Volume 19 Issue 44 | March 16 - 22, 2007

Photo by Larry Bercow

The inaugural members of poortom productions, from left to right: James Saba, Danny Deferrari, Dan Amboyer, Joe Plummer, Chris Thorn, and Greg Hildreth.

As he would have liked it

Three all-male Shakespeare plays premiere this week in New York

By Nicholas Luckenbaugh

“All the world ‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts…” Including the part of a woman, at least in the realm of Shakespeare.

This month, two New York theatres are presenting three Shakespearean comedies, each one staged with an all-male cast in keeping with the Bard’s original productions.

“I hope it will give people a fresh perspective,” said Joe Plummer, Producing Artistic Director at poortom productions, the city’s only all-male Shakespeare company. “It’s something jarring and wonderfully silly” — much like the name of Plummer’s company. Poortom is a reference to Poor Tom, the nickname for vagrants in Elizabethan times who were deprived of any social services. In “King Lear,” the character Edgar dresses up as one when his father mistakenly pursues him. “And then Edgar comes back and wins the day,” explains Plummer. “I loved the masculine quality of the name but also I loved the idea of this guy having to dress up to save himself. And just this image of insane people who would wander the heaths because they had no health insurance. I think actors have a lot in common with that — both in the fact that we don’t have healthcare and the fact that we’re mad as hatters.”

The idea for poortom began percolating last summer at the Williamstown Theatre Festival’s mainstage production of “Romeo and Juliet,” in which Plummer was portraying the character of Paris. In discussion with a colleague, Plummer considered the original reception of Shakespeare’s productions.

“I became more and more convinced that doing it that way would have a profound effect on the play,” said Plummer, who lives in Battery Park City.

For its inaugural production, Plummer chose the pastoral comedy “As You Like It,” a tale of mistaken identity in which a woman dressed as a man falls in love, creating a series of hilarious and unpredictable situations.

“It’s a show where gender swapping and gender bending lends itself to be explored,” said Plummer.

The play runs through March 31 at HERE Arts Center concurrently with two other all-male Shakespeare productions at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Edward Hall, director of the British all-male group Propeller, selected “Twelfth Night” and “The Taming of the Shrew” as the company’s newest productions. They premiere March 17, and run until April 1.

After casting a production of “Henry V” and “Comedy of Errors” with an all-male ensemble, Hall became enamored with the idea, realizing how the male casting “released so much in the plays.”

Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel concurs. “[An all-male cast allows Shakespeare to] be more campy and absurd and whimsical. It doesn’t fulfill a romantic ideal that has been put under the microscope over history.” Still, he and Plummer hope to convey the essence of Shakespeare’s language and characters, without caricaturing women.

“It’s really important for us to preserve the truth of these characters,” said Plummer.

While he believes that certain aspects of “As You Like It” will remain unchanged by the shift into an all-male cast, Plummer is excited to see the audience’s reaction to certain moments, particularly Orlando’s wooing of Rosalind.

“There is something very intriguing about watching two men talk about love in this way,” said Plummer.

Outside of his role as producing artistic director, Plummer portrays the character of Celia, a real challenge for him.

“Part of me wants to go far with it and make it extreme, but it’s much more subtle,” said Plummer. Already he has received some skepticism about his all-male casting.

“Some people said, ‘I hope you’re prepared for the political storm that you’re going to encounter.’ But for the most part, people have been quite responsive to it.” He anticipates expanding poortom productions to include tragedies as well as comedies. But the present success of their inaugural performance is enough for the moment.

“This is us coming right out of the gate. I hope the audience will see and appreciate and enjoy the production and what we’re trying to do.”

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