I think I have seen every Shakespeare play performed live. I’m not 100% positive, but after a number of years of subscribing to the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (which recently completed the cycle of all 38 plays) and also attending performances of Shakespeare in England, Nova Scotia, New York, and Kentucky (see here), I’m pretty sure. If I’ve missed any in a live theater setting, it was probably Measure for Measure and Titus Andronicus. Out of all those live performances, you won’t believe what the three most memorable have been.
I am always moved by Shakespeare’s words. I invariably cry in the heartbreaking scene between Hamlet and his mother and Romeo and Juliet‘s double death scene. I exult in Prospero’s swan song and John of Gaunt’s “scepter’d isle”speech. I always laugh at Falstaff’s bluster and Benedick and Beatrice’s barbs. But strangely enough (to me, at least), my most memorable live Shakespeare moments are from performances of three of the Bard’s comedies:
1. Mark Rylance as Olivia in Twelfth Night
Everything about my visit to the Belasco Theater on Broadway (above) a few years ago to see Twelfth Night was extraordinary: the delightfully convincing Viola/Cesario (Samuel Barnett), Olivia’s hilarious lady-in-waiting, Maria (Paul Chahidi), and Stephen Frye’s portrayal of Malvolio, to name just a few. But Mark Rylance’s Olivia was brilliant. She crossed the stage as if floating on air, and absolutely stole the show, richly deserving the Tony Award Ryland received for the performance.
2. Starveling [as Moonshine] in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The lovely Robin and I have enjoyed many performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the yearly Shakespeare-in-the-Park offerings by the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. In one such performance a few years ago (2013, maybe?), the young woman playing Starveling (playing Moonshine) made me laugh out loud with the way she delivered the line, “The lanthorn is the moon; I, the man in the moon; this thorn-bush, my thorn-bush; and this dog, my dog.” You had to be there. But it was comedy gold.
3. The Taming of the Shrew as classic TV characters
My wife, the lovely Robin, has enjoyed and endured many Shakespeare plays with me. But the one I think she remembers best–and still talks about–was when the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, in their small theater on Race Ave. in Cincinnati, presented an adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew with an assortment of classic film characters as cast members. Tom Mix, Charlie Chaplin, the Three Stooges, the Marx Brothers, and others graced (and galloped around) the stage. So fun! (above, Lauren Shively (Bianca/Judy Garland) and Hayley Clark (Kate/Gloria Swanson), used with permission from Cincinnati Shakespeare Company; photo by Rich Sofranko).
There really is nothing like live Shakespeare.