Monday, June 11, 2018

Weekly Margin 2018, W23: El Barrio Shakespeare Festival: Lear, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

The Shakespeare Forum, which I've written about several times, achieved this year a long-held dream of its Artistic Director and Co-Founder, Tyler Moss: the El Barrio Shakespeare Festival running from May 31st to June 16th. The festival is framed around Forum's production of Lear, but also includes student presentations, special classes and workshops, and more. It's ambitious and impressive, and represents the many facets of what Forum does and wants to do.

My participation in this festival was sadly (but joyfully) limited to two events: Seeing Lear and performing in an encore presentation of our all-female staged reading of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (with some of the players shuffled around).

6/07/18: Lear
What: King Lear, aging and (unbeknownst) slipping into dementia, divides his kingdom among his daughters, seeking a sort of royal retirement. Sabotage, subterfuge, and disguises, along with the ever-quickening disintegration of Lear's mind, lead to wrack and ruin for nearly everyone touched by Lear. Under Sybille Bruun-Moss's direction, the role of Lear is shared across the entire cast.
And? I've always been a big fan of form and content conversing in a meaningful way, and this is especially true when a production has a "gimmick" of some sort (think: Deaf West's Spring Awakening, where the inability of the adults to communicate clearly with the children is mirrored against the Deaf and the hearing communities' similar difficulties). The splintering of the role of Lear among all the players here is not only a reinforcement of one of the tenets of Forum (you're not barred from playing any role in the canon, and the most important thing you can bring to that role is your own unique self), but a visceral exploration of what it means to have dementia - how changeable and unpredictable your personality can be. So we can have Denny Desmarais's heartbreakingly lost Lear asking audience members if he is Lear, Antonio Disla's furiously hurt Lear, railing at his daughters for knocking his legs out from under him, Melody Lam's joyfully childlike Lear attentively listening to the ramblings of Poor Tom, and Adam Goodman and Alenka Kraigher's despondent and bitterly laughing Lears when finally reunited with the banished Cordelia. All these disparate parts culminate in a gutting coup de theatre that is simultaneously shocking and inevitable.

I will say that sometimes this device, which is indicated in the program, but not made immediately explicit in the production, does result in some lack of clarity, particularly in the first half of the play (some of the cutting down to a two-hour run time also contributes to confusion). However, I still found myself profoundly moved by this production and this cast, staged with casual grace by Bruun-Moss (and assistant director Gwenevere Sisco). And I haven't even mentioned Tyler Moss's witty and unforgiving Fool, Frankie DiCiaccio's delicate Cordelia, or Harry Waller's insecure Regan yet. But there's not a weak link in this cast, and it's yet another particularly Forum production which I am grateful to have witnessed.

6/10/18: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead
What: Tom Stoppard's debut play, about two minor characters from Hamlet trying desperately to make sense of the scraps of plot they're given, while flipping coins which always seem to come up heads. We presented a staged reading of this about two years ago, and were asked by Forum to bring it back for an encore presentation in their Festival, with a few shuffled players in the parts.
And? This is one of my favorite plays, and Guildenstern is one of my favorite parts I've gotten to play. This second go around was an interesting variation on the first, with some added stressors and anxieties, but came with an amazing group of women that I am so lucky to have worked with. On a personal level, I particularly appreciated how, with Erin Keskeny's Rosencrantz as opposed to Kelly Zekas's, I couldn't let myself fall into the patterns of the first time; as Rosencrantz has changed, so too must Guildenstern. The performance, like last time, was once again thrilling and joyous, and I was so moved to be surrounded by such a supportive audience. I have so much admiration for the five women I performed with, and it was an honor to share the space with them, to see them be amazing.

Erin Keskeny and Zelda Knapp as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Photo by Zelda Knapp.

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