Monday, March 25, 2013

Too much in the sun

No, this is not about gardening or the weather. It's about Shakespeare, and lots of it, I say. On Sunday evening Mighty Reader and I sat through an abbreviated (90 minutes!) “Julius Caesar,” a performance by the Seattle Shakespeare Company’s “traveling company” of six actors who perform in rural schools all over the state. Often these “road show” performances are the first Shakespeare the students have ever seen, and sometimes they are the students’ first exposure to theater in any form. So they are doing important work which deserves our financial support and, because the plays are designed for an audience of kids, the scripts are greatly simplified. The plot of “Julius Caesar” was reduced to “Caesar is a bully, so let’s kill him. Hey, Cassius lied to Brutus about his motivations. Hey, Antony and Octavian are trying to kill Brutus. Hey, everyone’s dead. I’m not sure who won the moral victory.” It all hung together well enough but I missed having Caesar’s first line be simply “Calpurnia,” which I think is important in the original to show character (I am clearly doing nothing here but quibbling, no?), and I missed the Porcia subplot as well, and the rioting in the streets of Rome after the assassination. There was some clever staging, there were a lot of costume changes, and each actor played four different roles (so costumes were very important). It was not brilliant, but it was pretty good and if I wasn’t familiar with the original (“Julius Caesar” was the very first Shakespeare I ever read, way back in 1975 or so, which makes it maybe the one of which I am fondest), I would’ve enjoyed it well enough, especially were I a middle- or high-school student. That sounds too much like faint praise, and I'm sorry about that. It's a clever, fast-paced reduction. The traveling company is also performing “Romeo & Juliet,” and it must be interesting for the six actors, having to learn two different plays and eight different characters. I’m sure all that study keeps them well out of trouble. Before the performance, I was looking at the cover of the program and I have decided that I must do something (possibly in Mona In The Desert) with the idea of a pair of plays called “Romeo & Julius” and “Juliet Caesar.” Yes, that will be fun. Nobody steal that, okay? Unless someone has already used it, in which case I’m going to steal it, okay? Okay.

We also saw “Love’s Labour’s Lost” on Wednesday night, performed mostly in its entirety by the regular troupe of Seattle Shakespeare. I’m almost always happily surprised by the ideas SSC brings to the plays, and setting LLL in the Roaring Twenties was great fun. The costumes were marvelous and the drink cart and all the gilt mirrors were funny. Aloysius the Teddy Bear was maybe too much, a too direct reference to the BBC-TV production of “Brideshead Revisited,” but otherwise it was grand. Act V had the typical Shakespearean mean-spirited bit you find in all his comedies and at that point the play stopped being fun (neither Mighty Reader nor I had read/seen this one before), and well done Mr Shakespeare giving his comedy an indeterminate ending. I hear that a sequel was produced, a play called "Love’s Labour’s Won," but that play has apparently been lost. Next up, to finish out the 2012-13 season, is the “trailer park” version of “The Taming of the Shrew,” which is my most favorite Shakespeare comedy, despite the misogyny and the ending which breaks Kate’s spirit. It’s got that line about Padua, after all. The SSC’s production stars David Quicksall as Petruchio. Quicksall is very good, and very funny, and I like him in every role he acts.

Why am I talking about Shakespeare? I don’t know. It occurred to me last week that Mighty Reader and I see about six Shakespeare plays each year, and I read about the same number, and Shakespeare is just, you know, part of the fabric of life if you’re me. And that’s worth talking about, I think. This summer the “Shakespeare in the Park” folks are putting on “Henry V” and “The Tempest.” I’ve never seen “The Tempest” performed, and I’m very curious because last year I read the play for the first time and, on the page, it’s a mostly lifeless and pointless lump with maybe 100 lines of really stellar dialogue that, alas, don’t seem to redeem the play. But people rave about this one so I want to see what all the fuss is about. The 2013-14 schedule of Seattle Shakespeare Company has just been released, and it looks pretty fine, so I have to remember to renew our subscription right away so we can keep our good seats. Shakespeare all the time, kids. It’s good and good for you.

5 comments:

  1. The Tempest was the play Adam was in when I met him. He was playing Ferdinand and that was interesting. It's a fun little play. I'm interested in a trailer park version of Shrew. Sounds fun!

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  2. Is Ferdinand the guy who's brought under the spell to fall in love with Prospero's daughter? There are all sorts of intriguing possibilities in the play, but I don't see them coming together to actually mean anything. I'll probably read it again before we see it this fall.

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  3. Yeah, that's him. I think any depth in the play comes with Prospero's character.

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  4. On the page, anyway, Prospero is a jerk. Shakespeare had no right to reward him at the end of the play for being a jerk. But that's life, I guess. Poncy rich dilettante gets all the good stuff. Clearly I am missing something about this play.

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  5. Prospero was played by a woman when I very first saw the play. It was a magnificent performance, so perhaps I'm partial to that character because of that. Hmmm ...

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