Archive for the 'reviews' Category

Nov 19 2015

Pericles at the Folger

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Last night I went to see Pericles, Prince of Tyre at the Folger. Pericles is an unusual play, and most scholars think it was only partly written by Shakespeare (Wikipedia link). The first half of the play is colorful but rather choppy, as the narrator tugs us along quickly through an epic series of journeys, not really getting into much depth in terms of character or drama. However, the events themselves are quite interesting, with cool mythological overtones, and eventually the narrative builds up a compelling reality. Working with this source material, the small company of actors/musicians paints a beautiful and vivid tapestry. It’s visually lush and musically ambitious, and I recommend it quite highly. Here are the sketches I did during the performance.

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Feb 06 2015

Dunsinane

I went to see David Greig’s play Dunsinane, a production of the National Theatre of Scotland and Royal Shakespeare Company, playing at Shakespeare Theater Co. through 2/21 — More info here. I thought it was quite brilliant. It starts more or less where Macbeth ends, with Siward attempting to stabilize the country whose monarch he’s just unseated. It quickly asserts a more accurate version of the history than Shakespeare’s – Lady Macbeth is still alive, is known by her actual name, Gruach, and has a living son, Lulach. Macbeth has ruled for 17 years (relatively peacefully by Gruach’s account). A finer point, and I’m not sure if this is historically supported, but by clan heredity she embodies the crown of Scotland, her husband(s) being king only by marriage. The story is basically told from the point of view of the English soldiers, who find themselves in hostile territory, trying to stabilize a country whose culture they don’t understand — a deliberate parallel to the Iraq and Afghanistan situation.

The play is powerful, the acting is superb, and the themes are satisfyingly complex. Highly recommended.

Here are my sketches from the performance, with the usual caveat about a dark theater, blind contour, unflattering likenesses, etc.

I’m on a panel with several of these folks on Sunday. It should be very cool.

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Feb 03 2015

Mary Stuart at the Folger

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The Folger Shakespeare Theater’s Mary Stuart just opened, and per my usual modus operandi, I went and did sketches. The house tends to be quite dark there, so most of these are “blind contour” drawings, with the bizarre proportions and overlaps that result from that.

The story is quite engaging, and the acting is excellent. The play has, as its title might suggest, a sympathetic view toward Mary Stuart, but also conveys the complex and dangerous situation in which Elizabeth I found herself with little choice but to treat Mary as an enemy. The sets and costumes are extremely well done, though I found the lack-of-color palette combined with a lack of action in the play made the performance a bit less interesting visually. Still, the personalities and various twists of the story kept me engaged, and I recommend the show to anyone who is (at least somewhat) interested in the Elizabethan period of history.

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Jan 30 2015

The Tempest part Deux, and more upcoming Shakespeare-related theatre

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STC was kind enough to invite me to attend their magnificent production of The Tempest a second time. Sketches below!

Next up for STC are The Metromaniacs, a “rediscovered French comedy masterpiece” from 1738, translated/adapted by David Ives, and David Greig’s Dunsinane, a sequel to Macbeth, produced the National Theatre of Scotland and Royal Shakespeare Company.

Also the Folger is doing Mary Stuart, about the power struggle between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots.

Tempest sketches part two (part one here) —

Prospero’s final monologue is especially powerful in this production. Here it is in its entirety:

Now my charms are all o’erthrown,
And what strength I have’s mine own,
Which is most faint. Now, ’tis true,
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardoned the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell,
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

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Dec 08 2014

STC’s The Tempest

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Official poster for STC's The Tempest
Official poster for STC’s The Tempest

On Friday I went to see Shakespeare Theatre Company’s The Tempest. This is a really GREAT production of one of my favorite plays, directed by Ethan McSweeny. It’s the best Shakespeare play I’ve seen so far in DC, and one of the most lavish Shakespeare productions I’ve seen, period. It’s up ’til mid January and I HIGHLY recommend it. More details and sketches below, though you might want to stop reading now to avoid spoilers.

Incidentally (and in the interest of full disclosure), I am doing a workshop with STC about adapting Shakespeare to comics  on Dec 21st at 4:30pm.

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Dec 07 2014

Nightfall with Edgar Allen Poe

Published by under Poe,reviews,sketchbook

Those who aren’t on my mailing list may not have caught the fact that I’m currently working on a graphic novel adaptation of the works of Edgar Allen Poe. It seemed imperative, therefore, that I see Nightfall with Edgar Allen Poe by Molotov Theatre Group at DC Arts Center. It too is an adaptation of several of Poe’s stories, performed in a small venue on an intimate scale, and both my wife and I enjoyed it very much. It leads off with The Raven, which is pretty good but probably the weakest of the pieces. The strongest is their rendition of The Tell-Tale Heart, which features some truly impressive makeup and brilliant choreography. Unfortunately I believe this run is now over, but perhaps it will be reprised at some point.

Here are a few sketches I did during the performance (some minor spoilers).

The playbill credits the following:

Elliot Kushner – Poe

Matthew Marcus – Edgar, Policeman 1

Adam Adkins – Roderick Usher, Policeman 2

Stacy Whittle – Madeline Usher

Yoni Gray – The Raven, Sante

Jen Bevan – Lenore, Old Man

Eric Coble as scriptwriter, Mark Kamie as Director, Gregory Martin as composer/sound designer, Jen Bevan as choreographer and costume designer, Pete Vargo on lighting, Brian McDEermott on set design, Production Stage Mgr Katherine Offutt, Alex Zavistovich Board President and Fights/Props/Effects, and Emily Gray as Run Crew / Props Mistress.

Excellent job, all!

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Jul 23 2014

Reviews: Barbarian Lord, Seconds, The Shadow Hero, Andre the Giant, The Way Things Were

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This weekend I went on a bit of a graphic novel binge. I went to Politics & Prose mainly to buy Brian Lee O’Malley’s new book Seconds and I walked out with a giant pile of books I needed to own. I read each of these in about 2 sittings, and I recommend them all.

 

The most unexpected was Matt Smith’s Barbarian Lord, which caught my attention for its beautiful cover and unusual trim size, then kept me reading in the store until I had to know where it was going. I’d say it’s 2 parts Conan (the premise, character and general story archetype), 1 part Beowulf (the poetic conventions of Old English / Icelandic verse plus several direct allusions), and 1 part Bone (the visual style). Parts of the story are narrated by animals whom the humans can’t understand, which I think is genius, and the dialog reads like it was penned in the days of Hrothgar. (Image from this preview.)

 

It should come as no surprise that Seconds is awesome. O’Malley has a unique genius for manipulating the comics medium to produce something that is oh-so-cool and yet heartfelt and emotionally real. In Seconds we lose the video game storytelling devices that were SO funny in Scott Pilgrim, but we still get a snarky narrator, who happens to be — well that might be a minor spoiler, so let’s just say the choice of narrative voice is genius. Am I overusing that word? I can’t help it, O’Malley, Yang and Guibert are some of the giants of the current comics scene; they are geniuses. Anyway, so here’s Seconds in a nutshell: Katie is a chef who wants to open a new restaurant because the current one is boring and she doesn’t own it. Of course opening a restaurant is no easy task, and Katie feels like everything is going wrong. Then this happens: Then a great deal of strangeness and character development occurs. It’s Groundhog Day meets Chef with a side of 11/22/63 and just a sprinkle of Anathem and Paranorman. (Images linked from this review.)

 

Likewise, there was really no question that I would love The Shadow Hero. While I will go on record as saying that the lack of author notes in Boxers & Saints annoyed the heck out of me, nevertheless everything Yang writes is brilliant. To continue the cooking imagery, Yang mixes together immigration, Chinese gangs, superheroes, kung fu, and some wonderfully broken family dynamics into a yummy and satisfying… uh… turtle soup. Sonny Liew illustrates it in a style that effectively conveys character, humor and action, with a slightly vintage look.  Protagonist Hank Chu just wants to work in his dad’s shop, but his mom decides he needs to become a superhero. But how can he get super-powers? Mom will find a way… (Images linked from this review.)

 

How the World Was by Emmanuel Guibert is a sort of prequel to Alan’s War, illustrating Alan Cope’s memories of his childhood in California. Guibert’s work makes incredible use of two techniques. First, his art is stunning in it’s simplified realism. With a few deft lines of a water dropper he precisely depicts the faces, clothes, body language, and every detail in the settings of this very real time and place. Second, having put you there, he tells the story with the minimum amount of drama, letting the ordinariness of life hit you with more impact than the biggest superhero battle. Heck, he even breaks narrative tension at certain points when it starts to develop! It’s a bit like the way Wes Anderson deliberately breaks all the rules of cinematography, except in the service of realism instead of whatever you call the off-kilter-ness Wes Anderson loves. Guibert’s rich visuals and realistic storytelling also remind me of Mariko & Jillian Tamaki’s This One Summer (another book I highly recommend!). The following quote by Guibert from an interview about The Photographer has stuck with me — in fact it makes me a little misty every time I read it: “No speeches, no violins, no spilt blood. Drama is often something which hasn’t the appearance of a drama: just a child lying on a bed, silent and still, but who won’t get up anymore.” That’s the kind of drama of which Guibert is the master. (Images borrowed from this review).

 

Also last week I read Box Brown’s Andre the Giant GN biography. This is a must-read if you have any affection for Andre or the history / shenanigans of ’80s pro wrestling. Like Guibert, Brown goes for a very quiet tone, but the art is more cartoony — the book is about the idea of Andre the Giant, what he means as an icon as well as what his personal life was like. As you read it you kind of feel like you’re hanging out at a bar with a bunch of Andre’s friends, reminiscing. By the way check out these photos of Andre! Here’s a page showing how Brown explains the theatrics of pro wrestling:

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Mar 09 2014

Henry IV part 2

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On Sunday I went back for the second day of Shakespeare Theatre Co’s Henry IV rehearsals. Like Saturday, it was a lot of fun. I met more of the cast, I introduced myself to director Michael Kahn, and I had a seat right in the front with plenty of light to draw. I also found that they have Merchant in their store (along with my competitors Manga Shakespeare and No Fear Shakespeare — I’ll see if I can get them to carry Lear and R&J).

I concentrated on faces in a lot of these sketches because apparently nobody but Falstaff is in their real costume yet. Surprising how well a sword belt over a hoodie works, though.

 

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Mar 08 2014

Henry IV and other developments

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First, I finished coloring Macbeth last week. This was cause for much rejoicing, and a brief vacation to the True/False Film Festival, which was awesome. I may write at more length about the films I saw, but the highlights were probably Tim’s Vermeer and Happy Valley.

So, what now? For a few weeks I’ll be drawing final speech balloons and making art edits, and then the book should be DONE before the end of the month. I’m excited to enjoy the spring weather without being chained to my drawing table 70 hours a week! Speaking of which, we had some beautiful spring weather today, and I went downtown to enjoy it for a bit, and to catch an open rehearsal of Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Henry IV part 1.

Have I mentioned DC is a great town for Shakespeare? Not one but two dedicated Shakespeare theaters, and usually other assorted  groups doing Shakespeare at any given time throughout the area. I’m especially thrilled that Shakespeare Theatre Company is doing free open rehearsals for their upcoming Henry IV parts 1 & 2 (starring Stacy Keach as Falstaff)! I love to see these things in progress, and it’s often a good way to meet some of the cast & crew.

They had the house lights down, and I didn’t get there early enough to sit right in front, so as usual I was trying to draw in the dark. With that caveat, here are a few sketches I managed to get.

HenryIV-rehearsal01m

HenryIV-rehearsal02m

HenryIV-rehearsal03m

The rehearsal was a lot of fun. It really looks like an excellent show. Henry IV isn’t the easiest story to make compelling, but they’re doing a great job with it. In an era of stripped-down productions, STC has WAY above average production values, so it’s quite a feast for the eyes too. I definitely want to see the full show, and I may go back for the second rehearsal tomorrow.

They had a little mingling time afterward, and I got to meet Mr. Keach. He was extremely gracious, and complimented my sketches. (I also sat right behind director Michael Kahn during the rehearsal, but after the show he was having important scheduling/tech discussions, and I didn’t think it was appropriate to interrupt him, so I didn’t get to show him my work. Maybe another time.)

By the way, apropo of meeting celebrities, I just found this in an old sketchbook. It’s from a music-store appearance, I believe from the “9 Objects of Desire” tour, so that would have been…1996?

suzanne-vega-from-96

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Feb 04 2014

Richard III at the Folger

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I’m afraid I’ve been hiding under a rock for a while now, due to my Macbeth schedule being well and truly off the rails. I don’t like to brag/complain about how hard I’m working, because I know a lot of folks have to work two jobs, are on call all the time, have kids, etc, etc — but I will say that I have been working such long hours coloring Macbeth that (a) I got through the audiobook of Neal Stephenson’s 1000-page Anathem in less than a week, and (b) my Photoshop windows started to burn in to my monitor.

I did, however, escape the studio for half a day last Sunday to spend a few hours at the National Gallery, enjoy an unhealthy dinner at Shake Shack, and then watch the Folger Shakespeare Theater’s excellent production of Richard III, directed by Robert Richmond, which runs through March 9th.

The show features very good, consistent performances, with superb clarity and a nice “dynamic range” from disturbing to funny — plus nice use of trap doors, and the space has been totally transformed from the theater’s usual configuration. The cast, many of whom are depicted in these sketches: Drew Cortese, Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan, Howard Overshown, Michael Sharon, Julia Motyka, Richard Sheridan Willis, Sean Fri, Michael Gabriel Goodfriend, Nanna Ingvarsson, Naomi Jacobson, Daniel Flint, Andrew Criss, Remy Brettell, Holden Brettell, and Jenna Berk. Very cool costumes designed by Mariah Hale and sewn by Ananda Keator.

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