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Strata of Errors - Yew Erdri Ming

About Strata of Errors

Previous Entry Strata of Errors Sep. 14th, 2015 @ 12:44 pm Next Entry


Why can't I like productions of Shakespeare plays set in periods and places different from what Shakespeare intended? Well, I don't necessarily hate them. But there's no production in a creative setting where I don't think, "This would have been better if they'd listened to Shakespeare." It held true when I saw The Comedy of Errors last night at San Diego's Old Globe, built to resemble the original Globe in London. Not that you'd know when the stage was dressed to look like New Orleans in the 20s.

Everyone else in the audience seemed to eat it up. The broad, Jim Carrey antics by the guy playing the Dromios, the Calista Flockhart style wailing from Megan Dodds, the woman who played Adriana. Actually, I thought she was the best performer in the show. She and Rory O'Malley, who played the Dromios, were the only ones who didn't sound like high school theatre students with that same annoying, vaguely Nathan Lane-ish, tinny even volume delivery that seems to be standard issue now for aspiring Broadway actors. The sets were nice, the costumes were cool despite the fact that everyone was wearing c-crown fedoras which didn't really become popular until the late 1930s. But I guess that's a real nitpick when we live in a day and age where people are locked in debate over what's a trilby and what's a fedora.

I saw the show for the Shakespeare class I'm taking now. One of the actors came to the class to talk to us, the guy who played the person the jeweller is indebted to. I asked him if he's performed in many plays set in the time and place Shakespeare intended. He rolled his eyes and said, yes, he's had to wear the "pumpkin pants" and complained how some of the theatre's sponsors demand plays set according to Shakepeare's desires. These people don't understand, he explained, that Shakespeare, "needs to be relevant." He talked about how the director of the play employed various different forms of cliff notes and something called "No Fear Shakespeare" when putting the production together. It was all rather depressing.

The Duke was portrayed as a gangster, the idea being that the gangs who ran the cities during prohibition would be the real authorities. So to someone I guess it makes sense that a gangster would take time to pity a humble merchant but also still feel bound by law to execute him. I guess it was crucially "relevant" to the audience that Doctor Pinch was an American faith healer instead of a conjurer. Well, it was a cute idea. The worst thing about these productions isn't that the ideas are all bad but just that they're ideas, they're someone else's art shouldering out Shakespeare's. I guess I should just be happy they didn't insert a new subplot or two.

Twitter Sonnet #790

The sandwich dimples grate not the gouda.
No rougher bread approached the cutting board.
A bird could walk and maybe it shoulda.
Says God, no lunch has come for Bruce's ward.
Denounced and pantless rabbits saw carrots.
Windmills disproved machismo finally.
Ask not for whom the piano garrottes.
A stripe recalls the hornet cannily.
Evangelical go-backs fill the cart.
Unspent spectators trickle down the street.
The brightest lights obscure the cold Wal-Mart.
A sixteen hundred foot fell on no beat.
Cool questions blankly melt in bourbon clouds.
Copious grease has pierced the to-go shrouds.
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From:poliphilo
Date:September 15th, 2015 12:47 pm (UTC)
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I'm happy with modern dress- because that's essentially what Shakespeare was doing, but stagings that transfer the plays to carefully recreated historical periods (other than the ones Shakespeare specified) almost always involve a wrenching of the text.

As you say, a Duke is a bit like a mob boss but it's not an exact fit.
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From:setsuled
Date:September 16th, 2015 01:13 am (UTC)
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stagings that transfer the plays to carefully recreated historical periods (other than the ones Shakespeare specified) almost always involve a wrenching of the text.

That's a good way to put it.
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From:marlowe1
Date:September 17th, 2015 06:43 pm (UTC)
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There was a theater company that was doing Shakespeare in the EXACT same way that he did it - complete with a rebuilt Globe Stage (seating available on the sides), men playing women and the costumes of the time. I saw their production of 12th Night when it came to New York and Stephen Fry played Malvolio. It was an interesting experiment, but it is not necessary because Shakespeare has been around for long enough that there are thousands of ways to approach most of his plays.

I get the annoyance with going with the obvious or cute setting. No one wants to see MacBeth as a gangster. But I also think that modern dress is perfectly acceptable when it comes to Shakespeare because Shakespeare is rarely writing about any specific space or time and the tights and pantaloons staging of Shakespeare often takes the viewer out of Shakespeare and gives them the sense of "oh this is all taking place somewhere else with weird alien people". And as pointed out, Julius Caesar was originally staged with Elizabethan costumes and not togas.

I would not want to see a production where teh director relied on Cliff Notes or No Fear Shakespeare either.

But some of the best productions I've seen have been about the era and when the directors can have fun with the songs it's even more entertaining. The production of Cymbeline I saw purposefully made the play look like a backstage, limited the actors to 9 (with only Lily Rabe and Raul Esparza playing one role apiece) and did a Vegas number for the song (with Raul Esparza singing it in a tight bright purple suit). By the end, the actors were changing costume on stage and there was a purposeful pointing out of the ridiculousness of the play (which ends with about 20 explanations of the plot).

That worked better than the movie with the biker gangs, but mostly because of the acting and the director decisions. The live play went for the laughs while the movie decided to go a little more serious. The movie also didn't make much sense since if Cymbeline is the leader of the biker gang and he's fighting with cops, there is no way that he could just get away with going "ok well let's stop fighting and make a truce. Sorry guys, my wife drove me to it" - not in the same way a king can.

But ultimately the main thing was that the movie had a lot of actors engaging in gravitas (Ethan Hawke, etc.) while the play had actors who were more prone to comedy (Lily Rabe, Raul Esparza, Hamish Linklater) and musicals.

I will also note that I liked the movie for Coriolanus even if the Shakespeare movie trope of having the chorus being told from the television news channels is stupid. But again - Ralph Fiennes was awesome. And seting it in war torn Yugoslavia makes sense.

Oh wait - sorry that's long. But I think my point was that Shakespeare has represented freedom for artists and theater companies ever since the Romantics revived him as an f--- you to the neoclassicists. And staging him in the Elizabethan way runs counter to centuries of staging Shakespeare in whatever way the director wanted.
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From:setsuled
Date:September 18th, 2015 04:35 am (UTC)
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I wasn't arguing that Shakespeare plays need to be staged exactly the way they were in Shakespeare's lifetime nor was I arguing that there is not a long tradition of putting his plays in new times and places. I was simply saying I prefer Shakespeare's plays set in the times and places indicated in text when those times and places are indicated.

I like Ian McKellen's famous version of Macbeth from the 70s where everyone's in vaguely World War II era uniform, I like his King Lear set in 19th century Russia. I would have liked both better if they'd been set where the text indicates. The reason is verisimilitude. Yes, I can understand the statement, the commonalities in human behaviour throughout time are being pointed out, even that the particular setting and time are chosen for purely atmospheric reasons I can appreciate. But nothing beats for me having what the characters are saying matching up with what they're actually doing and where they are. When David Tennant pulls a gun in his Hamlet, it would have worked so much better if he'd had a sword, but obviously they couldn't do that because they had to keep to the 1930s theme. Of course, you could break theme a little, but then you have even less of a tether--which may indeed be desirable. And I can appreciate it briefly. But not as much I appreciate being able to get fully wrapped up in a time and place. I don't think the plays lose anything by being in their intended times and places. Anything that's added seems ephemeral at best, pointless at worst, and it's usually the latter.
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