Much Ado About Some Things

July-August 2015

Events   Literary News
Anne Frank at Stratford Fest
Apr. 22-Oct. 10; Stratford, ON, Canada: Sara Farb stars in an innovative production of The Diary of Anne Frank, about escaping the clutches of the Nazi Gestapo in World War II. For content info, see the article to the right. For tickets, click here.

Bard with a Twist in B.C.
July 2-Sept. 19; Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: Bard on the Beach updates Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost—about four men who swear off woman—to 1920s Chicago. Also on tap is Shakespeare’s Rebel, a new play by C. C. Humphreys, adapted from his own best-selling novel about John Lawly, the fight arranger for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Click here for more details.

Cloning Humans at the Young Vic
July 3-Aug 15; London, England: The Young Vic stages Caryl Churchill’s A Number. Set in the near future, it concerns a father and a son, who, to his chagrin, discovers he’s a clone of a brother supposedly killed years ago. Click here for more info.

The Guardsman in New Jersey
July 8-26; Madison, NJ: Watch The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey perform Frenec Molnár’s The Guardsman, about a pair of married actors. Insecure, the husband tests his wife’s fidelity by wooing her in disguise. For more info, click here.

The Foreigner at PSF
July 8-Aug. 2; Center Valley, PA: Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival performs Larry Shue’s The Foreigner (1984). On a fishing trip in Georgia, Charlie, a shy foreigner, pretends to speak no English and becomes privy to hilariously consequential secrets shared by some outrageous characters. Click here for details.

Wilde’s Earnest at Tulane U
July 11-25; New Orleans, LA: The New Orleans Shakespeare Festival stages Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.Two bachelors, both pretending to be a rake named "Earnest," court two ladies, one of whom has a formidably proper mother. For more details, click here.

Sor Juana from the Globe
July 15-Sept. 15; London, England: Along with plays by the Bard (Richard II, Much Ado About Nothing), Shakespeare’s Globe stages Helen Edmundson’s Heresy of Love (2012). A religious thriller,the play features Sor Juana. A Mexican nun and gifted female writer, Sor Juana is caught up in late-1600s rivalries of the Church. Click here for more details.

Hay Fever
at Stanford U
July 16-Aug. 9. Stanford Repertory Theater performs Noel Coward’s “comedy of bad manners,” about the egocentric Bliss family, who “entertain” their separate guests in the family's country house in 1920s England. Click here for more info.

Cymbeline in Central Park
July 23-Aug. 23; New York, NY: Hamish Linklater stars as Posthumus and Lily Rabe as Imogen in Shakespeare’s comedy of intrigue and deception about a husband separated from a wife, whom he wagers is virtuous. Unfortunately he makes the bet against a man without scruples. For more details, click here.

Colorado’s Henry VI Experiment
Aug. 2, 5; Boulder, CO: The Colorado Shakespeare Festival stages Henry VI, Part 1, about events preceding the War of the Roses, including those involving Joan of Arc. This is an “original practices” staging (a simulated rehearsal in keeping with what are thought to have been theater practices in Shakespeare’s day). Click here for more details.

U Notre Dame’s Bard Takeoff
Aug. 4-30; New York, NY: The Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival presents William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged), by Austin Tichenor and Reed Martin. Discovered in a parking lot, an age-old manuscript proves to be Shakespeare’s first dramatic endeavor in this inventive, fast-paced spectacle of physical finesse and verbal wit. For more info, click here.

Aura Estrada Story Contest
Oct. 1 deadline; Boston, MA: Boston Review welcomes entries to its annual Aura Estrada Short-Story Contest. Submit an unpublished story of no more than 5,000 words to win $1,500 and publication in the July/August 2016 issue of the Review. Click here for more details.
  First Latino Poet Laureate
The appointment, by the Librarian of the U.S. Congress, was announced June 10. Juan Felipe Herrera (California’s current Poet Laureate) has been named United States Poet Laureate for 2015-16. It's a position that comes with a $35,000 stipend and, in this case, breaks new ground. The 66-year-old Herrera makes history as the country's first Latino Poet Laureate. He rose, in Horatio Alger-like fashion, from humble beginnings. Born of Mexican migrant workers, Herrera lived with his family in tents and farming communities; he knew no English when he entered first grade. With hard work, he earned a B.A. from the University of California at Los Angeles, an M.A. from Stanford in Social Anthropology, and an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He became a professor. Recently retired from the University of California at Riverside, Herrera is a prolific poet. People often compare him to Allen Ginsberg for volatility and to Walt Whitman for enthusiastic expansiveness.

The California-born Herrera is known for his activism. During his young adulthood, the Chicano civil rights movement flourished, and he's gone on to write verse that tackles issues close to his Chicano roots. Herrera's lyrics can exude a somber palette, as in “Blood on the Wheel,” a surrealist poem that explores what blood can mean: “Blood marching for the Immigration Patrol, prized & arrogant / Blood spawning in the dawn break of African Blood Tribes, grimacing / & multiple—multiple, I said … Blood at the age of seventeen / Blood at the age of one, dumped in a Greyhound bus” (1999). Other, less solemn poems evince a barbed, comic sensibility, as in the collection 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border. The number refers to Proposition 187—a California ballot initiative (in 1994) that many feel symbolized U.S. xenophobia in relation to Latinos. The title poem lists 187 (mostly ridiculous) reasons to exclude Mexicans from U.S. citizenship: “Because someone made our ID’s out of corn / Because our border thirst is insatiable …  Because we smell of Tamales soaked in Tequila … Because we’re still kissing the Pope’s hand … Because we have visions instead of televisions … Because the pesticides on our skin are still glowing” (2007). When asked in an NPR interview (June 10, 2015) about his current plans, Herrera said he wants to be as “expansive as possible.” He encourages all communities to read, write, and express themselves through poetry, conceiving of it as a way “to obtain a life without boundaries.”


Best in the U.S.: Andrew Carnegie Medals
News Flash June 27: Anthony Doerr has won the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction for All the Light We Cannot See, about civilian life in France during WWII. Bryan Stevenson took the nonfiction medal for Just Mercy, about prisoners on death row in Georgia. Each winner gets a $5,000 cash prize.

An Innovative Anne Frank
Controversy rages. Is it sacrilege to tamper with a time-honored literary work, be it a Shakespeare play or Anne Frank’s diary? Or does such tampering help extend the reach of that work to current generations? If the test is the emotional wallop a performance of it packs, The Diary of Anne Frank at this season’s Stratford Festival passes with high impact. The show pays tribute to an anniversary, to 70 years since liberation from the concentration camps of WWII.

Director Jillian Keiley bases her staging on Wendy Kesselman’s script, adding innovative touches (highly praised by most). In the diary itself, Anne quickly dives in. She pens entries for the two years spent in hiding with her family (her older sister and parents) and four other Dutch Jews—the three van Daans (mother, father, and son) and Mr. Dussel (a dentist). The motley group of eight stows itself in a secret annex of father Otto Frank’s Amsterdam offices to elude capture by the Nazis. As in the diary, the focus in the show is on the hideaways, but it does not just dive in. The show starts with a prologue that breaks the fourth wall, that front-of-the-stage barrier between the dramatic world and the audience’s world. Not yet in character, the 17 actors line up to introduce themselves and the set, a collection of wooden slats that morph, over the course of the play, from bedroom, to kitchen, to cattle cars. Each actor shares a personal moment in relation to Anne’s story—about being 13 (Anne’s age at the start), or first falling in love (her experience in the show) or having a grandmother who suffered the Holocaust (as Sara Farb, who plays Anne Frank, does). Then comes the performance, not a straight dramatization or recitation of the diary, but both. The actors depict choice moments, with one or another moving forward to the front of the stage to read directly from the diary at certain junctures. Included in the choice moments are Anne’s falling in love with Peter van Daan (André Morin), the bickering of his parents (Kevin Bundy and Yanna McIntosh), his mother’s show of sympathy when his father gets caught stealing bread, Anne’s vexed but evolving relationship with her own mother (Lucy Peacock). The days march on, marked by the dimming and brightening of artificial light. At times, the characters engage in a type of choreographed movement of their nightmarish confinement, and there’s a capella humming in the background. Vivid portrayals by a "superb cast" include those of Anne’s “mousier” older sister (Shannon Taylor), the fussy Mr. Dussel (Christopher Morris) and uplifting Miep (Maev Beaty), the group's link to the outside world. At the end, Otto Frank (Joseph Ziegler) wanders into the now-empty hideaway to deliver an epilogue on everyone’s fate. Momentarily startled, he finds Anne’s diary on the floor, places it in one pocket and lifts out of another the published diary, which he hands down to the audience, yet another break in the fourth wall. Consider how valid the gesture is. Day after day to be confined indoors, as these eight were, to have no privacy, to fear for one’s life because of one’s faith—can people in today’s world relate?

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