Review: ‘Gertrude and Claudius @ Barrington Stage, 7/21/19

Elijah Alexander and Kate MacCluggage as the title characters in “Gertrude and Claudius” at Barrington Stage Company. (BSC publicity photo by Daniel Rader.)

The most theatrically engaging and emotionally complete production I’ve seen so far this summer, “Gertrude and Claudius” combines the brawn of a medieval history play with the intelligence of a contemporary revenge drama.

Commissioned by the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, where it had its world premiere last year, “Gertrude and Claudius” is receiving a rousing production at Barrington Stage Company, with which its author, Mark St. Germain, has a long artistic association. (The company’s smaller stage was named after him seven years ago.)

Essentially a prequel to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” that explores the origins of the relationship between the title characters – the mother and stepfather of the moody Danish prince – “Gertrude and Claudius” was adapted by St. Germain from John Updike’s best-selling 2000 novel of the same name. According to Updike’s son David, a writer who happened to be sitting in the same row as me at Sunday’s opening performance, St. Germain was chosen by Updike’s estate from among multiple proposals to adapt the book for the stage.

St. Germain succeeds brilliantly, crafting language that synthesizes the formality and eloquence of Shakespeare with a modern, accessible vernacular. At one point, a character says, “I got away with it!,” an exclamation rather more contemporary than anything from pre-Renaissance Denmark or Elizabethan England but which sounds perfectly right here, in a production directed by the finesse and acuity we’ve come to expect from BSC’s artistic director, Julianne Boyd.

Covering about 30 years, “Gertrude and Claudius” begins with the arranged marriage of Gertrude to Hamlet’s father, King Amleth. It continues over the decades while the king, a generally caring and considerate husband distracted by affairs of state, misses the affair of the heart between his wife and his world-traveling brother, Claudius. The unfulfilled lovers see one another occasionally, building their bond primarily through letters, until Gertrude asserts her royal prerogative and essentially orders Claudius to return, starting them toward regicide and the beginning of the story in “Hamlet.”

Performed on a handsome, imposing set of high castle walls, designed by Lee Savage and lit to perfection by David Lander, with gorgeous costumes by Sara Jean Tosetti, BSC’s “Gertrude and Claudius” has an outstanding title pair in Kate MacCluggage and Elijah Alexander. Both acutely aware of the constraints of the era and the weight of their respective places in the royal family, they nonetheless build a deeply affecting connection. Claudius wanders the globe because the only thing harder than being away from Gertrude would be to see her daily; she is a proper, strong queen, wife and mother, but, her mind often far away, she also comes to consider Elsinore as much prison as castle, haunting its hallways as her husband’s ghost will after his murder.

With an excellent Douglas Rees as Amleth, guilty of little more than neglect on the domestic front, Berkshires veteran Rocco Sisto as the chattering royal adviser Polonius, reliable and comedic Mary Stout as Gertrude’s matronly handmaiden and Nick LaMedica as vital though largely silent Hamlet, the production moves toward its inevitable end. Though the conclusion is foregone, the journey there is not, and some of its stops offer surprise and insight. The best of them is a scene that closes the first act, when Claudius introduces Gertrude to his trained falcons. (The puppetry is by Brandon Hardy, who also worked on BSC’s season-opening “Into the woods.”)

Rich in metaphor and emotion, the falcon scene ends with a moment of theatrical magic that it would be unfair to reveal further. St. Germain is said to have been pacing at the back of the balcony, agonizing that the essential moment would work as intended. It does. Gertrude and Claudius together make an irrevocable choice, forever altering lives and history.

Review by Steve Barnes from the Times Union. Link to the full article can be found here.

Barbara Hammond’s VISIBLE FROM FOUR STATES Set to Play at Magic Arts & Community’s Premiere Tenderloin Community Performance

Magic Theatre (Loretta Greco, Artistic Director and Kevin Nelson, General Manager) announced today the complete cast and creative team for Magic Arts & Community’s Premiere Tenderloin Community Performance of Barbara Hammond‘s Visible From Four States.

There will be three performances of Visible From Four States: Friday, July 26, 2019 at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday, July 27, 2019 at 2:30 p.m. & 8:00 p.m.

All performances will take place at San Francisco’s Exit Theatre (156 Eddy St., San Francisco, CA 94102). All performances are FREE and open to the public. Please contact the Box Office at 415-441-8822 or email boxoffice@magictheatre.org to reserve tickets.

“I have always loved the iconic Magic Theatre and can’t think of a better fit for the debut of Visible From Four States,” said playwright Barbara Hammond. “On the face of it, Mason County is so different from the Tenderloin District — rural vs. urban, remote vs. connected — but, at its core, each community has to wrestle with how to build bridges amongst individuals while the world around it seems more and more impersonal and uncaring. How do we keep our humanity (or save our souls) in 2019?”

Read the full article from Broadway World San Francisco here.

Mashuq Mushtaq Deen Named Inaugural Recipient of NYU Tisch-New Dramatists Joint Commission

The works commissioned in the new program will premiere in the Graduate Acting program’s season of productions.

NYU Tisch School of the Arts and New Dramatists have established a new partnership ensuring the continued development and performance of new works.

Each year, the school will commission an alum or current member of the playwright development laboratory to write and workshop a play specifically for NYU students. The work will then premiere as part of the Graduate Acting program’s annual season of productions.

The partnership marks the formalization of a longstanding tradition between the school and new playwrights, as the program routinely commissions and presents world premieres by established playwrights.

The first commission recipient is playwright Mashuq Mashtaq Deen, whose earlier works include FloodThe Betterment Society, and The Shaking Earth.

His Tisch commission, to be directed in the 2019–2020 season by Johanna McKeon, is an exploration of mathematics, culture, and existentialism, derived in part from improvisation and research conducted with the students. An 11-day workshop included abacus and meditation classes and trips to Chinatown markets.

The full article by Ryan McPhee is available at Playbill.com.

The Kilroys’ 2019 List Name Audrey Cefaly and Jacqueline Goldfinger, While Others Make Honorable Mentions

Audrey Cefaly‘s ALABASTER, and Jacqueline Goldfinger’s BABEL make the Kilroy’s 2019 List of un- and underproduced plays  un- and underproduced new plays by woman, trans, and non-binary authors per our survey results. Each play received between 5 and 19 nominations. .

ALABASTER: A darkly comic southern drama about love, art, and the power of women. This heart-wrenching story of a reclusive Alabama folk artist won the David Calicchio Emerging American Playwright Prize. After a tornado barrels through town leaving nothing but death and destruction, only June and her pet goat Weezy live to tell the tale. When a prominent photographer visits to take pictures of June’s scars, both are forced to reconcile the pain of loss and recovery. This all-female drama explores the meaning and purpose of art and the struggle of the lost and tortured souls that seek to create it.

BABEL: What would you do if you had the power to build your own baby? In this version of a near future society, prospective parents learn within the first weeks of conception which genetic traits their child will have, and what behaviors they are likely to exhibit. Based on these test results, the parent(s) are either issued a PRE certification which legally guarantees the baby will be a “good” person or not. Without the certification, the child will be limited in what it is allowed to do. Two couples collide over what to do with their PRE certification test results. With rapid advances in reproductive technology, modern eugenics is science’s Wild West. What will we do to “civilize” it and ourselves? How far will we go when playing God? If you like Booker’s “Black Mirror,” Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go,” or Haley’s “The Nether,” then this play is for you.

Honorable Mentions include:
FRANCE-LUCE BENSON – Deux Femmes on the Edge de la Revolution
PATRICIA COTTER – The Daughters
JACQUELINE GOLDFINGER – Click
TIRA PALMQUIST – The Way North

Peter Mills and Cara Reichel’s THE HELLO GIRLS Live Cast Album Now Available!

Broadway Records released an original off-Broadway cast recording of The Hello Girls currently available for preorder at BroadwayRecords.com and Amazon.com.

From New York to Paris, from ragtime to jazz — an ensemble of actor-musicians chronicles the story of America’s first women soldiers, The Hello Girls. These intrepid heroines served as bilingual telephone operators on the front lines, helping turn the tide of World War I. They then returned home to fight a decades-long battle for equality and recognition, paving the way for future generations.

Nominated for three Drama Desk Awards and four Outer Critics Circle Awards, The Hello Girls has music and lyrics by Peter Mills, and a book by Mills and Cara Reichel, with direction by Cara Reichel, choreography by Christine O’Grady, and music direction by Ben Moss. Orchestrations are by Peter Mills and Ben Moss, with additional drum arrangements by Elena Bonomo. Produced by Prospect Theater Company, the musical ran from November 13-December 22, 2018 at 59E59 Theaters.

The cast featured Ellie Fishman (Finding Neverland), Arlo Hill (The Most Happy Fella at Encores!), Chanel Karimkhani (The Goree All Girl String Bandat New York Musical Festival), Andrew Mayer (Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812), Matthew McGloin (CasablancaBox at HERE Arts), Ben Moss (Spring Awakening), Lili Thomas (Disney Millennium Symphonies with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall), Skyler Volpe (West Side Story at Barrington Stage), Cathryn Wake (Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812), and Scott Wakefield (Hands on a Hardbody). Elena Bonomo (Waitress) was the percussionist.

Learn more from Broadway World here.