Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

04 July 2005

Shake-a-speare

I've been working hard (it's relative, I know) on cutting Two Gentlemen. Considering my first rehearsal is in one week to the day, it's about fucking time I finished, but I think I will easily finish tomorrow and then I can send my cuts out to the cast.

I picked up Harold Bloom's Shakespeare: the Invention of the Human to see what Professor Bloom thought of Two Gentlemen. I always review Bloom's opinion when I start to work on a Shakespeare play. He is the United States' foremost authority on Shakespeare and he has very strong opinions about each of the plays (and a well-documented passion for Falstaff and Hamlet.) Anyway, Bloom hates Two Gentlemen. He says it's his least favorite of all of the plays ranking only The Merry Wives of Windsor lower. Understandably, I do not find Bloom's opinion in this case particularly encouraging, but I do feel as though the gauntlet has been thrown down. This play will be quite the challenge.

I should also mention that I went to see a production of The Merchant of Venice this weekend: not a favorite play of mine, but a friend was in it. My friend, Linda Bisesti, is also on the board of the theatre company. The Los Angeles Women's Shakespeare Company has been performing Shakespeare in Los Angeles for eleven years. For all of their shows, women perform every part in the play. They do so pretending to be men in a sort of reversal of the way Shakespeare's plays were originally done (that is, performed by all men). The genderbending seems to be more an affirmation of the power of women than anything to do with interpreting the text in new and interesting ways. At any rate... Merchant is the fifth LAWSC production I have seen and I am less and less impressed each time.

In most of their shows, the acting is somewhat hit and miss. This Merchant combines people with a very wide disparity in talent so that a few scenes sparkle and many many more fall flat. The show was directed by Lisa Wolpe, my dislike of whom increases exponentially with each show I see that she directs.

I am trying not to be too mean.

My friend Linda was very good in the show, and so were a couple of other folks (four at most in a cast of nineteen!) Most of my beefs are with the directing specifically and, more generally, with the entire notion of women-playing-men-playing-Shakespeare. Most egregious among the faults of the show is that it doesn't tell the story of the play. I left not knowing at all what happens in the show. The show moves from topic to topic: from anti-Semitic violence to extremely broad comic farce to love-comedy to melodramatic mooning to legal drama to partisan politics without so much as skipping a beat, leaving me (understandably) a little confused.

And of course, this being a Lisa Wolpe show, there is no hint of sex in it at all: god forbid there should be any of that. She's the Puritan lesbian! Never mind sexual freedom, she turns Shakespeare's writing--where virtually every other word is a sexual pun--into the sexual equivalent of a Joseph McCarthy hearing.

The show has lots of other problems, too. Chiefly, that phony pretend-talking we sometimes see in Shakespeare was rampant in this show: this is something that drives me absolutely crazy in any show. Why are you pretending to have a conversation? I know you're not really talking! There is only so much disbelief I can suspend.
This show asked me to believe that real life was happening onstage (a tough thing for any play, even a realistic one), then it asked me to believe that people spoke Shakespeare in 1942 Italy, then it asked me to believe that people I know are women were really men, and then they want me to believe that they're talking when I know they are not! It's just too much work. You're pretending to trick me and I'm pretending to be tricked. It seems so dumb when I think about it.

If this company is ever to have a production that is successful in my estimation, they will need to drop the pretense... as much of it as is possible. It seems to me that speaking Shakespeare in the year 2005 is pretense enough. Anything fake in addition to that makes the whole exercise just seem silly.