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As Emily J. Wood '97, the director of Wednesday's An Evening of Bardolatry, explained to her rapt audience in an introductory speech, April 23rd was a significant day in the life of William Shakespeare: it's both the day on which we think he entered the world in 1564, and the date on which we know he left it in 1616. This year, Wood decided to borrow an idea from a community theater troupe in her home town and stage a commemorative evening of Shakespeare here at Harvard.
The performance, which was free and open to the public, played to about 70 spectators packed into the Winthrop Junior Common Room. As promised, it consisted of "scenes, sonnets and songs" of the Bard, and the integration of the music and poems--too rarely performed--proved an excellent balance to a selection of some of the more famous dramatic scenes.
The songs, drawn from three of Shakespeare's plays, were set to musical arrangements composed by Shakespeare's contemporaries. The audience was thus given a chance to hear them as they might have been originally performed--something rarely done in staging of the plays themselves. Marianne Staniunas '00, Kirk G. Hanson '99 and director Wood (in various combinations) gave skillful performances of the three selections: Desdemona's "Willow Song" from Othello, Feste's "O Mistress Mine" from Twelfth Night ("Youth's a stuff will not endure") and "It Was A Lover And His Lass" (a.k.a. the "hey-nonny-no" song) from As You Like It. Although the visual impact of the singers--who stood in simple black dress before upright microphones--was a little less colorful than that of the rest of the show, the singers' performances more than compensated.
The players also recited three of Shakespeare's sonnets, but the well-chosen visual and dramatic elements they added made the poetry more than mere recitation. Catherine B. Steindler '98 performed Sonnet 18--"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"--using the simple conceit of a woman standing in front of a mirror. Henry D. Clarke '00 set his performance of Sonnet 138 ("When my love swears that she is made of truth/I do believe her, though I know she lies") in an intriguing tableau in which the speaker, in deshabille, addressed his sleeping lover. Only Marty R. Thiry '00 (clad in Harvard sweatshirt and jeans) offered a performance closer to simple recitation, with Sonnet 130: "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun."
If the songs and sonnets provided the show with delightful spice, then its meat and bones, of course, consisted in the dramatic scenes, excerpted from the plays. The scenes were well-selected, but most of the scenes which involved more than one actor fell prey to the common Shakespeare performance problem of speeding. This habit was especially pernicious in an excerpt from The Comedy of Errors, in which the two actors portraying Antipholus and Dromio rushed and tumbled through their lines so fast that the bawdy jokes (as well as much of the sense of the scene) left the audience in the dust.
The Hamlet excerpt--one of the many tragicomic scenes from that play--was also marked by this problem: Hamlet's comic interaction with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern was much damaged by high speed and a poor sense of timing on the part of all three actors. But David W. Egan '00, the scene's Hamlet, was satisfyingly antic throughout, and gave a solid performance of the scene's classic long speeches--speeches which include such lines as "What a piece of work is a man" and "O God! I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space!--were it not that I have bad dreams."
In general, the monologue performances seemed to be stronger than the multiple-player scenes. This was most strongly exemplified by Hanson, who gave an excellent performance of Clarence's dream of drowning from Richard III. Clarke was also solidly entertaining as Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing, musing on what follies seize men after they fall in love: "I will not be sworn but love may transform me to an oyster, but...till he have made an oyster of me, he shall never make me...a fool." Jae Y. Kim '96 gave a rousing call to arms in Henry V's "St. Crispian's Day" speech, and Scott A. Rifkin '97--earlier overeager in the Comedy of Errors scene--redeemed himself in a highly comic turn as the servant Launce from The Two Gentlemen of Verona. (Rifkin shared the spotlight very graciously with his silent partner, the dog Crab, played with impressive fidelity by Rusty, the Lowell House dog.)
Some of the multiple-player scenes did succeed in pacing themselves successfully. Such was the case in a scene from The Taming of the Shrew: Steindler, a ferocious Kate, and Hanson, as a positively alarming Petruchio, managed somehow to give the comic scene a deeply sinister overcast. A more complete success was the closing selection, Lady Macbeth's famous sleepwalking episode from Macbeth, in which Staniunas as the somnabulant homicide and Wood as her Gentlewoman gave a deeply disturbing performance. The JCR's lighting was fully exploited to create a frighteningly shadowy scene.
All in all, Bardolatry offered an enjoyable evening of Shakespeare and gave spectators a chance to see some facets of his work that aren't often performed for the public. Wood says that she'd love to see the program become an annual tradition, but, since she'll be graduating this year, she won't be able to make sure that happens.
But Hanson, a sophomore in Kirkland House, says that he'd like to put together a similar performance for the three Quad houses next year--maybe even to expand the show, or to stage it on more than once a year. It looks as if we can expect to see the Bard's birthday lustily celebrated at Harvard in the years to come.
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