What better way to welcome summer than to buy some fresh ciabatta, soft cheeses, a few slices of sopressata, and a bottle of pinot grigio, then pack it all up with some napkin-covered wine glasses, some plates, and a good bread knife and head over to Farnsworth Park to watch…Lovers.
The California Shakespeare Ensemble members have chosen their favorite love scenes from the abundance of Shakespeare’s jealous, desperate, devoted, quirky couples and shall present Lovers on Sunday, June 16th at Farnsworth Park in Altadena.
Some of Shakespeare’s best writing on love rarely sees the light of day. It is buried in lesserknown plays that don’t have as much box office draw. We all know Romeo and Juliet, but when was the last time you saw Henry The Sixth Part Two? Two Gentlemen of Verona? Shakespeare’s Lovers takes the best of all worlds.
The cast includes Aviva Baumann (Judd Apatow’s Superbad) and Jessica Borden (Dark Skies), Fred Cross (The Joe Schmo Show), Brian Elerding (Mad Men), Roddy Jessup (Criminal Minds), Jeremy Radin (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), Katie Siegel (Castle) and Samantha Sloyan (Scandal).
HP: What makes Shakespeare’s love scenes so powerful?
Brian Elerding: In the same way that sometimes love songs communicate love better than our everyday language, Shakespeare’s words are big enough to convey the really overwhelming experience of love. He really nails that moment where the magnetism becomes almost unbearable between two lovers, and when the actors can find that tension, it can’t be beat.
HP: Which scene is your favorite and why?
Brian Elerding: There’s a fantastic scene in the play Julius Caesar that I love because it’s surprisingly modern. It’s a scene between Brutus (Fred Cross) and his wife Portia (Samantha Sloyan), and it could be right out of a Tony Kushner or an Arthur Miller play—two people in trouble, talking it out. It’s timeless.
Kate Siegel: I always look forward to a Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s such a fun romp to see each of the lovers as they are, in turns, confused and furious and devastated and deeply in love. I also can’t get enough of watching Helena take those boys to town.
Fred Cross: My favorite scene in Lovers is the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. It’s a scene that we’ve seen so many times—probably more than any other in Shakespeare’s canon—and it’s so rare to be surprised by. But Brian Elerding and Aviva Farber have such a fresh take on it that I feel like I’m seeing it for the first time. It’s a testament not only to the acting, but also to Shakespeare’s writing, that I can still be surprised after seeing this scene for 30 some odd years. One of the best things about Shakespeare’s works is that there are so many opportunities for the actor to have artistic license and make the character their own, bringing all kinds of wonderful and new things to something we may have seen over and over again.
HP: What inspires actors to keep Shakespeare alive?
Kate Siegel: An addict-like devotion to riveting storytelling and complicated characters. Plays that get better and better the more time you spend with them. A canon of parts that can keep you interested (and castable) from Juliet in your early teens through Gertrude in your later years.
Brian Elerding: I agree with Kate; when you participate in a brilliant performance of one of his works, either onstage or in the audience, it’s hard to not want to get back to that same place over and over again. “Addictive” is a good word for it.
HP: What’s the hardest aspect of acting Shakespeare’s plays?
Fred Cross: Obviously, there’s the text. Once you figure out how to understand the imagery he uses through metaphor, it gets easier to perform. But that’s only half the problem. You also have to make it understandable to the audience. To be able to help the audience understand the very dated references that he uses isn’t always possible, so conveying the meaning of why he uses them becomes crucial. The audience may not know what “zounds” means, but when the actor can say it in the right context and with the right inflection, they don’t really need to.
Kate Siegel: Also, having audience members and friends and families try to convince you that they “don’t get” Shakespeare and “aren’t smart enough” to follow the language. It’s always fun to change their minds, though.
That and the memorization. Memorizing all that verse, word-perfect, can be a real time-devouring beast.
HP: Probably more than half the population can’t understand Shakespeare’s wording, phrasing, and even jargon, so why should we care?
Samantha Sloyan: I had the good fortune to have parents who studied Shakespeare in depth, and who brought me to shows from as young as I can remember. I wasn’t told he might be difficult to understand. Because of this, I freely enjoyed the experience. My understanding of the words and the work grew deeper the more I saw. I think it is the fear of not understanding that causes trouble. I think if you let go of that and just let what hits you, hit you, you will be surprised at what you walk away with.
Brian Elerding: I believe you should only care if it gets you to care. I think if the acting is good, you understand. You might not know what certain words mean, the phrasing might be a little archaic, it might fool your brain into wanting to give up for a few minutes. But if the actors are really doing their job of going after what the scene is about, you’ll get it. In art, the artists have to communicate, and the audience has to listen. If everyone is doing their job both onstage and in the seats, you can’t help but care. It becomes that magical space that the live arts create when they’re at their very best. I think that’s what brought our group into being, and it’s what we shoot for every time we get onstage.
HP: Is Shakespeare relevant in the modern world?
Fred Cross: Many of the character traits he deals with are inherent in humans: jealousy, rage, love, passion—these are not qualities that are limited by era, but rather are pieces in an ever-present chess game going on in all of us at all times. To study Shakespeare is to see those primal things that we have always been made of. To understand that is to understand yourself—and your fellow man—better.
Sunday, July 14th, 7:30 p.m.
Farnsworth Park, Lake Ave. at Mt. Curve, Altadena
Cost: $10, tickets at the door