and Romans fight and eventually make up, the evil step-mother dies, Cymbeline forgives Imogen, she and Posthumus are reunited, and the long lost brothers are restored to their roles as princes and everyone lives happily ever after (thanks to a literal deus ex machina).

Heroes and Villains: Imogen is definitely my favourite, partially because I like her name, and partially because she’s just a really great heroine.

Wordsmith: “bo-peeping” (I.vi)

Speech to Know: Posthumus gives a really great penitent speech while in prison when he still thinks Imogen is dead.

“Most welcome, bondage! for thou art a way,
I think, to liberty: yet am I better
Than one that’s sick o’ the gout; since he had rather
Groan so in perpetuity than be cur’d
By the sure physician death, who is the key
To unbar these locks. My conscience, thou art fetter’d
More than my shanks and wrists: you good gods, give me
The penitent instrument to pick that bolt,
Then free for ever! Is’t enough I am sorry?
So children temporal fathers do appease;
Gods are more full of mercy. Must I repent?
I cannot do it better than in gyves,
Desir’d more than constrain’d: to satisfy,
If of my freedom ’tis the main part, take
No stricter render of me than my all.
I know you are more clement than vile men,
Who of their broken debtors take a third,
A sixth, a tenth, letting them thrive again
On their abatement: that’s not my desire:
For Imogen’s dear life take mine; and though
‘Tis not so dear, yet ’tis a life; you coin’d it:
‘Tween man and man they weight not every stamp;
Though light, take pieces for the figure’s sake:
You rather mine, being yours: and so, great powers,
If you will take this audit, take this life,
And cancel these cold bonds.” (V.iv)

View from the Pit: I had absolutely no familiarity with Cymbeline when I began reading it and was thrilled to discover in the midst of all the tragic endings of the ancient histories I’d read thus far, a play with a happy ending. The play itself is an interesting mix of fairy tale with the evil step-mother and step-brother, Greek drama with an actual appearance from Jupiter himself (a literal deus ex machina), and some Shakespearean standard elements with a cross-dressing woman, hidden princes, drugs that fake death, and a king who doesn’t realize what he had until he’s lost it. The play also has intriguing dash of British nationalism thrown into act III, which is particularly fascinating as the play ends with Britain bowing to the will of the Roman empire and Caesar (Augustus in this case). Not the most polished of the plays but a nice change in the midst of all the tragedies.