Tuesday, October 26, 2010

TWAIN & SHAKESPEARE


This Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, the basement of The Mark Twain House will become a theatre – a spooky theatre, to be sure. Capital Classics, a dramatic troupe known for producing summer open-air productions of Shakespeare in Hartford and West Hartford for two decades, will be presenting A Macabre MACBETH, a special reader’s theatre performance of the Bard’s bloodiest tragedy underground in the Clemens Family’s mansion. This one-hour adaptation receives a Halloween twist by emphasizing the story’s witches, ghosts and bloody revenge.


Initially, A Macabre MACBETH may seem like an odd choice for a Twain Museum program, but one doesn’t have to work too hard to see the connections…

  1. Despite being the first quintessentially American author, Twain loved the British. One only need look at A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and The Prince and the Pauper to see that Twain had a great deal of fun delving into English history and literary styles. His naughty burlesque 1601 is extremely low humor dressed up in stuffy Old English that would have made Chaucer proud (or blush). His trip to Oxford University in 1907 to receive an honorary degree was one of the proudest moments of his life. (Photo: Twain in his Oxford University robes)

  1. It really isn’t a stretch to imagine that America’s greatest author would have tremendous respect for Britain’s most beloved dramatist. Shakespeare pops up via mangled interpretations of Romeo and Juliet, Richard III and Hamlet in the the King and the Duke’s “Royal Nonesuch” in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain goes to great pains to question Shakespeare as the reputed author of his plays and sonnets in his essay, Is Shakespeare Dead? Despite being a humorous expose that threatens the very foundations of world literature, the essay betrays Twain’s knowledge and appreciation of the Shakespearean canon.

  1. The Mark Twain House has been the site of a number of family theatricals. Olivia Clemens adapted The Prince and the Pauper as a home entertainment often starring her daughters Susy and Clara in the title roles and her husband as Miles Hendon. Susy created an original play entitled The Love Chase, performed by the Clemens girls and friends in the Hartford home’s Drawing Room using the curtained-off entrance to the Dining Room as their backdrop. As part of their home education, the girls would put on short theatricals in the second floor schoolroom (the fans currently on display schoolroom were utilized as props in the shows). The Mark Twain House & Museum’s collection contains Susy’s copies of Shakespeare’s plays. (Photo: c.1884 Susy as the Prince and friend Margaret "Daisy" Warner as the Pauper)

  1. Much of Macbeth’s action takes place in and around ancestral castles in Scotland. On an1873 trip to Scotland, Sam and Olivia Clemens happened upon a fireplace mantle that was created for Ayton Castle in Berwickshire. The ornate, wood-carved mantle was never officially installed in the castle as the man for whom it was designed died before the piece’s completion. The Clemenses purchased it and had it shipped to their Hartford home where it was installed as a centerpiece in the library. Fittingly, Shakespeare’s notorious “Scottish Play” will be performed directly underneath the fireplace mantle. Among the piece's wood carvings are tributes to the arts - an artist's palette, a musical lyre, a writer's scroll and two faces that look suspiciously like the enduring and ancient symbols of the theatre - comedy and tragedy masks.

Capital Classic’s “A Macabre MACBETH” runs Thursday, October 28 at 8 p.m., Friday, October 29 at 10:30 p.m. and Saturday, October 30 at 10:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be ordered by calling (860) 280-3130.

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