Trick or ‘Titus’: A Halloween Treat

Titus WidgetWhen Titus Andronicus was recently performed at the Globe in London – a revival production of Lucy Bailey’s 2006 interpretation – there was one evening when five audience members fainted in the middle of the performance. Yes, fainted. Five people passed out and dropped to the floor.

The most likely culprit was the appearance of Lavinia, a young and innocent girl who is met with an unthinkably brutal fate during the course of the play. Needless to say, as per the reputation of Shakespeare’s goriest tale, there were a few buckets of stage blood decorating her costume at the time.

That Intrepid Shakespeare Company’s 2014 Staged Reading Series Committee chose Titus Andronicus to celebrate the Halloween season is no coincidence.

Sean Cox

Sean Yael-Cox to direct Monday’s reading of Titus Andronicus

Titus is one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, his first tragedy, and apparently one of the most popular with his own audience,” says Sean Yael-Cox, Co-Artistic Director of Intrepid and the director of the reading, which will be held Monday evening at the Encinitas Library. “The Elizabethan audiences seemed to love the violence – the more missing limbs and ripped out hearts the better.”

On this front, Titus Andronicus certainly does not disappoint.

The story follows the aftermath of Rome’s ten-year campaign against the Goths, where Titus is a victorious leader. In his absence from Rome, he has been elected Emperor and returns amid glorious fanfare to take his post. But the conflict apparently does not end in the field. Titus decides to avenge the battlefield deaths of his sons by executing the son of  Tamora, Queen of the Goths, thus igniting a fury of revenge that pushes the boundaries of even the most steely-stomached of audiences.

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Ruff Yeager to play Titus

“This is not a play for the faint-hearted,” writes theatre critic Charles Spencer for London’s The Telegraph. “For centuries this early tragedy was never performed at all, so graphic is its violence, so gleeful its cruelty.”

Cast as the cutthroat couple in Monday’s reading are Savvy Scopelleti as Tamora and Ruff Yeager as Titus Andronicus. Erin Peterson, Tom Hall, Brian Rickel, Danny Campbell and Jason Rennie will serve as pawns in the blood feud where no one is safe and nothing is predictable.

Titus features an incredible collection of characters,” says Sean. “The play is filled with killer roles and we are fortunate that we are able to gather some of our favorite actors to bring these characters to life.”

Savvy Scopelleti to play Tamora

Savvy Scopelleti to play Tamora

While the staged reading format means that no blood will be shed on Monday, the text of Shakespeare’s play still guarantees the most graphic of gore-filled depictions. And, as we all know, sometimes the imagination can be more powerful than the best concoction of Carrow’s syrup stage blood.

Titus, along with other revenge plays, allows the audience to safely explore that vengeful impulse without suffering the consequences,” explains Sean. “Revenge is a powerful and intense emotion, but it is also very human. Thankfully, the heart can also contain great compassion and empathy and we don’t live in a world like the one inhabited by Titus and his family.”

“After all,” he continues, “an attitude of ‘an eye for an eye’ does indeed leave the world blind. And, in the case of Titus, it also leaves the world decapitated, missing a number of hands, de-tongued and baked into a pie.”

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare, a staged reading. Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, October 27. 6:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. $15. Rsvp to boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase a reading series subscription.

Encinitas Library

A Revolutionary Affair

Gala WidgetLook up the word “revolution” in the dictionary and you will find strategies for inspiring change on a dramatic level. Historically and metaphorically, revolutions are fought for a cause and won because of the efforts of the many, not just the one.

That Intrepid Shakespeare Company chose “Revolution” as the central theme for the 2014 Annual Gala bash on December 7 is no coincidence.

“Intrepid is moving towards creating a space for theatre to be an instrument of transformation,” says Producing Artistic Director Christy Yael-Cox. “We have always believed that theatre can change lives. We are refining our mission statement and our goals as we look into the future to reflect that. This also involves tapping into the passions of our company members and creating a space for them to inspire change as well.”

In accordance with the theme of “Revolution,” the Gala Committee has selected the perfect venue for the evening’s festivities.

green dragon tavern

Revolutionary venue Green Dragon Tavern

The Green Dragon Tavern and Museum in Carlsbad is a setting steeped in revolutionary history, which emulates its namesake in Boston, Massachusetts. The original East Coast building was the site where Sam Adams, Paul Revere and other founders met in secret and planned the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution. Deemed the “Headquarters of the Revolution,” the original tavern was demolished in 1854. The Carlsbad replica hosts a beautiful dining room and pub, a museum dedicated to the America’s early patriots as well as ballrooms fit for revolutionary celebrations.

Kathy Brombacher, Board of Trustees and Gala Committee Member, feels that the evening will be a perfect unification of Intrepid’s accomplishments to date as well as the goals for the future.

“Intrepid is really shaking things up,” says Kathy. “Five years is a milestone and they are making change happen as a very positive, explosive, exciting part of their ongoing history. This Gala will be a reflection of that.”

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Gala emcee Phil Johnson as Bottom

The evening’s festivities will be hosted by none other than theatrical bright light Phil Johnson, who is best known in the Intrepid camp for his dynamic portrayal of Bottom in Season Four’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the musical, a role which earned him a Craig Noel Award for Best Featured Performance in a Musical.

“The Gala is going to be an exciting look at what’s ahead,” says Phil, also a Gala Committee Member. “It’s going to be a look into the future at the big changes of an exciting theater company making its new mark.”

These big, exciting changes will be the Gala’s main event, as Intrepid reveals plans for a new home as well as the productions slated for the company’s sixth season of theatre-making.

Gala Committee 2014

Gala Committee Members (L-R) Phil Johnson, Kathy Brombacher, Julie Ustin, and Tom Andrew with Co-Artistic Director Christy Yael-Cox.

Along with Phil and Kathy, Gala Committee Members Julie Ustin, Lynne Thrope and Tom Andrew are working diligently to create an affair suitable for ushering in a new revolutionary era for Intrepid Shakespeare Company.

The Gala will begin at 7 pm with champagne and delicious passed hors d’ouevres. Both the live and silent auctions boast extravagant prizes. In addition to the talents of Phil Johnson, some of the city’s best musical theatre artists will entertain as guests partake in their own future forecasting with fortunetellers and tarot card readers. Requested attire is simply “fabulous.” Intrepid is grateful for the support of the evening’s lead sponsors, Marti and Adam Rosenberg and Sandra Zarcades.

“Everyone expects Intrepid to serve them a dish that is going to be very exciting,” says Kathy. “They will not be disappointed.”

Intrepid Shakespeare Company’s 2014 Annual Gala will be held Sunday December 7, 6-9 pm at The Green Dragon Tavern and Museum, located at 6115 Paseo del Norte in Carlsbad. 

Tickets are $125 each and are available online

gala website2

Gearing Up for “Godot”: A Conversation with Shana Wride, Phil Johnson and Ruff Yeager

Godot widget“Ruff and Phil were BORN to play Vladimir and Estragon.”

Shana Wride, 2014 Staged Reading Series Committee Member and director of Monday evening’s reading of Waiting for Godot, can barely contain her enthusiasm for the casting of this play.

“They are both very smart actors who not only have terrific comic ability but are capable of depth and pathos,” she continues. “Their friendship makes for great chemistry.”

As the 2014 season moves into the fall, adding Samuel Beckett’s iconic absurdist work to the roster of remarkable play readings this year seems fitting, especially on the heels of Intrepid’s summer of comedy.

Shana Wride as Beatrice

Shana Wride, (pictured here as Beatrice in Much Ado) will direct Monday night’s reading of Godot

“This play makes me think and laugh at the same time,” says Shana“I also love how big it is and how timeless.”

Written in 1953, Waiting for Godot is Beckett’s own translation of his 1949 En attendant Godot, which features two characters, Vladimir and Estragon (Didi and Gogo), waiting anxiously for the arrival of the mysterious character, Godot. The simplicity of the setting and the story often encourage a myriad of interpretations, incorporating references from the religious and philosophical, to historic and biographic.

Most recently seen on Broadway with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, Godot is one of the most famous vehicles for two actors who can handle both the levity and the depth of Beckett’s writing, something Shana had no reservations about when casting Phil Johnson (Craig Noel winner for his performance as Bottom in Intrepid’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) as Gogo and Ruff Yeager (seen this summer as Leonato in Much Ado and as John Barrymore in I Hate Hamlet) as Didi. Walter Murray, Dana Hooley and Dashiell Thumm round out this cast as Pozzo, Lucky and the Boy, respectively. Shana will read stage directions.

“When we read it the first time, I found myself wishing I could put the script down and just watch how they connect, not only to the text, but to each other.” she says. “Even with scripts in their hands, I heard the play beautifully.”

Ruff I Hate Hamlet

Ruff Yeager (pictured here as John Barrymore in I Hate Hamlet) will play Didi

While Ruff and Phil have had many creative projects together in the past, tackling Waiting for Godot together will be a new challenge.

“The friendship I share with Phil is one of the most important relationships of my creative and personal life,” says Ruff. “I believe this translates easily into the relationship of Gogo and Didi. There is a give/take, ebb/flow they unconsciously share that is very accessible for me to discover with Phil as my scene partner.”

“Ruff and I have done mostly comedies – I like to think smart ones, with heart,” adds Phil. “That’s some of my personal favorite work. Ruff is so talented and versatile. He can do anything, from the classics to the plays that are more about entertaining. I feel like I’m really just along for the ride.”

Because it is considered one of the more challenging pieces of theatre, Waiting for Godot is often the focus of dramatic and existential debate, introducing themes that go beyond the surface of the story at hand.

“Finding Beckett challenging is a good thing because it is challenging and we should be challenged,” says Shana. “Not always, but sometimes, don’t you think?”

Phil Johnson (pictured here as Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream, the musical) to play Gogo.

Phil Johnson (pictured here as Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream) will play Gogo.

“This play has some of the biggest ideas in life inside of it,” says Phil. “Is someone out there? What are we doing here? Is there purpose and a meaning in life? How do we find our own? Are we all ultimately alone on this planet? This show sets some very important themes against a kind of clownish vaudeville performance style and that’s what makes it so interesting.”

While Ruff and Phil gracefully grapple with this contrast between the performance style and the weightier universal themes, they also understand that Waiting for Godot delivers in the area that Intrepid is most focused on – the text.

“Beckett is language,” says Ruff. “Much like Shakespeare, Beckett provides the actor and audience with rich, glorious language. If we are willing to follow this happy trail of nonsense and brilliance, logic and chaos, despair and rapture, we will arrive at our destination.”

But audiences shouldn’t be intimidated by Beckett’s signature play, says Shana. If anything, it’s a chance to experience something potentially transformative.

“Look, I like to be entertained as much as the next guy,” says Shana, “but every once and a while it is nice to be exposed to big ideas in big packages that have stood the test of time and hold a place in the dramatic canon that is unparalleled.”

“That is why the Intrepid Reading Series is special,” she adds. “It gives the audience and the theatre artist an opportunity to dip their toe in a great play and see if they are ready to swim.”  – T.T.

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, a staged reading. Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, September 22. 6:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. $15. Rsvp to boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase a reading series subscription.

Encinitas Library

Ruff Yeager Talks Tennessee Williams

Ruff Yeager

Ruff Yeager directs the staged reading of The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore Monday August 25 at the Encinitas Library

To say that Ruff Yeager is a Tennessee Williams “enthusiast” might be an understatement. As someone who has spent most of his life studying the work of this particular playwright, “authoritative scholar” might be a more appropriate descriptor for the director of Monday evening’s staged reading of Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore.

Milk Train is a very rarely seen play from a very important American playwright,” says Ruff of Tennessee Williams, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. “From 1945-1963, Williams had a play on Broadway almost every season – sometimes two. No other American playwright has ever been so produced.”

While Milk Train may be one of his more underperformed plays, the brilliance of Tennessee Williams’ stunning dialogue and hard-hitting thematic resonance is consistent with the plays that more quickly come to mind, such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire.

“At this point in his career [in 1963], Williams had begun to experiment with form in small ways, which was a bit ahead of his time,” says Ruff. “The American theater was still in the conservative, nuclear family, atomic age. It wouldn’t be until the late 60s when the theatre would catch up to the social revolutions that were occurring in the country and the artistic revolutions that had already occurred in Europe.”

Based on a short story that Williams wrote earlier, The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore introduces Flora Goforth, a former Ziegfeld Follies girl who has retired to a private Italian island for the remainder of her days, which are waning in number. She is kept company by the Witch of Capri, a gossipy busybody, and her assistant, Blackie. The story takes a turn when Christopher Flanders, also known as the “Angel of Death,” arrives to befriend Flora. Chris is known for his relationships with older women…and for his tendency to be mentioned in their wills after they have died.

Dagmar Fields, recently seen on the Intrepid stage in I Hate Hamlet, will be portraying the juicy, layered role of Flora Goforth and Spencer Smith will take on the role of the mischievous Christopher Flanders. In “true Tennessee Williams motif,” according to Ruff, Ralph Johnson will be portraying the Witch of Capri, a role originally written for a woman, but which has been played throughout history by such famous names as Noël Coward.

Rounding out the cast are Faeren Adams as Blackie and Fred Harlow and Celeste Innocenti as the Ensemble Members.

“He casts two actors as what he calls ‘stage assistants,’” Ruff says, “They come out in a kabuki fashion and announce scenes, scene changes, comment ironically on the action. They guide us through the action unseen by the other characters. We weren’t seeing that kind of thing done here in the States. Williams knew the theatre landscape was changing.”

Aside from being ahead of its time in form, Milk Train also offers audiences a unique glimpse into Williams’ development as a writer. Whereas his previous catalogue dealt with themes of life, love and death in a very metaphorical manner, Milk Train addresses the same ideas with astonishing honesty and realism, especially as the play was written in the aftermath of the death of Frank Merlo, Williams’ longtime partner.

“This play lets us see his characters grow,” says Ruff. “Flora is much more honest and self-knowing than Blanche from Streetcar. She knows what life is about. She’s not self-deluded. As Williams grew older, his female characters really shifted.”

The language of this play reflects that honesty. Not only does it contain Williams’ beautiful poetic qualities, but it is also quite humorous in its realism.

“Williams is looking very hard into the eyes of death and dealing with it very honestly. It’s gallows humor, but there is also the idea of the ‘liberating laugh’ of absurdism – the laughter that allows us to be free for a moment. I think this play provides that moment.” — T.T.

The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore by Tennessee Williams, a staged reading. Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, August 25. 6:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. $15. Rsvp to boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase a reading series subscription.

Milk Train Home Page

Noting the ‘Nothing’: Richard Baird on ‘Much Ado’

'Much Ado About Nothing' Director Richard Baird

Director Richard Baird
Photo: D. Scott

Merriam-Webster merely defines omertà as “a code of silence,” although the cultural implications of this Sicilian term are perhaps much broader, much more Godfather-ish than that tiny definition suggests.

This unspoken cultural code, prevalently infused into aspects of Italian culture throughout history, was one of the things that inspired Richard Baird, director of Intrepid’s current production of Much Ado About Nothing, when he considered setting this production in 1931. In fact, it might be one of the reasons why it works so well there.

“Two things men were highly concerned with,” explains Richard about this period of Italian history, “were their honor and their wives’ chastity.”

Given that the play addresses both of these themes – and also places them against a militaristic backdrop – it is no wonder that the politically charged climate of the 1930s enhances this particular story.

Ruff Yeager as Leonato (L); Erin Petersen as Hero (R) Photo: D. Scott

Ruff Yeager as Leonato (L); Erin Petersen as Hero (R)
Photo: D. Scott

“Though this is not a play that delves into questions about tyranny, we thought the background of a dictatorship provided interesting parallels,” says Richard. “People often forget that Elizabeth I for all of her talents was accused by many of being or becoming a tyrant. Plays such as Richard II had to have heavy cuts – especially where he abdicates the crown – for fear of imprisonment.”

When the threat of repercussions – both spoken and unspoken – sits heavily in the air, the choice to play fast and loose with ideas such as honor and integrity must be deliberate and unwavering. It is no wonder that no one blinks an eye when young Hero’s maidenhood is questioned, considering that the accusations come from the pedigree of officers who would understand the consequences of making a mistake.

However, this wouldn’t be Much Ado About Nothing without some falsehoods flying about. The idea of conspiring, eavesdropping and gossiping is literally written into the title, after all.

'Much Ado' Dramaturge Gideon Rappaport

Dramaturge Gideon Rappaport

“The title of Much Ado about Nothing seems at first a light-hearted throwaway,” says Dramaturge Gideon Rappaport. “In reality, it conveys a deeper theme of the play. In this case, the depth lies in the multiple meanings of the word nothing. In Shakespeare’s time nothing meant what we mean by it…But also the word was pronounced exactly like the word noting, which itself had several meanings: observing, paying attention, and – a meaning we no longer use – denouncing someone in public.”

Even though Richard has worked on Much Ado About Nothing numerous times as both an actor and a director, he admits that balancing the gravity of the plot twists with the lighter love stories presents an interesting challenge.

“This time, I was reminded how dark some of the aspects of the play really are,” he explains. “Finding that balance of dark with the romcom nature of the play is challenging but very rewarding.”

Matt Thompson as Don Pedro (L); Sean Yael-Cox as Benedick (R)

Matt Thompson as Don Pedro (L); Sean Yael-Cox as Benedick (R) Photo: D. Scott

As is always the case with Shakespeare, the text provides the clues and the answers to striking this balance. With the majority of the dialogue written in prose, the love story between Beatrice and Benedick becomes more real, more honest, he says.

“They know one another and there is a trust that they have to find their way back too,” says Richard. “It isn’t sappy or intense.”

The prose also gives context to the “nothing” – in this case, the scheming and the subterfuge.

“There are many tricks and plots in Much Ado” Richard explains. ”Virtually every character spies and becomes a form of intelligencer. Many of the schemer roles are written in blunt straightforward language. For instance, Iago [from Othello] speaks in quite a bit of prose, as does Edmund [King Lear] and Falstaff.”

Shana Wride as Beatrice (L); Amanda Schaar as Ursula (R)

Shana Wride as Beatrice (L); Amanda Schaar as Ursula (R)
Photo: D. Scott

The language, then, offers a context in which both the main characters – and their love story – can flourish, while tackling both the weight and the humor of the play. After all, Beatrice and Benedick find their way to each other over the tragedy of young Hero’s nuptials and even the darkest moments are offset by the investigations of the delightfully comic Constable Dogberry.

And, of course, the main component in pulling off this tricky balance is the talent of the actors on the stage.

“I have an incredibly talented and hard working cast,” says Richard. “They have all acquitted themselves with professional excellence and helped craft a very fun and hopefully thought-provoking production.” – T.T.

Much Ado About Nothing runs through August 17. Showtimes: Thursday 8pm / Friday 8pm / Saturday 4pm & 8pm / Sunday 2pm. 
Tickets are available here
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Banter, Beatrice and Benedick: Shana Wride and Sean Yael-Cox Make ‘Much Ado’

Shana Wride as Beatrice (L); Sean Yael-Cox as Benedick (L)

Shana Wride as Beatrice (L); Sean Yael-Cox as Benedick (L)

“There is a merry war betwixt them.”

Sean Yael-Cox can’t help but smile as he reflects on his recent rehearsals with leading lady Shana Wride, the Beatrice to his Benedick in Intrepid Shakespeare Company’s upcoming production of Much Ado About Nothing. 

“They love to fight,” says Sean. “They have this fantastic energy and there’s this terrific word play between the two of them. We are having a lot of fun sparring.”

Much Ado About Nothing previewed July 24 in Intrepid’s black box space, just a week after the closing of “I Hate Hamlet,” making this summer season in Encinitas a double header of comedy, romance and spicy verbal jousting.

“Not to give too much away,” confides Shana Wride, “but I think Beatrice has a crush on Benedick.”

Shana Wride as Beatrice

Shana Wride as Beatrice

One of Shakespeare’s most produced comedies, Much Ado About Nothing was written in the last years of the 16th century and although many of the story lines in this play were inspired from previous literary lore, the fireworks of elevated verbal banter between Benedick and Beatrice is quite singular among the Bard’s canon. While other Shakespearean couples may have their arguments and power struggles, Much Ado presents this duo in a very different light.

“Beatrice is not like other women,” says Shana, who describes her character as a ‘confirmed bachelor.’ “She doesn’t subscribe to the mores of the time period. She dances to her own drum.”

The balance, then, lies in how to ground the characters in their own truth, while allowing for the possibility of love. The clues to this balance might be found in the text, specifically, in the moments when the poetry kicks in.

“[Beatrice] speaks only in prose, until the point in the play where she hides in the arras, and overhears Hero and Ursula speaking of Benedick’s ‘love’ for her,” scholar Patrick Tucker writes. “This is not an insignificant moment in the play.”

Sean Yael-Cox as Benedick

Sean Yael-Cox as Benedick

Indeed, the back and forth between prose (how we regular people talk) and poetry (that flowery, rhyming stuff) in Much Ado might mirror the back and forth of the intentions of these two would-be lovers, which means the audience will sometimes have more insight into what is happening in the story than the characters themselves –  if they listen closely enough.

“The prose, like the verse, is alive, witty, rhythmic, in places lyrical, always appropriate to the character who is speaking and to the particular mood of the scene,” says Dramaturge Gideon Rappaport. “Beatrice and Benedick may be ‘too wise to woo peaceably,’ but their ‘kind of merry war’ in words scintillates with life.”

For Sean and Shana, it is these words that will help them find their way from merry war to married love, a journey punctuated by the comedy, drama and wit of Shakespeare’s dialogue.

“The thing that makes the text amazing is that when you line up with it, and with the character, and with the other people onstage, it is like nothing else you are going to experience,” says Shana. “Shakespeare is sort of a visceral, exciting ride that you can’t duplicate.”

“The comedy is incredibly smart in this play and yet it’s very fun and it’s very physical,” says Sean. “It’s the kind of play that whether you are new to Shakespeare, or you’ve been watching Shakespeare plays for years, it really offers something for everybody.”

Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Richard Baird, runs through August 16. Showtimes: Thursday 8pm / Friday 8pm / Saturday 4pm & 8pm / Sunday 2pm. 
Tickets are available here
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An Act of ‘Defiance’: Francis Gercke directs John Patrick Shanley

Defiance Widget“I feel doubt is an important and valuable exercise, a hallmark of wisdom,” says playwright John Patrick Shanley. “Defiance is a necessary step in the life of an individual and in the life of a nation.”

Next week, Intrepid Shakespeare’s 12-month Staged Reading Series will feature Shanley’s 2006 play, Defiance, the second part of a three-play trilogy, beginning with the Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning Doubt in 2004, and concluding with 2012’s Storefront Church. While Doubt explores themes of power and faith within the confines of a Catholic Church, Defiance tackles another hierarchical organization – the United Stated military.

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Francis Gercke directs Shanley’s ‘Defiance’ July 28

“I like that Shanley’s writing presents life as complicated, complex, multi-faceted, never one thing only,” explains Francis Gercke, who will be directing the reading on July 28. “There are rules and regulations, there are codes and social norms of behavior, there are consequences to violating those codes and norms, and there may be legitimate reasons why it might be necessary to risk challenging those rules and regulations. But there’s always a cost.”

As with Doubt, Defiance places its characters in a situation of moral and ethical crisis, this time framed by racial tensions charged by wartime. Set on a North Carolina United States Marine Corps base in 1971, the play finds Lt. Col. Morgan Littlefield (who will be read by Matt Scott) and his reluctant protégé, Capt. Lee King, a young African-American officer (who will be read by Vimel Sephus), investigating racial crimes on the base in an attempt to diffuse these tensions. But the electricity of the play comes from the interactions between these two men and their very different ideas of military leadership and accountability.

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

John Patrick Shanley with ‘Doubt,’ the precursor for ‘Defiance’
Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

According to Manhattan Theatre Club production notes, the characters are “on a collision course over race, women, and the high cost of doing the right thing. The play is about power, love, and responsibility — who has it, who wants it, and who deserves it.”

Not surprisingly, it all comes to a head in an act of defiance.

“While the play is set in 1971, it’s not a history lesson or a re-examination of the Viet Nam era,” explains Fran. “It uses that context to debate social, civic, and spiritual challenges of today. I think what remains with me each time I read it is a question about ideals — are they merely ‘idealistic’ (impractical and naive) or are they truly the standards by which we should live our lives no matter the cost?”

These explorations of doubt and defiance take place through Shanley’s intricately woven dialogue – the kind of dialogue that inspires both actor and audience, and has made Shanley extraordinarily notable as a playwright who creates gritty, passionate and fascinatingly complex characters.

“An evening with Shanley’s characters could prove brutal but definitely entertaining,” says Fran. “They are witty, stubborn, well-intentioned and undeniably screwed up in some way. In other words, they’re very human.”

Joining Matt and Vimel on Monday to complete this cast of characters will be Amanda Sitton, Cris O’Bryon and Jake Rosko.

Defiance by John Patrick Shanley, a staged reading. Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, July 28. 6:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. $15. Rsvp to boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase a reading series subscription.

Encinitas Library

Playing Barrymore: An Interview with Ruff Yeager

Ruff Yeager as the Ghost of John Barrymore

Ruff Yeager as the Ghost of John Barrymore

If you ask Ruff Yeager how he manages to portray the larger-than-life Ghost of John Barrymore in Intrepid Shakespeare Company’s current show, “I Hate Hamlet,” without getting distracted by the audience who practically sits onstage, he will tell you that he has a very simple strategy.

“I picture them as ghosts,” says Ruff.

With the inauguration of Intrepid’s new black box space, this summer’s offerings are being produced in an intimate theatre-in-the-round setting, which gives audiences the chance to be up close and personal with the action.

“We can see people in the audience,” says Ruff. “If I really look, I can see their faces.”

In an effort to incorporate this intimacy into the imagined world of the play, Ruff has figured out a way to makes sense of their presence. Because they are sitting on old-fashioned chairs and couches, a beautiful detail that expands the world of John Barrymore’s apartment further into the theater, it is not difficult.

Barrymore 6“I see the audience as all of these other ghosts in our house,” he says, and then adds in true Barrymore form, “I see them as benevolent ghosts who want me to do well.”

Leave it to the character of John Barrymore to crave applause from the afterlife. But that’s exactly what he does in “I Hate Hamlet” – and Ruff’s portrayal of the grandiose Barrymore has audiences and critics raving. It’s not every day an actor’s performance review includes words like “mercurial,” “ebullient” and “charismatic.” But Ruff wouldn’t know, of course, because he doesn’t read them. All he knows is how much fun he’s having.

“I love playing the Ghost of John Barrymore,” he says without hesitation. “Playing a character of this scope and magnitude of spirit…it’s just really joyful.”

Ruff Yeager as John Barrymore and Francis Gercke as Andrew Rally

Ruff Yeager and Francis Gercke as Andrew Rally

That joy is evident during the performances, as Ruff pounces from chaise lounge to mantelpiece to potted plant, pulling out rapiers and bottles of wine as he sees fit. One can’t help but be caught up in his lust for life, even considering his ghostly circumstances.

Even though Ruff had done quite a bit of research coming into rehearsals on this uproarious personality, there was still a lot of discussion with director Christopher Williams about bringing the Ghost of Barrymore to life – and specifically, how big is too big when it comes to this character’s personality. Surprisingly, the new theater space played a large part in that characterization.

Barrymore!“We did a lot of work on volume and articulation,” explains Ruff. “With that, comes larger physicalization, because it takes a lot of energy. In the end, I have to trust Christopher and that what I am directed to do is going to work.”

Mercurial…ebullient…charismatic…that it “works” might be an understatement.

“I Hate Hamlet” must close July 19 and Ruff is already anticipating the loss.

“I’m going to be very sad when this is going to be over because it’s been so much fun,” he admits. “But I’m looking forward to the last two weeks as a real celebration of this character and this play.” – TT

I Hate Hamlet runs through July 19, Thursday 8:00pm / Friday 8pm / Saturday 4pm & 8pm / Sunday 2pm. Purchase tickets here

Photo credits: DAREN SCOTT

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The Dramatic History of the Comedy “I Hate Hamlet”

i hate hamlet sliderBWalk down any crooked street in New York City’s Greenwich Village, and you will stumble upon a variety of historical placards mounted to random townhouses celebrating their past creative inhabitants: “Edgar Allen Poe wrote ‘The Cask of Amontillado’ here” (85 W 3rd Street) or “Thomas Paine died here’” (59 Grove Street). This particular neighborhood brims with artistic ghosts, and that is exactly what inspired Paul Rudnick to write his comedic play, “I Hate Hamlet.”

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John Barrymore’s residence, NYC

Rudnick’s muse is legendary actor John Barrymore, who occupied the penthouse of 132 West 4th Street in 1917. The playwright leased the space 70 years later, admittedly becoming more and more fascinated by Barrymore’s history with the apartment. As he wrote in The New Yorker in 2007, “The more I absorbed, and the more months I spent under Barrymore’s bastard Jacobean roof, the more I felt moved to write something set at the address. Someone or something had led me to these quarters and would not be denied.” Enter the characters of television actor Andrew Rally and the ghost of John Barrymore.

While it is significantly Shakespearean to introduce a ghost-haunting to a story – especially one revolving around playing the role of Hamlet – the spirit of John Barrymore is not one to utter a vague command and then disappear, trusting that his charge will be carried out. No. John Barrymore will always plot to steal the spotlight, even from the afterlife. And while he does not task Andrew Rally with avenging his death, per se, he does prompt the character to carry on his legacy by playing Hamlet. Or rather, by playing Hamlet well.

John Barrymore, the play's inspiration Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

John Barrymore,
the play’s inspiration
Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

“Andrew, who is Hamlet? A star,” says John Barrymore in the play. “The role is a challenge, but far more—an opportunity. To shine. To rule. To seduce. To wit— what makes a star?”

The banter between modern day actor and acting legend ghost is endless, and one can imagine Paul Rudnick carrying out similar conversations while wandering through Barrymore’s New York apartment. For Intrepid’s part, Fran Gercke will be giving voice to Andrew Rally, while Ruff Yeager will step into the role of John Barrymore. The two will be joined by the powerhouse talents of Dagmar Fields, Brooke McCormick Paul, Gerilyn Brault and Tom Stephenson.

While Ruff Yeager adds a very specific dramatic flair to the role of Barrymore, the part of the legendary actor has historically been difficult to cast. As Rudnick explained it when discussing his own Broadway opening of the show, “The audience needed to believe that whoever played Barrymore, from the instant he stepped onstage, was an Olympian Hamlet, a devastating seducer, and everyone’s favorite scoundrel.” Unfortunately for Rudnick’s production, this meant employing a notoriously ill-behaved British actor named Nicol Williamson. Despite Williamson’s dramatic similarities to the theatrical icon he would be playing, the actor’s catastrophic temperament eventually upstaged his own acting credentials. The play closed after a one-month run in a cloud of scandal.

The New Yorker captures the rocky Broadway debut of "I Hate Hamlet"

The New Yorker captures the rocky Broadway debut of “I Hate Hamlet”

“I had never spent time around a world-class, drain-the-keg loon before,” writes Rudnick, after detailing an account of Williamson physically striking the actor playing Andrew with a sword during a sequence of onstage dueling. That actor not only immediately left the stage, but also the entire production. It was the last in a series of already unbelievable events, that included, among other things, midnight phone calls demanding script revisions and entirely missed performances.

While Intrepid anticipates that its summer season opener will no doubt be riddled with noteworthy behind-the-scenes stories, it is safe to say that the drama on the stage will be enough entertainment for any audience. – Tiffany Tang

“I Hate Hamlet” previews June 27 and runs through July 19.
Tickets on sale now.

A Public Display of “Private Lives”

Private Lives WidgetOne would assume that a “comedy of manners” written in 1930 would seem rather tame by our modern standards. However, reactions and reviews of Noël Coward’s Private Lives, which will be read on Monday night as the next installment of Intrepid Shakespeare’s Staged Reading Series, have been anything but that.

“The critics described Private Lives variously as ‘tenuous, thin, brittle, gossamer, iridescent, and delightfully daring,’ said the playwright. “All of which connoted in the public mind cocktails, repartee and irreverent allusions to copulation, thereby causing a gratifying number of respectable people to queue up at the box office.”

Private-Lives-Playbill-05-31The story of Private Lives revolves around the dissolved marriage of Elyot and Amanda, who chance upon each other while on their respective honeymoons with their new spouses. As luck would have it, they are rooming next door to each other in the same luxurious coastal French hotel, and even though they are seemingly outraged at the other’s presence, it is soon evident that the flame of their former relationship is not completely smothered, but merely smoldering. Chaos and hilarity ensue as the play moves from the Deauville shore to a Paris city apartment and Elyot and Amanda attempt to sort out both their feelings for each other and their actions with regards to their new spouses.

Jonathan Sachs as Victor

Jonathan Sachs as Victor

“What makes this script so wonderful and funny,” says Jonathan Sachs, who will be portraying Victor, “is that it touches on some truly real feelings about marriage, divorce, infidelity, remarriage, abuse (verbal and physical) and most of all whether a past love will consume the present relationship.”

The play premiered in London in 1930 to some controversy, as it was almost banned because of the romantic portrayal of characters who are divorced and married to others. Coward had to plead his case to the Lord Chamberlin to be granted permission to open in the West End. The play moved to Broadway a year later with Coward playing Elyot opposite Gertrude Lawrence as Amanda. Jill Esmond and Lawrence Olivier (who would later marry) rounded out the New York cast as Sybil and Victor. Private Lives has since enjoyed numerous revivals in both cities, with varying notoriety depending upon the cast.

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Colleen Kollar Smith as Amanda

But what reviewers have found most fascinating about the play is its dialogue. Colleen Kollar Smith, who will be playing Amanda, compares her scenes to something lifted from “The West Wing.” 

“I was trying to place my finger on what about the pace and wit of this piece felt familiar,” says Colleen. “It dawned on me later that Coward’s dialogue feels a lot like Sorkin to me. It is so intelligent and there are many layers of wit. So many, in fact, that I found myself trying to NOT laugh because I was afraid I would miss the next joke around the corner.”

Phil Johnson as Elyot

Phil Johnson as Elyot

Given that Colleen is playing opposite Phil Johnson as Elyot makes trying to maintain a straight face a bit of a challenge.

“It was a futile attempt,” she admits.

Even though the play does tackle seemingly serious themes, the levity of the piece remains unaffected – or perhaps even more enhanced – by the gravity of the situations.

“There’s a knowledge that the world is askew, and with that everything becomes humorous,” explains Phil.

Jo Anne Glover as Sybil

Jo Anne Glover as Sybil

“Reading it out loud is so fun,” says Jo Anne Glover, who will be playing Sybil, “just the rhythm he writes in and the wordplay back and forth between the characters. And, it’s fascinating how progressive this play is.”

Perhaps that is why this 84-year-old play is not only still performed, but still evokes the laughter of familiarity.

“The play takes some of the finer points of farce and weaves them into a wonderful tragic comedy,” says Jonathan. “The audience will find something very personal in what they see and that is what make this piece so special.”

Private Lives by Noël Coward, a staged reading. Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, June 23. 6:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. $15. Rsvp to boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase a reading series subscription.

Encinitas Library