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Arts and Entertainment Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021 1 year ago

Love, Shakespearean style

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Love is in the air, thanks to the Players Centre and the Bard.
by: Marty Fugate Contributor

Sarasota’s experiencing its own winter of discontent. To take the edge off, the Players Centre for Performing Arts is taking a page from Shakespeare in an outdoor production at The Bazaar on Apricot and Lime. “In Love with Shakespeare” will offer a selection of the Bard’s greatest love scenes. Elliott Raines compiled the anthology and will also direct the play. We spoke to him recently about his love of Shakespeare.

Why do you love Shakespeare?

Why not? (laughs)

When did you first encounter Shakespeare?

I did an honors project on “Richard III” in college. I thought I had a profound understanding. I was 17 years old. When you’re 17, you’re basically an idiot.

Ideal Shakespeare project?

Shakespeare wrote 10 history plays, eight of which comprise two tetralogies. I’d like to do all of those eight history plays. I’d start in the 1920s, in an organized crime setting. Each play would jump forward a decade. By the time we got to “Richard III,” we’d be in the John Gotti era.

Most disappointing Shakespeare production?

“Richard III”—the Al Pacino version. That was the absolute worst. I saw it on Broadway about 40 years ago. All the other actors were doing the typical British accents. But Al Pacino stuck with his Brooklyn accent. He sounded like Michael Corleone. (imitates) “Now is the winter of our discontent.” Ugh. It was funny at first. After about 10 minutes, I started getting angry. I’m sitting in a Broadway theater paying good money for this? Learn the dialect, you idiot!

Let’s talk about “In Love with Shakespeare.”

I’m ready if you are.

What was the genesis of this project?

Long story short, I’d been scheduled to direct “Death of a Salesman” last summer. I’d broken down almost half the play — and then the production was cancelled due to the pandemic. I was moderately depressed at first. To occupy my time, I picked up the guitar and started reading through Shakespeare’s plays in chronological order. The history plays are fairly uneven, but “Richard III” is one of my favorite plays. It has a really fascinating wooing scene …

“Was ever woman in this manner wooed?”

Yes, exactly. I thought about doing that scene, and I thought about doing an anthology of wooing scenes. I figured the concept could work with a small cast and an outdoor production. [Artistic Director] Jeff Kin loved the idea, and we were off to the races.

Which plays did you draw your scenes from?

“Richard III”’—which we talked about. Then “The Taming of the Shrew”—that has a perfect wooing scene. And of course I had to do “Romeo and Juliet.” If your play is running on Valentine’s Day, that’s sort of obligatory.

How did COVID affect your creative decisions?

It forced me to scale back. I originally wanted to do a scene from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” but that’d mean too many actors, and that was just too risky. I limited the cast to five actors. Every performer has two necessary qualifications: acting talent and a healthy immune system. So, the actors I chose are all young and healthy. It’s one thing if I take risks. If it was just me, I’m fine with that. But my wife didn’t sign up for this, and I really didn’t want to expose her. We’re rehearsing out of my home, since it’s the only place I can trust. I had to make sure she’d be safe.

Did you also wind up rehearsing on Zoom?

No. The rehearsal process was pretty much in-person at my house. Because we’re doing individual scenes, there were usually only two actors. No actor was part of every rehearsal.

Who did you wind up casting?

Jim Floyd, Carrie McQueen, Charlie Tyler, Michele Strauss and Diane Cepeda, who is also my stage manager. They’re all extremely talented—and having a blast.

What will Sarasota audiences experience?

I think they’ll have a blast, too. The wooing scenes are entertaining, they’re funny, and they get to the core of where people live. Shakespeare had an amazing understanding of the human heart. And people haven’t really changed over the centuries—and I think that’s a source of hope. He had his share of plagues in his time. He got through it. We will, too.

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