doctor who

On David Tennant, ‘Richard II,’ and the Joy of Acting

David Tennatn as Richard II at BAM. Photo by RSC

Sitting in his prison cell, the deposed king Richard II meditatively reflects on the nature of kingship and his sudden loss of power. He says,

Thus play I in one person many people,
And none contented: sometimes am I king;
Then treasons make me wish myself a beggar,
And so I am: then crushing penury
Persuades me I was better when a king;
Then am I king’d again…

Richard II is one of the great chameleon-like figures of Shakespeare’s works, ranking among other hard-to-pin-down royals like Hamlet and Richard III. He’s at once angelically majestic and humanly flawed. When surrounded by his subjects, he invokes divine right with the grace and poise of a saint, but behind closed doors he talks of looting his dying uncle’s property with malevolent glee. He can be warrior-like and masculine, witnessing the wars in Ireland himself, as well as effeminate, enjoying the luxuries of the finest Italian fashions, as well as the love of his cousin Aumerle. Richard can act esoteric and transcendent, seemingly a god among men. But he is simultaneously worldly and deeply flawed.

Richard is able to swiftly ‘play’ many ‘people’ as king, with the keen ability to judge what circumstances call for which ‘person.’ However, this protean strength eventually becomes his great weakness. The cause of his fall lies largely in the court’s suspicion of his inconsistency and his poor judgment. Richard missteps when he arbitrarily banishes two members of the court, then minimizes the sentence of one when the other can exited the scene. Likewise, he allows the court to see his conniving greed and disrespectful attitude at his uncle’s death. Though Richard’s changeability is sometimes to be admired, his followers and flatterers can be just as changeable—in their loyalties. Trust is a thing easily lost and hardly gained back, and people want to know where one stands, even if they themselves prefer to stand for nothing.

When news of his usurpation arrives, he swings wildly between anxious despair and stately calm within the span of a few lines. This is his great moment of decision—to pass the crown peaceably, or to demand his God-given right to it. Perhaps what Richard mourns in handing over the crown is precisely the power to transform, to embody all these selves in one, without worrying about the consequences. Richard invokes divine right constantly (the idea that the king’s place on the throne was sanctioned by God from birth), and divine right is the only ideological guarantee for kings to keep the throne and rule with stability. His usurpation means that Richard (and other kings) have no stability to fall back on. God, essentially, is dead, and fickle man has taken over. In his prison cell, sitting with his arms extended in chains and his flowing brown hair draping his shoulders, Richard’s image invokes the crucified Christ, sacrificed to the human whims of greed and power.

Richard’s transformative powers, however, aren’t nearly as enjoyable or judicious as David Tennant’s. Tennant, who played Richard II in 2013 in London’s Barbican Theater and make his American stage debut with its reprise at BAM, has built his career on an enormous range of roles and genres. Best known for his five-year stint on Doctor Who, Tennant is a regular with the Royal Shakespeare Company, starring in both comedies (Much Ado) and tragedies (Hamlet). He’s also played a superhero villain (Jessica Jones), a washed up Vegas performer (Fright Night), and a disillusioned detective (Broadchurch).

Part of the wonder of good acting is the actor’s ability to make something that has been so carefully plotted on paper seem fresh, spontaneous, and natural. Tennant is a master of this feat. His choices are always enjoyable, often unpredictable, but always deeply rooted in his character. Every gesture is deliberate and insightful. He delivers lines with a novelty and truthfulness, and he always bridges that amazing dialectic space between consistency and surprise. Judging from his interviews, Tennant also seems to be avidly aware of his characters’ places in pop culture and dramatic history. He has hosted and narrated various pieces on Shakespeare’s legacy, and the fact that he was a lifelong fan of Doctor Who before his casting is apparent in how he approaches the role. He is a critical reader, searching into the text for information the way a scholar would, sounding out its depths and applications. He’s the kind of person you’d be desperate to attend your book club. Truly, his excellent performances come from a sheer joy and deep investment in the world of his character.

His turn as Richard II shows yet another side to Tennant’s range. Walking swiftly onstage in the opening scene, as if magically propelled by his divine mission, with his look up to the heavens, Richard seems not of this earth. And yet, Richard is so humanly flawed and so deeply introspective in his moments of peril. Tennant is the perfect choice to bridge these two extremes, every scene illuminating the fascinating paradoxes of his character. Tennant has the magnificent ability to explore Richard’s ‘many people.’ And it’s a pleasure to watch.

Richard II plays at BAM as part of the “King and Country” cycle, featuring Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V. Tickets through April 29.

Steven Moffat, Calm Down

Yesterday at Comic Con, Steven Moffat threatened his fans , saying that if they leaked the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary trailer online, there would be no more Doctor Who or Sherlock exclusive footage at Comic Con ever again.  The threat was in part due to the fact that fans of Sherlock leaked an exclusive trailer minutes after it premiered.

I hope you’re pleased with yourself (lol no I don’t)

First of all, let’s pretend like Moffat actually has the authority to make such a statement on behalf of the cast, crew, production, and the BBC.  Secondly, why is Moffat treating his fans like a mother reprimanding her children? Comic Con is about indulging your fans. It’s about celebrating them. If you want to see how to do this, just look at ANY OTHER PANEL at Comic Con, where you can be absolutely sure that writers and directors are not threatening their fans. Might they ask fans to politely put away the phones? Sure, in fact that’s probably protocol. You could even look towards your own actors, who, despite their awkward, gangly, monochromatic dispositions, actually do know how to please a crowd when asked.

What could have honestly been THAT important about leaking the trailer that would lead Moffat to reprimand his fans at the very event that they stood outside in the heat for, probably paid airfares and hotels for, probably waited a year excitedly for, and mostly likely donate heinous amounts of their daily lives for? Here are some possibilities that defenders of Moffat have been stating on the *oh god, shield Moffat’s eyes* internet…

1) He doesn’t want storylines or scenes to be revealed– Um, it’s a trailer. It really shouldn’t do that. In fact, I’d say trailers on the whole don’t do that because then no one would actually see the movie. Also, the BBC is reportedly about the premiere the trailer, like, literally yesterday. So…

2) He wants us to watch the good-quality trailer on the BBC Youtube channel instead of the low quality one that an iPhone pointed at a projection screen would produce– What would I do if I were a fan who had to endure the pain of sitting through two minutes of blurry Matt Smith or audio-less David Tennant? Well, after seeing if I can find a better quality video someplace else, I’d watch it again. On the BBC Youtube channel. Because, you know, it’s free… and stuff. In fact, even if I did find a good quality video prior to the BBC’s official premiere, I’d still watch it again on BBC Youtube. And I’ll send it to my friends and fellow Whovians. And forcefeed it to my family. And the BBC gets 10 hits immediately.

3) Doctor Who is still trying to find its audience and needs all the help it can get , which piracy prevents– Nah, I made that one up. Doctor Who doesn’t need any help. At least, definitely not financial help.

4) Sherlock fans are crazy and Moffat had no choice but to retaliate harshly– You know a fandom is good when it doesn’t care about the nonsense restrictions that its head writer puts on them. Because apparently they know something that Moffat doesn’t… this whole internet thing is what’s actually made Moffat lots and lots of money. DW and Sherlock would NEVER have the influence they do now if it weren’t for leaky trailers, fan communities, and internet freedom.

So stop your whining, Moffat, and celebrate the fans and the internet realms that, if nothing else, have heralded your success.

Age of Convoluted Blockbusters

An excellent essay by the always insightful, intelligent, and presumably handsome FilmCritHulk. I feel exactly the same way about Star Trek, Man of Steel, and the past season of Doctor Who.

TONY Awards Dress Rehearsal Recap and a Story About Arthur Darvill

Three days after the TONY Awards and I’m still recovering from all the happiness and the love and the theater and the happiness and the love… More so because of my chance to play audience member to the dress rehearsal! 16 Handles, which is only the best froyo to grace planet Earth with its presence, held a contest for three winners to win a pair of tickets each to the dress rehearsal if they could write a short entry on why they should win. I didn’t actually save a copy, but my entry went something like this:


Nah, guys, for real, it was much more eloquent than that. I made some witty Broadway puns, compared yogurt toppings to the Kinky Boots costume department, said they’d be my fairy godmother taking me to the ball… stuff like that. Plus, I mentioned LMezz and how wonderful y’all are.

Winners were announced on Thursday. I got the e-mail while at work and I was smiling like a crazy lady all day long. Then I made my sister and Norma fight to the death for the second ticket and after a brutally bloody battle (hair was ripped, skin was scratched, shoes were thrown) Norma won!

I was under the assumption that seats were first come, first serve, so of course I got to Radio City Music Hall about two hours early to find that there were only about fifteen people in line! SCORE! ORCHESTRA SEATS! Well, no, actually– seats were actually assigned. Sticking to our namesake, we were seated in the first mezz. And even though I got stuck in a useless line for two hours alone listening to other people brag about ‘hanging out’ with Hugh Jackman and Idina Menzel (psshhttt yeaahhh) I got to see a few cast members arrive at the theater and unload their sets and costumes.

I also got to enter the theater early and catch a quick pre-dress run of the opening number. And can we just take a minute to talk about how miraculous beautiful that opening number was?! It was big, it was hilarious, it was NPH at his very best. It was well-choreographed. It mixed Broadway-insider jokes with a healthy dose of, well, Mike Tyson. It had magic! (If someone can explain to me how that trick was done, I’ll love them forever.) But most of all, it was inspiring. It got to the heart of why Broadway and any celebration of the performing arts is vital to our culture. It gave hope to current and future struggling performers that their work can pay off.

The view
The view

At the same time, there were several jokes throughout the evening that gave us a grittier insight into the life of someone in the performing arts. The ‘TV Show’ number, the jokes about equity and sketchy insurance plans, it perhaps was meant to take a stab at depleting arts funding and the current instability of the arts field. Which was why it bothered me so much that presenters from long-running shows (like the Newsies boys, Guy/Girl, Mufasa/Simba) went unnamed throughout the evening. I mean, can we at least get a “And now, welcome (Actor’s Name) as Simba!” It’s not that hard. (The Craptacular writes pretty insightfully about this and points out as well that NO ONE would expect a well-known star like Alan Cumming or Scarlet Johanssen to present without a proper introduction.)

And speaking of presenters, apparently, showing up to dress rehearsal is optional. Bigger names, like Tom Hanks, ScarJo, Jake Gyllenhaal, Alan Cumming, Cuba Gooding Jr. (who subsequently flubbed his lines) didn’t show up. But Anna Kendrick did (and subsequently covered for Cuba), Sally Field and Jesse Eisenberg did. So did Zachary Quinto (in a brooding blaze of glory). Every time a presenter was announced, there was this suspenseful atmosphere– would the famous name actually walk out from backstage or would it just be a Theater Wing stand-in? It was actually kind of fun placing bets in the split second before the presenter walked out on whether the name would match the face. And oh the applause when it was actually them! And when Patti Lupone walked out in her sweatpants, and Bernadette Peters came out in flip-flops… it was glorious.

The nominees weren’t there either (unless they had to perform) and stand-ins were also used in their place. Winners were announced (with FOR THIS REHEARSAL ONLY stated before each one) and fake winners accepted awards along with fake speeches. It was pretty interesting to see what speeches the fake winners would actually come up with. Most went with the “You know, when I was a little girl…” or the “Broadway is magical because…” route. Tom Hank’s fake winner broke the cliches with “Please donate to my charity for children in Salzburg who have never seen The Sound of Music.”

All the performances were brilliant. It made me realize how much I’ve missed out on this season. I gotta get on Matilda like right now. It was also fascinating to see how staging works at an awards show and how much a good camera angle can hide while another performance is setting up or a presenter is moving around on stage. But can we just talk about Arthur Darvill and how amazing he is? You poor television broadcast-watchers only got to see half of his Once performance. We got to see the whole caboodle. (You can too here.) And Arthur, what a voice!

And then this happened:


It’s me in the cropped right hand section. Just take it for granted.

Let me tell you a story about why this photo is so important. Two Easters ago, the Doctor Who cast was filming in New York in Central Park. So if course, I stalked. Now, Matt Smith and Karen Gillan are wonderful. I had previously met them when they premiered season five in New York along with head writer and evil torturer Steven Moffat. I even got a photo with Matt Smith. That was nice. But, this time around, I was set on getting a photo with Arthur. Anyone who has watched the Who knows that Rory Williams  is probably the most perfect male character on television and all men should probably be him at some point in their lives. No pressure. And Arthur, while not as intense or keen an actor as Matt Smith or David Tennant, plays Rory with charm and great comedic timing.

So I waited an hour or two at Central Park while the cast filmed. There was a giant crowd of Who fans surrounding the set and the actors would not possibly be able to get pictures or sign autographs with everyone there. But lo! it appeared that Arthur had finished his scenes and was getting ready to leave. So Arthur and a few crew members slipped quickly away while Matt and Karen stayed behind to finish shooting. So I too quietly slipped away. While the other Who fans stayed watching the rest of the shoot. And I had the PERFECT opportunity to get my photo with Arthur. There were no fans around and all I’d need to do is ask nicely and get a quick shot before skipping away like a happy fangirl. But I didn’t. I chickened out. And as Arthur and the crew drove away, this incident became a metaphor for all the times in my life that I let opportunities pass me by. Womp Womp.

So when I exited Radio City Music Hall and I saw Arthur Darvill standing right in front of me taking a picture of Radio City Music Hall, it was like getting a second chance to redeem my life wrongs.

Did Steven Moffat “Destroy” Doctor Who?

Up until recently, I had believed that every Doctor Who fan was in some type of ecstatic love/dream state, ready to follow Matt Smith, Steven Moffat, and the rest of the merry TARDIS crew into whatever series 7 had to bring. It wasn’t until the mysterious scandal of the Moffat twitter deletion (one blog’s heading read “The Man Who Destroyed Doctor Who Left Twitter”) that I realized that the Internet vs. Steven Moffat had actually been… well… happening.

\\Beware…long post ahead// Continue reading “Did Steven Moffat “Destroy” Doctor Who?”

One Man, Two Guvnors

It’s a Psychology 101 fact that we spectators have an instinct to create order out of chaos, to notice patterns or connections or some sort of overall plan in situations where there may or may not be. This instinct is a fundamental drive, perhaps even a pleasurable experience, and one that I believe is at the heart of good ol’ fashioned farce.

So, when in nearly every scene of One Man, Two Guvnors, everything seems to be going completely out of hand, there’s an incredibly enjoyable realization that, in fact, the cast and crew, led by James Corden, actually has everything in complete control.

Continue reading “One Man, Two Guvnors”

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