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I love Shakespeare, both on the page and on the stage. I love the immense power and depth of the Bard’s myriad works. I love the passion and the joy. I love the tragedy and the comedy alike.

I also love adaptations of Shakespeare’s works. I love it when these great works are reimagined, allowing for different kinds of accessibility and exploration. I love it when creative minds use the fundamental themes and concepts to tell stories that are both indebted to their inspiration and free to walk their own path.

Now, are these adaptations always good? Not at all. In fact, some are actively … not. That said, even with the tougher hangs, the effort being made is admirable, no matter if the result is less than stellar. But if an interesting take hits? I am a thousand percent hooked.

And Hulu’s “Rosaline” hooked me.

The film – directed by Karen Maine and adapted to the screen by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber from Rebecca Serle’s 2012 YA novel “When You Were Mine” – is a retelling of/riff on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Specifically, it’s an exploration of that story from the perspective of Rosaline – Romeo’s lady before his star-cross’s meeting with Juliet.

We never meet Rosaline in “R&J” – she’s little more than a plot device, an illustration of Romeo’s tendency toward passionate impulsivity. She is the victim of the play’s love at first sight conceit, mentioned briefly in passing and then promptly forgotten about. It does leave one wondering – what did she think about all this?

“Rosaline” attempts to answer that question with a funny and emotionally engaging romp, a movie that clearly adores its source material while also being unafraid to wallow in absurdity and anachronism. Far from “never was a story of more woe,” this is a tale of sharp-tongued wit that digs into the differences between infatuation and true love … and how surprising those differences can be.

Published in Movies

BREWER – One of the region’s most beloved summer theatre traditions is once again gracing the great outdoors.

Ten Bucks Theatre is offering up their annual outdoor Shakespeare adventure. This year’s production is “Romeo and Juliet,” running through July 31 at Brewer’s Indian Trail Park before moving to Fort Knox in Prospect for performances Aug. 4-7. All shows start at 6 p.m. You can find out more at www.tenbuckstheatre.org or by checking them out on Facebook.

There’s nothing quite like sitting outside and letting the brilliance of the Bard wash over you. Ten Bucks Theatre has been giving area audiences that opportunity for years; why not take advantage of the opportunity to see one of his greatest works play out in the bright sunshine?

Now, you probably don’t need me to explain the plot of “Romeo and Juliet” to you – it’s one of the most well-known stories in the entire Western canon. In fact, why don’t I let Prince Escalus give you the heads up? He spells it all out in the Prologue, after all.

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Which, but their children's end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

I mean, that’s pretty great, right? And it’s even better when you hear Ben Layman deliver it.

Published in Style

Every so often, a movie will come around that is a perfect encapsulation of several of my interests. These films are relatively rare, but when they do turn up, I can’t help but be thrilled. Of course, there’s always the chance that I will be disappointed.

“The Tragedy of Macbeth” was one such rarity. And happily, I was far from disappointed.

The film – directed by Joel Coen from his own adaptation of the William Shakespeare play and starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand – is a wonderful collection of things that I love. I love the works of Shakespeare. I love the films of the Coen brothers (and yes, it’s just Joel this time, but still). I love the talents of both Washington and McDormand. And I love the idea that there’s still room in the current marketplace for this type of movie – a stylized black-and-white adaptation of a classic starring capital-M capital-S Movie Stars.

After a limited theatrical release, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” made its way to Apple TV+, where it lays in wait to pounce upon you with one of the starkest, strangest and saddest new films you’re likely to encounter. Possessed of a stunning throwback aesthetic and driven by phenomenal performances, it’s unlike anything I’ve seen in ages.

Published in Movies

BREWER – One of the region’s most beloved summertime cultural traditions is back in action in Brewer. Or should I say – the Forest of Arden.

Ten Bucks Theatre Company is presenting its annual Shakespeare Under the Stars production. This year’s offering is the pastoral comedy “As You Like It.” The show runs July 22-25 at Brewer’s Indian Trail Park, followed by a final weekend – July 29-Aug. 1 – at Fort Knox in Prospect. All performances start at 6 p.m.; tickets are $15 and available at www.tenbuckstheatre.org.

It’s a story of palace intrigue, love, family ties and the many ways in which country life and court life differ – as well as a few in which they are very much the same.

Published in Style

ORONO – There’s something inherently fun about outdoor theatre. I’m not sure I can put my finger on it; it’s more a combination of things. The sun, the fresh air - it just feels like a nice mix with theatre in general and Shakespeare in particular, at least to me. Watching people tell you a story while the sun sets is a heck of a way to spend an evening.

Now, our current circumstances have made it a bit more difficult. Take the University of Maine School of Performing Arts, for instance. Their plan was to present an outdoor production of Shakespeare’s beloved comedy “Twelfth Night, Or What You Will” in the Lyle E. Littlefield Ornamentals Trial Garden on the UMaine campus in Orono. Unfortunately, the ever-changing pandemic dynamics meant that they could not perform for audiences.

Well … not LIVE audiences, anyway.

See, rather than let the situation defeat them, they went ahead and did the show anyway. They’re theatre kids, folks – you’re not going to stop them.

And so, the University of Maine School of Performing Arts is presenting their filmed version of “Twelfth Night” for streaming through May 9. Directed by Julie Arnold Lisnet, the show is available through the UMaine SPA website – just visit www.umaine.edu/spa/tickets and you’ll be on your way. Tickets are $12 for the general public and just $3 for UMaine students.

Published in Style

I’m always leery when I engage with a creative work from an artist who is operating outside their usual purview. It’s not that I question the ability to branch out – I’m a firm believer in the artistic power of multihyphenates – so much as that I recognize how difficult it is to excel in one aspect of creation, let alone more than one.

And so it was with trepidation that I approached Ethan Hawke’s new book “A Bright Ray of Darkness” (Knopf, $27.95). Specifically, I’ve been burned by actors-turned-novelists before, so you understand my caution. Hawke has four books in the rearview (though distant – it’s been 20 years since the last one) but I hadn’t read any of them, so again – maybe the most interesting part of the book is the name attached to it.

I needn’t have worried. Hawke has crafted an engaging work of literary autofiction, a story clearly drawn directly from his own personal experiences, yet rendered in such a way as to not feel bound to his life as it was lived. It’s something that many writers – many talented writers – fail to pull off, but he manages it quite deftly.

This tale of an actor struggling with his shifting reality – moving from a world of movie stardom to the Broadway stage, torn between accepting his crumbling marriage and striving to reassemble it – and making sometimes questionable choices in the process is tightly woven and densely packed, a meditation on masculinity and the value – both external and internal – of the redemption he seeks through his art.

Published in Style

BREWER – When it comes to Ten Bucks Theatre Company’s annual Shakespeare Under the Stars production, the show must go on – pandemic be damned.

This summer’s offering – directed by Amy Roeder – is “The Taming of the Shrew,” with performances at three different venues: Brewer’s Indian Trail Park (July 16-19, 23-24), Old Town’s Hirundo Wildlife Refuge (July 25-26) and Fort Knox in Prospect (July 30-31, Aug. 1-2). All performances start at 6 p.m.

Due to the current circumstances, social distancing measures will be in place (including for the cast). Audiences will be limited to 50 people and the show will be presented without an intermission.

There are a lot of challenges that come with trying to mount a show right now. By all appearances, Ten Bucks has met all of them with enthusiasm and passion. This is a difficult piece to do well under ideal conditions, let alone now. Yet this intrepid crew has overcome the obstacles of circumstance. The result is a charming, engaging piece of theatre – one that might help you escape, if only for a couple of hours. These days, that’s a precious gift.

Published in Style

Making someone laugh is hard. Making them laugh with nothing but words on a page is REALLY hard.

That’s why the contenders for great comedic literature are so limited; while most writers worth their salt can elicit a few chuckles over the course of a novel, only a scant handful can use comedy as a literary foundation. It’s the difference between books with some comic aspects and legitimate comic novels. There are plenty of the former and surprisingly few of the latter.

Of course, then you have someone like Christopher Moore who totally throws off the curve. See, Moore’s entire bibliography is packed with capital-C Comic novels, including a couple that warrant inclusion among the very best ever (though even lesser Moore is funnier than 99.9% of the self-styled comedic literature out there).

His latest is “Shakespeare for Squirrels” (William Morrow, $28.99), the third in his ongoing series of parodic pastiche featuring the erstwhile fool Pocket of Dog Snogging. Like its predecessors “Fool” and “The Serpent of Venice,” this latest offering drops its nimble, quick-witted and foul-mouthed protagonist into a setting spun off from the brilliance of the Bard.

Moore brings his usual satiric edge and keen sense of the absurd to the table, mingling it exquisitely with a thoughtful depth of knowledge with regards to the works of Shakespeare. The resulting combination is bitingly funny and awash in coarse charm, a familiar narrative turned on its head. This book is fast-moving, smart … and utterly, unwaveringly hilarious.

Published in Buzz

One of the great joys of my job as a critic is the moment of discovery, that indefinable instant when the realization washes over you that a chosen book is even better and more interesting than you’d hoped. I’ve gotten pretty good at curating what makes it from the pile to the page, but sometimes, I get more than I bargained for – in a good way.

I had just such a moment of discovery with Tessa Gratton’s latest book “Lady Hotspur” (Tor, $29.99). It was a book that I had heard a little bit about and was intrigued. Gender-swapped fantasy-flavored loose reimagining of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” certainly sounded like it could be my jam, so I started reading.

What I got was a high fantasy tale of love and loss, of the big wounds of warfare and the quiet cuts of palace intrigue. Set in the same world as Gratton’s earlier “The Queens of Innis Lear,” this new book expands upon that foundation, finding ways to both broaden and narrow the scope. It’s a beautiful and intricate landscape across which compelling characters stride. It’s smart and sweet and occasionally savage … and a heck of a read.

Published in Style

STONINGTON – The love story behind one of history’s greatest love stories is currently playing out on the stage of the Stonington Opera House.

Opera House Arts is presenting Lee Hall’s acclaimed stage adaptation of the 1998 Oscar-winning film “Shakespeare in Love.” The show – directed by Julia Sears – runs through July 28.

Traditionally, OHA has presented one of Shakespeare’s plays, but as part of the celebration of their 20th season, the choice was made to mix things up. Thus, a play not BY Shakespeare, but rather one ABOUT him. It’s a clever pick that accentuates OHA’s usual strengths while also offering a chance to engage with something a little bit different.

It doesn’t hurt that it’s a fantastic story – a tale of one man’s desperate desire for greatness, on the page and in matters of the heart alike, and the woman whose own greatness may prove to be both blessing and curse. All of it set against a backdrop of backstage shenanigans as a handful of rogues and ruffians try to get their acts together long enough to put on a show – a show that’s still being written. Oh, and an unwanted marriage. And a queen. And a dog.

The wildest part of all? It’s even better than it sounds.

Published in Style
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