Last night Sandy and I spent a pleasurable evening watching the first of five episodes of an adaptation of Orson Welles' play "Five Kings" by Revolution Shakespeare (a Philadelphia company) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
One of the glories of this production is that it is free. Beginning in February, the Museum implemented a policy where admission on Wednesday nights beginning at 5pm (and extending until closing) was "Pay As You Wish." One can pay as little as nothing or as much as one wants. Once in the museum, the cost to watch the performances are free.
It seems that Welles was fascinated by Falstaff from an early age. As a student at the Todd School for Boys in Indiana, Welles tried to stage an epic compilation of three of Shakespeare's plays, titling it "The Winter of Our Discontent." School officials forced him to cut material (presumably to shorten the play).
In 1939 Welles wrote and partially staged a compilation of five of Shakespeare's plays titled "Five Kings." Put succinctly, this endeavor was a disaster. But it led to Welles movie of 1960, "Chimes at Midnight," which received a mostly favorable reception and won two awards at the Cannes Film Festival that year.
[This history comes from Wikipedia, where you can read more about Welles, his fascination with Falstaff and these productions: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimes_at_Midnight
Revolution Shakespeare has taken the original play, "Five Kings," and adapted it into five separate episodes, much in the fashion of television mini-series. The series is being performed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with each episode in a different gallery, with each scene performed proximate to a specific piece of artwork.
[A press release about the series can be found at http://www.wellesnet.com/?p=10228
. An archived news report on the original play, from a 1939 edition of "The Harvard Crimson," can be read at http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1939/2/23/orson-welles-says-five-kings-is/
Last night's Episode One was in the Museum's first floor Rotunda. It covered Prince Hal's carousing with Falstaff and company, the estrangement from his father, King Henry IV, and the troubles this brought to the king, and the reconciliation between King and Prince.
The performance was "in the round," with the audience seated in the center of the Rotunda and the performance along the outside walls. The opening scene features the narrator looking at two paintings, van Gogh's "Sunflowers" -- his repetition of the third version of "Sunflowers" he painted while in Arles -- and "Le Bon Bock" by Eduard Manet.
"Sunflowers" is likely the most famous painting in this gallery. It's use seemed a pro forma
tip of the hat to the painting's status, though it was paired with a line about not being such a good work that drew a deserved laugh from the audience.
Manet's "Le Bon Bock," however, captured the image of the actor who played Falstaff -- and Falstaff himself as written by Shakespeare -- nicely. Most of the action between Hal, Falstaff and company occurred next to this painting.
The remainder of the scenes were those dominated by King Henry IV. Unfortunately, I didn't notice any of the paintings in that place, nor did they seem to be highlighted by the production itself. I'll have to take a look at them on my next trip to the museum.
Sandy and I will definitely be attending next Wednesday's episode.