Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Opera Theater St. Louis - 2016 (Well, 3/4 of the OTSL season)

The season is now over and again OTSL can congratulate itself on an outstanding season of four excellent opera productions, including another wonderful premiere of Shalimar the Clown.  I had the opportunity over the last month to experience all 4 productions and here are some brief comments about each of them.

Ariadne auf Naxos is an opera that I have seen online several times, but never live and never in English before.  This infectious Richard Strauss opera works so much better live.  The antics of the commedia del’arte troupe along with the excessive hand-wringing from the traditionalists in the first act capped off by the lovely “combined” performance of the second act all worked together to make this a riveting and enjoyable experience.  And add to that the fact that it was performed in English.  Now, I am not usually in favor of performing opera in English, and prefer the original language.  In fact, I feel that often performing an Italian opera in English is like painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa, but in this case it worked great.  There is so much dialogue and there is so much going on that it would have been hard to follow in German. Plus the translation was pretty good and not groan-worthy. (wish I could say that for Boheme and Macbeth, which simply did/do NOT work in English - IMHO).  The final element of this great production was of course the cast and orchestra.  The orchestra for all of the operas is the St. Louis Symphony and their playing was exquisite throughout the season (especially in Shalimar!)  R. Strauss is not a walk in the park for the orchestra but they played the score brilliantly and the conductor infused much energy that kept everything moving at a nice pace.  The cast was across the board excellent (this is true for all 4 operas – not a weak link in the bunch!)  For Ariadne I felt the stand-outs were So Young Park as Zerbinetta, A.J. Gluekert as Bacchus and then the incredible Ken Page (otherwise known to theater-goers as Old Deuteronomy in the the original Cats production) as the Major-Domo. I had not realized that until later but while viewing was completely taken by his performance.  I doubt I will ever experience another opera performance where one of the standout stars was a non-singer in a non-singing role, but he was simply outstanding.  What a great idea to cast him, he BTW is a St. Louis native, so it was a kind of homecoming I suppose and he was warmly and enthusiastically received by the audience.  I doubt that Ariadne will ever replace Rosenkavalier as my favorite R. Strauss opera, but this was a terrific performance and a joyous way to begin the season.

La Boheme is perhaps one of the best loved opera of all times.  Many people who never go to the opera have nevertheless seen Boheme.  Among opera lovers it is interesting to me to read comments about this opera, for they tend to go from adoration to intense dislike with a strong dose of “I’m so tired of it.”  And I myself have sometimes found myself at times in the “tired of it” camp, until the downbeat and then I am engaged.  It is not only a beautiful score, but it is an incredibly well constructed score.  And for me the 2nd act is a perfect gem and perhaps one of the great accomplishments of late 19th century Verismo opera.  There is always a lot going on in the 2nd act and then it all is finished off with the onstage band marching across the stage.  And it is here I’ll begin my reflections about the OTSL production. There was simply too much on and off stage movement in this act which didn’t seem to have any purpose.  If it was to simulate the flow of the crowds on Christmas Eve in Paris it didn’t work for too often the chorus would leave the principals alone on the stage only to reappear just in time to sing and then disappear again.  That just didn’t work for me.  I wanted to crowds to be teeming throughout the act.  That said the ending was great.  I always love the band and this was no exception. The kids were great and the Parpignol (Eric Ferring) was easily one of the most memorable voices in the cast – what a beautiful voice and he only basically sang one note!  The cast were all young singers and were all very good.  I especially loved the Mimi of Hae Ji Chang and the Rodolpho of Andrew Haji and they had good chemistry.  She was especially effecting in the last act.  And the Shaunard of Sean Michael Plumb was another standout, what a beautiful voice.  Lastly, opera veteran Thomas Hammons sang the joint roles of Benoit/Alcindoro and he was terrific and then (on the Wednesday I attended) he turned around and took over the much more demanding and extensive role of Shalimar’s Father in the evening performance of Shalimar the Clown.  In closing I will say that I did enjoy this performance very much.  The singers all were very committed and sang beautifully.  I found myself wiping away tears on more than one occasion, including the ending of act 2 which always (for some reason) is an emotional experience for me.

Shalimar the Clown in another in the series of commissions and world premiere operas that OTSL has given to the opera world.  And this was for me a very moving and powerful experience.  The libretto is based on a novel by Salman Rushdie (he was at the performance I attended, which was cool!).  The story moves quickly around the world from LA to the small fictional village of Pachigam in Kashmir and back again to LA, this was effectively represented in a series of excellent projections.  The story deals with the issue of religious conflict and hatred and how it is that so many young men are radicalized and seemingly so quick to accept violence.  The opera begins at the end of the story – Shalimar (Sean Panikkar) has been stalking the former US Ambassador to India, Max Ophuls (Gregory Dahl), and has managed to get himself hired as Max’s driver.  After arriving at his daughter India’s (Andriana Chuchman) for a birthday celebration Shalimar murders Max.  And then we go back to the village and get to experience Shalimar’s long slow path from a sweet, shy Indian Muslim circus performer to a hardened, hateful and bitterly vengeful, and particularly violent murderer.  Early on we meet Boonyi (also played by Andriana Chuchman), the object of Shalimar’s affection.  But Boonyi is Hindu, so the first conflict is set up – a Muslim and Hindu who are forced to marry because they have been caught and blackmailed (or he tries to blackmail them) by a slimy schoolteacher (brilliantly portrayed by Geoffrey Agpalo).  The wedding itself is crashed by the Iron Mullah (Aubrey Allicock) who comes to condemn the pluralism represented in this bi-religion wedding.  But the community all join together to reject the hate and prejudice represented by the Iron Mullah and to reaffirm that they are all of one community and that they live in peace.  It is one of the most moving moments in the opera. 
But it cannot last, Max the Ambassador arrives and is smitten with lust by the young dancer Boonyi who runs off with him and is eventually impregnated by him.  His wife Peggy (Katherine Goeldner) keeps the child and sends Boonyi back to her village, but she has now been declared dead and finds herself an outcast.  Not only that but Shalimar is so filled with rage and that he has pledged to murder her and Max.  He joins the Islamic terrorist insurgency where he distinguishes himself as one of the most ruthless and bloody soldiers, even creeping out even the other terrorists because he is so blood-thirsty.  Eventually he makes good on his vow.  The village is destroyed by the Indian army and everyone is murdered – another incredibly powerful scene is the “Rape of Pachigam” the destruction of the village depicted by 6 dancers (3 men and 3 women) who act out a stylized by violent rape sequence.  It was hard to watch but impossible to turn away from – the music was particularly stunning here.  Boonyi manages to escape the Indian army but she meets up with Shalimar who is surveying the rubble of his home and taking note of the bodies of his parents and family and friends.  Shalimar murders her as he had vowed to do, even though I had the sense that he did it almost with regret. Regret that then fueled his determination to murder Max.  The ending of this opera is incredible.  The daughter of Max and Boonyi is a young Olympic archer named India (who knows nothing of her past or of the sordid story that brought her to life) but she finds herself facing off with Shalimar at the end, just as the lights go out.  I would like to read the ending of the book to find out how Rushdie ends this story. I am confident that India successfully defends herself, though it is left up in the air.
This was a powerful evening at the opera.  It is these kinds of experiences that keep me committed to this art form. Opera has a unique way of drawing the audience into the story through the music, and the music for this opera – composed by Jack Perla (libretto by Rajiv Joseph) – was wonderful.  I loved the score.  The orchestration included both a tabla and a sitar and utilized the winds in particular making the music both lush and stark as the story required.  I have heard that a recording will be released and I am looking forward to buying it and listening to it again.  The St. Louis symphony outdid themselves in performing this score.  The chorus of young apprentices who also took on a variety of small roles throughout the season also were especially terrific in Shalimar.  As for the leads, I said it above, this was a terrific cast from the two principals – Sean Panikkar as Shalimar and Andriana Chuchman as Boonyi/India.  Both roles require incredible acting chops and they both had it along with the vocal skills to perform the roles.  I would have to list the entire cast in order to list the excellent performances, but I have to at least point to Gregory Dahl, who was really outstanding as Max and managed to convey this complicated man.  It would be so easy to play him as a “bad guy” but I loved that Dahl’s Max was a very complex man, who is not bad, but not always good – who is self-giving and at the same time rather selfish – kind of like all of us.  And Katherine Goeldner was an effective Peggy who while the ignored wife still manages to accomplish perhaps the cruelest act in the entire story.  And Finally Aubrey Allicot as Bulbul Fakh, the Iron Mullah was terrifically and horrifyingly effective.

Lastly I want to say that the multicultural dimension of this work I found exciting and cutting edge.  We do live in a pluralistic world and we need to embrace and celebrate this.  We need to reject decisively those who would categorize and demonize other peoples and cultures and recognize that we are all in this together and we need each other. And the arts need to constantly model this and celebrate it.  This is a great step in that direction.  I truly hope to see many more productions of this wonderful opera around the country and the world.  It deserves it – but we need it!

I will post the final reflection on OTSL's Macbeth within the week.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sunday Night at the Opera - Don Carlos from Vienna

     I finally got to watch this wonderfully sung performance of one of my favorite operas from the Vienna State Opera.  Musically it was terrific.  The cast included Rene Pape, Ludovic Tezier, Ramon Vargas and Anja Harteros.  They were all terrific.  The performance was at times riveting and at times very moving.  But I have to say that the production is really pretty uninteresting.  In fact, it is the most uninteresting production I have seen of this opera.  The lighting is dark, dark, dark.  The set is non-existent. I suppose the production is traditional.  The costumes are a few hundred years later, but for the most part it doesn't seem to matter.  The best part is the singers and the singer's own characterizations and interactions.  Given the nature of this production it really is the only thing that saves this production - well that and the singing.  If the singers weren't so terrific this production would not be worth watching.  The chorus is adequate, the orchestra is pretty good, but the soloists in this performance were outstanding.

Wozzeck from Zurich: http://iopera.es/wozzeck-desde-zurich/
     I have been meaning to write a little about the Zurich "Wozzeck" I watched a few weeks ago. Years ago, when I was an undergraduate at New England Conservatory of Music I had the opportunity to perform this opera with Gunther Schuller conducting.  I played English Horn and it was a semi-staged production with a variety of singers - students and professionals.  I initially found the part hard as hell, but as I got to know it I came to really love the piece.  It is a brilliant opera and the music is genius.  This production from Zurich is very ingenious. The characters are like caricatures and it is as though they are all players in a carnival.  Which really works, the carnival being life itself.  One thing I found really effective was that all of the children in the last scene are costumed exactly like all the rest of the cast.  So the younger generation is a clone of the older and the cycle just repeats over and over again.  I felt that this production really captured the pessimism and futility that the piece conveys about life. I personally do not share Berg's pessimism and hopelessness about life.  But I understand it and this is a piece that needs to be experienced and taken seriously.  Many of the issues are universal, and the cycle continues and continues and continues. The cast - led by Christian Gehaher in the title role, were all excellent.  Gun-Brit Barkmin sang a compelling Marie; Brandon Jovanovitch was the creepy Drum Major and he was terrific I also really liked the Captain of Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke and the Doctor of Lars Woldt.  This is a terrific production and performance.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Opera Platform - Verdi "Macbeth" from Latvia

     In an intermission interview Viesturs Meiksans, the director for this production of Verdi's "Macbeth" from Latvia made a comment that he felt that evil and good are a part of the human condition.  We are not pushed into evil by some outside force - like devils or witches - both evil and good are inside of us all. I don't disagree with this insight, but it does explain I suppose why this production puts the women of the witches chorus in the pit and they are invisible on stage.  Macbeth and Banquo just are conversing with the air.  It might have worked better if it were a personal conversation - just Macbeth and the Weird Sisters for example.  But since there are two of them it just didn't work for me at all.  True, both good and evil are a part of all of us, but for me this director missed the point of the Weird Sisters.  In the Shakespeare play the three witches are not evil, and neither are they good.  They do not push or inspire the action that follows.  They simply predict or anticipate the future.  Initially predicting that Macbeth will be made Thane of Cawdor this comes true immediately and it is Macbeth (inspired and pushed by his wife, Lady Macbeth) that takes it upon himself to enact the other predictions in a violent manner. The Weird Sisters are not evil, rather I think they represent fate and whatever they predict cannot be avoided, it will come to pass.  It is fate - Banquo will be the father of 7 kings, though not a king himself - Macbeth tries to change this and he cannot.  The director made one other comment which I think is completely wrong: In Shakespeare there are three witches and (according to him) Lady Macbeth makes the 4th. I am not sure I quite understand the significance of the number "4" in this case.  But I feel that this director really does not understand Shakespeare in general or this play in particular.  Lady Macbeth is a driving force, she pushes her husband to take fate into his own hands and to accomplish the predictions through violence.  For all of their colorful incantations the Weird Sisters never do anything of the sort.  They are rather a more colorful variation on the Norns, brew a caldron instead of weaving threads of fate. Lady Macbeth and her husband try and fail to master fate and in the process they destroy themselves and a nation.  Returning to the production then for me the least effective scenes were the ones with the Weird Sisters, in my opinion.  This includes not only the first scene but the famous scene with the apparitions, which despite the inclusion of the ballet (oddly choreographed, and what was up with the zombies - no Weird Sisters, but zombies instead - huh?  Didn't get this) these scenes simply fell flat.
     But, on the other hand, the remainder of the production was, in my view, rather effective and profoundly moving.  The murder of Macduff's family is not a part of the opera - though it is a horrific part of the play - usually we get the aria where Macduff has just found out about it and then sings of his reaction.  I find this beautiful aria is usually not up to the task of conveying the horror and grief of the revelation in general, depending on the actor the scene Shakespeare wrote is much more powerful.  Even so, this production included a silent depiction of this murder and it was harrowing and effective.  What followed was the incredible refugee chorus (performed magnificently by the outstanding Latvian Opera chorus) and then the aforementioned aria, which I thought was slightly more effective for having a fresh experience of seeing the murders on stage.  In the context of the horrible refugee crisis in our world today - a crisis that most Americans would prefer to ignore and no one really knows how to address - I found this scene to be extremely poignant and moving.  "Patria oppressa" indeed! In the way that England in the play comes to the aid of Malcolm, Macduff and the Scots it seems to me we in the wealthy west have a responsibility of these refugees, who we helped create.
     The murder of Banquo and his subsequent appearance was also quite effective.  The murder itself was kind of creepy and Macbeth's party breakdown was very well done.  It was effective that he spent most of the party scene trying to cover up the blood splatter from the murder with no success and that his lack of success is what prompts his meltdown.  This, of course, is one of the other major themes of the play - "what is done cannot be undone" - and the murder changes everything.  Nothing is the same.  I found the ending to be a bit disappointing - there was no fight, Macbeth just disappears.  The sleep walking scene was marred for me by the appearance of those 6 zombies.  The set and lighting were effective and I did like the projections and the way that the cast could appear out of the projections.  It provided some interesting context and was effective.
     The almost all Russian cast was really quite excellent.  Vladislav Sulimsky was an excellent Macbeth and Tatiana Melnychenko certainly has the voice of Lady Macbeth.  Her acting however leaves much to be desired. I also really liked the Banquo of Romans Polisadovs but found Sergey Polyakov's Macduff to be rather dull, his acting was similarly nonexistent. The supporting cast were good.  The star of this production however was the chorus without a doubt.  They were simply fantastic.  The orchestra was good, but they had their moments of shaky intonation and inaccuracy and ensemble problems.  The conducting of Martins Ozolins seemed adequate but that is the best I can say.
     This coming week I will be attending a live performance of Macbeth performed by Opera Theater of St. Louis.  After this experience it will be interesting to compare.

Friday, June 10, 2016

And Now… Some Shakespeare:

“Taming of the Shrew” in DC and “Tug of War: Foreign Fire” in Chicago

In between attending the Ring Cycle I had the opportunity to attend a performance of “Taming of the Shrew” in DC performed by the Shakespeare Theater Company. Now, I will confess that if I had had another Shakespearean option I would have skipped Taming and gladly attended another play.  For while I think the play is beautifully written, as all of the plays are, it is not a play I really like very much. Yes, I know it is a farce. Shakespeare is taking on an attitude about women, a male fantasy if you will, and making fun of it.  But in the 21st century it doesn’t really come across, even in this really excellent production.  The scene where Petruchio breaks Kate feels like abuse and the final scene, especially Kate’s final speech, is simply offensive.  “Let’s see which woman will obey” – yuck!
I have read some who argue that this was the attitude in Elizabethan England and we should just accept it on its own terms.  Except, it is not. Women did not willingly obey any more in Elizabethan England than at any other time, including our own.  True, it was a patriarchal society and women were forced into various roles, but at the same time there was a woman on the throne who was arguably the most powerful woman in the world at that time. No, the attitudes in the play represent male fantasy, not reality. 
The director of this production, Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, opening acknowledged the problem in his thoughtful program article. And one way he attempted to deal with it was that he determined that all the roles – male and female - would be played by men.  This, he suggested mitigated the distasteful elements of the play.  He also noted that there is a production currently playing in Central Park in New York that will use an all female cast.  He saw the two productions as a pair.  And I am sorry I cannot see the Central Park production as it would be interesting to compare. He also added some very interesting elements to further muddy the waters as it were.  But at the end of the day, the character’s genders have not changed.  The women are still supposed to be women, even if they are played by men. The violence of the breaking scene and the final scene are ultimately not mitigated by using male actors, at least not for me. Ultimately I came away from the performance slightly embarrassed that I had enjoyed it so much, for the play is really rather offensive.  I even mentioned this to a cast member in the lobby after the performance and he agreed with me.
So would I want to see the play not performed – no, absolutely not. I want to see this play done exactly the way this director did it.  With eyes open, and a desire to struggle with the difficult dimensions of the play.  For that I commend this director and the company for their work. I sensed no excuse making, but rather a clear and honest attempt to struggle with the rather difficult relationships in the play, and then to add even more difficult dimensions to them.
As the play is still running in DC I should say – SPOILER ALERT.  There was an openness to this production which I found unique and refreshing.  The cast mingled with the audience in the lobby and even performed songs before the play. During the intermission refreshments were served on stage and the audience was invited up on stage.  In a variety of ways the audience was invited to break the 4th wall and enter into the play.  And during some of these times there were subversive things going on, notably a little more than platonic relationship between Lucencio and Tranio, discovered by Bianca.  And one had the sense there was even more of this going on.  Another dimension I noticed was the relationship between the servants and masters.  In many ways these relationships were almost as abusive as the relationships between the men and the women.  What does that say about money and power?  And then adding in the subtext complications a completely different set of motivations and relationships begin to appear.  Remember that the entire plot is about money and property – it is not about love, or even about relationships or women – all of that is in service of the pursuit of money and property.  There is a subplot about lust – lust for Bianca – but ultimately the primary issue is who will become Baptista’s heir.
I want to complain about one director decision that I thought did not work. I understand that he wanted the establishment characters of Gremio, Hortensio and the wealthy Contessa to be somewhat representative of power bases in society and so Gremio becomes a Catholic Cardinal.  Except that Gremio is openly pursuing Bianca like the others.  He is just as lustful and desirous to marry her as all the others.  Ok, a Cardinal can be lustful, but to be openly a candidate for her hand in marriage just didn’t work.  He is a Cardinal, which means he is supposed to be celibate. Even in the Middle Ages high ranking churchmen worked harder to hide their assignations than this.  This didn’t work for me.  I don’t think having him being a churchman at all was necessary and added nothing. That is my only complaint.
The cast was excellent. The Kate of Maulik Pancholy was really terrific as was the Bianca of Oliver Thornton.  I had seen Telly Leung in Godspell on Broadway about 5 years ago and was really impressed and he was terrific as Lucencio also. Tom Story was outstanding as Hortensio, with equally outstanding work from Matthew Russell and Gregory Linington as the put upon servants Tranio and Grumio. Bernard White as the plotting father of the women Baptista was effective and I enjoyed the many incarnations of AndrĂ© De Shields.  Finally Peter Gadiot played the unsympathetic role (at least for me) of Petruchio and I can’t imagine it being performed more effectively.  The entire company was excellent.  This is a terrific production and performance.
Lastly, I have to mention that one of the unique elements of this production was the addition of original songs by Duncan Sheik. This added a unique dimension which I felt really worked.  At times it felt like a musical, the cast were all excellent singers and the songs were beautiful and effective.  In this way the music added yet another dimension of commentary and complication to the plot.  This was not a 2 dimensional “Taming;” all of these elements came together to create a complicated set of odd relationships.

Oliver Thornton as Bianca and Maulik Pancholy as Katherina

A few weeks later I travelled to Chicago to my 2nd favorite place on earth – Navy Pier – for 5+ hours of Shakespeare in the form of a montage entitled Tug of War: Foreign Fire.  Created by Barbara Gaines, director of Chicago Shakespeare, this long evening consisted of three plays: Edward III, Henry V and Henry VI, part 1.  These were cut to focus on the war-making dimensions and to fit into 5 to 6 hours of Shakespeare. The primary focus of this 1st part of Tug of War were the English wars against the French in an effort to win the rule of France during the Hundred Years War. In these wars there are the elites who make the decisions, often based on flimsy and questionable foundations, there are the commoners who are the ones who bear the primary burden of the fighting and the dying and there are the women who are also used as chess pieces in the complex back and forth between fighting and diplomacy. Edward III rescues the Countess of Salisbury from the Scottish only to attack her by attempting to coerce her into a sexual relationship. She resists (in one of the most wrenching and powerful scenes in the entire play – performed powerfully by Karen Aldrich as the Countess and Freddie Stevenson as Edward). Her success in shunning the King forces his response in commencing the brutal wars against the French that ends ultimately in the French defeat and deaths of 1000’s at Crecy and Poitiers. I had never seen Edward III before, and it is still somewhat contested.  I suppose this will be my only opportunity to see it, and I really loved the play.  It does bear some interesting parallels to Henry V.
Henry V is also cut to focus exclusively on war-making.  John Tufts’ Henry was not as sympathetic and likeable as most Henry’s. After a magnificent exposition of the Salic laws, delivered brilliantly by Steven Sutliffe as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Henry is engaged in the act of war on the French.  One of the most moving and poignant dimensions was having the Ghost of Edward III watching as events unfold and then repeating lines from the first play that perfectly parallel lines from Henry V during the Harfleur scene.  The brutality and cruelty is something the two Kings have in common. No nationalistic romp this production – the “Band of Brothers” speech was anything but inspiring.  Rather, yet another effort at manipulation coming as it does on the heels of the King’s rather self-serving wanderings through the camp where he argues his righteousness with his own soldiers.  Finally we have Princess Katherine used as a bargaining chip.  I felt that this scene was anything but cute and seductive, rather, it felt violent to me.  Katherine attacked to be taken as used, much like Petruchio’s Kate is taken and used.  But here it is in the service of a peace that will actually never take hold.
And the King dies young and is succeeded by his infant son and the entire French possessions are lost and in the process of regaining them we encounter a new woman, a warlike woman – Joan of Arc.  Played powerfully by Heidi Kettenring this is a woman who can stand up to men, who is as strong as any man and who has to be destroyed.  All the while a weak and pious Henry VI, played by Steven Sutliffe attempts to avoid conflict as his counselors are fighting bitterly with each other.  This play serves as a hinge from the French wars to the English turning in on themselves and beginning the civil war between the white and red roses – the houses of York and Lancaster (all descended, BTW, from Edward III).  This then sets up the next installment in the fall – Tug of War: Civil Strife which will include Henry VI, parts 2 and 3 and Richard III.
It is obvious that Gaines is making a statement about the stupidity and futility of war and violence.  She is also, not so subtly pointing out that while the men who make the decisions stand above the fray, on various levels of scaffolding looking down on the bloodshed and carnage, it is the poor foot soldiers who do the work of fighting and dying, by the 1000’s! (It is not an accident, I think, that both Edward III and Henry V, both include a lingering uncomfortable scene where they read a list of the killed and lost). It is also the women who are the chattel and are used and abused in this chess game of war, and who sometimes (like the Queen in an actual chess game) becomes a player herself (Margaret of Anjou, for example).  And for what, for a throne which is elusive and unstable (symbolized brilliantly by a golden tire hanging and lit in full view throughout the entire play.)  The final dimension is the music.  A rock band which plays and sings a series of songs about war and war-making serves as both participant and commentary on the action.
As is typical of the incredible work of Barbara Gaines there are so many little details that add so much to the performance.  My favorite: a young boy being given a hat to keep him warm by his mother as he leaves for the wars.  This cap continues to be featured in a variety of ways until it is finally returned to the mother, without the boy.  It was a moving symbol of the incredible cost of this kind of war-making.
I cannot even begin to pick out and name the incredible cast for this marathon venture.  As usual Gaines’ cast is tremendous, each and every one of them.  Larry Yando, Kevin Gudahl, Karen Aldrige, Heidi Kettenring, James Newcomb and Michael Aaron Lindner (who provided the only really effective comic relief of the adventure with his outstanding Fluellen) are all veterans of Chicago Shakespeare. New actors included Freddie Stevenson’s incredibly powerful and dangerous Edward III, John Tufts as his grandson the equally powerful and self-centered Henry V (no nice guy Hal, or even Falstaff to mitigate this character – there was a brief nod to this whole subplot when Henry momentarily reacted to the news that Pistol would be hung, but it was over in a moment.  After all those who break the rules must pay no matter who they are – that is if they are poor peasants!). And then there was Alex Weisman, whose youthful, almost childlike looks brought an incredible power to his scenes as Talbot’s son, and the boy with the cap.

I am really looking forward to the last installment in the fall.  This is an incredibly powerful work.  Hats off to Barbara Gaines.  The evening of the performance I attended there were cameras all over. I can only hope that they are recording this for television or some kind of release.  Shakespeare’s insights about war and war-making are just as relevant today as they were in his own time.  If only the war-makers would pay attention.
A video montage of Tug of War: Foreign Fire - Note the use of the paper crowns!