Fast and Furious: My Whirlwind Love Affair with Shakespeare

June 22, 2014 / by Lavina Jadhwani, Classical Directing Fellow


Tonight I step on to an Amtrak train at Union Station; 18 hours later I'll arrive in Lenox, MA for the beginning of an exciting (and scary!) journey at Shakespeare & Company. My relationship with Shakespeare to date has been a funny one. Last fall, I was enrolled in Claudia Anderson's voice class at DePaul; she asked us to describe how we felt about working on Shakespeare, and my classmate Brian put it best -- "I feel like an eighth grade boy holding the hand of a really pretty high school girl at the senior prom." 
I'd had a taste of the work assisting at Chicago Shakespeare Theater in 2008, and interviewed to direct a few verse plays after that -- but no dice. I figured I was out of my league (like Brian's metaphorical eighth grade boy) and was about to throw in the towel when I got an unexpected phone call from my friend Marissa, who was the Managing Director at Oak Park Festival Theatre. "Lavina, are you interested in Twelfth Night... outdoors... next summer? Call me back." 
And since then, Billy Shakes and I have been pretty seriously involved. Like, Facebook-relationship-status-changing serious. After opening Twelfth Night last July, I tackled a Bollywood take on Much Ado for a South Asian theatre company, followed by Love's Labour's Lost at DePaul, and just opened Hamlet (also in Oak Park) last weekend. So, Shakespeare... there you are. 
At this point, I feel more like an awkward sophomore trying to date the senior class queen bee. I'm feeling most comfortable with the comedies (As You Like It is on the docket for this fall), but have yet to work on a history play. To be honest, they've not done much for me in the past -- but last winter, I was totally taken with Two Pence Theatre Company's Richard II. Their sparse but smart, 100 minute, 6 actor adaptation made the play totally accessible and extremely contemporary. Whereas in the past, I'd walked away from productions still trying to figure out who was related to who (and moreover -- why should I care?), I left this one noodling on questions about leadership and succession issues. I finally understood why these plays were so popular -- they're jam packed with romance, entertainment, and political intrigue. 
At the beginning of this year, I decided that I was going to start saying things that I want out loud. (My dad, who considers himself more spiritual than religious always said, "Ask Him for what you want, and you'll get it -- but the one thing you don't control is the timing.") So I said, "I want to work on a history play," thinking that might happen in the distant future -- but certainly not in the next year or two, as I'll be busy finishing grad school and such. 
And yet... on Tuesday, I'll start rehearsal for Henry IV, Parts 1&2 at Shakespeare & Company; I'll be assisting Jonathan Epstein, who will also play the title role. We're conflating both parts in to one three-hour evening (with a sprinkle of the bookending plays, Richard II and Henry V, mixed in as well). It feels like I'll be going from zero to 60 on those history plays quite quickly! That's the scary part. The exciting part is that it all feels like a lot of kismet. Tom Wells, the Founder/Artistic Director of Two Pence (whose Richard II I so admired), trained with Shakespeare & Company, as did Claudia Anderson. All roads lead to Lenox, it would seem. 
Pictured above: HAMLET rehearsal with Michael McKeogh and Will Clinger at Oak Park Festival Theatre.