Sunday, May 25, 2014

Treasure Island by Ken Ludwig from the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson

L - R Elena Browne, Sanna Legan, Isaish Strum

By Joe Straw

During the night a little girl in the audience in a pitch perfect and very clear voice said: “I really hate it when they swear on stage, Momma.” The actor on stage, caught off guard for a moment, lifted his head, smiled and went on about his performance.

Of course there was not what you would call “swearing” in this version of Treasure Island just the normal pirate speak, arr! - Narrator

Here’s where it all begins, the seriousness of it all, acting in junior high, and high school. This particular venue was the New Roads School in the Capshaw-Spielberg Center for Arts & Educational Justice building and inside the beautiful Ann and Jerry Moss Theatre.  

Treasure Island by Ken Ludwig from the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson was presented by the Spectrum Drama Program on Wednesday May 14, 2014 and directed by Elisa Schultz and Emily Stroll.

“The Spectrum Drama Program is an all-encompassing theatrical experience for middle school students, high school students, and alumni diagnosed on the autism spectrum.  Together with their neurotypical peers, students learn acting, improvisation, voice, speech, movement, and dance.  This ensemble-based program promotes cooperative and creative collaboration.  Students are encouraged to step out of their comfort zones, develop their own voices, and take artistic risks in a safe and supportive environment.” – Program Note - Author unknown

This night was a special night, the performance - a one shot deal. And this little troupe will move on to bigger and better things because there were some fascinating performances. Possibly jumping the rum here, but more on this later.

Watching the directors, Elisa Schultz and Emily Stroll, was almost as fun as watching the show. Downstage center, in the audience, they kept vigilant eye on each set piece on stage whispering:  “No, move back.  Bring forward!  Stage left!  Stage right!”  Just to make sure the cardboard palm trees were placed in the right place and in the right light.   They also cringed when the actors barely avoided the scrim coming down upon them as they were scurrying along moving set pieces.  At times the directors stare at each other, and at other times they covered their faces.  Still, not much went wrong on this night and for that they gave each other high fives.  The night was a successful one and at times very beautiful, moving, and funny.

L - R Sanna Legan, Isaiah Strum

Ahoy!  Ye scurvy dogs!

The play starts off in the seaside village of Black Hill Village with Jim Hawkins (Sana Legan) son of the local bartenders at the Admiral Benbow Inn, and the narrator of the story.  

Pirate Billy Bones (Isaiah Strum) crashes the Inn and demands his rum! Already grog blossomed and loaded to the gunwalls, Bones wants to live his life to the fullest with rum and only rum, in a pewter mug no less, much to the dismay of Dr. Livesy (Christopher Madkins) who parleys a lesson in overly abundant consumption of that hearty drink.  It is hardly a concern to Bones who fears nothing, but only one thing, one man, the uniped picaroon scallywag Long John Silver (Shaydon Golub).

But Bones is a wanted man and there are pirates out there who know he has possession of the treasure map.

Captain Flint (Christopher Madkins) and his mates want the chest and eventually the mother load.  Not pirate enough to get the chest, Flint sends a blind pirate named Pew (Elena Browne) who approaches Bones with a black spot, a piece of paper with the threat that Bones should meet Flint’s demands and turn over the chest, or else.  

That doesn’t work. Bones is not about to strike colors and brushes aside the threat.  Flint comes back with cutlass in hand to plunder his sorry carcass.  But Bones, being inebriated as he is, defeats him and sends him on his way. Probably exhausted from the fight, Bones suffers a stroke, shivered his timber violently one last time, and dies.

Hardly fazed by the dearly departed Jones, Jim Hawkins reaches into his chest and pulls out the money for the bar and inn tab, also he finds a treasure map. Intrigued by the map Jim takes it to Dr. Livesey and Squire Trelawney (Pheiffer Bier).  Squire Trelawney devises a plan to commission a schooner, the Hispaniola, and hires a captain, Alexander Smollett (Beau Zinman) for the hunt.   

Unfortunately Smollett turns around and hires the one-legged Long John Silver to run the galley.  Accompanying Long John Silver is his parrot – who sadly lies flat on his shoulder and appears to be dead, or sleeping soundly.  

Long John Silver in turn hires his cronies and they furl sails to the Caribbean.

And so the very workable Admiral Benbow Inn, wonderfully designed by Sean McGarry, Set Designer, now becomes the Hispaniola Schooner with the main topsail cracking tight against the wind and against the backdrop of very powerful sailing music catching the pleasant breeze as the coxswain steers off to parts unknown.

But, lo and behold, corruption and mutiny were on the mind of that one-legged Long John Silver, including orders to give no quarter (murder) the captain and the crew when they reach shore.  Jim sat next to the barrel and in his stillness he listened to the wicked conniving dastardly scheme of a not so incapacitated pirate.  

There were some very nice performances on this night.  The costumes were incredible.  Odd that no one was given credit for that job in the program. The hearties were all in their element.

Pheiffer Bier does an amazing job as Squire Trelawney and has a wonderful presence on stage.  He is tall, thin, and has a very good look suitable for working in television or feature films.    

Elena Browne plays Jemmy Rathbone/Blind Pew/and Parrot.  She excels in all of these roles and will make a very fine working actress.

Danielle Bryan will have no problems with her voice as she let out a scream that startled everyone in the theatre. She plays Widow Drews and Cut Purse.

Noah Dardashti plays Justice Death and Tom Morgan.

Shaydon Golub also has a very powerful voice and plays Long John Silver and Jim’s father.  An interesting characterization of Long John Silver, Golub moves his left arm up and down like a conductor, possibly because the parrot was on his right shoulder.

Sanna Legan plays Jim Hawkins and does a very fine job.  On stage she is an incredible listener and reacts with very nice timing. Legan also has a strong and commanding voice.

Gabriel Levine plays three different roles Israel Hands, Bailiff and Calico Jack.

Christopher Madkins plays Dr. Livesy and Captain Flint.  Madkins is statuesque and has very nice presence on stage with a very workable stage voice.  

Ayan McNabb plays Jim’s mother and Josiah Bland.

Wills Price takes a funny turn as George Merry, Reverend Mainwaring, Beggar and Job O’ Brien and will stop at nothing to get the job done.

Spencer Scheps-Brown plays Ezekiel Hazard and Cabin Boy. He appears very young and has a good look.

Isaiah Strum plays Billy Bones and Ben Gunn and is incredible in both roles. His voice is manicured and nuanced to the setting and the place.  He was also very funny in the Ben Gunn role.

Clarke Victor plays Anne Bonny.

Beau Zinman has a very good look and does a fine job with Captain Smollett.  He also plays Black Dog.

There are many things to learn being a young actor.  For the stage, the voice is critical, and most of the students are more than halfway there. Next is finding a creative objective and carrying that objective from the moment an actor arrives on stage to the moment the actor exits.

All in all, it was a successful outing, and a very successful night!  The sound system in the theatre was incredible and the music was perfect.

Congratulations on a job well done.

Other members of the crew were:

Fight Choreographer:  Elisa Schultz
Music Instructor:  Scott Thomas
Technical Director:  Sean McGarry
Sound Engineer:  Jim Watson
Stage Manager:  Caitlin Leong
Stage Manager:  Elizabeth Nordenholt
Assistant Stage Manager:  Django Marsh
Assistant Stage Manager:  Nolan Windham

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Enrique VIII de William Shakespeare – Henry VIII by William Shakespeare

By Joe Straw 

“He was fair-haired and handsome, learned and affable.  It is no wonder that he was enormously popular with the people-and indeed, he remained so throughout his long reign, even though his handsomeness degenerated into piglike obesity and his affability become an almost psychotic cruelty.  He ended by being the sadistic tyrant in reality that Richard III was only in fable.” – Isaac Asimov

I had heard about the pomp and circumstance of Henry VIII by William Shakespeare and I wanted to see it myself when The Broad graciously invited me to the event.  

This wasn’t going to be a typical presentation and this adaptation would all be done in Spanish. (Yo hablo un poco español.)  But speaking Spanish shouldn’t matter.   Actors moving in line with their objectives and speaking gibberish would all be fathomable.  

But, I’ll make note of a very strange occurrence on stage during some of the pomp, or maybe it was the circumstance.  In an exquisite dance scene, the performers threw playing cards (or dance cards) into the air at a point in the music or the dance.  The cards twisted upwardly to their peak and then floated to their final conclusion onto the dance floor.    

What in the world?  

And, at the curtain call, they threw the cards out to audience members. (Much to the audience’s delight.) 

In the circumstantial scheme of things, the play, always the play, what did the director want to convey by tossing the cards into the air? More on this later.  – Narrator

Before the performance began, an ethereal Placido Domingo, with paper in hand, quietly seized the stage and spoke an English introduction of William Shakespeare’s Henry VIII and just the sound of his voice, was so plush, so harmonious, I thought the night could not get any better until he gave the same speech in Spanish and I melted in my chair. 

In the light of a commanding voice, Henry VIII is a play about commanding, keeping, and fighting for power. The lust for power is a trait inherent in all of the characters, in some, more so, than others.  Never let it be said that because you are a King, control of power, would be an easy task.

And while Catherine says “Heaven is above all yet; there sits a judge that no king can corrupt.”, King Henry VIII tries his utmost to swing things around in his direction. 


Fundación Siglo de Oro presents Rakatá in Henry VIII/Enrique VIII, September 26-29th, 2013 with adaptation by Jose Padilla, Rafael Diez-Labin and Ernesto Aria at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica. 

And as we liquesce into the play, not presently seeing the King, the Duke of Norfolk (Rodrigo Arribas) and the Duke of Buckingham (Julio Hidalgo) are discussing the Cardinal of York and how it concerns the state of the nation. Cardinal Wolsey (Jesús Fuente) and his lot taking control of all that surrounds them. 

Buckingham has major disagreements, mostly with his control of power, over Cardinal Wolsey’s domain.  

“The devil speed him!  No man’s pie is freed
From his ambitious finger.” – Buckingham

(Appointed Cardinal by Pope Leo X in 1515, and Lord Chancellor by King Henry VIII, Wolsey was the most powerful man in England next to the king.) 

But the Duke of Norfolk warns Buckingham that Cardinal Wolsey is a dangerous man. 

“The state takes notice of the private difference 
Betwixt you and the cardinal.  I advise you-
And take it from a heart that wishes towards you 
Honour and plenteous safety –that you read 
The cardinal’s malice and his potency
Together” – Duke of Norfolk

Norfolk is telling Buckingham to run! 

Cardinal Wolsey has made masterful strokes in making the King into a formidable figure and now he sees Buckingham, (with no male heir in line to the throne), as a very dangerous foe.  Buckingham, waiting outside to speak to the King, is kept waiting while Cardinal Wolsey is shown in right away.  Wolsey sneers at Buckingham and the affected severity of his glare should have been a sign to Buckingham to get the hell out.  

But, the unseen meeting is twofold in purpose.  First, Henry VIII is growing tired of his plain, but wise, and former sister-in-law, wife, Queen Catherine of Aragon (Elena Gonzáles).  She is getting old and has not provided him with a male heir. The King needs Wolsey to work with the Pope to grant the annulment he wants, something forbidden by the Catholic Church. And second, Cardinal Wolsey wants something for his troubles and apparently gets it. 

Because, to Buckingham’s surprise, the sergeant of arms, arrests Buckingham for high treason and he and Lord Abergavenny are both led off to the towers, but not without a few choice words.  

“My surveyor is false; the o’er-great cardinal
Hath show’d him gold; my life is spann’d
Already: I am the shadow of poor Buckingham…”  - Duke of Buckingham

Cardinal Wolsey, working his way toward becoming the next Pope, has gotten rid of another impediment for his quest of power and now works on the next part of his plan.  His background makes him contemptuous of those from a higher status and he seeks to accumulate power.  He is devilishly devious.   

Meanwhile the wise Queen Catherine knows the King and Cardinal Wolsey are up to no good.  When she enters his presence, she humbles herself to his being. 

“Thank your majesty.
That you would love yourself, and in that love
Not unconsider’d leave your honour, nor 
The dignity of your office, is the point
Of my petition.” – Catherine

Trying to put a wedge between the King and Cardinal Wolsey, Catherine blames the Cardinal for the distressed put upon the people of their land by way of the Cardinal’s taxation.

Wherein? And what taxation?  My lord cardinal,
You that are blamed for it alike with us, 
Know you of this taxation?” – King Henry VIII

It’s odd that the King should care, but he does, and Cardinal Wolsey tries to weasel his way out of this one. 

“Please you, sir, 
I know but a single part, in aught
Pertains to the state:  and front but in the file
Where others tell steps with me.” – Cardinal Wolsey

Queen Catherine says the tax is burdensome to the people and even though it is the work of Cardinal Wolsey, the people will blame the king. 

But, Wolsey saves himself for the moment, by articulating his strategy that the people may complain at first but will fall in line as time progresses. 

Still, the king finds fault with this tax and orders Cardinal Wolsey to send a letter. 

“Where this is question’d send our letters, with 
Free pardon to each man that has denied
The force of this commission; I pray, look to’t.” – King Henry VIII 

And, of course, when Cardinal Wolsey instructs his secretary to send out the letter to every shire of the land, Wolsey wants the secretary to make noise - that through intervention - it was Wolsey’s idea to rescind the tax. 


Catherine has questions about Buckingham’s guilt but the King, Wolsey, and traitor Surveyor to the Duke of Buckingham all conspire to compare stories and tell the tales of Buckingham’s guilt. 

“It would infect his speech, that if the king
Should without issue die, he’ll carry it so
To make the scepter his; these very words
I’ve heard him utter to his son in law, 
Lord Abergavenny; to him by oath he menaced
Revenge upon the cardinal.” – Surveyor 

But all of this talk is depressing and the King moves on to lighter fair. And in a diverted executive excursion, the King goes to a dance where he catches the eyes of lovely Anne Boleyn (Sara Moraleda).

“Your grace, 
I fear, with dancing is a little heated.” Cardinal Wolsey

“I fear, too much.” King Henry VIII

“There’s fresher air, my lord, 
In the next chamber.” – Cardinal Wolsey

“Lead in your ladies, every one: sweet partner,” - King

King Henry VIII unmasks - the room bows and curtsies on his behalf.  He takes Anne Boleyn and dances with her much to Cardinal Wolsey’s displeasure. 

Later, although flattered that the King has moved into her court, Anne is not sure she would like to be Queen as she confides to her assistant known as Old Lady. 

“How you do talk:
I swear again, I would not be a queen 
For all the world.” – Anne Boleyn

(Anne would come to devour those words and later wished that she had listened to that noise within before taking King Henry and later his blade.) 

“How tastes it?  Is it bitter? Forty pence, no. 
There was a lady once, ‘tis an old story, 
That she would not be a queen, that she would not, 
For all the mud in Egypt:  have you heard it? – Old Lady

By the time love events have spiraled out of control, Catherine has found out and pleads with the King and the court to remain as Queen. 

“I have been to you a true and humble wife,
At all times to your will comformable;….
When was the hour
I ever contradicted your desire, 
Or made it not mine too?  Or which of your friends
Have I not strove to love, although I knew
He were my enemy?” – Catherine

Catherine, lost in vertiginous thoughts, is not going quietly into the night as Cardinal Wolsey and Cardinal Camprius (Julio Hidalgo) dulcify her with indefinite ideas. 

“come to deliver, Like free and honest men, 
just as opinions and comforts to your cause.”  - Cardinal Wolsey

Oh please. 

Catherine sees through them and in a self-deprecating manner describes herself less than her actuality…. 

“I fear, - with my weak wit, 
And to such men of gravity and learning, 
In truth, I know not.” - Queen Catherine. 

…before she lets them have it.

"Ye tell me what ye wish for both, - my ruin; 
Is this your Christian counsel?  Out upon ye!
Heaven is above all yet; there sits a judge 
That no king can corrupt." – Catherine

Meanwhile the King has divorced Queen Catherine and has married Anne Boleyn without the help of Cardinal Wolsey and the Pope, and Cardinal Campeius has left the King and stolen off to Rome.   

Now there are others left to ruin Cardinal Wolsey who, by the way, is no longer needed by the King.  And with the help of sharper minds surrounding the King a document has been presented to the King, “mistakenly”, not meant for the King, showing the Cardinal has amassed fortune during his time in England.  

The King frowns.

‘Tis a sad day for the Cardinal.  

"What should this mean? 
What sudden anger’s this?  How have I reap’d it 
He parted frowning from me, as if ruin
Leap’d from his eyes…" - Cardinal Wolsey

It means the end of Cardinal Wolsey, and the end of Catholicism in England, forever. 

The press notes say, “Rakatá’s superb production reframes the story from the Spanish point of view though the action never strays from the English Court.”  Interesting.  As a witness I didn’t see it from a Spanish’s perspective. I’m not sure what that means given Ernesto Arias direction. Were we to see the actions from Spaniard’s Catherine Aragon’s perspective? Or the perspective of what the Spanish thought of what went on?  What we do get is Catherine’s plain but wise self, but we never see the action revolve around her, or that the character was treated any differently.  How is this done?  Is she wiser, because she’s Spanish or craftier because she’s Spanish? How do the Spaniards put a good light on Catherine’s character? 

Fernando Gil as a tall statuesque King Henry VIII is pleasant throughout.   It was an interesting interpretation of a King who appeared not to accept the information thrown his way and fails to act on the information.  Still he was glorious to watch. 

Elena Gonzales is Catherine of Aragon – wise and plain but there is a lot of strength in this role.  She gets her strength from her religion, from her relationship with her daughter, and her husband.  We get the husband part but not necessarily the religion and daughter and how both influence her desire to keep her position. 

Jesús Fuente is Cardinal Wolsey a man who has a solid quest for power.  Everything he does is for his benefit and not for the benefit of mankind.  He loses no sleep seeing his enemies executed, taxing the poor, and taking a panoply of property for the sake of one thing, becoming the Pope. But Fuente doesn’t appear to be aware of those things.   In Fuente’s performance and as Wolsey he doesn’t think about the wrongs he has committed and how it weighs on the character. Wolsey is a man of God who does the devil’s work. This is a character that demands more than the lines and the robe and when all is lost an emotion so grievous.  

I enjoyed Julio Hidalgo as Buckingham a character who is an enigma.  Buckingham had a very interesting mannerism.   When he spoke, he spoke with his shoulder, his left shoulder to be precise. Every time he said something his left shoulder dipped as though he had lips on the precipice of his upper arm.  This is something I have not seen before in any actor.  The mannerism was unusual and exciting.   He also did well as Cardinal Campeius. All in all, he is one of the finest working actors in Spain. 

Sara Moraleda was quite charming as Anne Boleyn.  Young and pretty.  'Tis a pity she falls into the depths of what power can do to a young frail person.  

Other members of this exciting cast are as follows: 
Alejandro Saá as Gardiner 
Daniel Acebes as Lord Chamberlain
Rodrigo Arribas as Northfolk
Alejandra Mayo as Beatrix
Bruno Clordia as Souffolk 
Jesús Teyssiere as Cranmer
Andrés Bernal as Sands/Intendent
Asier Tartas Landera as Chorus 1
Diego Santos as Chorus 2

And as for the dancing, the throwing of the cards, I did not find a historical reference to this act.  Perhaps it was a way for director Ernesto Arias to say that lives are like a card to the wind.  One doesn’t know where the life will end.  Perhaps it was an augury, or sortilege, of things to come. Or perhaps he meant something else.  This was a very different version of Henry VIII. There was a lot of pomp and circumstance, not really what I expected and I did not get all of the Spanish.  Still I’m glad I came and will see Rakatá again, given the opportunity. 

Other members of the crew are as follows: 

Fundación Siglo de Oro (Rakatá) – Producer 
Tono Escudero – Executive Producer
Rafael Diez–Labin – Assistant Director
SusanaMoreno – Costume Coordinator
Rafael Diez-Labin – Lighting Designer 
Leticia Rojas – Make-up Designer
Juan Manuel Artero – Music Composer
Karmen Abarca – Stage Manager 
Patricia Ruz – Choreographer
Alberto Matesanz – Graphic Designer
Rual Serrano – Magic Consultant 

Run!  Run!  Run! To The Broad!!!