Does the film “Anonymous” have you pondering who wrote all the works ascribed to one William Shakespeare?
Photo by Gregory Costanzo From L to R: Sean McNall (Richard II), Jolly Abraham (Harry Percy), and Grant Goodman (Henry Bolingbroke)
Consider the argument irrelevant. Whoever wrote the sweeping tragedies, masterful histories, insightful comedies [and a handful of clunkers], left a worthy legacy. He wrote as an Elizabethan, aware of his time and its mores, with wit and a deft hand at characters great and small.
But more on that anon…. This theater season, there are a number of fine productions celebrating that legacy.
The Pearl Theatre Company at City Center’s Stage II is tackling the poesy of “Richard II” through December 24th. It’s an ambitious, if uneven effort, looking at the divine right and mortal plight of kings.
Photo by Gregory Costanzo From L to R: Sean McNall (Richard II) and Jolly Abraham (the Queen)
“Richard II” is about the tragedy and the dangers
of ruling unwisely. In the title role, Sean McNall portrays a monarch unhinged by the challenge to his absolute authority by his cousin Harry Bolingbroke (Grant Goodman).
Bolingbroke is a populist leader but sometimes Goodman’s affect seems too modern for the verse play he inhabits. This Bolingbroke is definitely lean and hungry. Dan Kremer as John of Gaunt, Earl of Lancaster, Harry’s aggrieved and grieving father is excellent.
Photo by Gregory Costanzo From L to R: Grant Goodman (Henry Bolingbroke) and Sean McNall (Richard)
Under JR Sullivan’s direction, the cast handle the poetry as if it were prose. That is smoothly, and without any sense of awkwardness.
Photo by Gregory Costanzo From L to R: Bill Christ (Duke of York) and Carol Schultz (Duchess of York)
Elsewhere around town, at The Barrow Street Theatre, Fiasco Theater performs a completely modernized and raucous version of “Cymbelline” through January 1. Fiasco Theater has transformed one of Shakespeare’s lesser works into an excellent entertainment.
Also downtown at The Public, “King Lear” has just ended its run with Sam Waterston in the title role leading a brand-name cast. “Titus Andronicus” begins performances on the 29th of November through December 18th at the Public Lab and features Jay O. Sanders as Titus.
Jay O. Sanders in Titus Andronicus, directed by Michael Sexton, a Public Lab production running at The Public Theater from November 29 through December 18. Photo credit: Joseph Moran)
Looking forward, there is the January 10, 2012 opening of The Bridge Project production of “Richard III” with Kevin Spacey as the titular monarch under the direction of Sam Mendes at BAM.
So, back to the question– does it matter who wrote these plays? Is it realy of concern if they were writ by an unknown hand unwilling to take credit for an enduring body of English literature or by an actor named William Shakespeare?
Photo by Gregory Costanzo From L to R: Grant Goodman (Henry Bolingbroke) and Charlie Francis Murphy (Sir Pierce of Exton)
The canon is vast and eloquent. It lends itself to the spoofery of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and the serious ministrations of actors and directors the world over. It has drawn the attention of your highschool English teacher and spawned rom-com plots for decades. The dramas attract filmed homages ranging from Kirosawa to Woody Allen.
In short, Shakespeare survives critical analyses and debates over who he was and what he may have been capable of doing. More importantly, all these centuries later, he offers deep and sustaining perceptions into our lives.
For more information about The Pearl’s production of “Richard II”, please visit www.pearltheatre.org.
To find out more about Fiasco’s “Cymbelline” at
The Barrow Theatre, go to
For a schedule of The Public Theatre’s “Titus Andronicus”, go to www.publictheater.org
For more information about BAM’s “Richard III”, please go to http://www.bam.org/