Last weekend, a motley crew of Shakespearean actors gathered together as part of the Yellow Stockings Players’ annual Night of Scenes. A familiar space for most of us, Upper Tarble was transformed into the backdrop for diverse scenes from Henry V, Richard III, Julius Caesar and The Tempest.
Directed by Jamie Burke ‘15, the first monologue, performed by Preston Cooper ‘15, was a scene from the prologue of Henry V that called for us to overlook the limitations of a bare stage, to “piece out our imperfections with your thoughts.” From this perfect beginning based in a play about the valiant Henry V, we jumped to watching a scheming Richard III (Samuel Mori ‘17) flirt with a repulsed Lady Anne (Alessandra Occhiolini ‘17), providing us with a great contrast that highlighted the variety of the scenes offered. Traditionally played as a hunchback, director Preston Cooper’s Richard III walked upright, reminding us that the king’s deformity, his propensity for evil, was one of the soul, not necessarily just a physical one. As Mori walked around stage during the last part of the scene, gleefully informing the audience of his plans, I was struck by how well Upper Tarble worked as a set. Devoid of the boundaries and elevation of a generic stage, it allowed actors to get up close and personal with the audience, making us more invested in characters like Richard III who broke the fourth wall. The space’s steps also provided depth to dialogue, with multiple characters interacting from different heights.
Short bursts of recorded, suspenseful violin music gave the audience a break before we were treated to one of the most famous of Shakespearean monologues: “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” from Julius Caesar. In an interesting directorial decision, Burke’s Mark Antony discarded his traditionally sarcastic tone in favour of a more bitter, angry one, with Rebeka Gomez Wick’s voice powerfully resonating in the space. For me, this provided a new, original perspective on a pretty well-known piece of rhetoric.
Scenes centered on kings and leadership dominated the first half of the Night of Scenes, but a scene from The Tempest worked well to interrupt this trend and provide light comic relief. While scenes from Richard III, Julius Ceasar and Henry V focused in on dialogue, with little physical action, director Michelle Johnson ‘16 filled her scenes with gestures and actions. The boisterous and often intoxicated butler of The Tempest, Stephano (Aaron Wagener ‘17) stumbled across stage, singing and dancing with Caliban (Stephanie Wang ‘17) and Trinculo (Mame Bonsu ‘14), who all had excellent physical chemistry which intensified the humor.
Some commonalities threaded together all the scenes despite the different directors, including minimal utilization of props as well as black and white costumes, which allowed the production to flow well and highlighted the coherency of Shakespeare’s body of work. It also made me focus more on dialogue and plot movements, especially for scenes from Richard III, where character relationships were the focal point of the action.
Two more scenes from Henry V, “St. Crispin’s Day” and “Once More Unto the Breach” served as inspirational and stirring speeches, the first from Burke himself, and the second from Wang. These interrupted intense scenes from Richard III, which culminated in the scene in which Richard informs us of Lady Anne’s murder and announces his intentions to head into battle, with Mori making a powerful transition to anger and outrage. We ended, not with this ominous tone, but with another appropriate scene from the Tempest starring everyone in the cast, a speech that ended wistfully: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”