With King Henry the Fifth,the overall effect of the Prenzie Players' Henriad trilogy can be demonstrated in about five minutes of stage time. Shakespeare's titular ruler, played by Jeff De Leon, is invading the French province of Harfleur, and the scene begins with a literal explosion of sound - an edifice-shaking cannon boom, followed by the impassioned cries of the English and French soldiers engaging in battle. Over the next few minutes, the bellowing and booming hit greater and greater peaks of intensity, until finally Henry is standing at the gates of Harfleur, demanding that the governor surrender his township.
King Henry the Fourth, the Prenzie Players' second presentation in their Henriad trilogy, opened on Friday, and let me preface by admitting that I have a tougher time composing reviews for this troupe's productions than for any other area organization. When faced, in show after show, with such imagination and daring and passion, where does one start?
Here's one for fellow fans of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy: You know how badly we wanted to see The Two Towers after The Fellowship of the Ring? That's how badly I want to see the Prenzie Players' King Henry the Fourth after Saturday night's production of King Richard the Second.
For those of you who aren't Lord of the Rings fans, I think you still get my meaning; King Richard the Second - the first installment in the Shakespeare troupe's three-part cycle of Henry plays, entitled The Henriad - is so thrillingly staged and sublimely well acted that the February continuation can't possibly come soon enough.
When the Prenzie Players made their 2003 debut with Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, they did so at Rock Island's Peanut Gallery, which didn't have a proper stage and could only seat, at maximum, 40 people. The show had an inadequate budget (between $200 and $300), a run of only two performances, and no word-of-mouth; Prenzie's founders - Cait Bodenbender, John "J.C." Luxton, Aaron Sullivan, and Denise Yoder - had every reason to expect Measure for Measure to fail.
Yet Friday night's show played to a full house. And on Saturday ... .
A theatre company takes a risk when it changes key elements of Shakespeare, as Iowa City's Riverside Theatre has by switching the protagonist in its presentation of The Tempest from Prospero to Prospera. Turning this male character into a female brings an entirely new dynamic to the performance, yet even though this makes for a unique production, it distracts from the tone of Shakespeare's text.
The Tempest is one of Shakespeare's most magical offerings - a wildly theatrical concoction set on an enchanted isle populated by fairies, sprites, and spirits, and governed by a benevolent (yet easily enraged) ruler in possession of a supernatural cloak.
Given the built-in limitations in budget and production design at Rock Island's Lincoln Park, though, no one attending Genesius Guild's current production of the play should expect to be wowed by spectacle; Ariel, for instance, won't be flying in on any invisible wires. Yet from its first scene, this Tempest is graced by spectacle of a different variety: the sort of stage alchemy that occurs when fine performers tear into rich material, and when a strong director orchestrates the actors' contributions and stage pictures with inventiveness and grace. Imagination, of course, is its own kind of magic.
Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound concerns theatre critics who wind up personally involved in the thriller they're reviewing, which puts me in the position of being a theatre critic critiquing a play about theatre critics critiquing a play. Stoppard must love this.
Jason Reitman's Thank You for Smoking, adapted from Christopher Buckley's satiric novel, doesn't have much visual flair, but one recurring image in the film lends it worlds of variety: Aaron Eckhart's smile.
A day after seeing it, I'm still a bit shaken by John McTeague's graphic-novel adaptation V for Vendetta. Action blockbusters - not to mention action blockbusters based on comic books - have been so dour and pedestrian of late that I don't know if I've fully grasped the extent of Vendetta's greatness yet; it's the kind of explosive, overwhelming work that gets better and better the more you think of it. The film is a little 1984, a little Phantom of the Opera, and, with its screenplay by the Wachowski brothers, more than a little Matrix-y, but it casts an extraordinary, devastating spell. It may be the most fully realized film of a graphic novel the genre has yet seen, a movie you want to talk (and argue) about long after the closing credits.
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