Saturday, April 21, 2012


WITNESSING MORRIS CARNOVSKY PLAY FALSTAFF By Martha Patterson. What? Witnessing Shakespeare when I was around the age of 10? With swords and daggers? And with a world-renowned actor playing Falstaff? In the 1960s my mother sent my three brothers and me to see HENRY IV, Part One, at Brandeis University’s Spingold Theatre in Waltham, Massachusetts, starring the legendary Morris Carnovsky. She wanted us to have a great theatre experience, you see, and to observe for ourselves what Shakespeare was all about. I sat there in the front row, with an edition of Shakespeare’s complete works on my lap, rather obnoxiously following along in the script and seeing to it that the actors faithfully duplicated ALL THEIR LINES in the play. I couldn’t quite see, at that innocent age, how they were able to muster it up to remember their speeches. And I was dismayed to see the actor playing Hotspur breathing heavily after a swordfight, when he was supposed to be dead, lying not six feet from me on the apron of the stage. Couldn’t he act DEAD?? Why did his chest heave? But it was glorious! It was exciting! And it gave me my first taste of Shakespeare. The Spingold was a marvelous theatre of good proportions, and Brandeis managed to get a stellar actor, in those days, to play along with the students. How I could have wished for that in my own college career. Morris Carnovsky!...who I was later to learn had been a member of The Group Theatre. As Falstaff he was fat and breathless and drunk – and acted very well with a bunch of undergraduates. A fine HENRY IV, Part One. Many years later I studied stage combat and learned how difficult it was to create a realistic fight on stage. Hand-to-hand, swordplay, rapier-and-dagger, it was all fun. But I knew that unless I played Joan of Arc I would probably never, as a woman, get to use any of those techniques onstage. Now I am a playwright and my sights are somewhat different. If I could manage to write a full-length play with anywhere NEAR the action of a Shakespeare play, and anywhere near his range of colorful characters, I’d be extremely happy. But I’ve read most of his works and I keep trying to do just that – to keep the action moving. En garde! ### For more writing on the occasion of Shakespeare's 448th birthday, check out

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