It all began on a lawn in front of Turtle Pond in Central Park, the NY tradition of “Shakespeare in the Park” – don’t you wish you had been there for the first performance? Well, if you are in Israel next week, you will have a chance to become part of theatre history when Shakespeare Jerusalem presents “A Midsummer Night’s Show” at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens on Thursday, July 2, at 18:30. As is traditional, the performance is open to the public free of charge, and yes, it’s in front of the pond.
Summer is the season for lovers and love is the theme of the evening’s program, beginning with “The Battle Between the Sexes” a selection of short scenes from Richard III, The Taming of the Shrew, The Winter’s Tale, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello and As You Like It. The scenes are performed in English, by Herzl Tobey and Roni Yakobovitz, with narration in Hebrew by Shannon Kisch, artistic director and founder of Shakespeare Jerusalem. The decision to perform in English and Hebrew stems from Kisch’s desire to share her love for Shakespeare with as wide an audience as possible. Noting that those unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s work often assume that it is difficult to understand and “heavy”, Kisch says, “Shakespeare is a great poet, but if he hadn’t been an entertainer he wouldn’t have survived in Elizabethan theatre.”
Kisch has chosen to begin the evening with one of Shakespeare’s most audacious scenes: Richard, who has just murdered Lady Ann’s husband, tries to seduce the grieving widow. Kisch admits, “It’s a tough one. If it works, the audience somehow has to believe it’s true. When you read it on paper it doesn’t make sense – Richard doesn’t even believe it. Richard views love as a war, as a battle. He has to make Ann believe. You like him; you get so much into his head.”
Talking to Kisch, one feels that she is inside Shakespeare’s head, seeing the world through his plays. Her intimacy with Shakespeare’s work takes the evening in an innovative direction with “My Best of Love”: a musical created from Shakespeare’s sonnets in combination with popular Israeli songs, a love story in verse, text and song. Looking at the paired songs and sonnets, Kisch notes, “sometimes the language is surprisingly similar,” as in the connection between Yossi Banai’s “Merov Ahava Shotek” (So Full of Love I Cannot Speak) and Shakespeare’s sonnet 23, which implores “O learn to read what silent love hath writ”. The cast includes: Michael Marks, Nadav Vikinski, Lisa Woo and Abe Doron. The translations of the sonnets into Hebrew are by Shimon Zandbak.
Shakespeare Jerusalem’s first full-length production was of “Henry V” in November 2008 and director Shannon Kisch is currently in rehearsals for “Twelfth Night”. Kisch hopes to expand the summer program next year to a full week, “Shakespeare works so well outdoors. Sitting surrounded by nature enhances the experience.”