Tag Archive: classic literature


Hamlet13399175
By: William Shakespeare
Starring: Alan Mandell, Josh Stamberg, Emily Swallow, Stephen Collins, Stacy Keach, JoBeth Williams, Matthew Wolf
Length: 3 hrs and 13 mins
Release date: 02-15-12
Publisher: L.A. Theatre Works

Before we get to far into this review I have to talk about L.A. Theatre Works. L.A. Theatre Works audio abilities are phenomenal.  I mean, come on, I don’t think I could sit and just listen to a play for 3 hours without getting bored. That is just not the case with L.A. Theatre Works recordings.  A combination of excellent production along with casts that are just phenomenal create an audio theatre experience that will bring the stage to you.

One of the things that intrigued me most about this was that it had Stacy Keach. I love Stacy Keach’s performances, whether on Cheech & Chong’s “Up In Smoke,” or an episode of “Mike Hammer,” Keach has some serious acting chops. As Hamlet’s father’s ghost Keach hooked me from the beginning.

With the caliber of actors in all their performances any production from L.A. Theatre Works deserves your attention.

So in case you have been under a rock for the past 500 years or so, here’s the Publisher’s Summary:

Shakespeare’s timeless story of revenge, corruption, and murder is considered one of the greatest works in the English language. Composed over 400 years ago, the tragic tale of young Prince Hamlet remains one of the theater’s most studied and performed works, presented here in a new full-cast recording, directed by Martin Jarvis and featuring a special appearance by Stacy Keach as The Ghost.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: Josh Stamberg as Hamlet; Stephen Collins as King Claudius; JoBeth Williams as Queen Gertrude; Stacy Keach as The Ghost; Alan Mandell as Polonius; Emily Swallow as Ophelia; JD Cullum as Laertes; Matthew Wolf as Horatio; Mark Capri as Ambassador and others; Josh Clark as Gravedigger, Voltemand and others; Henri Lubatti as Rosencrantz and others; Jon Matthews as Guildenstern and others; Darren Richardson as Player Queen and others; André Sogliuzzo as Reynaldo and others. Directed by Martin Jarvis. Recorded at the Invisible Studios, West Hollywood, in August 2011.

©2012 L.A. Theatre Works (P)2012 L.A. Theatre Works

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“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Read by Allen Davis Drake
Produced by Cloud Mountain Studios (2009)
1 Hour 9 Minutes.

Every so often I find myself going back and revisiting a classic, this time around it was a strange set of circumstances to getting this audiobook.  I have always tried to get my son interested in audiobooks and having to compete with the videogames and television the lack of pictures make it hard for me compete.  This time around I lucked out.  We had an upcoming 2 hour drive and I knew I’d have to find the perfect audiobook.  I know what you’re thinking,  if I have a hard time competing with TV and Videogames how is this classic story by F. Scott Fitzgerald going to get his attention.  Well, here’s where it gets funny.  We never saw the movie based on this story starring Brad Pitt, and probably never will but my son and I are fans of a TV show based on Mad Magazine.  “Mad” airs on the Cartoon network and just like the magazine features parodies everything including movies.  There was one skit in which he and I found pretty funny titled “The Curious Case of Benjamin Batman,” in which Batman was aging backwards.

So we had that as a start then a friend sent me an email with a link in which I could download several classic stories in audiobook form.  The choices ranged from “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to “Treasure Island” to “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” and including this story.  So loving the classics I downloaded all I could.  (After all they were all free, and were professionally produced, not the lower quality found on Librivox and others.)

So with him now curious about the story and the long car trip planned we listened, and we were entertained.

First of all the gist of the story is that Benjamin Button is born a 70 year old man.  His father is embarassed and flabbergasted and at first does not know how to accept this medical curiosity.  The hospital wants Mr. Button to immediately remove the abomination and after buying a suit for his new born son takes him home and life begins at the end for Benjamin Button, having to go to school at the proper age (based on birth) Benjamin is a site in schoolboy shorts at the age of 65.  His life progresses backwards as we follow him to college and then marriage where he falls in love with a 20 year old woman as he appears to be 50.  He then goes off to fight in the French and Indian War and comes back a younger man.

The story is based on a quote from Mark Twain, “Youth is wasted on the Young.” and a conversation between Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  The reader delivered the story with skill, keeping my 10 year old son and myself interested in the story and delivering the comedic scenes with just as much ease as the scenes when trying to be able to live as a married man who is growing apart from his wife due to the reverse aging and the turning over the family business to his son because he is getting too young.

The story is fun and at times and poignant at others and sometimes both.  A great view of the life of man.

“Three Sisters”
by Anton Chekhov
Multi-cast performance featuring: Jennifer Westfeldt, Sarah Zimmerman, Tessa Thompson and Jon Hamm.
Produced by L.A. Theatre Works (2011)
Approx 2 hours

Every so often you have to go back and visit the classics, okay you don’t HAVE to but it is really nice to see what you may have missed either the first time around or for the first time.  This time around I visited a classic thanks to the wonderful production of L.A. Theatre Works.  L.A. Theatre works has a full catalog of plays which have been artfully reproduced into audiobook form.  This is the third play from LATW I’ve heard and I’m always amazed at how well they are able to translate a visual medium into an audio performance.  Not only do you hear every detail but throughout the performance it feels as if you are right in the middle of the audience during the performance.

As with all the other productions I’ve heard from LATW the cast is excellent, performing their roles and able to translate emotions straight through the audio performance.   For those of you interested and wanting some “star factor” to go with your theatre, this performance of “Three Sisters” features John Hamm as Lt. Colonel Vershinin.   You may recognize Hamm from the TV series “Mad Men.”  Now, don’t get me wrong, in the ensemble cast everyone shines, but just for a trivia aspect or able to say you know that voice, it’s kinda neat.

“Three Sisters” was first performed in 1901 and at first made myself ready for a period piece, but I was surprised by the timelessness.  Yes it is a period piece but the theme of the play carries on through the ages.  The main theme of the play to me was trying to discover the meaning of life.  At times it’s a matter of wanting to be happy but other times not knowing what it’s about.  This was made evident to me in the final lines of Olga (one of the Sisters) and the old Doctor Chebutykin;

CHEBUTYKIN It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.
OLGA. If we only knew, if we only knew!

Overall the play is about the decay of the privileged class in Russia and the search for meaning in the modern world and takes place in four acts.  Each act progressing through time for the characters.  At this point I would like to say for this production It would have been nice to know how much time had elapsed at the beginning of each act.  LATW produced the play with music separating the acts, but I personally would have liked to know in advance how much time has elapsed.  As each act progresses it becomes fairly obvious but it did seem a bit confusing at first.

Another nice production from the folks at L.A. Theatre works, I can’t wait to see what they serve up next, but in the meantime, I’ll be visiting their back catalogue.

“Treasure Island”
By Robert Louis Stevenson
Read By Alfred Molina
produced by Listening Library, 2007
Approx 7.5 hours

I’ve been on a “revisiting the classics” kick lately and I realized I had never read “Treasure Island.”  How could I have missed that?  Wasn’t it assigned in school?  Maybe that’s why, but anyway, now i have the chance and finding it in audiobook form was a Treasure.

This audiobook version has Alfred Molina doing the reading, and I say any guy that pulls off Doc Ock in the “Spider-Man” movie, has to be able to read a book.  Well, not only yes, but aaarrrgggh, yes.  Molina does a great job creating the complete ambiance of the story by creating different voices for each character.  Molina’s Long John Silver, was captivating.

As for the story itself, it’s almost a coming of age story, but with pirates and treasure.  Young Jim Hawkins, lives with his mom, who runs the Admiral Benbow Inn.  A mysterious man of the sea takes up residence at the Inn and is constantly looking out for a one legged man.  He even pays Jim to keep an eye out.  The one-legged man never shows up at the Inn but other pirates do and eventually Billy Bones, or “the captain” as he is known to Jim, meets his end.  Upon his death Jim and his mother seek to find the captain’s secrets and discover a treasure map.  The local magistrate and squire then set off to find this Treasure Island and put together a crew to sail the seas, bringing along Jim.

While they tried diligently to keep any questionable sailors from joining, it happens the ship’s cook, Long John Silver, a one-legged man, has placed his men among the crew and are geared up to take over the ship when they arrive at the island.

Jim warns the captain and the “honest” men, but to no avail, Silver manages to take over the ship and seeks out the treasure.  Jim soon discovers on the island a maroon who he brings back to the honest members of the crew, who have holed up in  a stockade on the island.  Jim also manages to recapture the ship and land her on the island where only he can find her.

Now to get back to the stockade.  Once Jim arrives at the stockade, he finds Silver and his men.  All the pirates will be hung for mutiny if caught and Jim uses this to get Silver back on the good side and they all eventually battle it out in the search of treasure.

Jim Hawkins seems the hero, after all he single-handedly gets the ship back and “converts” Silver, but Jim is just a young lad, so he has done some growing up fast.  Learning the ways of men and the world.

In a classic adventure of piracy, treasure, the high seas and true humanity, “Treasure Island” definitely keeps you hanging on till the very end.   So with a hearty “aaarrghh” I say, grab this book in either audiobook or whatever format you choose, and give it a good read.

“Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus”
by Mary Shelley
Read by Simon Vance
Produced by Tantor Media, 2008
Approx 8.5 hours

Once again I get to revisit a classic.  I’ve read this book several times but this is the first time I’ve listened on audiobook.  Simon Vance does a first rate job of reading this story.  His vocal characterizations are spot on in every aspect I ever heard in my head while reading the story.  I think I may have found my new favorite audiobook voice.

Each time I read this book I get something new out of it.  That’s what happens when the books are well thought out, and I’m guessing that’s one thing that makes them a classic.  This time around the theme of loneliness seemed to stick out with me.  Victor Frankenstein does not create the “creature” out of loneliness but the struggle from that point for the monster is loneliness.

The story is told through a few viewpoints, first through a series of letters from Captain Walton, who spots the creature on the ice in the north and then rescues Dr. Frankenstein from the same icy waters, to his sister Margaret.  Then through Victor Frankenstein telling the Captain his tale, then through the creature telling his story to his creator, back to Frankenstein and back to Walton as a close.  A very unique storytelling format that not only works but definitely keeps the reader/listener attentive.

The loneliness aspect really comes out when the creature is telling his story to his creator, Victor Frankenstein.  The creature is abandoned by Frankenstein after Frankenstein is disgusted by the final outcome, Frankenstein simply flees, leaving the newborn creature alone and confused.  The creature explores the world through a forest after it escapes and learns he is hideous when people run away from him in terror.  Frankenstein used various body parts to create the creature, I refuse to call him a monster, with the intent to make him larger than humans around eight feet tall.  The skin of the creature is yellowish with some transparency.  So as you can see from the description he would be a bit scary.  But he’s only misunderstood.

Being abhorred by mankind, the creature sets off to be alone.  But along the way he finds shelter in a cubby hole attached to a family dwelling.  Over a long period of time the creature observes the family and learns that humans are actually loving caring beings.  He learns over the time to speak the language and even read.  He then begins to long for the family’s companionship but when trying to meet the blind father the son and daughter walk in and are horrified by his appearance and chase him away.

The creature then runs off to Geneva, home of Frankenstein, and finds a young boy, who is young enough to not be influenced by the mores of the public and can learn to be friends without thinking the creature is something to fear.  The boy as it turns out is afraid but to make matters worse he is the younger brother of Victor Frankenstein.  The creature is agitated by the boy’s fear but becomes angered and vengeful when he realizes this is something he can take away from Frankenstein.

When Frankenstein returns for the funeral of young William, the creature begins stalking him.  Frankenstein is then captured by the creature and the creature then states that he wishes Frankenstein to build another creature as a mate.   With no more loneliness the creature promises to move to where no man lives and live out his life with his bride.  Frankenstein is horrified by the thought of creating another horror and refuses.  The creature then begins to kill all those around Frankenstein making the doctor feel some of the creatures loneliness.  From there the hunt is on for Frankenstein to destroy his creature, which leads to the frozen North Sea and the where the book began with the ship picking up Dr. Frankenstein.

All the creature wants is a friend.

“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”
by Robert Louis Stevenson
read by Scott Brick
Produced by Tantor Media
Approx 3 hours

Like I say, every so often you have to go back and revisit the classics.  This time around I decided to listen to a tale that has been portrayed as a horror story, but in reality it is the exploration of man’s darker side.  I’ve seen the 1931 film starring Frederick March as the lead and while the movie focused on the horror side of things they did a pretty good job of showing the duality of man.  But the idea of drinking a potion to become a monster has been the bulk of what popular culture relates back to the Robert Louis Stevenson tale.

One of the reasons I decided to give this book a listen was two-fold; 1 – because it was an audiobook and I could listen while I worked around the house, showered and commuted to work, after all a good audiobook can make a great soundtrack.  2 – because this book was read by Scott Brick.  I’ve always enjoyed listening to Scott Brick narrate books, he puts emotion into the readings that are subtle yet effective.  This time around, Brick brings to life the many aspects of late nineteenth century London.

The book covers the piecing together of the story of how Mr. Edward Hyde can be so ruthless and yet be the man the Good Dr. Jekyll has bequeathed everything to through his will, and then through written correspondence from Dr. Jekyll is fully realized as he confesses to his exploration of the split personality through chemistry.  Hyde is observed brutally knocking over a child and when confronted offers no apology, instead he buys his way out.

The problem arises when Jekyll discovers his original formula was tainted and after ordering the chemicals for more of his personality splitting concoction, finds they are pure and he cannot repeat the original without first finding what was the impurity in the original.  The original formula allowed him to shift back and forth at will between the two personalities.  The later formulas allow Hyde to take over without ever getting control of his situation.  But Jekyll has a plan and will sacrifice himself to save humanity from his dark side.

Hey this novella is not too long of a read or listen, so do yourself a favor read a classic and enjoy some mystery with a little philosophy thrown in.

“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”
by Lewis Carroll,
read by Michael York
Produced by Blackstone Audio, 2005
Approx 3 hours

Every once in a while you just have to read a classic.  In my adult life, I’ve gone back and read, “Moby Dick,” “Catcher in the Rye,” “A Brave New World,” and a few others and each time I find something new I didn’t catch before or enjoyed something new that I knew was there but didn’t have the life experience to fully appreciate.  This time around I got the opportunity to listen to the audiobook of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”  I had re-read this to my son a few years ago and we had a blast with all the absurdities and adventures.  This time I could have the book read to me, and what a treat it was.

One of the nice things about this version was that it is read by Michael York.  I’ve listened to audiobooks by Michael York before and am considering myself a fan of his voicework.  His British accent is nice for this Yank to hear and he has the vocal range and talent to create some great character studies.  This book is filled with some very interesting and strange creatures/characters and York does a superb job of making each character not only stand out but the voice fits what the character should sound like.  York makes the White Rabbit not only sound in a hurry but through his voicework makes the rabbit come to life.  All the characters come to life with the expertise of Michael York.

“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” has been analyzed through and through over the years but in my humble opinion it’s just one of those books that should be enjoyed.  During the 60s the book got a revisit due to the possible drug use mentioned, even Jefferson Airplane based a song on the book, “White Rabbit.”  Sure there may be some psychedelia to the book, but I feel that’s just due to the book’s absurdities.

One of the best sections I found this time around is Chapter 3 “A Caucus Race and a Long Tale.” The play on words in this section definitely made me chuckle as did the chapter featuring the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle.  In reading the book to my son, we had a version with the original drawings, we got the entertainment from the pictures as I read.  This time around I had no pictures by Michael York made up for that by delivering the descriptions and absurdities with ease.

I’m not sure what classic I’ll be visiting next, but I can tell you, it’ll be hard to capture the fun I just heard in this presentation.

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