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The Dark Lady of the Sonnets Hits the Road

June 8-10, Pigeon Creek will be on an out-of-state tour with George Bernard Shaw’s The Dark Lady of the Sonnets, a production that we are mounting for a weekend in the season of our friends at Sweet Tea Shakespeare in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The production will have one Michigan performance, at Seven Steps Up in Spring Lake on June 30.

follows Shakespeare as he is caught in a love triangle, or maybe more accurately an inspiration triangle, with

This production is a project that I have had in the back of my mind for a long time. I have previously worked on portions of Shaw’s script at the Grand Valley Shakespeare Festival. The other inspiration for this production’s concept came from a class on performing the sonnets that was part of the Classical Acting Intensive that I took at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts about 15 years ago. Gwynn MacDonald, who taught the class, had each student choose a sonnet, and then devise a performance which included playing the sonnet as a monologue, but also incorporating movement, dance, music, other actors, whatever theatrical elements we wanted to bring to it. After working on these pieces, we had a performance of this sonnet series. I have thought for several years about a production that would combine the text of Shaw’s play with performance of Shakespeare’s sonnets. The script for our current production also incorporates a letter by Shaw, poetry by Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, and songs from Shakespeare’s plays.

This production has been devised by the ensemble of actors, which is a small, 4-person cast. We have conceived of the sonnets as a subconscious or dream-world of the characters we play in Shaw’s script. Shaw’s play follows Shakespeare as he is caught in a love triangle,or more accurately an inspiration triangle, with

Queen Elizabeth and the mysterious Dark Lady who serves as a muse for his poetry. We have divided Shaw’s script into its component scenes, and then created interludes of sonnets, music, and movement that offer new perspectives on the characters.

One example from my own work in the production, playing Queen Elizabeth, is the use of the sonnet that begins

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,

The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;

But there begins a journey in my head,

To work my mind when body’s work’s expired.

Shaw makes a textual connection between Elizabeth and Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth. When Elizabeth first appears in the Dark Lady script, she is sleep-walking, scrubbing her hands, and reliving the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. The sonnet about not being able to sleep is a perfect match for Shaw’s depiction of the character and her internal struggle with the ways that power seems to demand the violent elimination of rivals.

We look forward to bringing this production to audiences in North Carolina and Michigan, and to our visit with another regional theatre doing outstanding work on Shakespeare and other classical material.

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