Posts Tagged ‘shakespeare’

Two incredible performances in The Dresser render this writer speechless

Ken Ruta in "The Dresser"

Show reviews usually write themselves.  “Great show, great acting, beautiful scenery/costumes/etc, Go see it!”  Occasionally the shows are not great and the reviews are more difficult to write.  But it is very, very seldom that we see a show that is just too spectacular for words.

The Dresser, currently at the San Jose Repertory Theatre, is one of these shows.  I don’t know where to start!  This is one magical presentation.  Throughout the show I just kept whispering in my mind, “Stupendous!” (more…)

Not your grandma’s Shakespeare

The taunting of Malvolio

Anyone who still had their doubts about injecting steampunk into one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies had their fears quelled instantly at the opening night of SJSU‘s Twelfth Night. Excitement started growing as soon as we were let into the University Theatre and saw the grand beach scene with what appeared to be the skeletal remains of a downed zeppelin.  The logic of the steampunk theme became clear when we meet Viola on the beach (and later Sebastian).  Viola and Sebastian clearly come from Shakespeare’s time.  It is the fictional Illyria, where they had been shipwrecked, that was filled with fantastical steampunk characters.  This is a world where women rule their own lives and have (somewhat) control over their men.  It is a world of mischievous antics, sexual innuendos and games, much drink, music and dancing, and, most important, fun.  It’s a land that draws in the audience, and one that we definitely did not want to leave.

Sir Toby plays with Maria

I knew I had been taking a chance in promoting this show before it opened, but I had been intrigued from the moment I had heard “steampunk + Shakespeare”.  However, my own high expectations were so far exceeded that all I can say is this is the must-see production of the year in San Jose.  I had more fun in this show than at any other show I’ve seen in recent memory and plan to see it again.  The audience — packed full of SJSU students, professors of Shakespearian literature, theater fans, and even dressed up characters from the Bay Area Steampunk Association (yes, it’s a real thing) – all had a blast as we danced along with the music, lusted after the corseted women, laughed at Sir Toby and Malvolio, and simply enjoyed Shakespeare the way the Bard himself would have wanted us to.

There was some questioning of the portrayal of Orsino as an emo rock star with “a posse”, but in this imaginative interpretation it still worked – and even the Shakespeare experts in the audience gave the show a thumbs up overall.  My guest at the show had never seen Twelfth Night or even read the play, but he loved it so much he plans to read the play now.  What more can you ask?  The steampunk theme was used partly as a way to bring Shakespeare to a new audience, to show how much fun it can be, and this production passed with flying colors on all counts.  Not only was the audience packed in both Friday and Saturday, but they had the highest grossing opening night in the last four years.

"Cesario" looks over the tortured Orsino

Although the set design, lighting, costumes and excellent choices in music (White Wedding! Dubstep! RAP!) were all outstanding, a drama production always rests on the actors.  With this fantastic group it is very hard to single anyone out, but I would be remiss in not mentioning three specific stand-out roles:

Kayleigh Larner as the sexy Maria was my favorite.  It is quite a feat to be so brilliant in her comedy while simultaneously making hearts pound as she strutted the stage in her corset, playfully whacking Sir Toby with her riding crop.  I could watch a whole show starring only Kayleigh Larner as Maria.

The recipient of those crop swats was the lucky David Scott, and his drunken portrayal of Sir Toby was both fun and slightly creepy.  Drunk through most if not all of the show, Sir Toby was playful, mischievous, and yet in full control of his senses.  Scott took his character right to the limits of bawdy humor but never once went over the top.  It was barely restrained perfection.

And finally, no review of this show will go by without mention of Drew Jones as Malvolio.  This man has been honing his comedic genius in other plays I have seen and is ALWAYS a stand-out and major scene-stealer.  As each scene goes by, the audience wants more and more of Malvolio, and the yellow stockings scene is just something…  that can’t… be missed.

The homoerotic themes of the show were not ignored

Congrats to Director Kathleen Normington for putting together a fantastical and original interpretation of Twelfth Night, and for all the help given the production by Dramaturge Dr. Adrienne Eastwood.   There was an incredible amount of work put into this show by a very large group of set designers, costumers and makeup artists, and every bit of that work shows and is appreciated.

You still have a chance to see this OUTSTANDING production, and I stake my reputation as a drama reviewer that you will not be disappointed.  Whether you are a steampunk fan, a lover of Shakespeare, ordinary theater goer, or just looking for something to do, you will not be disappointed.  You certainly can’t beat the price, and after Thursday’s show there will be a chance to ask questions of the actors, director, and dramaturge.  Don’t miss it!

Twelfth Night
November 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20 7pm
SJSU University Theatre
Fifth and San Fernando next to the San Jose Public Library
Tickets $10 students/seniors; $20 general admission
Tickets Online
Or call 408 924-4555
Wheelchair Admissable

Why is Metblogs so excited about SJSU’s steampunk Twelfth Night?

David Scott and Kayleigh Larner as Toby and Maria

SJSU’s steampunk version of Twelfth Night starts this Friday, and the excitement and buzz before the show even opens is tremendous.  I have been lucky enough to preview a few rehearsals and am happy to say this show looks VERY entertaining yet also true to Shakespeare’s word.  The SJSU Theatre Department does not get much press but they should, because the productions I have seen there have met or exceeded the quality of any professional theater company in this area.  And with a ticket price of $10 for students/seniors and $20 general admission, one can hardly go wrong.

I asked director Kathleen Normington and dramaturge Dr. Adrienne Eastwood to talk a bit about this steampunk version of Twelfth Night.   If you are interested in steampunk, or question the decision to bring steampunk to Shakespeare, I recommend reading their answers below.

First, Director Normington commented on the interesting music choices and the striking visual aesthetics.

Director Normington:  Music choices are very untraditional and were inspired from my 16 year old son’s playlist. He introduced me to “dubstep” music and that became a key sound component for the show. It has an edgy, harsh quality that seems to fit the world of the play that we have created, most especially in the character of Orsino, the drug-addled, love-crazed “Duke.” I worked with a student who created some original dubstep music for the production and we threw in some trance and the music of Dirty Three, Bassnectar, and Moby. An eclectic mix that seems to help tell the story of the play for me.

Twelfth Night, with Drew Benjamin Jones as Malvolio.

On scenic design: This comedy, like many of Shakespeare’s comedies, places the main characters in a natural environment and I wanted to expand that for the setting. Many of the scenes occur outdoors and the beach became the dominant design concept for the entire play. I wanted a contrast between a completely realistic and natural environment with the metal, wood, and metallics of steampunk that is most revealed in the costumes and props. Steampunk became a style choice that grew out of the main themes of the play: time, disguise, and the intersection of a modern sensibility and the romance of a Victorian past. I had no idea at the time I was forming these ideas that steampunk had such a devoted cult following.

I then asked Dr. Eastwood to justify the decision to take this fascinating steampunk concept and meld it with the famous work by William Shakespeare:

One of the first decisions a director of a Shakespeare play has to make is whether or not to produce the play in period—using Elizabethan costumes.  Many directors eschew the traditional Renaissance modes in order to update the play’s themes or make them palatable for contemporary audiences.  Such an idea marries the old with the new—the historical with the modern—a concept that is in itself very Shakespearean, since his plays are meaningful in both historical and universal contexts. Twelfth Night, as with many of Shakespeare’s other plays, is both of its age and for all time.  A steampunk Twelfth Night merges the old with the new in exciting and deeply resonant ways.

Illyria, the world of the play, is a fictional place.  No such country exists on any known map.  And time moves differently in Illyria—along the familiar linear trajectory, but also in a cyclical motion, ebbing and flowing, folding the past into the present.  Indeed, for the festive characters like Sir Toby, time seems to stand still—another drink, another song, another practical joke.  But for the besotted lovers, time must untangle the knot of misapplied affections.  How will this fadge? Time will tell.

Kayleigh Larner, Kim Burns, Jessica Salans

Steampunk similarly collapses time, blending the past with the [future].  With an aesthetic based nineteenth century England but reaching toward a fantastical future, we see time both moving forward and looking back; it exists both as a historical moment and beyond it.  The steam technology and bizarre, archaic optical gear, put to use in unfamiliar ways also suggest that ordinary rules don’t apply in a steampunk setting.  The atmosphere created by the steampunk aesthetic underscores the temporally topsy-turvy Illyria, a place where the festive powers of timlessness will join forces to try and rid their world of darkness and grief.  But as Shakespeare ensures in his play, disruptive forces are powerful ones, and in the end, audiences leave anxiously hoping that true love and friendship did indeed prevail.

Interested Shakespeare lovers can read Dr. Eastwood’s study guide to prepare for the show.

I’ll be there opening night ready to review the show.  I hope to see you there as well.  Not just to support our local University Theatre students, but because SJSU has consistently produced outstanding stage productions, and I don’t think they’re going to let us down this time either.

Twelfth Night
November 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20 7pm

SJSU University Theatre
Fifth and San Fernando next to the San Jose Public Library
Tickets $10 students/seniors; $20 general admission
Tickets Online
Or call 408 924-4555

Wheelchair Admissable

It’s time to start planning your November show nights!

We survived the many great October shows, now we have an even more packed November!  This month I can honestly say I am VERY excited about every one of these shows.  These are the ones we are set to review this month – get your tickets now!

Flying Karamazov Brothers

The Flying Karamazov Brothers
The San Jose Repertory Company
November 10 – 14
Welcome to the zany world of The Flying Karamazov Brothers, where the daring and goofy take center stage. This ground-breaking blend of nouveau cirque, comedy, theatre, music, and, of course, juggling is nothing short of genius. Innovative and unique, they display their juggling prowess in such show stopping numbers as “The Gambler.” In this daring act, the Karamozov champion Dimitri will juggle three items presented to him by audience members. If the champion succeeds he gets a standing ovation. If he fails, he gets a pie in the face! This exuberant and hilarious off-Broadway rave is full of fast-paced virtuosity and fun as the four brothers deliver a stupendously entertaining evening like you’ve never experienced.

As if that wasn’t fun enough: The audience is encouraged to bring zany items to the theater for the Karamazov champion to juggle!

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night
San Jose State University Theatre
November 12 – 20
Theater director Kathleen Normington and English Professor Dr. Adrienne Eastwood are continuing to draw a great deal of attention with their provocative steampunk Shakespeare production.  Director Normington intends to use the steampunk aesthetic to style the production and highlight some of the themes of disguise and gender ambiguity within the play.  Dr. Eastwood, as dramaturge, is helping to guide the marriage of steampunk visuals with Shakespeare’s written words into the creation of a beautiful new version of the play.  This combination is sure to bring Twelfth Night’s message to a wider audience in unexpected ways.  DO NOT MISS this innovative vision that will stay true to its original ideas.


Opera San Jose
November 13 – 28
She’s a superstar: brilliant, beautiful, and spoiled. Yet Floria Tosca, despite her wealth and privilege, cannot save her aristocratic lover without consenting to debase herself. An opera diva as wildly popular in 1800 Rome as any rock or movie icon today, she finds that living for “art, love, and prayer” isn’t enough to protect her in a society run by wicked, powerful men. She is a beauty pursued by a beast determined to have her, and killing her stalker – chief of the secret police, Baron Scarpia – still doesn’t end her suffering. Suicide is her final act of defiance

The Color Purple

The Color Purple
Broadway San Jose
November 23 – 28
A soul-stirring musical based on the classic Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker and the moving film by Steven Spielberg. It is the unforgettable and inspiring story of a woman named Celie, who finds her unique voice in the world. Nominated for eleven Tony® Awards, THE COLOR PURPLE is a landmark theatrical event, a celebration of love, and a Broadway phenomenon. With a joyous GRAMMY®-nominated score featuring jazz, gospel and blues, THE COLOR PURPLE is capturing the hearts of young and old, and uniting audiences in a community of joy.

Backwards in High Heels

Backwards in High Heels
The San Jose Repertory Company
November 24 – December 19
The remarkable life of the legendary actress Ginger Rogers comes to life onstage!
This intimate musical dances its way through Ginger’s life with unforgettable music, show-stopping dance numbers and a captivating story that chronicles her journey from hometown to Hollywood and from one love affair to another. Best known as Fred Astaire’s dance partner, Ginger defied her overly-protective mother to become one of Hollywood’s biggest stars and one of the industry’s first women to demand equal pay. Funny, moving and a visual feast, Backwards In High Heels is a toe-tapping, swirling, gliding account of her ambitious public and private life.

A Wonderful Life (Musical)

A Wonderful Life (MUSICAL)
Hillbarn Theatre
December 2 – 19
Although this show starts in December I want to make sure you are all notified in time.  Hillbarn has been putting on consistently fantastic productions, and has been selling out of many shows.  I’ve had my fill of Wonderful Life over the years, but I am truly excited to see Hillbarn’s new musical version.  I’m sure it will be a Don’t Miss production!

Steampunk + Shakespeare? Just might work!

If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.
Twelfth Night, 3. 4

Fantastic news coming out of the San Jose State University theatre department!  Fans of the steampunk genre and scholars of Shakespeare will unite under one roof when Twelfth Night premieres on November 12.  Director Kathleen Normington, SJSU Theatre faculty since 1999, is bringing a new vision to the play in the hopes of introducing Shakespeare to a wider audience, reaching both students and the population at large.

Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s most well known and oft produced dramas, focusing on themes of illusion and reality.  Steampunk is a popular sub-genre of science fiction, usually set in an historical time period featuring futuristic technology.  While Shakespeare and steampunk may seem to have nothing in common, the melding of steampunk visuals with Shakespeare’s written words will consummate into a beautiful rendition of the play that might actually help bring across the themes of Twelfth Night in unexpected ways.

The intention is to use the steampunk aesthetic to style the production and to highlight some of the themes of disguise and gender ambiguity within the play.  All signs are pointing to a visually striking production, and Kathleen notes that “especially at a university where our audience is young and fearful of Shakespeare, […] we need to capture them visually and then hope that the language and character will keep them involved.”

But Shakespeare purists have nothing to fear as Dr. Adrienne Eastwood from the SJSU English department has been brought in as dramaturge.  Dr. Eastwood has a Ph.D. from UC San Diego and recently published “Between Wedding and Bedding: The Epithalamic Sub-genre in Shakespeare’s Comedies” in Exemplaria: A Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance Studies.   She is excited to help in assuring that aside from the exciting visual aspects, the direction of the production will remain true to the themes and messages that Twelfth Night should be sending.  Both current and previous students will agree that this show will only shine with Dr. Eastwood involved.

Having these two great scholars come together to integrate these two fascinating ideas might be one of the most exciting things to happen to the SJSU Theatre Department.  The play will open on November 12, and you should all mark your calendars now as this electrifying play has already been generating a lot of buzz.  You will not want to miss out on your chance to see this unique production!

Twelfth Night
San Jose State University Theatre
November 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20 at 7pm
Students/Seniors $10
General admission $20
Tickets Available Online, or call 408 924-4555.

As You Like It = Pay What You Will Tuesday










The SJ Rep is helping you help the community – AND see a play!

The San Jose Repertory Theatre has always been a leader in bringing the arts to everyone and giving back to the community. This season they are taking even broader steps in this direction.

In order to help community members who cannot afford regular priced tickets to the outstanding productions held at the Rep this year, they are offering Pay What You Will Tuesdays. The first preview Tuesday for each production of San Jose Rep’s 2009-2010 season, starting with the Tuesday, September 1 production of As You Like It, will be open to all members of the community for a suggested ticket price of $10, however any amount will be accepted. In addition, a canned food drive for Second Harvest Food Bank will have food bins in the lobby hoping for your donations. In this way any member of our community can not only see an exciting new production at the SJ Rep, but they can also help Second Harvest help those who are in even greater need.

Tickets go on sale at San Jose Rep’s box office one week prior to the scheduled performance. Seating is general admission and will be on a first-come, first-served basis.

Pay What You Will Tuesday:

Groundswell – Tuesday, Oct. 13

A Christmas Story – Tuesday, Nov. 24

The Weir – Tuesday, Jan. 26

Ain’t Misbehavin’ – Tuesday, March 16

Sonia Flew – Tuesday, May 11.

If you don’t make it to this Tuesday’s preview of As You Like It, you can still see the production of one of Shakespeare’s most beloved plays at the SJ Rep from August 29 to September 27.

Sibling rivalry, royals in exile, mistaken identities, cross dressing (no kiddin’), and love at first sight, all make an appearance in this bewitching and sophisticated comedy about freeing oneself from the shackles of technology and finding oneself in nature. Really! The actors will be texting onstage, and you can too, during intermission and after the show!

Don’t miss this exciting new production. San Jose Metblogs is excited to attend the September 4 show and we will have our review up by Saturday afternoon. See you at the Rep!

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