October 14th, 2013

Wauwatosa Historical Society 2013 Tour of Homes

One of the other groups in our area that does an annual house tour is the Wauwatosa Historical Society, and we were very interested by their tour this year.  The featured neighborhood, the “Wellauer” subdivision, includes a number of very fine and fascinating homes we have frequently admired when passing by.  We started the tour on Saturday, October 5th, after Georgie got off work at 1 PM.

The skies grew gradually more threatening as the afternoon drew on, and it began to rain as we went between the 4th and 5th houses we had selected to see (there were seven on the full tour). By the time we came out of number 5, it was pouring, and we beat a retreat, not wanting to take our wet selves into someone else’s house. (The area got 2.4 inches of rain in about half an hour--.)

Among the interesting houses we did see was 7105 Grand Parkway, which is one of twenty-six masonry homes in the Milwaukee area that were designed by architect Earnest Flagg. These were intended to be economically built homes, using poured concrete walls sheathed with stone, and an unusual interior layout without corridors or hallways. Despite the somewhat unusual layout, we found this to be a charming and comfortable looking house.

7010 Wellauer Drive is a very handsome Mediterranean Revival home, which has been very well preserved since its 1925 construction date. This was one of a number of homes in the area that were built for members of the Wellauer family that ran the realty company responsible for laying out the subdivision and building many of the homes.

We were also particularly taken with 6927 Wellauer Drive, a handsome French Provincial style home, and 6819 Wellauer Drive, a Tudor Revival with a very nifty tower housing the main staircase.

The last house we got to see, 532 Crescent Court, was one of the most interesting, exhibiting nice examples of both renovation and preservation.  The third-floor maid’s bedroom and unfinished attic space had been converted into a very nice office and library, whereas the basement recreation room, with its terrazzo floor and elaborate German-style bar, was in its original state.

This was a very nice tour and worth getting rained on (although making our way home around flooded intersections was a bit of unlooked for excitement--.)

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/241932.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Capturing Capulet

In the West Allis Players’ production of “Romeo and Juliet,” I have the role of Capulet, Juliet’s father, best remembered for his tyrannical insistence that Juliet marry Count Paris two days after her (unbeknownst to him) secret wedding to Romeo. In a rehearsal session discussing motivation for this sudden switch on the part of Capulet,  who had previously suggested Paris wait two years before a wedding, I jokingly suggested that, following the deaths of Tybalt and Mercutio,  perhaps Capulet had decided that eligible young men were becoming thin on the ground, and he should secure Paris as a son-in-law before something else happened. This set me thinking more deeply about the character.
I consider that both Capulet and his rival, Montague, although “dignified” are commoners, and probably of the merchant class.

Shakespeare seems to have had the opinion that Italian merchants were hard men. We see pretty  “cutthroat” business practices in “The Merchant of Venice.  In “The Taming of the Shrew,” the merchant Gremio has already mused on killing his rival for the hand of Bianca (“And may not young men die as well as old?”), and, when that rival suggests his father might retire and give him control of the family business, replies, “Your father were a fool to give thee all, and in his waning age, set foot under thy table. … An old Italian fox is not so kind, my boy.” When the said father, Vincentio, appears, he proves to have a violent temper and small sense of humor.  Capulet is of this type.

It is my theory that he’s had a lot of grief in his life to help harden him. He is a survivor of the generational feud, and seems to have buried a number of children (“The earth hath swallowed all my hopes but she.”), and probably at least one prior wife.  Lady Capulet says, “I was thy mother much upon these years that thou are now a maid,” i.e., fourteen, which means that Juliet was her eldest child. The age difference between her, who would be twenty-eight at the time of the play, and her husband, referred to as “Old” Capulet, makes it very probable that she’s a second wife and that Capulet had lost an entire first family to the accidents of life, childbirth (Paris: “Younger than she are happy mothers made.” Capulet: “And too soon marred are those so early made.”) and the deadly feud.

As head of household, Capulet is used to ruling the roost and confident he can master any situation.  When Lady Capulet expresses doubts about the sudden wedding plans, he blows them off: “Tush, all things shall be well, I warrant thee.”  In the party scene, he quells the headstrong Tybalt with a few phrases.  He’s definitely not used to being thwarted. When Juliet refuses to marry Paris, he threatens to disown her in a terrifying rage that leaves Juliet, her nurse, and her mother emotionally wrecked.

For all that, Capulet does care for his daughter.  Paris is a brilliant match: young, handsome, valiant, wealthy in his own right, a nobleman and cousin to the Prince of the city; yet Capulet is initially willing to make Paris wait two years to wed her.  For lack of a better, we must accept that his motivation for moving up the wedding is due to his concern over what he sees as Juliet’s intemperate grief over the death of Tybalt. (Capulet takes Tybalt’s death quite philosophically. Even Lady Capulet, whose blood kin he was, chides Juliet for trying to “wash him out of his grave with tears.”)  When Juliet, following Friar Lawrence’s crack-brained plan, seems to capitulate and beg his pardon, he’s more than ready to give it without suspicion.

Of course, any actor wants his character to be perceived by the audience as something more than just a walking plot device, but I hope that some of this groundwork came through in our production.  Judging by the positive feedback I have received from friends who saw it, I think it may have.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/242359.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

West Allis Players “Romeo and Juliet”

Now the run of West Allis Players’ production of “Romeo and Juliet” is over.  Although a “succes   d’estime” with everyone who saw it, unfortunately it was not a success at the box office, with the average house of the five performances being forty people.

Those who didn’t go missed a good show.  The modern dress costuming worked well enough, with the sword fights translated into believable knife fights by Fight Choreographer Christopher Elst.  Director Mary Beth Toph and Costumer Patricia Kies had a very clever idea to do the Capulets’ ball scene as a genuine costume ball, which added color.  The particularly good idea was to have both the Capulets and Romeo affect Renaissance garb for the party, so, for this scene and the ones that logically followed, such as the “balcony scene”, Romeo and Juliet were in “traditional” costumes.   Other modern touches, such as the crime scene tape put around the bodies of Tybalt and Mercutio, were well received by the audience.  Some involved with the production thought that the background of rustic stonework didn’t go with the updating, but, as I think we will find from the Julian Ffellows movie just released, lots of modern-day Verona probably still looks like that--.

I thought the cast was very strong.  Michael Haubner as Romeo and Gabriella Smurawa as Juliet carried off the critical roles very well. The only criticism I heard was that Romeo might have shown a bit more passion in the scene where Benvolio tells him of Juliet’s supposed death, but overall I have nothing but praise for their performances.  

Important supporting roles were also well cast, with great work by Nick Haubner as Tybalt, Jake Andrejat as Mercutio,  Jerry Krajewski as Benvolio, Eric Madsen as Friar Lawrence, and “Goo” as Juliet’s Nurse. Michelle White was very effective and striking in the role of Lady Capulet, and Jennifer Gaul had a nice double turn in the roles of Lady Montague and a slightly stoned Apothecary.

In a lot of ways, this production was a particular pleasure for me, since I got to work with some old comrades, Bill Kaiser (Montague), whom I shared the stage with years ago in “Fiddler on the Roof,” and “South Pacific,” and Joseph Weber (Prince), who was Tranio when I played Gremio in “The Taming of the Shrew.”  It was good to work with the impressively talented young actors mentioned above, and to help pave the way for a yet younger generation, Lia Krystowiak and Bria Sullivan (Chorus) and James Sullivan (John the messenger) who showed great promise of things to come.
As with every production I’ve been  in, I was glad to begin it, glad to see it to fruition, and now, glad that’s over so that I can go back to the rest of my life with a good memory of it.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/242567.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

“Romeo and Juliet,” Critiquing the Hundsness abridgement

Followers of this journal will recall that, when I was cast, I was not pleased to find out that we were using an abridged script. While I’ve gotten accustomed to it, rehearsing the show and hearing the other parts just made me more aware of its deficiencies.

Notes to the adapted script say: “Edited and adapted by David Hundsness, 2008…. This adaptation retains Shakespeare’s original language. It has been shortened to under two hours, cutting scenes that are typically slow to modern audiences. Dated references are minimized so the story may be set anytime and anywhere. A Wedding Ceremony and Juliet's Funeral are created from cut-and-pasted lines, and some scenes are altered for dramatic impact (all from the original script, of course). To see all lines that were cut, see the unabridged version at www.hundsness.com/plays.”

Mr. Hundsness has also posted one comment, by “Austin Live Theater,” “This is no Reader's Digest edition. The adapter did a scrupulous, ethical job of fileting the original text, preserving the story line and the essentials of the characters. Almost all of the most memorable lines of verse were retained. Purists would certainly object to his reducing the text by 30 to 40 percent, adroitly stitching together scenes while adhering to original texts and crafting both a brief marriage scene in Friar Laurence's chambers and a funeral for Juliet. But none of this diminishes a whit the power of Shakespeare's language or plot. The adaptation is directly in the centuries-old tradition of moving the bard to the audience."

Well, I beg to differ. I admit that I am one of the purists referred to, and that cutting any play, let alone Shakespeare, is problematical. I much prefer to start with the uncut text, and then prune where you find you can’t make it work, rather than, as we did, starting with someone else’s idea of what a good abridgement is, and adding bits back in. 

Admittedly also, that’s a big job and not everyone may be up for it.
Some of Mr. Hundsness’ cuts I didn’t have a problem with.  The sections where Capulet’s servants are sent to invite friends to the ball doesn’t advance the plot too much, nor does Capulet’s dialogue with his uncle at the party, and I didn’t mind not having to add that to my role. On the other hand, the adaptation entirely cut Paris visit to the Capulet tomb, his duel with Romeo and death, and Friar Laurence’s  dialog with Juliet before he flees the scene. All these we added back in. On the other hand, Friar Lawrence’s confession to the Prince doesn’t add anything the audience didn’t know, so I don’t so much mind that being cut. However, Hundsness then goes on to cut out the text of Capulet and Montague’s reconciliation, which I think is vital. The street scene with Romeo, Murcutio, and the Nurse, wherein the wedding plans are made, is vital and went back in. We also added back in the short scene wherein Juliet convinces her father she has repented and will marry Paris, which I think was good to have in, although perhaps not as crucial. Other cuts were also restored.

Perhaps worse than the cutting of entire scenes is the picking out of words and phrases from individual speeches, with the result that what remains makes little sense. Here’s the unabridged version of Capulet inviting Paris to his party:

“This night I hold an old accustomed feast,
Whereto I have invited many a guest
such as I love; and you among the store,
if you be not of the house of Montagues,
One more, most welcome, makes my number more.
At my poor house look to behold this night
Earth-treading stars that make dark heaven light.
Such comfort as do lusty young men feel
When well-appareled April on the heel
Of limping winter treads, even such delight
Among fresh femalel buds shall you this night
Inherit at my house. Hear all, all see,
And like her most whose merit most shall be;
Which, on more view of many, mine, being one,              
May stand in number, though in reck'ning none.
Come, go with me.”

And here’s what I was left with:
“This night I hold an old accustomed feast,
whereto I have invited many a guest
Such as I love, not of the house of Montagues,
And you, most welcome. Look to behold this night
Earth-treading stars that make dark heaven light.
Such comfort as do lusty young men feel
Among fresh female buds. Hear all, all see,
And like her most. Come, go with me.”

I had the biggest problem with the lines “such comfort as do lusty young men feel among fresh female buds.” Say what? This isn’t even a complete sentence. I added back in the words, “thou shalt inherit,” so it at least had a verb and made some sense.

Mercutio suffers badly under this regime.  Not only does Hundsness hack away at the “Queen Mab” speech, probably the most famous in the play after the balcony scene, he also makes pointless changes to poor Mercutio’s death scene.  Instead of:

Courage, man, the hurt cannot be much.
No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a
church door, but 'tis enough, 'twill serve. Ask for me
tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.”

We get:
“No, 'tis not so deep, nor so wide,
but 'tis enough, 'twill serve. Ask for me
tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.”

Not so deep nor so wide as what? The logic of the  cut puzzles me. Even in the name of removing dated references, I would think a modern audience could be relied upon to understand that a well is typically deep, and a church door typically wide.

So, in sum, I find Mr. Hundsness’ abridgement objectionable, not alone because it is an abridgement, but because, in my opinion, it is a badly done abridgment.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/242740.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Rescuing Romeo: Can this marriage be saved?

Having recently seen Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, I had a rather heightened awareness of what actors (who know they are actors) actually do when not on stage. Their activities include:
Reminiscing about shows they have been in and swapping “war stories”.
Planning future auditions and speculating about future shows they might want to be in. Comparing roles they would like to play sometime, whether practical or not.

Yes, playing games does actually occur, although with this group we were strict on allowing it only before curtain, while killing time after costume and makeup, and during intermission, so that cues were not missed during the performance. Someone brought in cards from the game “Mindtrap” which is a collection of brain-teaser puzzles. (I impressed the others with how good I was at those--.)

Restlessly lurking around backstage from time to time a la the Phantom of the Opera is something most of us do, too, but you have to be careful to stay out of the way of people who may be hurrying to make an entrance.
One of the other things we do is critique the play we are in. There’s nothing like a month of memorization and rehearsal to give you an appreciation of a play’s flaws. And, make no mistake, “Romeo and Juliet” is flawed. It is FULL of plot holes. 

Assuming that everything goes as scripted up to the point where Friar Lawrence marries the pair, why don’t they just elope then? At least there’s a partial answer to that one.  Romeo can’t just show up with Juliet at Villa Montague with Juliet in tow as new bride, since because they married without parental consent, the marriage could yet be annulled if it was valid at all. So, they need to consummate the marriage somewhere/sometime.  Although Friar Lawrence is willing to use his study to provide sanctuary to a wanted felon (Romeo, somewhat later), he seems unwilling to allow it to be used as a marital bower,  and let the plan be for the two to get together later.

For the same reason, when confronted by Tybalt, Romeo can’t let the cat out of the bag yet, although he drops hints.  Once Tybalt has killed Mercutio,  why doesn’t Romeo let the  Prince take care of it? The Prince, as is mentioned in that scene, has decreed death for dueling. All Romeo has to do is let justice take its course.  The answer there, of course, it that Romeo, like all the men in the play, is a hothead, and honor demands that he tackle Tybalt and hang the consequences.

From here on, it gets weird.  Instead of Romeo going to Juliet’s chamber for the night, why doesn’t she sneak out and they fly together? Or, after having spent the night, why doesn’t Romeo take Juliet with him to Mantua? The nurse-provided ladder is right there, so no problem getting Juliet and a bag over the wall.

When Juliet comes to Friar Lawrence with news of the wedding plans for her and Paris, why doesn’t the Friar hide her “among a sisterhood of holy nuns” right then, or otherwise hide her until she can be smuggled out to Romeo?  Why doesn’t he “man up” and admit to the Capulets what he’s done? After all, in no way would it be consistent with his vows to remain silent and assist in Juliet entering into a bigamous marriage.  (We envision the wedding scene:  Friar: If any man here knows any reason why this man and this woman should not be joined in holy matrimony, let him speak now, or forever hold his peace. Oh, that would be me!--)  

Well, the reasoning here is that the Friar is a coward, probably justly afraid of Capulet’s vengeance and the discipline of the Church, and proposes the faked death scheme to Juliet as much to hide his own misdeeds as to help her.

Why does Juliet go along with the plan? She’s ready to kill herself, but not to run off to share Romeo’s exile?

Well, the ultimate answer to all these quibbles is that it wouldn’t be good theater.  Juliet is the Drama Queen and Romeo the Drama King, and they have to do what will make their subjects (the audience) happy.  After all, “Romeo and Juliet” may not make good sense, but it is great theater.
OK, enough with the Shakespeare spate. I’ve been marinating in it for a month, but I think I have it all out of my system  now--.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/243072.html. Please comment there using OpenID.