Now does my project gather to a head.
Shamrock McShane casts a giant shadow in the cinematic version of “Seven Sides of Shakespeare.”
And I mean that literally
He is the sorcerer Prospero who, having summoned the tempest, stands at the edge of his magic island and raises his hands to the heavens in gleeful triumph.
Waves lap the shore and the sun hangs low in the sky behind him. And as Prospero exalts, the gods themselves – if they are indeed gazing down from above – would not fail to see his shadow eclipse all that they have created.
“Now does my project gather to a head,” this bearded conjuror boasts.
Two things about that scene:
First, it is a marvelous bit of cinematography.
And, second, that drone-shot sequence is the only part of the movie that director Tom Miller didn’t shoot with his iPad.
“Shakespeare wrote ‘Hamlet’ during plague with a pen while he was in quarantine. Now the tool of the day is an iPad. And in another pandemic, we wanted to promote the idea that creativity is the best way to get through it.”
“Seven Sides Of Shakespeare” is Shamrock McShane’s brutally honest examination of his own life as viewed through the lens of seven Bard characters he played over the course of decades.
McShane wrote the play and he performed it for the first time – with Miller directing – last year at the Acrosstown Repertory Theater. On an historical note, it was one of Gainesville’s last live theater performances before Covid came along and shut everything down.
Which is one of the reasons McShane, Miller, Michael Presley Bobbitt, Joey Larson and a handful of collaborators spent the rest of the Covid year making “Seven Sides” the movie.
Ah, but there’s the rub.
Now that the video is in the can (as it were) opportunities to actually screen it to live audiences remain limited, also thanks to the Big C-19.
“Covid has made it very difficult,” Miller said. “We may do a couple of guerrilla presentations” to selected, and small audiences. We may premier it on line. We’re gonna’ look into how to do it safely and do it in several different ways.
“Our only intention was to just make it.”
And make it they did. If you are a fan of all things Shakespearean you should want to see “Seven Sides” for McShane’s masterful interpretations alone. If you are a student of the human condition, you should appreciate his unflinching introspection and candor as McShane dissects his unrealized ambitions, broken marriage, betrayals, disappointments and other life experiences – all while inhabiting the skins of Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Mercutio, Malfolio and other Shakespeare notables.
As McShane tells it, he was just 22 – his whole life still ahead of him – when he landed the plum role of Mercutio in “Romeo And Juliet” at Chicago’s Guild Theater in 1973.
“Mercutio was in love with Romeo, and I played it that way,” he reflects. “That’s when I realized that I was in love with Shakespeare.”
But “I was doomed just like Mercutio,” he conceded. “If I had stayed in Chicago, or gone to New York, everything would be different. Instead I went to Key West where I would squander the next 7 years of my life.”
Eventually McShane would wash up in Gainesville (“My shot at the big time is long dead. I am a school teacher.”) where he would embrace a series of meaty Shakespeare roles in local amateur theater.
Consider his turn as Macbeth, during which performance McShane fell into infatuation with Lady Macbeth even as his own wife was falling out of love with him.
In Shakespeare’s body of works “the most happily married couple of all is the Macbeths,” he laments. “I was married to a witch. It’s a lie, but it’s all I’ve got.”
In “Macbeth,” McShane directed, produced and appropriated the lead role, even as his home life was in free fall. “Macbeth is cursed. Macbeth is bad luck,” he says. “You cannot put on a play without reenacting it in real life. You not only dream about it, you find analogous situations in your life.
“It’s the most dangerous play in the world.”
And what of “The Tempest”?
“‘The Tempest’ is a play about forgiveness,” McShane reflects. “I had to forgive myself for quitting just about everything worthwhile I ever started…out of cruelty, jealously, cowardice, stupidity beyond measure.
“Once you forgive yourself it’s not that hard to forgive everybody else.”
Miller produced “Seven Sides” on a budget of about $3,200, joking that much of it was spent “for beer and delicious food.” And if his movie was shot on the cheap it does not skimp on atmosphere. Much of it unfolds against well chosen and recognizable local settings – the Thomas Center being put to especially good use.
But he saves the very best for last, when Miller appropriates Cedar Key to stand in for Prospero’s magical island.
Oh, and did I mention that this one-man show has a cast of thousands?
Miller calls them “dinosaurs,” but they are in fact white pelicans…although in mid-swoop they do strike a faintly pterodactyl poise. And their seemingly choreographed flight against the backdrop of a deserted beach is easily one of the video’s most enchanting scenes.
Producer Michael Presley Bobbitt “basically got us on a boat and showed us all the locations,” Miller recalls. “Pulling up to a tiny island we saw 2,500 dinosaurs sitting on the sand. The dinosaurs are like ‘The humans are coming!’ And we ended up catching this National Geographic moment. It was unbelievable to see it in person.”
To be sure this production has its flaws. Miller has a doting fondness for special effects, some of which do not deliver on their promise. In particular his infatuation with slo-mo as often distracts as enhances.
That said, “Seven Sides Of Shakespeare,” is as compelling on video as it was on stage. Once again Shamrock McShane shows us that New York’s loss was indeed Gainesville’s gain.
Macbeth himself tell us that “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.”
And if it is indeed true that “one man in his time plays many parts,” then “Seven Sides of Shakespeare” will only serve to whet the appetite for McShane’s next role, be it low comedy or high drama.