QUEER CLIP: ‘ANONYMOUS’

Travel-2At its heart, Anonymous is no more historically accurate than Shakespeare in Love, a film with which it shares several characters but little else — either plot or tone. In Love, the Bard was shown as a capable playwright finally inspired by a woman to greatness; Queen Bess showed up at the end to sanctify him. In Anonymous, he’s portrayed as an illiterate (even murderous) gold-digger, a front for the true author of great plays, Edward de Vere, Duke of Oxford (Rhys Ifans, pictured, who’s never been better), a paramour of QE1 (Vanessa Redgrave — dotty, sad, brilliantly unfettered and honest).

This is a far cry from the brainless actioners director Roland Emmerich usually churns out, but historical fudging aside, it’s endlessly entertaining and dramatic, with twists worthy of Shakespeare himself. We “learn” who killed gay playwright Kit Marlowe, and which royals were buggering (or wanted to) others. For Bard fans, it’s a hoot; for movie fans, a gorgeous, compelling romp, well acted and sure to be an Oscar favorite. That’s something else it has in common with Shakespeare in Love.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Four stars. Now playing at AMC NorthPark and Landmark’s Magnolia Theatre.

—  Kevin Thomas

‘Tempest:’ You, us

Kevin Moriarty is a director who embraces the full spectacle of Shakespeare, and while you can disagree with his decisions sometimes, you have to respect his commitment. He likes elements we might consider by-products of the Elizabethan Age, its Hey-Nonny-Nonnyisms: Interludes of courtly ballets and minstrel-strummed songs, arresting, fourth-wall-violating asides to the audience, expository speechifying — everything Chekhov and Ibsen and a host of others steered away from.

But he’s also a director who appreciates contemporary stagecraft: Reconfiguring the structure of plays, emphasizing the astonishing pageantry of an evening at the theater — sometimes taking us out of the play, but often with grandeur. The balance isn’t always an easy one, but it can take your breath away.

There are several such gasp-inducing moments in his staging of The Tempest, starting with the opening scene, set on an airplane instead of a boat. As the wizard Prospero (Chamblee Ferguson, pictured left), like Desmond from Lost, rips the jet from the sky, the stage instantly transforms into a barren wasteland, as stark and beautiful as any set the Dallas Theater Center has ever produced. There are trap doors and bits of magic and flying fairies. It will make you say, “Wow.”

But there are also the many edits. Yes, some of the talkiness is removed, but also some of the scope. And keeping it without an intermission leaves one’s butt castigated by those Wyly seats for nearly two hours.

This Tempest feels more like a series of vignettes than a single story: The comic relief, the sappy romance, the political intrigue, the long-stewing recriminations, bracketed by Ferguson’s Ahab-like Prospero. At first, he’s a vengeful terrorist and hypocritical zookeeper, enslaving his island’s native fauna, the ethereal Ariel (lithe, white-eyed Hunter Ryan Herdicka, pictured right) and its Orc-ish Caliban (Joe Nemmers, delivering us Quasimodo of the mud with poignancy and humor). Then Prospero changes gears, softening and showing mercy, moved by his daughter Miranda’s love for his enemy’s son.

The Tempest is problematic Shakespeare, neither comedy nor history nor classically tragic, but a romance with obscure motivations (how quickly Prospero’s mind is changed by Miranda’s capricious libido, when her suffering for two decades went unnoticed) made more obscure in this version — Prospero seems more like ringmaster than protagonist. Ah, well: The Bard was a better poet than playwright, so let’s give credit to Moriarty for taking this Tempest out of the teapot.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Wyly Theatre, 2401 Flora St. Through Oct. 9. DallasTheaterCenter.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 23, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Let’s make one thing Lear

Last month, Britain’s National Theatre broadcast the (sort of) live production of its stage version of Fela!, a musical about the African musician and activist who eventually died of AIDS. The same service now presents a very different show, but one that should be just as fascinating: King Lear.

Arguably Shakespeare’s masterpiece, Lear has long been a showcase for actors in the twilight of their careers, though the casting of gay acting icon Derek Jacobi, fresh off his ensemble cast SAG Award as the wily Archbishop in The King’s Speech, has enjoyed widespread popularity and acclaim almost continuously for four decades. Already a prime interpreter of the Bard (his Richard II remains a defining characterization), the chance to see him as Lear is a treat.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Screens at the Angelika Dallas Feb. 9 and 10 and Angelika Plano Feb. 13 and 14 at 7 p.m. NTLive.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.

—  John Wright