By Timothy Gillis
Acorn Productions Naked Shakespeare ended its five-year run at the Wine Bar this week with a grand finale of scenes and soliloquies from the Bard. Michael Levine, producing director, said “There are 154 sonnets. Which one will we start with tonight?”
Paul Haley, as Don Armado from Love’s Labor’s Lost, grabbed the audience by its funny bone and led it forward into the evening. Haley was hilarious as the bawdy, “fantastical Spanish swordsman who tries and fails to woo a country wench, Jaquenetta.”
Randall Tuttle, as Edmund from King Lear, was asked before he began, “Have you always been a bastard? Were you born that way?”
Michael Howard as Dromio, from The Comedy of Errors, delivered lines in his trademark tirade: a high-pitched talking scream, lamenting a woman named Nell who possessed him. “She’s as big as a globe,” Howard intoned, offering Shakespeare a chance for his noted sexual puns. “I could find out countries in her. Ireland in her buttocks, Scotland in her barrenness,” he said, expressive in ways one would want good words to capture, especially as the actor forbids photography as a means to control images of him. “I will not look on low,” Howard said.
Yale Repertory Theater cast Paul Giamatti as Hamlet for the 2012-2013 season. “Short, fat, balding – he is the grumpiest Hamlet of all time,” said Corey Gagne, who then gave us the Hamlet he expects Giamatti to convey, a “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy more fit for a Woody Allen hypochondriac than a youth who was said by ex-girlfriend Ophelia to be the “glass of fashion and the mould of form”.
Eric Worthley was Richard II, Michael Toth was Richard III. Tucked in between the Kings was MacBeth and his Lady, played by Keith Anctil, director of children’s programming, and Laura Graham, respectively.
Joe Quinn played a more business-like Hamlet, in a suit and tie but still armed with the bare bodkin with which he contemplates taking his own life. Quinn changes “fardels” to the synonymous “burdens” because of the former’s scatological sounds.
In the next scene, from As You Like It, Levine plays Touchstone, a city-smart court jester who teases Corin, the country bumpkin shepherd played by Christopher Reiling.
Before Harlan Baker can read the Prologue from Henry V, someone from the audience calls out “How come we haven’t seen you in any plays lately, Harlan? Has all your creativity run dry?” An outsider might mistake the plant for a heckler, but everyone in the audience was a regular. Each had seen these scenes before.
Seth Berner read lines from John of Gaunt from Richard II. Before he began, someone called out to him, “Hey, John! What do you think of England’s chances in the14th century?” John of Gaunt was the influential uncle of Richard II, who ascended to the throne when he was ten.
The hit of the evening was Michael Howard as Bottom from Midsummer Night’s Dream. The meddlesome sprite Puck has placed the ears of an ass on Bottom’s head, and Titania, queen of the fairies played by Patricia Mew, has been drugged into falling for the first creature she sees. If Levine is the brains behind Acorn Productions, Howard is the heart. His presence is not just attributable to his physical size. His facial expressions, comic characterizations, and slurry tones make him well-suited to play Shakespeare’s fringe folk.
Howard finishes his hat-trick of comedic scenes as Falstaff, from Henry IV, part one. Falstaff is a companion to the young Prince Hal, who becomes Henry V, but he leads the young prince astray. In this scene, Falstaff is extolling the many virtues of sherry.
The company also sang the praises of the Wine Bar, their stage for the past five years. The troupe was asked with they were wrapping up the run here.
“When we first embarked on creating a performance format that would allow actors to perform their favorite selections of text in contemporary settings, we never dreamed that we would still be doing shows five years later,” they said in the playbill. “The reality of the creative process is that change is a necessary component if creative growth is to occur. This is not the end of Naked Shakespeare, just a change in format.”
They are offering a training program, touring productions, and the Acorn Shakespeare Conservatory, “a two-year tuition-based program designed to provide actors with voice and breath work, an understanding of the mechanics and syntax of Shakespeare’s language, the ability to create a strong visceral connection to the images, and performance experience in Naked Shakespeare shows.
The company also plans to produce The Four Hamlets, a touring version of their adaption of the classic play that features a cast of four actors, all of whom play different aspects of the title character. Trysts and Turns: the sonnet in performance is an “exploration of lust and desire” as revealed by Shakespeare’s best-loved poems.
So Naked Shakepeare drew the final curtain on their Wine Bar days, but the company still has several shows waiting in the wings.