What do Bob Feller and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre have in common?
The former baseball great is synonymous with the city, having pitched the first opening-day no hitter in major league history. The Globe’s connection, while not nearly as famous, can serve as a valuable tidbit for Buckeye grade school students to meet Ohio history standards, any buff of the Bard or any fan of trivia. During the 1936 Great Lakes Exposition (a kind of “World’s Fair”), Cleveland held all sorts of attractions, one of them being a small replica of the Globe, which featured very abbreviated productions of the great playwright’s works. Several other cities during that time also featured miniature versions of the Globe, producing shortened versions of the Bard’s plays.
That small version in Cleveland of the theater for which Shakespeare wrote his works played a major role in the rebuilding of the Globe at its original sight in 1600s England. David Hansen, Great Lakes Theatre’s Education Outreach associate, has penned a fictional play based on history, relating this little-known fact and how it came about. It’s set in the 1600s, 1936 and 2005, complete with spot-on period costumes and a tale of actually three Globe Theatres. The significance of the Globe is reinforced, in part, in the set design, which depicts images of the venue and a stately canopy-like structure in the middle.
His comedic, thought-provoking world premiere one-act play, which could benefit from some tightening and focus, “The Great Globe Itself,” is having its world premiere in different Cleveland-area venues as part of Great Lakes’ annual outreach touring program. Great Lakes Theatre in downtown Cleveland stages Shakespearean plays and other classics in often modern and innovative ways.
“The Great Globe Itself,” is meant, in part, to drum up excitement for Great Lakes’ upcoming production of Shakespeare’s final play, “The Tempest.” Several more productions are planned at various venues. All productions are free.
At its heart, “The Great Globe Itself” is about an actor whose visit to the Globe’s original sight — and his chance to perform Shakespeare at Great Lakes Exposition’s Globe Theatre — drives him to rebuild the Globe as it stood across the Atlantic in the 1600s.
It’s hard to complain about a play being too long when it lasts less than an hour, sans intermission. With that said, “The Great Globe Itself’s” opening scene in 1613 London serves little purpose. Yes, the scene includes a description of the Globe. But it also features a dispute about whether to perform Shakespeare’s “Henry VIII” or “Julius Caesar.” John Fletcher, a poet, playwright and crybaby if this scene is any indication, doesn’t get his way. When he and Richard Burbage, manager for Shakespeare’s company, Lord Chamberlain’s Men,” learn the Bard demands to divest from the company in cash, Burbage and Fletcher burn the Globe down, keeping Shakespeare from getting his share. Hansen could’ve told all of this in narration or in a short flashback, getting to the meat of the play . . . Wanamaker’s desire to resurrect the great Globe.
When a character wants something, especially if he craves it, and obstacles stand in the way, it makes for riveting drama. Witnessing a highly-determined Wanamker let nothing get in the way of his dream would’ve produced that tension. What compounds the problem of the opening scene is the actors talk in the accent of the time, which sounds like a combination of Irish, northern English and Scottish. To Hansen and the actors’ credit, the performers don’t rush their lines and pronunciate the best they can while convincingly speaking in the dialect. But the actors don’t use microphones, and, as a result, at least one patron complained about not being able to understand the actors.
Downloading a “Teacher Preparation Guide” from Great Lakes’ website, www.greatlakestheater.org, would help immensely, as it includes not only a synopsis of the play but terms with which many might not be familiar. With that said, this is a comical play that relies partly on silly inflections of the voice and slapstick to produce laughs.
The three actors, who play multiple roles, transition from one to the other, past to the present, seamlessly and possess the comedic chops and skills to speak Shakespeare’s lines clearly and meaningfully.
Whether you’re watching or listening to Roderick Cardwell II’s loose, laid back comic style, Arthur Chu’s polished voice and clownish antics or James Alexander Rankin’s simmering anger, dogged determination and flair for slapstic, they’re each a treat to watch.
And the next time someone calls Cleveland “The Mistake by the Lake,” you can point write to “The Great Globe Itself...” and the role played by the city off the Shores of Lake Erie in the Globe’s comeback.
WHAT: “The Great Globe Itself.”
WHEN: A list of times and dates of remaining performances is listed at http://www.greatlakestheater.org/education/outreach-tour.
HOW MUCH: Free.