Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Shakespearean Season

Thankfully, it’s easy to find the words to describe Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s “Shakespeare in Love”: Romantic, sprightly, joyous, heartfelt. In short, it’s a delight. ~Matthew J. Palm, Orlando Sentinel

I have to own up: I am a very lax blogger.  My last post was before the holidays, a lapse of more than three months.  Mea culpa, dear reader.  2018 got off to such an intense start I haven't had a chance to put my thoughts down.  On New Year's Day I flew to Orlando Shakespeare Theater to begin work on the repertory season-- "Shakespeare in Love" and "Twelfth Night."  The two plays rehearsed simultaneously, and, having not done a rep season in many years, I found it quite the whirlwind!  But what a joy to spend the winter in sunny Florida, fully immersed in the rich and rollicking world of Elizabethan England.

Fennyman takes stage as "The Apothecary"

"Shakespeare in Love," adapted by Lee Hall from the Oscar-winning film, is perhaps the most produced play in regional theatre this season. Will Shakespeare, longing for love and inspiration, meets Viola DeLesseps, a lady who dreams of being an actor--at a time when women are banned from the stage.  It's a comedy with a huge heart; a love letter to the theatre and to Shakespeare.  I play Hugh Fennyman, a moneylender (and, in my interpretation, a piratical thug with a dueling scar across his face) who secretly adores the theatre!  It's a delicious cameo to perform amidst this talented and multifaceted cast, directed by Richard Garner.  

At the final curtain of "Shakespeare in Love," Will is hard at work creating "Twelfth Night," so it was a rather brilliant stroke by Artistic Director Jim Helsinger to pair the two plays in rep.  But our "Twelfth Night" is a rare and special production.  Performed entirely with Elizabethan stage practices in a replica indoor playhouse of the 17th century, all the roles are played--as they would have been in 1602--by men.  And the language is spoken in original Elizabethan pronunciation.  Ours is the first ever professional American production of Shakespeare performed in this way and I am so proud to be a part of it, playing Feste--one of the great clowns.  He's a true jester of wit and wordplay, and I get to sing several Elizabethan songs, accompanied by a live consort. Our cast was blessed to be directed by the sublime Carolyn Howarth.

As Feste, with company of "Twelfth Night"
Why do Shakespeare in this odd dialect?  I think, because it teaches us so much about the language.  Original Pronunciation (Elizabethan dialect) expert David Crystal (who  phonetically transcribed and audio recorded the entire play for us) teaching us that people of the period spelled things the way they sounded. This helps us, as well as the odd rhymes of words like "love" and "move" which sounded like "luv" and "muv"--O.P. helps us fulfill the clever wordplay Shakespeare intended.  As an actor, I find the dialect brings an earthiness, a vitality and speed which make the words come alive. We were all blessed to have the expertise of dialectician Paul Meier to keep us sounding just right.

Orlando Shakes is calling this the "Time Machine Twelfth Night" because audiences are transported to an indoor playhouse during Elizabeth I's reign, lit by hundreds of candles, accompanied by live music played on period instruments, and inhabited by an all male cast in sumptuous period costumes.  Yet never does it feel like a museum piece.  On the contrary, the play comes to rollicking life and the audience is swept into it with us.  For a Shakespeare geek like me, this rep season is a dream job-- stepping back into the Elizabethan era with one of Shakespeare's great comedies, as well as a vibrant fantasy play about the great man himself.  Oh, and did I mention that it's in the 80s and sunny here in Orlando?  That doesn't bother me one bit, either.