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Posts tagged ‘Hamlet’

Newcomer Andrew Burnap’s Astonishing Debut in “Troilus & Cressida”

Troilus and Cressida 1Andrew Burnap 1“Troilus and Cressida” is considered one of  Shakespeare’s Problem Plays. It’s hardly ever done. It’s wildly uneven, and it’s always nigh to impossible to tell the Greeks from the Trojans. It’s clear that there’s a war on, but who’s who and which is which is always mightily confusing.

Director Dan Sullivan has perhaps rectified all that with his testosterone fueled-production in Central Park this summer. He’s cast one of the strongest male casts I’ve ever seen containing some of the best young Shakespearean actors around today. Main among them is newcomer Andrew Burnap in the usually forgettable title role. But Burnap burns up the stage as he holds his own against as formidable a male cast as I’ve ever seen in Shakespeare in the Park, New York’s annual, pastoral summer ritual. Founded by the late Joe Papp to be free to all New Yorkers, the Park never disappoints, though most times the productions certainly do. But not this time.Shakespeara in the Park 1

I’m happy to say that “Troilus and Cressida” is one of the best Shakespeare’s I’ve ever seen in the Park.

But back to Andrew Burnap. A recent graduate of the Yale School of Drama, he’s stepped right out of school and right into stardom, following in the footsteps of former Yale-ees Meryl Streep and Lupita Nyong’o who just soared immediately upon graduation. His beautiful, brave, heart-broken, angry, and eventually murderous Troilus is everything a dream role for a young actor should be. And blond, blue-eyed, dashing Burnap is living the dream. In a part, I’ve never really even noticed before, he makes it seem a greater role than it’s ever been.

Troilus and Cressida are sort of Romeo and Juliet gone wrong.  The Trojan War  breaks them apart early and nearly kills them.

I saw Helen Mirren as a young girl, maybe even a teenager, make her debut at the Royal Shakespeare Company back in the ’60s as Cressida.Helen Mirren Young Her debut, her first scene, she got rolled out of a Persian carpet completely nude. And thus began her great career. She was utterly heart-breaking in the scene where she emerges ravaged from the rival army’s camp where she has been raped repeatedly. She was shattered, bruised, barely able to speak, unforgettable. The actress here, Ismenia Mendes, just can’t cut it. You barely can tell she’s been gang-raped, and you don’t care much either.

But you do care about Andrew Burnap/Troilus’s reaction to his love being so defiled. He goes madly to war against his enemies, main among them the superb young Shakespearean actor Zach Appelman, as Diomedes, another part no one ever remembers. Appelman, you may remember, was the diamond brilliant Hamlet in Hartford, just this past winter for Darko Tresnjak.

Troilus and Cressida 3In the first act, Diomedes has very little to do, except to flex his muscles and show his six-pack lifting barbells and strutting shirtless (as do many others of this studly, sweating, stunning cast) in the 100 degree heat New York is now experiencing. But in Act 2, he gets to come into his own, as he battles Burnap. Appelman is a Yale graduate, too, btw.  As pictured above and below, you can see how intense their final confrontation is.Troilus and Cressida 4

I also must mention the tremendously strong ensemble feel that this T & C production had and I wasn’t surprised when I checked my program later that there were 10 (!) count’em TEN graduates of the equally superb NYU Grad Acting program! Which boasts its’ own  terrific, classically trained actors, main among them Corey Stoll. Stoll was so memorable as Ernest Heminngway in Woody Allen’s ” Midnight in Paris.” Here the completely bald Stoll is oiliness personified as the only man in a suit in this play, the slippery, Ulysseus, whom Stoll plays as   a corrupt ad exec, who arranges Cressida’s gang rape and many other nefarious things.Corey Stoll 1

I also had the privilege of seeing Understudy Keilyn Durrell Jones go on as the muscle-bound Achilles. He was just so loopily love-struck by his male amour Patroclus (Tom Pecinka), he licks his face like a huge puppy dog.Keilyn The Millionaire Jones

Yes, this is also the gay-est play Shakespeare ever wrote and director Sullivan does not hesitate to show the mighty Achilles, gathering his beloved up in his hugely muscled arms and whisking the giggling Patroclus off to their love-tent.

A male cast this awesome, and striking, who speak the Bard’s lines as magnificently as they make love AND war, makes one re-consider “Troilus and Cressida” as a much better play than it ever seemed before.

#Troilus and Cressida # Shakespeare # Trojan War #Andrew Burnap #Zach Appelman #Shakespeare in the Park #Corey Stoll #Achilles #Helen Mirren # Royal Shakespeare Company #Helen Mirren nude #Ulysses #Dan Sullivan # Problem Play # Central Park #Hamlet # Hartford Stage Company # Darko Tresnjak # Keilyn The Billionaire Jones#Achilles

 

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Darko Tresnjak’s Excellent, Whip-Smart “Hamlet” in Hartford

Hamlet 2

I can’t stop raving about Darko Tresnjak’s rip-roaring, whip-smart production of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” now at the Hartford Stage. Following up on his Tony-award-winning Broadway triumph for Best Musical, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”, where he himself won a Tony for Best Director, and Clint Eastwood announcing his win just said in that distinctive, rumbling voice of his “Darko”, Tresnjak immediately became iconic.

He is also the artistic director of the Hartford Stage Company, a venerable regional theater that he has notably injected new life into, coupled with the renewal of downtown Hartford, it is definitely a trip worth the making. But you’ve got to do it quick because this most excellent “Hamlet” is only running til this coming Sunday, Nov.16.

It’s selling out and you can see why. I wish New Yorkers could see just how vital and vivid this “Hamlet” is.

Tresnjak has decided to do this Shakespeare straight, no-frills in an accurately Elizabethan production, eye-poppingly costumed by Fabio Toblini with a stunningly simple but provocative set by Darko Tresnjak himself!

The Hartford’s thrust stage is in the form of an illuminated cross, strikingly and eerily lit from below by lighting designer Matthew Richards. The actors are literally walking on footlights.

One of the great banes of regional theater has always been its’ inability to attract the best of the best actors available to appear out-of-town, but this is not the case at all with this stunning “Hamlet.” It could be on Broadway. Or certainly in Central Park. Everyone everywhere deserves to see this excellent “Hamlet.” The citizens of Hartford are very lucky indeed.

Of course, “Hamlet” is only as a great as the Hamlet himself and Zach Appelman, whose career I have been following since the Yale School of Drama, is its’ unforgettable hero.

Still in his 20s’, he’s the youngest Hamlet I’ve ever seen, but that works like gang-busters, because the gloomy Dane’s rash and violent impetuosity is much more suited to a brash, hot-headed youth.

Appelman enters and holds the stage, as only someone with buckets of charisma could, with his hands clasped, as if in prayer. Whilst the gaudy, bawdy court around him is celebrating, he is lost in grief.

Appelman has a lazer-like focus on the text and speaks it beautifully, making the role absolutely his. His has a tremendous, elastic athleticism, making his climatic sword and dagger fight with Laertes ( the wonderful Anthony Roach) something remarkable and frightening at the same time. How many actors can wield a sword and Shakespeare’s verse with equal, spine-tingling skill? He nearly chokes his mother (Kate Forbes) to death in the famous closet scene as he also kills Polonius(a super Edward James Hyland).

Appelman also gets laughs out of Hamlet. Spunky and jaunty as well as clinically depressed by his uncle’s murder of his father, he is particularly witty as his takes the piss out of old Polonius. Veteran Edward James Hyland is also one of the best, funniest old court geezers I have ever seen, too.

Appelman switches from the sublime to the ridiculous with the ease of an Olivier. Have we ever seen a FUNNY Hamlet? The superb Appelman is not playing it for laughs, but finding the sly humor in the young, melancholy prince. You see that MAYBE he might have had a chance at happiness had all these tragic events not happened to him. And every laugh that Appelman and Hyland get are earned laughter springing from their apt characterizations.

Tresnjak really his knows his Shakespeare and it’s a joy to behold that he has a cast that is up to his challenges. Brittany Vicars is an appropriately ethereal, fragile Ophelia and Floyd King and Curtis Billings are a riot as the comical grave-diggers. In fact, Tresnjak has left in parts of their scene that are usually cut, which I was delighted to hear for the first time anywhere. Usually there is just ONE grave-digger, but in this longer scene, we actually hear their comical discussion of Ophelia’s suicide. If there was ever any question of what the river did to her and what she did to the river, the grave-diggers settle it once and for all.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Tresnjak’s use of five students from the nearby Hartford-based colleges.Who knew that Harford was so culturally rich? I have to mention Conor M. Hammill, who excels as not only Francisco and Voltemand, but also a memorable Fortinbras,the Polish prince who ends the play. Who ever remembers Fortinbras? Well, you will this time. And Adam Montgomery is also very, very good as the flighty courtier Osric and a terrific player Queen. They both are currently still in school and what an education they are getting working with and holding their own against some of the best actors currently on this planet.

I can’t recommend this production of “Hamlet” highly enough! The trip is worth the trip.

Elizabeth Taylor passes ~ The Star of Stars

So shocked and saddened to turn on my TV set this morning and be bombarded with the devastating news of Elizabeth Taylor’s death.

She seemed so strong, so resilient. I thought she would never die.

She was the Star of Stars. And my childhood idol/crush.

It seems sometimes I ran large portions of my childhood around her.

Memories come flooding back.

Now that I have a talk-show and routinely interact with all the great ones, I find myself trying to figure out how I can get them as guests and if so, why not?

Well, Elizabeth Taylor was simply before my time. And she was from pre-junket Hollywood. Where, as you may have noticed on my You Tube Channel or my long-running cable TV show, www.youtube.com/StephenHoltShow

I get most of the biggest stars from TV press junkets.

Elizabeth Taylor’s film career was done YEARS before I started star chatting, but in the back of my mind, I always felt/hoped consciously or unconsciously that I would someday meet and greet her.

It didn’t happen.

I have so many childhood memories, mostly bittersweet, of trying, somehow to even catch a glimpse of her.

The closest I got was when my first gay friend, who I didn’t know was gay, just “sophisticated”, who lived downstairs of me, in the Bronx, and who was a year ahead of me in Catholic school, Edward Calabrese, used to go “downtown” to wild and wicked Manhattan to perhaps catch a glimpse of her coming or going from where she was holed up when hubby Richard Burton was doing “Hamlet” on Broadway. She was staying in the Penthouse at the Regency Hotel.

Long story short. Edward and I never saw her.

We also waited to see her at “Hamlet”. Never saw her. Sometimes she’d go there to meet Richard Burton, the love of her life, before or after the show. Never saw her.

I did see HIM. In “Hamlet” on Broadway and of course, I went with Edward. Burton was a mediocre Hamlet, I thought, a critic even at that tender age. He was getting through it on his INCREDIBLE voice, and with a minimum of acting.

The great performances in that show were John Gielgud’s voice(on tape) of the “Ghost.” He really scared me. And remains still the best Ghost of Hamlet’s father ever, IMHO. And also a particularly poignant Player Queen, played in drag, by the very young Kit Culkin, MacCauley’s father. And Hume Cronyn was good, too, as the VERY busy body of Polinius. And Eileen Hurley, with BRIGHT red hair, was Gertrude…She played a VERY YOUNG Gertrude to Olivier’s much better “Hamlet” in the movie and later was Muriel, with equally bright red hair on “All My Children” for a very long run…

But I never saw Elizabeth.

But I tried.

I have so many memories of Elizabeth as she liked to be called that I could fill a book. Maybe someday I will.

Elizabeth R.I.P.

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