Project Shakespeare: month #5 wrap up

I’d like to point out that I’m titling these wrap ups somewhat misleadingly: I’m not going by calendar months, but rather, posting once every 4 performances.  So we haven’t quite been doing this for five months… but we have been doing it for a pretty damn long time.  Previous wrap ups here.

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King John
★★★★☆
my role: Constance

I think King John is a marvelous hidden gem; I’m sure it’s one of the less popular ones for a reason, but I don’t care, I honestly love this play.  Part of that is simply down to what interests me (I love a good succession drama and find the central conflict in this play so much more compelling than the histories which have a bigger focus on battle), and part of it is how insanely brilliant this ensemble of characters is.  Philip the Bastard is great fun, the Arthur/Hubert scenes are filled to the brim with pathos, Elinor/Eleanor has some of the sassiest banter, and my fierce, prideful, savvy girl Constance is – I am not exaggerating – my favorite female character that Shakespeare wrote.  I read this monologue and decided that if I didn’t get to play her I WOULD DIE:

Thou mayst, thou shalt; I will not go with thee:
I will instruct my sorrows to be proud;
For grief is proud and makes his owner stoop.
To me and to the state of my great grief
Let kings assemble; for my grief’s so great
That no supporter but the huge firm earth
Can hold it up: here I and sorrows sit;
Here is my throne, bid kings come bow to it.
[Seats herself on the ground]

But that’s not even the best one!  I MEAN:

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?
Fare you well: had you such a loss as I,
I could give better comfort than you do.
I will not keep this form upon my head,
When there is such disorder in my wit.
O Lord! my boy, my Arthur, my fair son!
My life, my joy, my food, my all the world!
My widow-comfort, and my sorrows’ cure!

If that’s not the most gutting thing you’ve ever read I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO TELL YOU.  (I wrote about the potential influence of Hamnet Shakespeare’s death on this monologue here.)

I think the titular character is probably one of the weaker titular roles in all of Shakespeare’s canon and perhaps that is the reason why this play is so oft-overlooked, but weakness is an intrinsic part of John’s character in a way that I find very effective.  So yes – I really really love King John and playing Constance was a personal highlight for me.

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Evening of Scenes & Othello Book Club

I talked about this in my review of Othello, but since our small group is mostly all-white, we will not be performing the plays with non-white characters.  Instead, we did two things: we had a bookclub discussion of Othello on Sunday, and on Saturday night, we had what we called an ‘Evening of Scenes’.

In the weeks leading up, Abby (our fearless leader) and I probably spent about five hours on Zoom reading and acting out various scenes from various plays.  We then chose a selection of scenes that stood out to us, had everyone in the group request a scene they’d like to do, and divvied them up.  I think we ended up doing fourteen scenes in total, from the following plays: Romeo & Juliet, Midsummer, Twelfth Night, King Lear, Macbeth, Titus Andronicus, Much Ado, Hamlet, and Othello (Iago/Cassio and Iago/Roderigo scenes only), and in between scenes we also had people perform monologues.  We had: Viola’s “I left no ring with her,” Malvolio’s “O, ho! do you come near me now?”, Lady Anne’s “Set down, set down your honourable load,” Macbeth’s “Is this a dagger,” Hal’s “Once more unto the breach,” something of Queen Margaret’s, Macbeth’s “To be thus is nothing,” Miranda’s opening monologue, and of course “To be or not to be.”

The whole thing was a goddamn delight.  I ended up playing: Olivia in Twelfth Night, Titania in Midsummer, Cassio in Othello, and Gertrude in Hamlet, and I did Macbeth’s “is this a dagger” monologue (which I’ve had memorized for about a decade for no particular reason, so I finally got to put that to good use).  I think everyone had an amazing time and we will definitely be doing this again.

As for Othello: you can read my review if you’re interested in my thoughts, but in short: I think it’s an incredibly engaging and dynamic play but the racial optics are a nightmare to untangle, to say the least.

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Richard II
★★★★☆
my role: Aumerle

It was Abby’s birthday this week, and her birthday present to us all was playing Richard and doing a really really really extraordinary job.  We took inspiration from the David Tennant RSC production (which you can watch on Marquee.tv – it’s a paid subscription but there’s a free trial) and erased Sir Pierce Exton entirely – I just read his lines still in character as Aumerle.  While the Richard/Aumerle romance from that production was really shoehorned in there (in a way that I didn’t mind!) I feel like the decision to have Aumerle kill Richard actually works well with the text and is a much more compelling end to the arc of the Richard/Aumerle dynamic, and more narratively satisfying than some rando off the street killing Richard.  Anyway, I like this play; it’s not my favorite, I find the ensemble characters uniformly uninspiring, but Richard is a tremendously compelling character and the language in this play is outstanding (‘for god’s sake let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings’!!!!!)

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Love’s Labor’s Lost
★★★★☆
my roles: Maria and Holofernes

What a bizarre play.  When I inevitably do a ranking of all Shakespeare plays at the end of this, I already know that Love’s Labor’s Lost is the one that’s going to give me the most grief.  I don’t think this is a good play, at all – I think it’s disjointed and a structural mess and the narrative is incredibly flimsy and it feels insane that I’m giving it 4 stars when I gave 3 stars to Twelfth Night and Much Ado… but for a comedy, I actually really, really enjoy this?  I love the characters and the wordplay and the incongruously somber note at the end.

This is also a really great ensemble show; we all had such fun performing this one.  I also created a whole schtick where I performed Maria as Maria from The Sound of Music… even though my character’s name was technically supposed to be pronounced Mariah, but, you know.  Artistic liberties.


What’s your favorite Shakespeare scene?  I need inspo for Evening of Scenes round 2!

12 thoughts on “Project Shakespeare: month #5 wrap up

  1. Well, you’ve sold me on King John, so good work. I somehow don’t remember Constance at all?! But that second monologue seems very familiar somehow. Perhaps the lesson here is that opinions I formed at nineteen after one reading might be fallible and need revisiting. Radical, I know.

    This project is such a damn joy, I don’t think I could get enough friends to do it but I love that you can! A good call about avoiding the non-white-character plays. Hard enough for a full professional cast to parse Othello or Shylock without being mad offensive tbh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • YESSSSS oh my goodness I need you to reread King John post haste! I had SUCH a good time with it and every word out of Constance’s mouth is a goddamn blessing. I had to refrain from pasting like, eight more monologues into this post.

      I am having the BEST time, I’m so glad we’re doing this. I wish you had a big enough nerd-circle to do your own thing! What I’ve learned through casting is that 10-12 people is definitely ideal but honestly it could probably be done with as few as 2 or 3… it would just be substantially more chaotic which is not a bad thing. (Also I always look forward to your comments on these posts!)

      We kind of unanimously decided that Othello was off the table from day one, but then we had A Lot of conversations about Merchant, Titus, and Antony & Cleopatra and just decided the responsible thing would be to not do them – especially as these are starting to feel more like performances than readings, the idea of a white person playing Aaron is just… yeah we’re not doing that.

      Did you listen to the Public Theatre’s Richard II radio show? A (Black) professor they interviewed between acts said she wishes theatres would halt all stagings of Othello, Merchant, and Shrew (I think it was those 3) until we figure out a way to navigate their shocking optics and I honestly have to say I agree…

      Like

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