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GONZAGA UNIVERSITY NEWS FEATURE
|Director Russo Challenged by 'The Winter's Tale'|
'The Winter's Tale' Challenges, Inspires Director Russo
Brian C. Russo, associate professor of theatre at for Gonzaga University, is directing the University’s winter production of Shakespeare’s tale of passion, jealousy, and forgiveness, “The Winter’s Tale.” The play emphasizes the danger and power of evil in the world, while still providing hope in the final joyous resolution. Russo says it posed interesting challenges from his perspective as director.
Brian C. Russo
“Directing a play like Shakespeare’s ‘The Winter’s Tale’ is a profound challenge,” said Russo, a working actor with an impressive professional resume. “As a director, I knew and understood the beauty, power and passion of Shakespeare’s play of insane jealousy and magnificent forgiveness, but would I be able to communicate all of this to my student actors, who then will speak to you, the audience? I can only say it’s been an experience of enormous attention to detail, and an enormous effort to make this very dense language come to theatrical life.”
Cutting to the chase, Russo said another challenge was to keep the audience from falling to sleep during the first 10 minutes of the drama.
“Will you run for the doors, run for your life just to get away from all this indecipherable drama, convoluted language?” he asked aloud. “These are the fears of the director of Shakespeare.”
While directing Shakespeare is a challenge, it is also an awesome responsibility and tremendous opportunity to take The Bard’s hauntingly beautiful language and make it come to life on the stage, he said.
“Shakespeare gives so much in his language and his plots. If I could just grab hold of some of them,” Russo says. “Working with this cast of very talented GU actors, and our resident designers, I think we have something memorable to show you -- an agonizing story of a man’s jealousy that moves to insanity, destroying the world around him.”
Courtesy Gonzaga Theatre Department
Russo finds some similarities between “The Winter’s Tale” and director Martin Scorcese’s “Raging Bull” in which Robert De Niro plays the jealous fighter Jake LaMotta, an unrepentant brute who beats his wife and brother over his absolutely unfounded jealousies. Both protagonists are undone by overgrown jealousy.
“Leontes, the tragic hero of ‘The Winter’s Tale’ is different -- he loses everything, and does not sink into bitterness,” says Russo. “Instead he truly repents for a mere 16 years, praying daily at his wife’s grave -- and this repentance does end in forgiveness and grace.”
Russo and his students have been working on the play since September and are eager to make it come alive before live audiences through the special connected way Shakespeare allows actors to access his works.
“The students just grow and grow in their roles,” he said. “I’m pleased by their work because I see that many of them have moved into that special zone that Shakespeare grants the actor. It is a zone of expansiveness and stature that comes from commanding, body and soul, such language. They’ve worked through their difficulties with the text through study, improvisation and patient dedication to their art. I’m very happy with what we’ve accomplished. I hope that you will come and see our work.”
“The Winter’s Tale” begins amid gloomy winter, with the destructive power of King Leontes’ jealousy hovering over his family and his country, Sicilia. This jealousy eventually destroys all that is dear to him; but this desolation does not prevail, and the play moves to Bohemia where spring intervenes, bringing with it love and hope, and repairing the damage that the King’s misguided passions have wreaked upon his land.
"The play includes an unmotivated change in the main character that sets the entirety of the story into breakneck action; a second half that is almost a wholly different play from the first half; a shipwreck, and the obligation to deal with the most famous stage direction ever penned -- ‘Exit, pursued by a bear.’” Russo says. “What fun! Don’t miss your chance to see Shakespeare’s classic at Gonzaga University.”
The Brian C. Russo File
Brian C. Russo traveled around the world and back before settling into the Zag lifestyle. He received his master of fine arts degree from the University of Arizona and a doctoral degree from the University of Cincinnati. He lived in Calcutta, India, teaching theatre as a Fulbright scholar, and a few years ago was a visiting professor at the University of Lodz in Poland. Just weeks before assuming his position at Gonzaga in 2006, Russo was back in Calcutta directing a play at the request of the U.S. Department of State.
Russo’s experience as a Fulbright scholar was “wonderful,” he said, adding that he taught theatre and directed students at the university level, and taught theatre workshops to elementary students.
So why did this man of international intrigue choose Gonzaga?
“Gonzaga seemed to have a good atmosphere,” he said, reflecting on his attraction to the positive relationships within the GU community. As he continues to make strides in his acting career, Russo hopes to inspire Gonzaga students to pursue their own dramatic careers.
“I’m trying to get students to think that acting is something you can do,” he says, explaining that many students view drama solely as a hobby — a perspective he would like to change. “The students show a lot of potential.”
Russo also would like to improve and expand the GU theatre program. “My main goal for the theatre program is to offer our students a very strong foundation in the fields of acting and directing,” he said.