Jackie Theoharis

Originally published in the Brandeis University Justice

Jan. 24, 2012

Theoharis (bottom, center) in the Woodland Theater Company’s “Cabaret.”

College is a time to explore interests, pick a major and prepare for a career. For most of us, the subject we thought we would choose to study at the beginning of our college career is not the one we end up picking in the end. For Jackie Theoharis ’14, however, theater was a passion that she never thought twice about.

“I love sharing things with the audience. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to perform, to bring such enjoyment to all these different people,” said Theoharis in an interview with justArts. She has been performing all her life, and although she is only a sophomore, Theoharis is already branching out into professional theater companies in addition to performing on the Brandeis stage.

In a few days, Theoharis will be appearing in the Woodland Theater Company’s production of Cabaret. The musical takes place during the early days of Nazi Germany and centers around the Kit Kat Klub, a sleazy Berlin nightclub, and its performers and patrons. Theoharis plays Fräulein Kost, a prostitute who lives in a boarding house along with the Klub’s performers.

“She is … [an] interesting one,” said Theoharis of her character. “She’s supposed to be a lot older, so I was surprised and a little nervous when I was cast, because normally she’s played by a 30- or 35-year-old woman, but the director [Doug Hodge] had a different take on it. She’s a prostitute, and she loves sailors. She’s so funny; … there are so many scenes where you see me coming out of a man’s room with three sailors at a time, it’s ridiculous.” Kost is a German character and has some ties to the Nazi party, though this connection is rather understated in the play. Theoharis says that knowing some of her character’s subtler motivations made Kost more interesting, both to her and, she thinks, to the play’s audience.

Acting professionally and going to school full-time is not an easy task. “It’s busy,” says Theoharis. “It’s been crazy. Specifically for Cabaret, we’ve been rehearsing every day, so it’s a lot. I have classes all day and then rehearsal at night. I’ve been exhausted from dancing and everything. But it’s all definitely worth it, I think. You just get such a great experience.”

Theoharis has been involved in professional theater before. This summer, she performed with ReagalPlayers, a company located in Waltham, and she appeared in Turtle Lane Playhouse’s The Drowsy Chaperone. And this past fall, Theoharis sang and acted her way to a Best Supporting Actress Nomination for F.U.D.G.E. Theater Company’s Spring Awakening.The nomination comes from MyTheatre, a subset of My Entertainment WORLD, a website that covers arts performances and programs in Toronto, New York, Boston and occasionally other cities. In Awakening Theoharis played Ilse, a sexually abused student who runs away from home in late 19th-century Germany. My Theatre named 40 nominees in four divisions—National, Regional, Student and Other. Theoharis was nominated in the Regional category on Jan. 12.

Theoharis plays a Nazi prostitute in the production.

Theoharis has also performed at Brandeis. Her most recent role was Hope Cladwell inTympanium Euphorium’s Urinetown: the Musical. Fräulein Kost is quite a departure from the overly cheerful Cladwell, but Theoharis is prepared to encounter all types of roles in her theater experience. “Obviously [acting is] something that I’m so passionate about and something that I’ve been doing forever,” said Theoharis. “I definitely want to at least try to make it a career, but I know that it’s very difficult. In the theater business, … it’s all very emotionally intense, if you live your life auditioning and constantly getting rejected. It’s basically a career you have to go into knowing that you’re going to be rejected. But really it’s something that I would at least want to try to do.”

Theoharis has already proven herself to be a competent and committed performer, both at Brandeis and in the Boston theater scene. It will be exciting to see what she ends up doing in the future. Maybe someday we’ll even see her name in lights.

Cabaret is playing at the Lowell Mason Auditorium on 88 R South, Medfield, Mass. Jan. 27 and 28 at 8p.m. and Jan. 29 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $30.

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Student Musician: Yoni Battat

Originally published in the Brandeis University Justice

Jan. 24, 2012

Brandeis Music majors are required to perform a recital their junior year. Violist Yoni Battat ’13 explained to justArts how he came to learn the viola, what went into creating his recital, and what other musical projects he’s involved with on campus. The concert will take place on Sunday, Feb. 12 from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Slosberg Recital Hall.

 JustArts: How did this concert where you’re doing your own performance with a few people come to happen?

Yoni Battat: I’m a performance major in the Music department. … I’m a viola performance major, and one of the requirements is that you have to give a junior and senior recital. It’s kind of a culmination of the work you’ve been doing with your private teacher.

JA: How did you decide which pieces to perform at the recital?

YB: They like the junior recitals to be a little shorter and then the senior recitals are on the longer side, so I had time constraints. But [the pieces are] really just what I was working on with my private teacher, Prof. Mary Ruth Ray (MUS). … She’s the violist of the Lydian [String] Quartet, so I’ve been working with her a lot, and I really just chose pieces that I really like and that we’ve been working on together. I also tried to keep the program really practical, because I’m also playing a concerto with the orchestra in April, so I wanted a lot of time to prepare for that, too.

JA: Did you compose one of the pieces you’re playing?

YB: Yeah, I like to try and program some of my own music, just because I don’t have a lot of motivation to compose a lot, and when I’m the one who’s playing the music it gives me a really good excuse to write something. … I called [the piece] a “Fantasy Sonata for Viola and Marimba.” … I wrote it to play with a good friend of mine, Josh Goldman ’11, who graduated last year. He’s part of the [Masters in Arts and Teaching] program right now, so he’s still around. … He plays marimba, and we’ll do that piece on the program also.

JA: How did you first get into playing viola?

YB: Well, I started violin when I was 4 and I played all throughout elementary school and junior high, and in high school, I switched to a supplemental music program called [Educational Center for the Arts] in New Haven, Conn., and I was kind of put in a position where I needed to play viola, because the violist they had couldn’t make the concert or something like that. So I had to try playing the viola part and I really loved it. … So in about 10th grade I switched to viola, and it’s been working out.

JA: Have you played previously at Brandeis?

YB: Well I’ve been playing in the orchestra since freshman year, and I’ve also been taking … a course that’s offered every semester in Chamber Music. … It’s just small string groups or piano sometimes, wind instruments, just small ensembles and there’s a lot of repertoire written for that kind of small ensembles. Usually it’s run by either Prof. Judy Eissenberg (MUS), who’s also a member of the [LydianString] Quartet, or Evan Hirsch (MUS) who’s a really great pianist … on the faculty. And so I’ve been taking that course pretty much every semester that I’ve been here, and … you get put in with a group. One time I did a trio with a clarinet and stand-up pianist, one time I did a quintet, I did another trio with cello and violin. Every semester it’s been different. So we get to prepare a piece of chamber music at the end of the semester, so that’s been really fun and I’m doing that this semester, too.

JA: Are there other styles of music you are interested in or involved in?

YB: Yeah, I strongly believe that the most talented classical musicians have to be well-rounded and worldly, … especially in the modern day you see performers like Yo-Yo Ma and Mark O’Connor orItzhak Perlman, all of whom work with world music genres and other genres, so I think that’s really important and can only add to what you’re doing. So … I am part of the Klezmer ensemble at Brandeis, called ‘DeisKeit, and along with Ethan Goldberg ’12, who’s a senior right now, we’ve kind of been the driving force behind that. We played on campus and professionally in the Boston area the past few years, which has been really fun. I’m also interested in Middle Eastern music. I took a course last semester with the new teaching fellow in the Music department Ann [Elizabeth] Lucas. I took her “Music and Culture in the Middle East” class last semester. She’s also going to be starting a Middle Eastern music ensemble that I’m a part of. I’m going to be playing violin and a Middle Eastern lute called the oud. So that’s going to be a lot of fun. Outside of that, I also sing in an a cappella group and I music direct my a capella group, Company B, and that’s a lot of fun. That’s a totally different kind of thing.

Lioness: Hidden Treasures (Amy Winehouse album)

Originally published in the Brandeis University Justice

Dec. 13, 2011

As 2011 draws to a close, a lot of year-end lists have been cropping up: Best Films of 2011, Best Songs, etc. Along with these comes the most disheartening list, Notable Deaths of 2011. Steve Jobs, Sidney Lumet, Elizabeth Taylor and Andy Rooney all passed away this year. In the music industry, the most shocking and saddening death of all was, in my opinion, the loss of Amy Winehouse.

Winehouse’s unexpected death on July 23 was crushing for several reasons: She was young, she was enormously talented, and she was clearly just getting started. Her death at age 27 also made her a member of the “Forever 27” club, a group predominantly made up of musicians who all died at this age. The list includes Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Janis Joplin, in additional to over 30 other artists.

Winehouse reminds me of Cobain in some ways. He was the most recent big-name inductee to the Forever 27 club before her. Both were innovators in their genre (grunge and neo-soul, respectively). Both released few albums (Nirvana had three major studio releases before Cobain’sdeath, Winehouse had only two). Both were in tumultuous romantic relationships with frequently intoxicated paramours who were partially blamed for their deaths (Courtney Love and Blake Fielder-Civil, respectively). Lastly, both had a strong love-hate relationship with the media that made them both famous and miserable.

Now, almost five months after Winehouse’s death, her compilation album, Lioness: Hidden Treasures has been released. Producers Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi put the CD together with the Winehouse family’s blessing. It features 12 tracks, including three new recordings of previously released Winehouse songs. Five of the songs—including Winehouse and Ronson’s biggest hit “Valerie,” originally by the Zutons—are covers. This is a departure for Winehouse, who had previously released only two songs, both on her sophomore album Back to Black, that she had not written or co-written herself.

amy-winehouse-lioness

The album opens with the reggae-inspired “Our Day Will Come,” originally sung by 1960s outfit Ruby and the Romantics. The song was recorded in 2003 for Winehouse’s first album, Frank, but never made it onto the CD. It is now being released as the second single off Lioness.

The hopeful lyrics in “Our Day Will Come,” which include the lines, “Our dreams are meant to be/because we’ll always stay/in love this way,” are quite different from Winehouse’s own, which typically deal with cheating lovers and general romantic hardship. Her voice, however, is as distinct as ever. Winehouse had the impressive talent of being able to sound as though she was grinning while she sang. Her smooth voice fills the record, dominating the instruments and the “ooo” of the background singers.

It is not until two songs later, however, on “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” originally recorded by the Shirelles in 1960, that Winehouse really lets her pipes shine. Winehouse is known for her deep, pack-a-day alto, but on “Tomorrow,” she belts out a passionate high note I’d never heard her reach before. That’s the beauty of Lioness. It allows listeners to get a taste of Winehouse that she hadn’t previously shared with her fans and shows how the singer had grown throughout her career.

One track that was a letdown was “Like Smoke,” featuring rapper Nas. Winehouse certainly had a hip-hop influence in her music, but she never before featured another person on a song, let alone a rapper. Nas is undeniably talented at wordplay, but his style does not mesh well with Winehouse’s. She also only sings the chorus, while Nas performs both the song’s verses. It was the second verse—which features lyrics about the suffering economy and then somehow includes the lines “You colder than penguin poo,” and “See a penguin, he drags his s— on the ground all day/And there’s a dragon?”—that really struck me as out of place. After wondering what Nas could possibly be talking about, I concluded that the dragon reference could be about how he looks when he smokes pot (this makes slightly more sense if you listen to the rest of the song). Still, I didn’t get what that had to do with penguins, or the economy, or what Winehouse sings about in the chorus, which is—what else?—her relationship.

Though “Like Smoke” hits a sour note, Lioness quickly gets back into form with a slowed-down version of “Valerie” called “Valerie (’68 Version).” Next up was a delightful surprise: Winehouse’s cover of the bossa nova hit “The Girl from Ipanema,” originally recorded by Antônio Carlos Jobim. The song features playful scatting and luxurious singing from Winehouse. She sounds like the cat that ate the canary, her tone and the lyrics combining into what sounds like the soundtrack to a sun-drenched tropical locale.

One other track of note on Lioness is Winehouse’s duet with Tony Bennett, “Body and Soul,” first recorded in 1939 by Coleman Hawkins and originally released earlier this year on Bennett’s CD Duets II. “Body and Soul” was the last track that Winehouse ever recorded. Unlike her collaboration with Nas, Bennett and Winehouse are partners in this song, and Bennett’s raspy voice sounds great with Winehouse’s throaty one. The song sounds a bit like a lounge act by the end, but, after all, that’s Bennett’s style.

Lioness: Hidden Treasures does not always have the emotional drive or confident sass that made Winehouse such a memorable performer. However, it contains some of her best vocal work, and the mix of genres, covers and originals means that all of the singer’s various styles can be heard. While I’d still recommend Back to Black as Winehouse’s strongest work, Lioness rounds out her discography and will give her fans something more to remember her by.

Urinetown

Originally published in the Brandeis University Justice

Dec. 13, 2011

I saw Tympanium Euphonium’s Urinetown: the Musical over 24 hours ago, and yet I still can’t get that fateful chorus, “Urinetown/This is Urinetown/You’re in Urinetown,” out of my head. The eponymous song appears near the beginning of the play and serves as a chance for the characters to air their grievances: They live in a town where, due to a 20-year drought, water has become “worth its weight in gold.” Thus, everyone must pay to do their business at one of the town’s Public Amenities. And if you don’t have the cash, you just have to hold it. If the police catch someone peeing for free, they cart them off to Urinetown, a place no one seems to know much about but which is certainly worse than where they live now.

Urinetown is a sarcastic send-up of capitalism, big business and musicals themselves. The play opens with Officer Lockstock (Justy Kosek ’14), a corrupt police officer who enforces the pay-to-pee rules, welcoming the audience and Little Sally (Aliza Sotsky ’15) to Urinetown. “Not the place, of course. The musical. Urinetown ‘the place’ is … well, it’s a place you’ll hear people referring to a lot through the show. … It’s kind of a mythical place, you understand. A bad place. A place you won’t see until Act Two. And then? Well, let’s just say it’s filled with symbolism and things like that.” This open breaking of the fourth wall and the characters’ acknowledgment that they are simultaneously living their lives and acting in a musical immediately sets Urinetown apart from the traditional Broadway show. Writer Greg Kotis and lyricist Mark Hollmann use their characters to poke fun at traditional theater from within a musical. Meta.

As the plot progresses, the audience learns that the Urine Good Company, a monopolistic mega-corporation with ties to the government that owns the Public Amenities and controls the water supply, is about to raise its prices. Bobby Strong (Jason Dick ’14), an assistant manager at Public Amenity Number Nine, decides that enough is enough, and he opens the toilets to all, free of charge. Amenity Number Nine is used by the poorest of the poor citizens of the town, many of whom have been sent away to Urinetown for violating the law and peeing without payment, including Bobby’s father, Old Man Strong (Harry Webb ’12). Bobby leads the charge against Urine Good Company’s owner, Caldwell B. Cladwell (Daniel Liebman ’12), convincing his fellow citizens to fight back.

Urinetown‘s greatest strength is its manic pace. Jokes fly across the stage one right after another. The funniest stunts are often created by background characters and are not always caught by the entire audience. Physical comedy, such as Caldwell’s underling Mr. McQueen’s (Zachary Smith ’15) pulled faces and comical stances, came just as quickly. Director Johanna Wickemeyer ’12 and choreographer Danielle Zipkin ’12 were not afraid to make Urinetown absurd. One of the best physical gags of the show occurred during the song “Mr. Cladwell.” Liebman parades around the stage as a chorus of Urine Good Company workers proclaim his greatness and his daughter, Hope Cladwell (Jackie Theoharis ’14), points and sing-shouts “That’s my daddy! That’s my daddy!” hysterically. At the song’s culmination, Liebman throws off his suit jacket, revealing a sparkly red vest underneath, and the office workers form a high-kicking chorus line.

Unfortunately, Urinetown‘s characters and songs are more enjoyable than its actual plot, which got a bit muddled in the second act. Hope Cladwell, who takes up the leadership position against her father, is not as charismatic a character as Bobby Strong, particularly when Theoharis did not have Dick as a comedic partner. The second act also features two pseudo-gospel songs that are meant to be funny simply because they are sung by the clueless Hope and Bobby but which fell flat after the initial joke. The songs, “Run, Freedom, Run” and “I See a River” also didn’t do justice to Dick’s or Theoharis’ voices, which were impressive during other numbers.

Despite these complaints, at the end of the performance, it was clear that the audience had greatly enjoyed the musical. Viewers gave many of the actors a standing ovation. Their laughs throughout the night proved that not only was Urinetown a great success but that everyone, despite how they may try to hide it, loves a good poop joke.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1

Originally published in the Brandeis University Justice

Nov. 22, 2011

Some films lift the audience up to the virtue of the greatest character, others drag it down to the baseness of the darkest villain. Films can inspire people, they can anger them, and they can make a person rethink their deepest-held beliefs.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 1, however, is not that kind of movie.

Those who go to see a Twilight film already know what to expect: beautiful young people in the throes of a passionate (but notably chaste) love affair. Vampires and werewolves are also involved.

In this third installment, however, the series gets a much-needed shot of sexuality. Finally, human Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) are getting married. And everyone, even a Mormon, knows that with marriage comes a honeymoon. Bow chicka wow wow.

After Bella and Edward are married—in an admittedly beautifully decorated outdoor wedding, complete with floating flowers and a lace aisle—he whisks her off to Brazil, where they spend the night in a cottage on an island off the coast.

Bella's a little pregnant right now. Why don't you come back later, Jacob?

Bella’s a little pregnant right now. Why don’t you come back later, Jacob?

Of course, the couple is worried that Edward’s supernatural strength will kill his human bride, and that he will not have the willpower to resist draining her of blood once they consummate their marriage. But Bella insists. After all, the two have barely touched since they first met in their high school chemistry class, and she is a 19-year-old girl.

So they do it, in a rather comical scene. Edward physically breaks the headboard of their marriage bed, crushing it between his fingers to release his built-up sexual tension. The next morning, Bella wakes up to discover the entire bedroom has been destroyed, all the furniture ripped to shreds. She shrugs it off as a silly vampire quirk.

If it sounds as though I’m only discussing the scenes which pertain directly to Bella and Edward’s sex life, that’s because the first half of the film consists exclusively of scenes pertaining to Bella and Edward’s sex life. This brings up some questions. Just why does Bella love Edward so much? Edward has made it clear that he is attracted to her because she has the best blood he’s ever smelled—vampires are known for their romantic sides. But Bella is strangely drawn to him as well, for reasons that are never really fleshed out. They’re just “meant to be,” and director Bill Condon (DreamgirlsChicago) leaves it at that.

So broody ) :

So broody ) :

This is one aspect of the Twilight story that I find actually upsetting. Young girls around the world are reading these books and watching these movies. To feed them a story in which a girl gives up her entire life, including her family, friends and future to be with a boy is not a message I like to see gobbled up without a second thought. But that’s what the story is, in essence.

Though Bella is the film’s protagonist, she never seems to have any serious obstacle to overcome. Rather, Edward and Bella’s werewolf ex, Jacob (Taylor Lautner) devote their lives to her protection and well-being. She mostly sits back and argues with them about how capable she is, though she never really demonstrates her strength.

Two weeks into her honeymoon, Bella becomes ill. Could it be food poisoning? Nope, it’s a baby. Apparently half-vampire babies grow super fast and are so strong that they can break their mother’s bones from the inside. Bella doesn’t really get that “pregnant glow” expectant mothers are known for.

Instead, through CGI, Stewart loses what’s left of her non-existent body fat. Her hair goes grey and her cheeks become hollowed. Within a month her abdomen is swollen to the size of a beach ball. When Jacob gets wind that something is wrong with Bella, he runs to the Cullen residence, where he finds his love clearly dying. Cue the angry discussion between Edward and Jacob. This same scene happens so often in the Twilight movies it’s like the actors are all on autopilot.

"Can I eat her yet?"

“Can I eat her yet?”

Jacob returns to his pack and tells them what’s going on. The alpha, or leader of the clan, then delivers the best line of the film: “We have to kill it, before it is born.” This overly dramatic dialogue is made all the better by the fact that when the werewolves are in their animal form, they sound like they’ve been dubbed by gravely-voiced killer robots. Honestly, if this line had been the tagline for the film, I would have been far more inclined to tell people I was seeing it.

Breaking Dawn—Part 1 has become the second-highest grossing midnight opening of all time, coming in behind only Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, and had overall the fifth-highest grossing opening weekend ever. This franchise is a huge deal for the box office. But if I hadn’t known that it was so popular and just come across it on my own, I probably would have thought it was some cult horror film from the 1950s, just with better CGI. The plot is utterly ridiculous and the script sounds like a series of exclamatory remarks pasted awkwardly together.

The campiest scene of all was the birth of Bella and Edward’s daughter, Renesmee. To get that monster baby out, Edward rips Bella’s uterus open … with his teeth. The site of blood running down his chin as he rushes away from the hospital room is pure camp gore at its finest.

My Week with Marilyn

Originally published in the Brandeis University Justice

Nov. 22, 2011

The life of Marilyn Monroe is the quintessential American Hollywood fairytale: a story of a down-on-her-luck kid who is chosen by fate to become a movie star.

The film My Week with Marilyn is based on filmmaker Colin Clark’s 2000 book of the same name. The book relates Clark’s experiences working as the third assistant director and Laurence Olivier’s personal assistant on The Prince and the Showgirl, a 1957 film directed by Olivier and produced by both him and Monroe. My Week with Marilyn—both the film and the book—focus on the weeklong affair between Clark (Eddie Redmayne) and Monroe (Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine and Brokeback Mountain) that occurred during the film’s production.

Born Norma Jeane Baker, Monroe spent her childhood in foster homes. Her mother was psychotic and she never knew her father. As a teenager, a series of guardians shuffled her around.

It was when Monroe was 19, working in a munitions factory, that she got her first lucky break. The young woman was photographed by an army photographer who sold the picture to Yank, the Army’s weekly magazine, and encouraged Monroe to pursue modeling. She dyed her hair blonde and her career took off.

This random encounter with the photographer led Monroe eventually to a contract with Columbia Pictures. Her popularity—and infamy—grew with the American public. She began dating famous baseball player Joe DiMaggio (he later became the second of her three husbands) and became the first Playboy centerfold in 1953. Her risqué behavior on- and off-screen led some to consider her work inappropriate, while others saw her as a symbol of the emerging liberated American woman.

Monroe both enjoyed and was troubled by all of this attention. She traveled to England in 1956, where she began filming The Prince and the Showgirl alongside the famed British Shakespearean actor-director Olivier, hoping to establish herself as a serious actress. This moment is where the film My Week with Marilyn begins.

Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe.

Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe.

Monroe was married to acclaimed playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), her third husband, during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl. It was only after Miller returned to America a week before the production ended that Clark and Monroe were free to begin their affair.

The film closely follows the narrative Clark describes in his book. During the filming, Monroe felt personally attacked by Olivier (the smugly wonderful Kenneth Branagh) and sought out Clark for moral support. Clark was, of course, immediately enamored with Monroe and could not refuse any of her demands. Redmayne, as Clark, gives a compelling performance as a naïve young man unable to see that Monroe is ultimately taking advantage of him. His boyish, freckled face lights up whenever he is in her presence, and Redmayne’s transformation from a shy boy into a confident young man is one of the highlights of the film. Scenes of the two frolicking in the English countryside and devolving into fits of laughter showcase the best moments in their relationship.

Williams’ performance, like Monroe herself, is more difficult to fully grasp. Unlike other actresses who have portrayed the icon of feminine beauty, Williams focuses on Monroe’s childlike wonder rather than her irresistible sexiness. My Week with Marilyn depicts Monroe as a troubled woman not fully in control of her own actions. She has moments of crippling self-doubt as well as scenes in which she flourishes under the public eye, though it is clear that the rift between her public persona and her private life causes her emotional pain. Williams does a good job of creating this image, but ultimately, the character is unsatisfying. Throughout the film, it never really feels as though the audience is watching Monroe. Rather, we watch an actress play her.

Part of the problem is that Williams, despite her blond tresses, looks little like Monroe. Monroe was famous for her full figure and brash attitude, whereas Williams is a waifish pixie with a thin face who often looks uncomfortable on the red carpet. Williams does manage to capture Monroe’s girlish voice and trained walk, but she doesn’t give a convincing performance overall.

Branagh, on the other hand, is the clear standout of the film. He shares several uncanny similarities with his character, Olivier. Both men are highly regarded Shakespearean actors, and both have directed and starred in film versions of HamletOthelloHenry V and Richard III.

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Branagh shares several uncanny similarities with his character, Olivier. Both men are highly regarded Shakespearean actors, and both have directed and starred in film versions of Hamlet, Othello, Henry V and Richard III

In the film, Olivier is unable to cope with Monroe’s unprofessional attitude. The actress is often several hours late and cannot remember her lines. Olivier ends up screaming slews of curses at her or to his cast and crew. These furious monologues are some of the funniest moments in the film. Branagh performs just as well in My Week‘s more subtle moments, such as his interactions with Olivier’s then-wife, actress Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond). It is also lovely to see the character, in one of the film’s final scenes, come at last to acknowledge Monroe’s acting talent.

My Week with Marilyn attempts to be a dramatic story of one man’s fling with the most famous sex bomb of all time. However, it never manages to live up to the drama of this premise. The relationship occurs when Miller is out of the country, so there is no chance of him discovering Clark and Monroe’s affair. Furthermore, the film includes a scene implying that Miller doesn’t even love Monroe, so the audience can’t fault Monroe or Clark for committing adultery.

Many characters warn Clark not to get involved with Monroe, that she will break his heart. He ignores them but comes out unscathed anyway. Despite disapproval from the rest of the cast and crew, Clark suffers no professional consequences for his affair. When it is time for Monroe to return to America, the two have one final, amicable conversation. When his former girlfriend, Lucy (a small role by Emma Watson), asks if Monroe broke his heart, Clark responds, “a little.” There is no passionate fight, no breakdown or emotional hardship. The relationship is never even consummated. The two kiss twice, briefly. I had to wonder if the week Clark spent with Marilyn was more of an ephemeral friendship than an affair to remember.

My Week with Marilyn gives a glimpse into Marilyn Monroe’s life just before her demons began to get the best of her. It is a light-hearted film without a huge amount of substance. However, it does provide an interesting look into the life of one of the most famous, but ultimately enigmatic, stars of the twentieth century.

Student Directors: Jessie Field and Rachel Huvard interview

Originally published in the Brandeis University Justice

Nov. 22, 2011

proof

Proof won just about every award that it was up for when it was first staged in 2001, inclulding a Pultizer Prize and a Tony. The play, by David Auburn, is a tiny production with only four characters. Yet it manages to encompass a wide range of human experience. JustArts spoke to director Jessie Field ’13 and stage manager Rachel Huvard ’14 about their experiences working on the show.

JustArts: Why did you choose to do this play, or how did that process come about?

Jessie Field: Well, I chose to do the play; I was actually in my very first theater course at Brandeis, THA2A, which no longer exists. I was assigned Proof in a group to do a short project about it, and I read it. It was one of the only plays I actually read and actually gasped at parts out loud in real life, and I just loved it. We had a scene from it, and … the whole time I was just itching to direct it. And Free Play is a great group that I’m a part of, and … it seemed like a great match.

JA: What are the themes of Proof, and how do those get established in the play?

JF: There are a lot of themes in the play. The one I focus on a lot is sort of this philosophical uncertainty, because the characters in the play are dealing with mental illness or questioning their own sanity or the sanity of the people around them. The play is called Proof for a variety of reasons, but they’re constantly searching for proof of everything: of love, of friendship, that somebody has written this amazing thing, that comes to mind. … There are also gender themes, things about following your dreams, your passion. Family is a big thing too.

Rachel Huvard: I would agree with that, like obligations to family.

JA: So, the cast only has four people. What is it like working with such a small group?

JF: Wonderful, confusing, the best.

RH: Not only are they a small group, but they’re also incredibly talented and amazing people to work with who have great ideas and have contributed so much throughout the process that it’s just a pleasure to work with them.

JF: Seriously, it’s astounding how talented they are and how much they bring to the table. Working in a close environment, you can really get into things. I know people very personally, it’s great.

JA: So where is the play going to be staged?

JF: It is going to be staged in Schwartz Auditorium.

RH: It’s kind of both a bad lecture hall and a bad theater space, so it’s an interesting space to work in because of that. It doesn’t really fully serve either of its potential purposes. We wanted it to be a more intimate-feeling space because of the small cast and the nature of the show, so we ended up building our own platform to serve as the stage, and it’s on the floor right in front of the audience.

JF: It really limits the playing space.

RH: Yeah, and keeps everything really close and personal.

JF: Then we fill in the rest of the forward seats so everyone’s really close. Because it is a huge space.

JA: So are all the characters crammed onstage at all times?

JF: No, in fact they’re never onstage at the same time—all four are never onstage at the same time.

JA: Have the stage or screen adaptations of Proof influenced the way the play is going, have you seen the movie?

JF: I have seen the movie, but it didn’t help at all. They had all the people in the world [to work with], and I wouldn’t want to base it on that anyway; Rachel has seen it too. A lot of people have seen it and hated it. It’s not a good representation. I don’t like how they [portrayed] some parts of the story. I think we tried to find out our own interpretation.

RH: I didn’t see the movie until halfway through the rehearsal process. After seeing the movie I was disappointed. Proof [has] such an amazing script. … The film was compromised by how many resources they had. I like our version, not that I am biased.

JA: This being such a small group, has the cast influenced the way you thought about directing, has it been a collaborative experience?

JF: I tried to make it a collaborative experience. We are all peers, and it is difficult for one person to take a leadership role. I do have ideas I’ll stick to, but most of the time I look at what [the cast is] going to do and try and make it work.

RH: Because we have such a small cast we have been able to devote a nice amount of time to the discussion and what we think of them

JA: Is this your first time managing/directing?

RH: I have stage managed before. I stage managed at my high school, and I was an assistant stage manager for Jessie during Margaret: a Tiger’s Heart.

JF: This was the second show I have directed at Brandeis.