Front Row Seating

“The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”     – Hamlet, Act 2, scene 2

Back in the 80’s, when we still had a Shakespeare Theater down in Stratford, CT, there was a performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth that was put on for all the high schools to come and see. Of all the plays, Macbeth seemed like it would be the most interesting, with witches and murder and blood, and big velvety Elizabethan costumes. I was excited – anything for a field trip and a day out of class. Until we got there. Some idiot had decided the best way for 1,500 rowdy high school kids to understand Shakespeare was to imagine it, with a play that had no scenery and no costumes – the entire set was draped in billowing soft blue nylon fabric, like the green-screens of modern movie-making, and the actors all wore tight-fitting outfits of the same blue, as if they’d just escaped from some monochromatic ballet. That was it. It was a total disaster. The audience was so bored and riled you couldn’t hear the dialogue for the catcalls. That is NOT the way to introduce children to Shakespeare.

The good thing is, you don’t have to be a Shakespeare scholar to enjoy a good play. Whether you’ve had to suffer through drudging high school productions of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town or been dazzled on Broadway by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan performing Waiting for Godot, a play is not a bad thing. Perhaps your only exposure to waiting-for-godot-ian-mckellen-patrick-stewarttheater has been dragging yourself through Oedipus or Antigone in school, not caring a flying duck about the role of the Chorus in Greek tragedy, just glad you scraped by and passed the test. The real tragedy of teaching plays as literature is that they are meant to be performed, not just read in a monotone like a stumbling seventh-grader who has no idea how to pronounce 15th century British comedies, let alone understand them. When performed, they come alive, like listening to a good movie on the television from the next room over. Even my five year old, with occasional explanations, could follow the movie version of Romeo and Juliet.

drama-collection_FRONT_349x349-300x300So if you’re a theater lover, or just a student struggling to understand Ibsen, Cheshire Library is ready to help! Our newest precious addition is a 25-volume audiobook collection of 250 plays and dramatic adaptions by L.A. Theaterworks. You won’t just hear the play, you’ll feel it, as you were meant to. The plays aren’t just read to you, but fully performed by an all-star cast of more than 1,000 actors you are probably familiar with – George Clooney, Calista Flockhart, Dan Castellaneta, Mark Ruffalo, Richard Dreyfus, Jean Stapleton, John de Lancie (who also wrote one of the Doyle adaptions), and so many, many more. Leonard Nimoy performing War of the Worlds with fellow Star Trek actors? Yeah, that’s in there too. Neil Simon, Chekhov, O’Neill, Miller, Shakespeare, Sophocles – they’re all here, ready to keep you entertained for a solid year of performances. Listen to one or listen to them all – you’ll be glad you did.

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Remembering Leonard Nimoy 1931-2015

MV5BMTIzMzY1MzEyNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNjU4MTg1._V1_SY317_CR8,0,214,317_AL_Actor, writer, poet, photographer and folk singer Leonard Nimoy, most famous for his acting role in the television series Star Trek as the iconic half-breed alien Mr. Spock, died on February 27th from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.#

Most famously known as the cool and logical half-Vulcan first officer on Star Trek, Nimoy shot to fame and popularity beyond anything ever seen in television. Initially he resented his fame and the type-casting it brought him, which he discussed in his 1975 book, I Am Not Spock, but by 1995, in his sequel, I Am Spock, he had come to grips with both the character and how it had effected his life.

In addition to Star Trek, Nimoy also had a recurring role as Paris in season four and five of the indexoriginal Mission: Impossible, and voiced the paranormal exploration documentary series, In Search Of… , in addition to countless television guest roles and films such as A Woman Called Golda and the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Nimoy had an extensive theater career, starring on Broadway in Equus and Vincent, a play he himself adapted about van Gogh. He became a successful director, directing not only the third and fourth installments of the Star Trek franchise, but Three Men and a Baby, the highest grossing film of 1987.

Nimoy had a life-long love of photography, one of his greatest passions. He had several books published, as well as exhibits at the R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton, Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. (Nimoy was born in Boston, and remained faithful to the area.) In addition he published several volumes of poetry, the most recent being 2002, A Lifetime of Love: Poems on the Passages of Life.

Following theindex poetry angle, Nimoy tried to make a singing career, putting together albums as early as 1967. He wrote the song “Maiden Wine” that he sang in the Star Trek episode “Plato’s Stepchildren.” To be dreadfully honest, some of the songs live in infamy as being so painfully bad, they’re camp. Perhaps it was just the songs chosen, or the musical direction. I was part of a room skyping with Nimoy last August, during which he sang a song for us that he had written, and not only were the lyrics beautiful, he sang it beautifully as well. Perhaps Nimoy’s voice just needed to mellow with age, but I wish I had a recording of that. Nimoy mourned the fact that even though he had quit smoking thirty years before, his COPD was a direct result of having smoked, and urged everyone to quit immediately, and better yet, never even to start.

I had seen Nimoy in person at least twice, three counting the skype, and he never failed to please a crowd. He was honest and sincere, speaking about science, space exploration, and philosophizing about it all. He never displayed the arrogance of some television stars, and never spoke poorly about costars, as others have. If he had gripes, he kept them politely to himself. The world has lost not just a television icon, but a well-rounded artist of film, theater, television, photography, voice, and print. Truly, he was someone who lived long – and prospered.

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