Show and Tell and Sing
Shakespeare & Co. marks its 40th with one-person shows and music––during August
Photo by Jake Borden
On a stone walkway, a young man in city-dark clothing looks into an empty night, and his thoughts are bitter: What a piece of work is a man—how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty … And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?
Hamlet debates with himself on life and death. In another city, an older man with similar thoughts walks at night in “streets that follow like a tedious argument ... to wonder, ‘Do I dare?’
T.S. Eliot’s Alfred J. Prufrock says he is not Hamlet, but his indecision echoes the Dane’s.
On Saturday, August 12, 2017 Shakespeare & Company brings together the two poets in T.S. Eliot and His Love of Shakespeare. Artistic director Allyn Burrows will perform the one-man show in the words of both poets, with original compositions by violinist Michi Wiancko. Burrows is creating the show with playwright Joan Ackermann as part of a series of one-night performances this month. Shakespeare & Co. actors will celebrate the company’s 40th summer season with “Storytellers and Songwriters”—seven evenings of theater often combined with music. “Many of our veteran actors have one-person shows in their pockets and can roll them out,” Burrows says, and he wants to honor them.
The performances range from screwball to sad and comic to somberly contemporary. In some, the music underscores the text; in others, a performance leads into a concert of folk, jazz, blues, or, for Eliot, contemporary solo strings.
Eliot is known as the poet of empty cities, hollow men, and bitter spring mornings. His verse aches with understated emptiness: This is how the world ends—not with a bang but a whimper.
He is also known for the wry comic poems that became the musical Cats. Like Shakespeare, he can write with humor, beauty, and despair. In his poems, he walks 20th-century city streets with allusions to The Tempest, Othello, and Antony and Cleopatra.
“He said unequivocally that he had as high a respect for Shakespeare as anyone living, no one greater,” Burrows says. “In writing about Hamlet, he must have had a twinkle in the eye—there had to be a sense of irony.”
Eliot wrote a famously controversial critique “Hamlet,” calling it a problem play and claiming Hamlet has no clear motivation. He says creative critics often see themselves in the prince of Denmark—and Eliot himself had his own share of pain and loneliness.
He was a soft and generous man, but also exacting, Burrows says. His wife became mentally ill. His father cut him off when he married. And he lived through two World Wars. He loved Shakespeare’s play of Roman conquest, Coriolanus. He was keen on the regimentation and the austerity, Burrows says, and attracted to order.
Burrows’s performance follows a close look at a modern conflict, and a deeply timely one, says company actor Jonathan Epstein. On Friday, August 11, Epstein will reenact David Hare’s Via Dolorosa, a one-man performance drawing on intense moments during Hare’s trip to Tel Aviv, Gaza, and Jerusalem in 1997. In many ways, the tension in Israel and Palestine has not shifted in these 20 years, Epstein says, only deepened across generations.
Hare talked with politicians on both sides, Palestinian theater people who condemned extremism of any kind, liberal Jews who protested the intransigence of the Israeli right, settlers in the West Bank, an Arab scholar who knew all about the Jewish rituals to re-found the temple with an unblemished heifer.
Epstein finds the range of perspectives powerful. In Hare’s monologue he plays at least 30 characters. “What’s really important to them is threatened,” he says, “and everybody’s asserting a right of ownership to the land.”
The settlers argue over rights to property based on Biblical claims at least 4,000 years old, and the Israeli novelist David Grossmann tells Hare, “Yes, I want Israelis to have access to the Wailing Wall, but I don’t need to own it, nor do I need to own any of these holy places. It’s new, this idea that you have to own things. It’s new and profoundly un-Jewish.”
These people are fighting for their lives and their homes, and Hare reaches back to Shakespeare as he tries to understand their love and fear. On his trip, he spoke with an Arab actor who performed in a Romeo and Juliet where Arab and Israeli actors played the feuding families—and they felt anger and grief from their own lives as they stood on stage.
The series continues with these performances
Friday, August 18, 2017
Nehassaiu deGannes appears in Door of No Return. She looks closely at New England through various perspectives—a woman enslaved in Rhode Island 300 years ago, a young Columbian man today, an Iraqi-American woman after 9-11, an indentured Wampanoag, and the slave dungeons of Cape Coast.
Saturday, August 19, 2017
Tod Randolph weathers deep loss with In Light of Jane by Joan Ackermann, with a concert by folk singer/songwriter Kris Delmhorst.
Sunday, August 20, 2017
Elizabeth Aspenlieder brings the comedy Bad Dates with Berkshire blues vocalist Vicky True.
Friday, August 25, 2017
Tina Packer and Nigel Gore bring Women of Will: Coming Home after an international tour.
Saturday, August 26, 2017
John Hadden performs Travels with a Masked Man with a concert by singer/songwriter Bobby Sweet.