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The Top 40

My personal most memorable Shakespeareances
{productions through 2013)

[Go back to Top 40 Shakespeareances 16–20]

DVD case cover of Richard II21. Richard II, BBC/Time-Life Series, 1978 and 2011.
One measure of a performance is both the quality and quantity of the mental energy expended in recollection the next day. Derek Jacobi's Richard II from the BBC series (and up until this broadcast, the series wasn't impressing me much) has stayed with me, from the moment I saw it on TV back in college to the present, as one of the greatest Shakespearean performances I've ever seen. Thus, as I was preparing to launch, I decided to make the BBC Richard II the first of my film reviews. After watching it again, Jacobi, John Gielgud (Gaunt), Jon Finch (Bolingbroke), Richard Owens (Mowbray), Charles Gray (York), and even the conspirator plotting scenes lingered at the forefront of my mind for another day or two; or three. Heck, they're lingering still. Click here to read my review of this Richard II.

22. Reading Hamlet for the first time, University of Missouri, 1977.
The context: I'd read portions of Julius Caesar in 10th grade English, seen great professional productions of Twelfth Night, King Lear, and The Comedy of Errors, and, in a college seminar class, studied Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, and Henry IV, Part One before we got to Hamlet—the much-hyped Hamlet. As both a young journalist and a clever college student, I approached it somewhat cynically. But as a writer, before I'd gotten through the first scene, I knew I'd entered the most hallowed halls of genius. I vividly remember becoming more and more enthralled each page I turned. I read it twice (who reads a college class assignment twice?), then again after we'd studied it. Great story, fascinating characters, and brilliant literature, Hamlet deserves its exalted status. Personally and for reasons of the soul, it is not my favorite Shakespeare play, but I nevertheless respect Hamlet as Shakespeare's greatest literary achievement (we can appreciate Sgt. Pepper's genius but like Please, Please Me or Abbey Road better). This was this moment I got hooked on Shakespeare and decided I had to read every one of his plays, over and over and over. And still.

Puck, in blue body paint with long pointy ears, holds a pink flower in one hand and blows fairy dust off the palm of his other hand, with the golden strands of fabric and a full moon hanging in the backgorund
Alex Mills as Puck spreading a little fairy dust in Synetic Theater's "Silent Shakespeare" production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Johnny Shryock, Synetic Theater.

23. A Midsummer Night's Dream, Synetic Theater, Arlington, Va., 2013.
The dancing, the staging, the sexually charged choreography, the long physical girlfight all made for a memorably entrancing, silent adaptation of Shakespeare's text, but it was the comic portrayals in mime and movement by Emily Whitworth as Helena and the Rude Mechanicals (Ryan Sellers' Peter Quince stands out most) that elevated this production to great Shakespeare. Whitworth was a young, female Buster Keaton, with an expressive face and pinpoint control in her physical posture to portray hope, despair, fatigue, anger, confusion, and awe-struck joy, all in subtle touches rather than broad strokes. Though she speaks nary a word, hers was one of the finest Helenas I've ever seen. The Rude Mechanicals were so Charlie Chaplin funny, especially as everything was performed to an on-stage piano soundtrack, that I would have sat through a two-hour performance of them alone. Throw in the ever-hot, incredibly supple Alex Mills as a cute puppy of a Puck, and this was both visual and visionary entertainment, a dream of a Dream.Click here for a review of this Midsummer Night's Dream.

24. The Outlaws in Two Gentlemen of Verona, Folger Theatre, Washington, D.C., 2004.
This Aaron Posner production used seven actors: one each for the four lovers, and three women—Lucy Newman-Williams, Kate Eastwood Norris, and Holly Twyford—playing all the rest in masks. The highlight was Valentine's encounter with the outlaws, with the three actresses wearing two-sided masks for a total of six bandits. They'd turn their heads from side to side and switch voices to portray their two different characters, which privately they named. Sometimes they'd forget and Dopey spoke with Grumpy's voice, one of the actresses admitted in an audience talk-back, but we were laughing so hard during the scene, we would never notice such a detail.

25. Pinch's Dance, Comedy of Errors, American Shakespeare Center, Blackfriars Playhouse, Staunton, Va., 2009.
Daniel Kennedy's Pinch was an Eastern mystical man in this production of Turkish Caliphate costuming. Pulling off his robe to reveal oversized purple diapers and accompanied by an assistant with a tabor, Pinch broke into a wild dance to exorcise the devil out of Antipholus of Ephesus (Luke Eddy). All arms and knees, Kennedy danced like a marionette whose puppeteer is being attacked by a wasp. Antipholus's bemused astonishment matched ours (which added to the scene's humor), even when Pinch erupted into this dance a second time. Later in the play, Eddy's Antipholus mimicked Pinch's dance before the astonished Duke—and who should be playing the Duke? Why, Daniel Kennedy. While Pinch's dance itself was tear-inducing funny, this third time of charm created true theater magic as performance crossed into production reality to create a dimension of enjoyment in the psychological space between.Click here for a review of this Comedy of Errors.

[Go to Top 40 Shakespeareances 26–30]