Shakespeare hall-of-famers

February 5, 2009
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Tonight, the Guthrie Theatre's touring production of "Henry V" comes to Purdue University. Shortly after talking about it on the air today at Fox 59 (where I offer a weekly preview of upcoming arts events--see clip at www.ibj.com/arts), I saw that the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is putting together a list of 13 names for its new Hall of Fame at its Stratford-Upon-Avon visitors center.

Not just a list of great Shakespeareans, the Hall of Fame is dedicated to those who were inspired by him and/or championed his work.

Twelve have been picked, and there are 10 candidates for the 13th spot.

The twelve (including a surprising three Americans):

Ben Jonson--A contemporary of Shakespeare's and early champion of his work.

David Garrick--18th-century actor.

Charles Dickens--The novelist led the movement to make Shakespeare's birthplace a landmark.  

Ellen Terry--Acclaimed actress from the late 1800s.

Laurence Olivier--One of the most popular Shakespeareans of the 20th century and among the first to popularize the plays on film.

Judi Dench--Actress who made her professional stage debut in "Hamlet" and was a member of the Royal Shakespeare company.

Kenneth Branagh--Noted not only for his stage work but for making a series of films based on Shakespeare.

Patrick Stewart--Actor whose most recent Broadway stint was in "Macbeth."

Leonardo DiCaprio--Actor who appeared in "Romeo + Juliet" on screen. Frankly, this choice is the one that baffles me the most.

Akira Kurosawa--Japanese filmmaker noted for, among many other things, his adaptations of Shakespeare.

Sam Wanamaker--American actor who is largely responsible for the recreation of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.

Paul Robeson--The first 20th-century black actor to play Othello. His 1943-44 production is said to be the longest running Shakespeare play ever on Broadway.

For more on the Hall of Fame choices, click here.

Judging from the crowd's at this summer's production of "The Merchant of Venice" at White River State Park, it seems there are some of you out there who appreciate a little Bard. My question: What's the best Shakespeare production--or performance--you've ever seen?

Have you caught any productions on past trips to London? Have a favorite Shakespeare film? Or have you seen something terrific on local stages?

My short list includes a Kevin Kline, outstanding in an otherwise not-very-successful "Hamlet," a joyful, moving "Love's Labour's Lost" at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, Christopher Plummer's heart-stopping performance as Iago in a Broadway "Othello," the Goodman Theatre's harrowing "King Lear," and a charming "Midsummer Night's Dream" at the now-defunct Philadelphia Drama Guild. I also love Kenneth Branagh's film of "Henry V."  

Your thoughts on the list and/or your experiences?
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  • That's an interesting list there. I am a big fan of Akira Kurosawa and thinks that his adaptations are among the best out there. Ran, the samurai version of King Lear, is not only one of the best adaptations but easily one of the best movies I have ever seen. I also strongly recommend Throne of Blood (Macbeth).

    I'm also a fan of Kenneth Branagh's work. He has made my favorite version of Hamlet to date. I'm surprised by Leonardo DiCaprio too because I didn't even think he was that good in Romeo + Juliet. Then again I may be biased because I hate that movie with such a passion. I would rather see the Reduced Shakespeare Company take that spot instead of him.
  • The best Shakespeare production I've ever seen is of Henry V in Stratford, Ontario. Set just after WWI, the Greek chorus was an army veteran and the names of all those who died at Agincourt was on a wailing wall at the back of the stage. There were many outstanding moments in the play, which resulted from strong directorial and acting choices, and my favorite involved no dialog at all. The Greek chorus came onstage escorting a veiled widow to the wall. As he delivered his lines, she searched for a name, touched it, knelt and put a rose at the base of the wall. When he finished his monologue, he gently helped her up and escorted her offstage. Very power and very beautiful.
  • I saw Max Von Sydow (from The Exorcist fame) as Prospero in The Tempest, Shakespeare's last play written, in the Old Vic theatre in Waterloo in South London in 1988. He was amazing and it was an intimate and a great production. I saw Midsummer Nights Dream outdoors in the round in Regents Park in September that same year. Great in a park, outdoors, under the stars, with trees framing the theater. Made Puck come to life. I saw a bloody, more modern Macbeth at Stratford-on-Avon in 1996, and then went out to the park to see the statute of Lady Macbeth right after and she sent chills down my spine. I got to see Kenneth Branagh in Richard II in London in 1988 just before he was discovered by film and entered movies. A great production! Finally, London does plays which we NEVER see in the US, such as Winter's Tale and Cymballine, the other 2 plays as part of the trilogy with The Tempest that were Shakespeare's last 3 written. They were wonderful plays with a whole new mauturity to the Bard's love stories. They were grand productions. I miss seeing Shakespeare in Garfield Park, which was always a treat in the 80s.
  • WHAT!?!?!

    NO MEL GIBSON!!!!!!!!

    I AM SHOCKED! SHOCKED, I TELL YOU!

    SHOCKED AND APPALLED!

    Having overcome my shock, I must ask, no Paul Scofield?

    Leonardo DiCaprio, but no Paul Scofield?

    Did the editor of US Magazine have a vote?
  • My favorite production of was one in Stratford, Ontario that included Christopher Plummer as King Lear. I also have seen several excellent productions of Tempest. I am also a big fan of Kenneth Branagh's film of Henry V and Kurosawa's Ran.

    On the subject of Leonardo DiCaprio and Romeo + Juliet, I love Shakespeare but hated the film. I have a friend that loves Shakespere but hated the film so much she walked out in the middle. But I also know a middle school teacher who uses that film to help her teach Romeo and Juliet. She gets a better reaction from her students with that film then with any other version she has used. So maybe he is on that list not for his performance but because his appearance in that role brought Shakesphere to a new audience. Once we get them hooked we can introduce them to the good stuff.
  • I don't know about best - I have seen so much Bard. But most memorable? By far, it belongs to Harlequin Productions' (Olympia Washington) Tempest seen on 7 May 2000. Harlequin has a resident composer, Bruce Whitney. He wrote music for Ariel, played by Mari Nelson, a Puget Sound regular who is also an operatic soprano. They also flew her. Between the staging and the music, I've never seen a more exciting Tempest.

    And yes, Branagh's Henry V is a marvel. That also happens to be the first play I ever saw at Harlequin, in March 1998 - it induced me to become a subscriber, to a theater forty-five miles away.
  • What hooked me was when I was 16 (1970) I saw Ian McKellan in Richard II at the Old Vic. It truly changed my life.

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