Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The First Annual Boston Sonnet-thon"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Carl A. Rossi


"THE FIRST ANNUAL BOSTON SONNET-THON"

The Sonnets of William Shakespeare

Sonnet-Master: Jonathan Epstein

The Sonnets, as performed by:

Sonnet 1. ... Jonathan Epstein
Sonnet 2. ... David Dooks
Sonnet 3. ... [???]
Sonnet 4. ... Lisa Burdick
Sonnet 5. ... Bob Antonelli
Sonnet 6. ... Erika Kates
Sonnet 7. ... Jordan Rich
Sonnet 8. ... Emma Krane
Sonnet 9. ... J. T. Turner
Sonnet 10. ... Jonathan Epstein
Sonnet 11. ... Alissa Thuotte
Sonnet 12. ... Alissa Thuotte
Sonnet 13. ... Jim Spencer
Sonnet 14. ... Jose Santiago
Sonnet 15. ... Christine Radice
Sonnet 16. ... Kyle Parson
Sonnet 17. ... Sarah Jones
Sonnet 18. ... Jonathan Epstein
Sonnet 19. ... Jonathan Epstein
Sonnet 20. ... Harvey Weiner
Sonnet 21. ... Jose Santiago
Sonnet 22. ... Jim Bride
Sonnet 23. ... Linda Eknoian
Sonnet 24. ... Elizabeth Wightman
Sonnet 25. ... Kat Malone
Sonnet 26. ... Pasqua Scibelli
Sonnet 27. ... Sonya Hamlin
Sonnet 28. ... Nafcote Tamirat
Sonnet 29. ... Julie Mann-Dooks
Sonnet 30. ... Laura DeCesare
Sonnet 31. ... Akilah Williams
Sonnet 32. ... Suzie Sims-Fletcher
Sonnet 33. ... Mary Cappadona
Sonnet 34. ... Barbara Papesch
Sonnet 35. ... Lori Duschene
Sonnet 36. ... Giselle Ganz
Sonnet 37. ... Beth Phillips
Sonnet 38. ... Ayisha Knight
Sonnet 39. ... Joseph Gels
Sonnet 40. ... Rebecca Mason
Sonnet 41. ... Ditta Lowy
Sonnet 42. ... David Skeist
Sonnet 43. ... Jonathan Epstein
Sonnet 44. ... Shelley Brown
Sonnet 45. ... Richard Tenorio
Sonnet 46. ... [???]
Sonnet 47. ... Marya Lowry
Sonnet 48. ... Martha Sosman
Sonnet 49. ... Lida McGirr
Sonnet 50. ... Birgit Huppuch
Sonnet 51. ... Jonathan Epstein
Sonnet 52. ... Burt Kliman
Sonnet 53. ... Bridget Coulter
Sonnet 54. ... Lis Adams
Sonnet 55. ... [???]
Sonnet 56. ... Renee Miller
Sonnet 57. ... Jonathan Epstein
Sonnet 58. ... Joel Reisman
Sonnet 59. ... Jennifer Lafleur
Sonnet 60. ... Gregory Stuart
Sonnet 61. ... Susan Lamphier
Sonnet 62. ... James Dargan
Sonnet 63. ... Nitzan Halperin
Sonnet 64. ... Leslie Fleming-Mitchell
Sonnet 65. ... Jonathan Epstein
Sonnet 66. ... Bob Mussett
Sonnet 67. ... Jonathan Epstein
Sonnet 68. ... Charles Linshaw
Sonnet 69. ... Daniel Gidron
Sonnet 70. ... David Dooks
Sonnet 71. ... Jami Rogers
Sonnet 72. ... Peter Baylor
Sonnet 73. ... Joe Dominguez
Sonnet 74. ... Christine Hamel
Sonnet 75. ... Cynthia Wegel
Sonnet 76. ... John Conlon
Sonnet 77. ... Sarah Jones
Sonnet 78. ... Sarah Jones
Sonnet 79. ... Wendy Blom
Sonnet 80. ... Louisa Richards
Sonnet 81. ... Annette Miller
Sonnet 82. ... Jeffrey Gantz
Sonnet 83. ... Jose Santiago
Sonnet 84. ... [skipped]
Sonnet 85. ... Ann Roman
Sonnet 86. ... Hank Portier
Sonnet 87. ... Birgit Huppuch
Sonnet 88. ... Jose Santiago
Sonnet 89. ... Jessica Burke
Sonnet 90. ... Anne Gottlieb
Sonnet 91. ... Jackie Therieau
Sonnet 92. ... Sara Gozalo
Sonnet 93. ... Lindsay Weinhold
Sonnet 94. ... Edwin Beschler
Sonnet 95. ... Nanette Savides
Sonnet 96. ... Marcia Perna
Sonnet 97. ... Robert Vega
Sonnet 98. ... Stephanie Blough
Sonnet 99. ... Bernard Horn
Sonnet 100. ... Marco Zanelli
Sonnet 101. ... Danielle Byrne
Sonnet 102. ... James Byrne
Sonnet 103. ... Chuck O'Toole
Sonnet 104. ... Sarah Maraniss
Sonnet 105. ... Patrick J. Brennan
Sonnet 106. ... Rob Isaacson
Sonnet 107. ... Matthew Jasiczek
Sonnet 108. ... Stephanie Marson Lee
Sonnet 109. ... Lis Adams and [???]
Sonnet 110. ... Valerie Madden
Sonnet 111. ... Valerie Madden
Sonnet 112. ... Jonathan Silver
Sonnet 113. ... [???]
Sonnet 114. ... [???]
Sonnet 115. ... Tony Dangerfield
Sonnet 116. ... Michael Koran
Sonnet 117. ... Donald Watson
Sonnet 118. ... John Boller
Sonnet 119. ... Mary Simmen
Sonnet 120. ... Linda Lowy
Sonnet 121. ... Candace Burnham
Sonnet 122. ... Marie Moran
Sonnet 123. ... Sue Brody
Sonnet 124. ... Jim Bride
Sonnet 125. ... [skipped]
Sonnet 126. ... Jessica Burke
Sonnet 127. ... Sonya Raye
Sonnet 128. ... Brenda Fraser
Sonnet 129. ... Jonathan Epstein
Sonnet 130. ... Doug Bowen-Flynn
Sonnet 131. ... Jeremiah Fleming
Sonnet 132. ... [skipped]
Sonnet 133. ... Esther Kaplan
Sonnet 134. ... Alexis Glikman
Sonnet 135. ... Betsy Clark
Sonnet 136. ... Johanna Winer
Sonnet 137. ... Alicia Russo
Sonnet 138. ... Joe Owens
Sonnet 139. ... John Boller
Sonnet 140. ... Frederick Richardson
Sonnet 141. ... Marianne Phinney
Sonnet 142. ... Helen Moreschi
Sonnet 143. ... [skipped]
Sonnet 144. ... Angela Meade
Sonnet 145. ... Robert D. Murphy
Sonnet 146. ... [skipped]
Sonnet 147. ... Marya Lowry
Sonnet 148. ... Kate Carney
Sonnet 149. ... Arthur Comegno
Sonnet 150. ... Kyla Astley
Sonnet 151. ... Dev Luthra
Sonnet 152. ... Robert Bonotto
Sonnet 153. ... Jennifer Kosloski
Sonnet 154. ... Mara Sidmore

The theatre event of the year took place at the Boston Public Library on a cold, wet April evening. There were no sets or costumes; the only props were books held in hand; the performers far outnumbered the audience; the readings ranged from ringing declamation to grade-school recital, along with the growing suspense of racing against the clock, for the Library closed at nine. Happily, the staff allowed the extra time needed to bring the evening to a proper close and after all had chanted the final line, “Love’s fire heats water, water cools not love,” nearly all of Shakespeare’s Sonnets had been read aloud at this, the First Annual Boston Sonnet-thon. The event was sponsored by Shakespeare Now! Theatre Company, which brings live Shakespeare performances to Massachusetts schools. The Sonnet-Master was Jonathan Epstein, a renowned actor, teacher and director from the Lenox-based Shakespeare & Company.

These one hundred and fifty-four Sonnets have fascinated and frustrated scholars for centuries: the Poet, of course, is Shakespeare himself (1564-1616); the golden Friend is generally acknowledged to be Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (1573-­1624) --- but who are the Rival Poet and, especially, the Dark Lady? All that remains are those enigmatic Sonnets: keys, minus their locks. Shakespeare wrote his Sonnets for Southampton alone (c.1592-95); they were published in 1609 --- not by Shakespeare’s hand, but by one Thomas Thorpe who had received the Sonnets from Sir William Harvey (the “W. H.” of T. T.’s dedication), the third and final husband of Southampton’s mother. The Sonnets, of course, can simply be enjoyed as Shakespeare’s thoughts on love, friendship, sex, betrayal, jealousy and forgiveness; many readers know only the more famous, anthologized ones (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” (No. 18); “When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes….” (No. 29); “When my love swears that she is made of truth / I do believe her, though I know she lies,” (No. 138), etc.), but to read all of them or, here, to listen to them in sequence reveals a drama as gripping and as moving as anything the Bard wrote for the stage:

A middle-aged Poet-Playwright --- married, sired, and financially strapped --- is hired by the Patron’s mother to convince her son into honoring a pre-arranged marriage (the Patron, you see, prefers boys to girls); thus, the Poet must lead his young benefactor to the altar with his honeyed words. As the Sonnets --- coaxing, teasing, or admonitory --- start to accumulate, a loving intimacy springs up between the two men. (Does their intimacy cross into the physical? Personally, I think not; their relationship is as chaste and platonic as the Poet’s affair with the Dark Lady is as tormented and physical --- a perfect balance.) A Rival Poet (Christopher Marlowe?) competes for the Patron’s favors but soon vanishes from the scene (Marlowe was killed in a tavern brawl in 1593). Enter the Dark Lady --- the Poet’s brunette mistress --- who becomes involved with the Patron (who seduces who?), leaving the Poet out in the cold and feeling his age. He forgives his friend, but their intimacy is forever altered; he is driven to jealous rages over his Lady’s inconstancy and in the end finds peace by severing all ties with her. The Sonnets are but the topsoil of this emotional landscape. No wonder Shakespeare himself never published them. As A. L. Rowse wrote, “They were too close to the bone.”

The Sonnet-Thon was more a “Shakespeare Birthday Bash” (its subtitle) than a plumbing of the Sonnets’ depths, though Mr. Epstein did provide fascinating and, at times, amusing insights along the way (No. 5 was dubbed the “artificial insemination” Sonnet; No. 21 is where Bard and Earl are “thinking about doing it”; by Sonnet 33, “they’re doing it”; No. 77: “the reason my poems are boring is because I’m writing about YOU”; etc.). Sadly, Mr. Epstein was soon forced to rein in his thoughts to compete against that rampant thief Time; the silver thread he had begun to string each Sonnet on began to fray at No. 80 and eventually snapped, leaving the remainder to scatter across the stage as marbles, beads and pearls --- by No. 134, things grew quite rushed, indeed. Pity --- I would have welcomed Mr. Epstein’s thoughts on the Dark Lady.

Those trained to speak the speech came off the best, of course, led by the sweet, goofy Mr. Epstein himself, who was called upon to fill in for absentees; he was followed close behind by Marya Lowry (Nos. 47 and 147), the wonderful Chorus of last year’s HENRY V in the Commons (she remains my “golden trumpet warmed by the sun”); Linda Lowy (No. 120), Shakespeare Now!’s Artistic Director, whose (onstage) fury made me wonder what her Medea would be like; Anne Gottlieb (No. 90), a veritable Dark Lady herself; Edwin Beschler (No. 94), ever gentle, ever charming; Jessica Burke in two contrasting styles (Nos. 89 and 126) proved she is far more bewitching when she doesn’t try to be; and if the halls had rafters, the dashing Gregory Stuart (No. 60) would certainly have rung them. Among the others making lovely sounds were Birgit Huppuch (Nos. 50 and 87); Jennifer Lafleur (No. 59); Ditta Lowy (No. 41); Barbara Papesch (No. 34); Beth Phillips (No. 37); Nanette Savides (No. 95); and Elizabeth Wightman (No. 24); and newcomer Sonya Raye walked off with the evening by way of her sassy spin on No. 127 (“In the old age black was not counted fair….”). There were some novelties: Sonya Hamlin performed No. 27, twice (first, wearily; second; lively); Marco Zanelli recited No. 100 in both English and Italian; Suzie Sims-Fletcher sported a tiara for her No. 32; Ayisha Knight “signed” No. 38; Doug Bowen-Flynn turned No. 138 into a comedy duet with Mr. Epstein, the latter becoming the former’s mistress whose “eyes are nothing like the sun”; John Boller, with time running out, dashed through No. 139 at hilarious speed and was still understandable; and, in a sobering moment, Mr. Epstein based his No. 57 on the hollow-voiced recitation of one of his past students: a woman who had been through an abusive relationship and had brought chilling insight to “Being your slave, what should I do but tend / Upon the hours and times of your desire?” Plus, there was a mouse --- yes: a real, live MOUSE that twice scurried about in stage left’s corners and made its exits as silently as its entrances.

During the evening, a book of Sonnets was passed about for each participant to sign on his or her appointed page(s); a few never got to do so, hence the [???]s in the listing up above --- but, then, this being the Sonnets, those gaps are only fitting, no?

Will there be another Sonnet-thon next year? If so, how would it be conducted? I would love to see the entire cycle treated as such --- a cycle with, say, a dozen actors performing sets of Sonnets that have a rise-and-fall arch; perhaps Mr. Epstein could then contribute his thoughts in full. Recitation would need to be orchestrated; the timing must be tightened --- and some appropriate music wouldn’t hurt. We could be talking a four-hour performance here (Time would need to be turned out of doors) but some of Shakespeare’s plays can run just as long when uncut, and those who love their Bard know ‘tis always wise to curb one's liquids and to bring along a cushion.

"The First Annual Boston Sonnet-thon" (2 April)
SHAKESPEARE NOW! THEATRE COMPANY
BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
Copley Square, BOSTON, MA
1 (781) 326-3643

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