Tag Archives: Jason D. Rennie

Rennie on Rudnick and the Relevance of Shakespeare

Jason D. Rennie directs
I Hate Hamlet

“At their best, dreamers, and at their worst…dreamers.”

Jason Rennie describes his take on “theatre people” when asked about directing the upcoming staged reading of I Hate Hamlet for Intrepid on Monday evening.  According to the playwright, Paul Rudnick, the play is “overrun with theatrical types,” and makes a humorous effort to capture the New York stage scene in all of its gusto and glory.

First performed in 1991, I Hate Hamlet is based on Rudnick’s actual experience renting a New York City apartment that once belonged to legendary actor John Barrymore.  After imagining the stories within the walls of the fourth floor Washington Square brownstone, Rudnick decided to bring them to life in a play.  Hilarity ensued.

Playwright Paul Rudnick
Photo by Claire Holt

“Some of the experiences in the play are kind of nod to people in his life at the time he was there,” Jason explains, mentioning characters such as Felicia the real estate agent (played by Brooke McCormick) and the Lillian, the theatrical agent (played by Rhona Gold) who is based on a woman who historically romanced Barrymore’s son-in-law within the walls of the apartment in question.

In the story, the main character is an actor who has been offered an opportunity to play Hamlet at Shakespeare in the Park.  Needless to say, this part requires a little more chops than his regular television gigs, and the appropriate level of panic ensues.

Enter the ghost of John Barrymore.

Ruff Yeager will be portraying Barrymore in Monday’s reading and promises to be less of a handful than the actor who originated the role on Broadway, British thespian Nicol Williamson.  In a detailed account for The New Yorker in 2007, Rudnick spelled out the worst-case-scenarios which came to life during the opening of what would be his first play on Broadway, including Williamson’s drunkenness, lewdness, and missed performances.  The last straw had occurred when he purposefully struck a fellow actor with a sword during a stage combat scene.  That actor promptly left the stage and never returned to the show.

Image from The New Yorker 2007

Even though the show’s original opening was somewhat plagued, Jason maintains that it is one of his favorite plays of all time, and that he has been begging Intrepid artistic directors Sean and Christy to consider it for a while.  With Hamlet opening February 2 on Intrepid’s mainstage, this first staged reading of the year at the Encinitas Library seemed to be the perfect opportunity to showcase the links between contemporary humor and Shakespeare.

Not up on your Shakespeare?  Never fear.  You’ll still laugh.

“It’s not so much an insider’s play,” says Jason, “but there are a few inside jokes.  It’s a nice tongue and cheek homage to theatre.  It allows us to poke fun of ourselves and laugh.”

You might even recognize a line or two, says Jason.  “It doesn’t preach on Shakespeare, but the Shakespearean lines that are present do have a wonderful resonance.  It reminds us that these speeches in these plays do still have value and meaning.”

John Barrymore as Hamlet
image from Shakespearean.com

Is there any truth to the thought of Hamlet as one of the most daunting plays in the canon?  “There is such a heavy connotation with that play,” says Jason.  “It carries a great deal of baggage.   But at its core, it is still a quintessential revenge tragedy that centers around one young man and the conflict within himself.”

Ultimately, the pursuit of the stage translates now just as much as it did when Hamlet was first performed hundreds of years ago, which is what continues to make theatre and storytelling relevant and universal.

“With theatre, you have to look beyond the reality,” says Jason.  “It’s odd because we are preying upon people’s imaginations as much as possible when creating productions.”

He pauses, and then adds, “Yet it is so absolutely necessary for us as human beings to be a part of that.”  – T.T.

I Hate Hamlet (a staged reading).  Monday, January 28, 6:30 pm wine reception, 7:00 pm performance.  Directed by Jason D. Rennie and featuring Ruff Yeager, Jo Anne Glover, Steven Lone, Rhona Gold, and Brooke McCormick.  Encinitas Library, Community Room 540 Cornish Drive, Encinitas 92024.  $15.  You must RSVP in advance in order to attend.  You may purchase your ticket in advance here or rsvp to boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com and pay with cash or check at the door. Subscribe to a “Flex-Pass” Subscription Package and save $5.  Packages come in 3-Play6-Play9-Play, or 12-Play passes.  If you have any questions, please call the Intrepid Office at (760) 295-7541.

 

 

A Superstitious All Hallow’s Eve

On the heels of our fabulous reading of Macbeth on Monday evening, and on the eve of Halloween, we thought it especially appropriate to address the one thing that all theatre has in common:  superstition.

“Superstition Wordle” by gtshakespeare

One of the most famous superstitions is, of course, the curse of Macbeth. Historically, many an accident or bit of unfortunate luck has fallen upon productions of this particular play. Researchers suggest many logical explanations for this, of course. The most popular is that, with this being Shakespeare’s shortest and bloodiest play, it seems it would be the easiest to add to a repertory season at the last moment as a surefire seat-filler. Therefore, back in the day, it was often mounted as a last ditch effort to save a dying theatre company, and eventually came to be associated with a company’s eventual demise. Additionally, this last-minute mounting often resulted in an under-rehearsed company, and with the extensive amount of swordplay and stage combat present in this particular script, one can imagine that accidents would not be uncommon.

Also, the play was written during the height of the witchcraft scare, when publications about demonology were rampant. Lastly, some say that the witches in the script utter actual incantations, which leads to a cloak of evil surrounding the play.  Oh, and the play was cursed by Jacobean necromancers.  Let’s not forget that one.

Whatever the actual cause, the curse of Macbeth has survived the centuries. Rarely will you find an actor who is entirely comfortable even uttering the name of the play in casual conversation for fear of raining down bad luck. Even though avoidance of the word is technically only a necessity when speaking of it inside of an actual theater, the habit is difficult to break. Instead, “The Scottish Play” is the preferred term, although caveats exist if a company is actually performing the play.

What to do if you accidentally say the “M” word inside of a theatre while not working on a production of it? The reigning antidote is  to “leave the house, turn around widdershins (counterclockwise) three times, swear, and knock to be readmitted.” (Best write that down or save it in your phone, because no one ever really remembers when the time comes.)

Other famous theatre superstitions? Read on for a rather complete list of “dos and don’ts” to keep productions lucky and actors safe, thanks to The Steppenwolf “Watch & Listen” blog and The Guardian‘s Theatre Blog. One wonders if it is even possible to put on a play while adhering to all of these rules….

Happy Halloween!  — T.T.

1.  Always step out of your dressing room with your left foot.

2.  Absolutely no knitting backstage.

3.  Always say “break a leg” and never “good luck.”

4.  Never wear blue, yellow, or green onstage.

5.  Never use real jewelry, real mirrors, or real flowers onstage.

6.  Never clean out your makeup box.

7.  Always wind a found thread around your finger.

8.  Never whistle in a theater.

9.  Never have more than two lit candles in your dressing room.

10.  Always leave the ghost light lit.

11.  Apply your makeup with a rabbit’s foot.

12.  Never bring peacock feathers into the theater.

13.  Never wear brand new makeup on opening night.

14.  Never place shoes or hats on chairs or tables inside of the dressing room.

15.  Never open a play on a Friday.

16.  Never speak the last line of the play before opening night.

Directing, Creepifying, & Casting Minions of Evil

When Jason D. Rennie was tapped to direct the upcoming staged reading of MACBETH at the Encinitas Library this Monday, he could not help but recall his first co-directing stint with Intrepid in 2009. “This particular play mixes nostalgia and significance for all of us,” he says.

How does directing a staged reading of this play differ from co-directing Intrepid’s inaugural production three years ago?

Jason D. Rennie and Danny Campbell
(RICHARD II 2011 – photo Daren Scott)
For Monday night’s MACBETH reading,
Jason directs while Danny witches it up.

Well, for one thing, the original Intrepid production ran about 90 minutes and was played with only seven actors. Monday’s staged reading allows for a little more flexibility – a few more actors have been cast, which means less doubling (or tripling) roles, and more of the text has been captured in some significant scenes.

Plus, it’s Halloween, which means that Jason was very excited to “creepify” the show, adding back in the character of Hecate as well as the witches (who were disembodied voices offstage in 2009).

“The play is psychologically horrific,” he says, “and the witches are the physical embodiment of the evil that dwells in the world, and possibly within each of us. I wanted to embrace the atmosphere of spooking and haunting that comes with this time of year by accentuating the eerie and occult nature of Hecate and the Weird Sisters.”

“The Three Witches From Macbeth”
by Alexandre-Marie Colin (1798-1873)

That shouldn’t be difficult. Shakespeare’s witches have been portrayed throughout time as various incarnations of creepy, and Monday’s reading shouldn’t be any different with Savvy Scopelleti, Steve Grawrock, and Danny Campbell stepping into the roles. Molly O’Meara will be illuminating the role of Hecate.

“These witches are more than just pointy hats,” says Savvy, commenting on the conjuring spells used by her character.  “Shakespeare wrote their language in a way that is constantly spiraling, the trochaic meter setting them apart from other characters in the play. It’s utterly fascinating.”

Is she creeped out by portraying a Weird Sister? She hesitates.

“If I believed in witches and spells, I would be creeped out, definitely,” she decided. “But this is all just pretend, right?”

Of course. But Jason’s direction sprinkles the play with ethical ponderings for those of us in the non-pretend world, as well.

“However I highlight their presence as the minions of evil, the fact is that the witches do not actually commit any evil – they merely awaken the ambition within Macbeth and stoke that flame until it consumes him. The truly unsettling spookiness of the play is that it forces us as spectators to wonder whether such dark forces lay dormant within ourselves and, if kindled, could we withstand them?”

A appropriately haunting thought, indeed.  — T.T.

Macbeth (a staged reading). Encinitas Library 540 Cornish Drive, Encinitas. Tickets $10 – Purchase in advance here or RSVP here and pay cash at the door. Reception at 6:30 pm, reading at 7:00 pm.

 

 

Back to Spooky Ole Scotland

Courtesy of
“Pumpkin Patches and More”

On October 29, Intrepid will host a staged reading of Shakespeare’s bloodiest play, Macbeth, just in time for Halloween festivities.  While the play was picked for its darker thematic content, this is also the first time Intrepid has revisited it since the company’s inaugural performance in 2009.

While Christy Yael and Sean Cox, co-artistic directors, will not be reprising their roles (that honor goes to the fabulous Linda Libby and awesome David Cochran Heath), they took a moment to reminisce about their first production as a company in 2009.

Macbeth was an experiment,” says Sean.  “We started the company wanting to do Shakespeare in a small space, but there was a chance that the idea of keeping it intimate might not work.”  Therefore, they brought in some Shakespeare heavyweights to help them develop their concept, including Sean’s mentor Jonathan McMurtry and Macbeth co-director Jason D. Rennie.

Christy and Sean in Macbeth 2009
Photo credit: Daren Scott

Intrepid has always been focused on the text of Shakespeare’s plays, and to Sean and Christy, the idea of performing them intimately enhances this concentration, coloring the words with layers of emotional development that might not be possible on a grander scale where production value could overwhelm communication.

“Shakespeare gives you everything,” is their mantra.  “We always try to go back to the text because he gives you all the answers – he’s there directing you throughout the play.  You just have to find it.”  Now, this seems like a no-brainer, but back in 2009, they weren’t so sure their audiences would be on board with their intimacy issues.

Thankfully, their experiment worked.  The play, then performed at the theatre space at 6th and Penn, played to full houses and even included a couple of midnight shows.

Both Christy and Sean admit that this first production was a huge learning experience that often felt like trial by fire.  Nevertheless, with the conclusion of the run, they knew they had solidified their future in producing Shakespeare.

Macbeth was huge because we had just started the company, so…it was everything.”

Admittedly for Sean, there are things he would love to try again or do differently with regards to playing the title role.  He seems open to the idea of one day tackling it again.

And would Christy every consider reprising Lady M?  “Never again,” she says definitively, with a small shudder.  Apparently, inside Lady Macbeth’s head is a very dark place to be, indeed.

Both are thrilled to pass the proverbial torch to Linda and David and witness them bring these characters to life in Monday’s reading.  Directed by Jason D. Rennie, there are chances, of course, that shadows of the original production may decide to haunt the performance…but, really, what’s Macbeth without a little shadows and haunting?  — T.T.

Macbeth (a staged reading) – starring Linda Libby and David Cochran Heath – directed by Jason D. Rennie – Encinitas Library 540 Cornish Drive, Encinitas – Tickets $10 – Purchase in advance here or RSVP here and pay cash at the door.  Reception at 6:30 pm, reading at 7:00 pm.