Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Satirical Rogue Says That Old Men Have Grey Beards #NoShaveNovember

Well I didn't write a novel, but I can say I reached the end of No Shave November!  Sometimes it's nice to just set yourself a personal motivational reminder that I can actually set my mind to do something for 30 days (or in this case, not do something) and actually follow all the way through with it.  Maybe for next month I'll try taking the stairs every day? :)

Thinking about shaving it down into something Shakespeare style, but I've never managed to make that work in the past and I end up getting rid of it.  Droeshout style has almost no beard, while Chandos when you look close goes all the way up the jaw line, which isn't a great modern look either.  I guess we'll have to see!

Seriously, though, go check out No Shave November and maybe share some links or donate some money. If you already did, thanks!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Your Loss, Beatrice.

"Lord, I could not endure a husband with a
beard on his face: I had rather lie in the woollen. " - Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing
Every year around this time I like to take part in "No Shave November," otherwise known as "Woohoo I don't have to shave for two weeks!" followed by "Oh my god is it December yet this itching is going to drive me crazy!"

Seriously, though, sometimes it's nice to have a cause and try to do something meaningful:
The goal of No-Shave November is to grow awareness by embracing our hair, which many cancer patients lose, and letting it grow wild and free. Donate the money you typically spend on shaving and grooming to educate about cancer prevention, save lives, and aid those fighting the battle.
If I count Facebook and Twitter I've potentially got over ten thousand people that might see this post.  Maybe some of you might find it a cause worth supporting.  I don't really register and create my own page and that sort of thing, because it's not really about me. If you're in a position to donate and would like to do so, that's awesome. If you're not, then maybe you can share this post so more people see it. There's lots of ways to help.

Thanks for your support!  I'll update again later in the month!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Horatio's Big Moment

I may have mentioned that I did not, at all, like Horatio in Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet. It wasn't just the over the top hipster characterization. He just didn't ... do, anything.  He's a nonentity in almost all of the play.  When we see him in the unusual scene one he's little more than a messenger with something very important to say, who is dismissed by Hamlet before he gets to say it.  Later it almost seems like he's heading out of town, having given up Hamlet for dead.

Except for one scene.  Hamlet's back, he's relayed the ridiculous story of how he escaped the pirates, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are No More.  This takes Horatio a second to piece together, or maybe it just takes him a second to work up the guts to say it, but:

So Guildenstern and Rosencrantz go to't.

Why, man, they did make love to this employment;
They are not near my conscience; their defeat
Does by their own insinuation grow:
'Tis dangerous when the baser nature comes
Between the pass and fell incensed points
Of mighty opposites.

Why, what a king is this!
He yells that last line at Hamlet.  I think it's the only time he raises his voice.  Took me by surprise, actually. But I liked the interpretation.  Hamlet is in the middle of justifying how he's left two "friends" to their death and that he doesn't think twice about it, and Horatio has to say, "LISTEN TO YOURSELF! Were you supposed to be king? Is this the kind of king you would have been?"

Bardfilm tells me that this line can be interpreted as meaning Claudius -- agreement with Hamlet, getting back to the original "It was them or me, Claudius is the one that sent me to my potential death" argument.  If that's the case, then at least in this production Horatio would still be just a sniveling toady.  Hamlet's told him that he killed two guys and doesn't care, and Horatio's all, "Yeah, screw them!  Claudius is the real bad guy here, not you! Let's go get a scone and an espresso, I want you to read my Nanowrimo entry..."

(P.S. I feel obliged to point out here, for those that do not have the text handy, that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do NOT typically know that they are taking Hamlet to his murder.  I wonder if Hamlet knew that, if it would have given him pause?)

A New (?) Theory About Hamlet's Ghost

One of the reasons I love Shakespeare is that every time I see a play, I see something that I've never considered before.  Beneficial Cinnabun's version is no different.

Consider the ghost's appearance in the bedchamber scene.  A standard question on high school exams is, "Is the ghost even real at this point, or is Hamlet insane?  How come we could see the ghost in the first two occurrences, but not this one?"

Coming away from Benvolio Concubine's version I'm left with a new idea.  What if the ghost is there because Hamlet is screwing up the plan, and he's here to save him?

It depends heavily on how you play it, but this version of Hamlet (I'm getting tired of thinking up variations for the man's name) is pretty heavy handed with all of the "Look, seriously, I'm not crazy I'm only pretending" clues.  It goes so far as having Hamlet himself dress up to take part in the play-within-a-play and pour the poison in his player father's ear, which is about as big an F-U to Claudius as you could imagine.  If that doesn't say "I know what you did" I don't know what would.

And now here he is lecturing his mother on "almost as bad dear queen as kill a king and marry with his brother" and everything that comes after.  I imagine the ghost hovering underneath the stones (a joke the "old mole" played for laughs earlier) thinking, "What is this kid doing???"

So he makes an appearance, where he basically yells at his son that he's doing everything wrong.  He's invisible to Gertrude, so it's going to look like Hamlet is suddenly talking to no one.  He comes as an angry ghost, so from Gertrude's perspective her son goes from yelling at her to apologizing to the wall.  Presto, now she's back in the "My son is crazy" camp.

One of the big questions is whether Gertrude knows what Claudius did, and/or was in on it.  But either way, she's still a mother dealing with her son, and as far as I know is very rarely shown to be more on Claudius' side than Hamlet's.  So, she's already sympathetic to his cause.  Maybe she doesn't know what Claudius did.  Maybe Hamlet is actually convincing her that maybe there's something to it.   Maybe, if the ghost doesn't appear, maybe she goes to Claudius and says, "Hamlet was in here muttering all kinds of weirdness about me murdering his father."  But that doesn't happen.  The ghosts appearance makes her firmly believe that her son is nuts and needs to be protected from a very irate Claudius.  She says nothing, other than the obvious murder thing.

I suppose most of the scene continues after the ghost disappears, so Hamlet's got plenty of time to talk sense to his mother.  Or, you could shuffle things around a bit so that all the logic comes first, then the ghost, and then she's left completely confused as to whether he's nuts or not.  Lots of potential room for interpretation I hadn't really considered before.

Review : Benebatch Cumberdink's Hamlet

Sorry, I should probably spell the man's name correctly if for nothing else than the SEO I might get, but it just amuses me to no end to spell it differently every time.

Last night, after months of waiting, I got to see the encore performance of B.C.'s Hamlet, presented by NTLive.

While I have some major issues with many of the directorial choices and was often making my Picard "WTF have they done to my Shakespeare?" face, I think that old Ben himself might individually be the best Hamlet I've ever seen.

Should we cover the good first, or the bad?  I'll start with the opening, and you tell me.  We open with Hamlet, sitting in what I presume to be his room (although it felt like it could have been an attic), listening to old records and looking through photo albums, presumably of his father.  I *loved* this.  When I try to relate the play to people I always start by saying, "Hamlet is about a man whose father died." Here we actually get a glimpse of him in mourning, not just in his inky black cloak, but actually going through the motions that you could expect anyone to go through that lost someone dear.  Before the scene is over he will go into a trunk of his father's clothes and don one of his father's blazers - but not before smelling it, once again to remind him of his father.  It's about 30 seconds into this 3+ hour play and you already know exactly what's going on in Hamlet's head.  Ever wonder what his relationship was like with his father? No questions here.

I figured ok, awesome start, lights out and we start the show, right?

Nope.  Knock knock knock.  "Who's there?" says Hamlet.  Says HAMLET.  SAYS HAMLET.  "Answer me, stand and unfold yourself!"  And I'm in bizarro world because Horatio enters and we're catapulted briefly to ... scene 5, was it?  Horatio's original meeting with Hamlet?  But but but but but but.... where's the ghost?  So confused.

It's a bold move to do stuff like that because you have to follow up with it and have it make sense and flow smoothly.  I don't think that did.  First of all, there's no reason to introduce Horatio there at all.  He doesn't do anything.  Second, we'll later be treated to Marcellus and Bernardo entering with, "My lord I saw him yesternight."  It's like they just cut the context and shuffled it around and didn't even attempt to smooth it over.  Boo.

Couple words on casting?  I hate hate hated Horatio.  If I could think of a way to blend the two words together I would. Horhatio maybe.  Imagine five minutes before showtime, somebody runs up to the director and says, "Bad news, our Horatio's been hit by a bus!"  "No problem," says the director, "Run down to the local Starbucks and grab the barista, he told me this morning that he played Horatio once in college."  Boom, done.  Checkered flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up, a backpack that he never takes off, which gives him this hunched over sort of snivelly, groveling sort of character like he's afraid to look Hamlet in the eye. All of his lines are delivered with a constant shaking of his head.  He's also got some sort of speech impediment or something going on, which becomes more pronounced at the end of the play, where he sounds like he's got something in his teeth.  It became grating after awhile.

I also hate the ghost.  They deliberately cut all the dialog about describing the ghost's warlike appearance - I was waiting for the line about "wore his beaver up" because I like to see how Hamlet plays the "Then saw you not his face?" line.  But that's all gone.  When we eventually see the ghost he's dressed in normal kingly attire, not any sort of armor.  Fine.  But then he starts talking and oh dear god out comes this heavy accent....Irish, I think?  It was so horribly distracting I didn't know what to do with myself.  No attempt to make it booming or ghostly or anything.  Or regal for that matter.  He sounded like a cross between somebody's crotchety old grandfather, and the school janitor yelling at kids for running in the hall. I found it just laughably out of place.  Bardfilm liked it and suggests that he was channeling Olivier.  I don't remember Olivier's ghost well enough, so if he was, I missed it entirely.  He sounded entirely like he was chastising his son. Didn't get much of a loveable father/son relationship, as I think about it.  Remember this is a Hamlet who was smelling his father's scent on his old clothes a minute ago.  Now he's getting yelled at.

Those are my two biggest casting complaints.  Claudius I liked - and I could swear I recognize him from other works?  Have to check that out.  Kind of doing that big, puffed out chest thing, like he's "on" all the time and deliberately trying to present himself like a king.  Even in his delivery, which is why I mentioned above how different the ghost's was, because the ghost was supposed to be a king as well.  Having said that, he's pretty one-note the more I think about it.  I did like the paranoia that was coming off of him, though.  Especially after Polonius is killed, all his thoughts turn to "How do I make sure this isn't pinned on me?"  I don't recall that from, say, Patrick Stewart's Claudius.  He was all business and had everything in control up to the end.  This guy seems like he's always walking a tightrope with it all just falling apart.

I agree with Bardfilm that the first half of this production was significantly better than the second. Perhaps that's because we saw all the tricks once and then they didn't work multiple times. They do this cool "everything goes in slow motion" thing during Hamlet's soliloquies, and the first time you see it it's very neat.  But it's not as shocking the next couple of times.  One scene I loved was the "chase" to capture Hamlet after he's killed Polonius.  I don't know that it's always done this way, but this was a full-on "mobilize everyone in the castle, find Hamlet" manhunt, and it was awesome.  The lighting changed, the sound changed, everything.  You really got the feeling that, whether they loved Claudius or not, the whole castle jumped when he said jump.  More importantly, you realize that Hamlet was truly alone and that literally everyone in the castle was against him.  This was brought home (though perhaps accidentally) when he's captured and I noticed that Marcellus and Bernardo are the ones holding guns on him.  Bardfilm wondered if that might not just be a case of doubling "generic soldiers" but I like my interpretation better, like they are soldiers forced to do their job because the king said so, whether they've got personal feelings about it or not.

So, let's talk about Hamlet as a character. I absolutely loved it.  I believe that the key to understanding the entire play is to get inside Hamlet's head.  His father's died, his mother's remarried, he's had the crown stolen from him, his girlfriend won't talk to him and won't tell him why.  I think that there's this gap that modern audiences often fail to leap between "I understand the words and know what they're supposed to mean so I get what Shakespeare wants me to get", and, "I feel something for that dude, I know what he's going through."   You *bought* everything Cumberland Bendybits was putting out there. You really felt like he was going through the anguish.  All of my favorite "minor" scenes hit just the notes I've always wanted to see hit:

* "Mother, you have my father much offended!"  It's not "I'm exchanging word games with you because I'm a smartass," it's the tiniest of escape valves to let off the fury he has for her and his complete inability to understand how she could have done what she did.  This is where it's all going to come out, and that's just the start.  He's not superior at this moment, he's not going to put her in her place, he's a son desperate to understand how his mother could have done what she's done.

* The flute scene.  It's a simple enough scene where he makes R (or is it G?) look like an idiot.  But you feel how truly alone he is in that moment.  These are supposed to be his friends. Sometimes I see R&G interpreted as schoolmates who weren't really that close because Gertrude doesn't really have a feeling for who her son's friends are.  But here they really do look like old friends.  So when he asks "Then what makes you think you can play me so easily?" it's not "Aha, caught you in a trap!" It's a real question.  You were supposed to be my friend, but you too are in the employ of the guy that killed my father.

There are some overacted bits to be sure.  His emoting often comes out as screaming, particularly during Ophelia's funeral.  I still bought it, I just wasn't as sympathetic to it.  Sure, he's mourning Ophelia's death - but he's also the guy that crashed a funeral unexpectedly and is now trying to story top everybody that he's got more right to mourn than everybody else.

The ending is so rushed, it made me so sad.  I could have used another 15 minutes, easily.  It goes so fast you can barely tell when somebody's been wounded.  Horatio's the one to say "The drink is poisoned!" which was a little weird, I broke out my WTF face again, how does he know?  At least Gertrude (who is supposed to deliver the line) is in a better position to realize it.  But here, she dies as soon as she drinks it.  It's all chaos.

Overall I loved it and I want  a DVD so I can watch again with my kids. I want to pick apart all the individual delivery of every line.  Many times they tweaked words here and there, which I suspect will make people insane, but for the most part, I was ok with it.  What frustrates me most about that is not always being able to tell when they've changed a line, and when I've merely forgotten the original line.  I think this was a very approachable production. People laughed in the audience. Often, and not in high brow academic chuckle when you're the only few people who got the joke.  Everybody got the joke. Most of the time it came from Bibbityboo's delivery of key lines.

Go see it if you can.  No question.  It's one to discuss.  Will it become the standard for classroom learning?  Unlikely.  Too much stuff changed.  But will it be a popular choice among larger audiences?  I definitely think so.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Methinks I've Become Predictable

I walk into our regular morning meeting and they're apparently discussing, from what context I can gather, where you'd like to go when you retire.

"Probably just my house," says one.

"Or your porch," says the other.  "Be that You kids get off my lawn guy."

"Probably," the first one laughs.  "But I have a balcony, so, that'd be weird."

I piped in, "You kids get off my balcony. No, seriously, what are you doing here, this is private property! Help, police!"

"That'd be pretty creepy," agrees the first.

"Romeo and Juliet, first draft," I said.  "Romeo get off my balcony!"

"I KNEW YOU WERE GONNA MENTION ROMEO AND JULIET!" the first declares.  "We said balcony and I'm sitting here thinking, Duane's gonna mention Romeo and Juliet, I'm surprised he hasn't brought it up yet."

Curses, they're on to me!

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare et al.

I don't think many of us here hold to the strictly orthodox view that Shakespeare worked alone. I have no problem believing that the plays were a collaborative effort in many cases.  Looks like somebody's about to make this official, by crediting Christoper Marlowe as co-author of the Henry VI plays:
The Elizabethan tragedian’s name will appear next to the Bard’s on the title pages of Henry VI, Parts One, Two and Three when they’re published under the New Oxford Shakespeare by Oxford University Press this month.
Is it me or is this a reallllly slippery slope?  Wasn't collaboration the name of the game back then?  Wouldn't we logically reduce to the conclusion that all of the plays (and not just Shakespeare's) have multiple authors?  Isn't equally likely that Marlowe himself had co-authors on his own work?  Or do we think that this is just an attack on Shakespeare personally?

Also, why is it always Gary Taylor's name that's associated with this stuff?  Some of you may remember that he's also the primary driving force in deciding that Double Falsehood is really Shakespeare's long lost play Cardenio.

Those seem like opposite ends of the spectrum.  Do we want to go out of our way to find works to which we can attach Shakespeare's name, or to add other people's names next to Shakespeare's?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Random Shakespeare Sightings

Sunday night in a house with three kids can be chaos.  The boy is in the tub, the oldest is fretting over a test she has in biology in the morning, and my middle child is curled up in bed with my wife trying to find a show to watch.

"Daddy, come quick! Shakespeare!" they yell.  I'm busy quizzing my daughter on the relationship between apocryphal and deuterocanonical books in the bible, and my son wants to show me a cool bubble experiment he has concocted.  But eventually I break free and make it into the Shakespeare room.

A lady, who I recognize, is talking about Shakespeare.  But oh what is her name? That's going to drive me crazy. I know I know her.

Then it switches. "Oh, well, I know that guy," I say, looking past the scruffly beard and mustache and the very recognizable eyes.  "That's Ralph Fiennes."

"THOR!" my daughter exclaims.

I'm not sure where she got that.  "Really?  No, he wasn't in Thor."  (It just dawned on me writing this that she's confusing him with Tom Hiddleston.)

"VOLDEMORT!" she tries again.

"There you go.  Yes he was Voldemort."

Cut back to other lady.  *snap* "I know who that is, that's Julie Taymor! Duh, obviously."

My wife and daughter look at each other like Daddy's gone cuckoo.

I pull myself away from the screen to deal with other children, but make it back to another guy I recognize.  It's Hugh Bonneville from Downton Abbey, who I actually haven't seen do much Shakespeare.  I mistakenly associate him with the scientist in the Thor movie, but with a little IMDB help I realize I'm confusing him with Stellan Skarsgard.

Turns out the show was "Shakespeare Uncovered", season two episode one. I know of the show but haven't really followed it, so somebody enlighten me - did season two just start, or is that an old re-run we stumbled across?

Thursday, October 06, 2016

My Reputation Proceeds Me (and I Love It)

My company's got about 100 people in it. That doesn't mean I've met or interacted with many of them.  As a pretty solid introvert I'm not one to just start conversations, or introduce myself to people first.    I probably know you and what you do, but chances are unlikely that we're going to sit together at lunch unless I'm there first and you sit down.

Anyway.  Yesterday at work one of the guys from downstairs, who is firmly in this category, is suddenly behind me.  Turns out that a random test email broke one of our filters and he was trying to chase down who'd created it.  Since it had football words in it he came to me / my boss, since we both follow football and are involved in pools and fantasy.  But no, it was not us who had created the test email, so we pointed him at another football fan on our floor who might be his culprit.

As he was leaving I said, "If you ever get one that's a Shakespearean character, that's probably me though."

To which he replied, "Well, yeah, we know that."

(What's funny is that's the second time that's happened.  Even the people who I've never spoken with know me as the Shakespeare guy.)

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Can I Get A Cape? I Think I'd Look Good In A Cape

This morning in the kitchen at work I was talking politics with the CEO, and Shakespeare came up. Why? Because he acknowledged the Shakespeare stickers on the front of my laptop.  He said something about Shakespeare hundreds of years ago already having said some wise things about all politicians.  I said that just recently I'd forwarded around an article comparing Joe Biden's advice to Hillary Clinton, and Shakespeare's.

Then it got interesting.  He told me that one of his (four) daughters is in college, and she's studying Shakespeare, and that *he* (her father, my CEO) was assigned homework.  They're studying Hamlet's girlfriend's father's speech - what's his name?


Right, Polonius. He has that whole soliloquoy about neither a borrower not a lender be or however it goes, and we're supposed to write back with what advice we sent out kids off to college with.  And here I am thinking, "What else can I say? This guy said it pretty good!"

That was about the end of that conversation, but it got me thinking.  Later in the day, when he was back at his desk but his door was open, I knocked, and here's what I said:

In case I haven't made it obvious, I always thought it kind of goes without saying, but if you, or really anybody here, if your kids ever have Shakespeare homework or ever need any kind of help with the subject, you absolutely come and you get me. The idea that there might be kids that don't get it, while I'm around and could help them? That bothers me.  I can't have that. When it comes to homework I might not always have the answer that they need, because usually the teacher isn't asking questions about your gut feeling or your personal interpretation of the play, they want the academic answer that comes straight out of the textbook, and I don't always have that. But in that case what I do have is thousands of followers on social media, many of whom are PhDs and academics who do this stuff full time and know a lot more than I do, and I can ask them and then I can play middle man and I can translate. Then we all learn something.
Shakespeare Man!

Funny how life's changed in the decade I've been doing this.  I used to cringe to open my mouth about Shakespeare because I always just assumed that whoever was interested enough in talking to me about the subject would by default also know more about the subject than me, and I was always worried about saying the wrong thing.  Somewhere along the line I embraced that. I don't have all the answers, and I never will.  When I don't, I ask, and then I learn, and maybe I'll have the answer next time somebody asks me.  Because chances are very good that the people asking me questions don't ever get a chance to ask questions of the Shakespearean professionals that I have access to at this point.

What I do have is a deep seated belief that Shakespeare can be experienced and understood by everybody, and that doing so makes life better, and that when I'm able to help that mission in any way I can, it makes me very happy indeed.

Monday, September 26, 2016

How Far That Little Candle Throws His Beams

I've got a question for you.

I'm going to assume, since you're reading this, that you like Shakespeare.  Maybe you're a theatre geek in general, or maybe like me you've got no particular connection to the theatrical world, you just love Shakespeare's work.  You've probably got a bunch of it memorized, too, if by pure repetition if nothing else.

So here's my question.  How many friends have you got that you talk about Shakespeare with?  Sure, if you're in a theatre group in the first place the answer to this question might be obvious.  But what about your friends, your family, your coworkers? If your life is anything like mine, most folks you encounter have little more than a passing high school knowledge of the man and his work. Most will never bother to learn any more than that, because they're adults now and their time for being told what they have to learn is over.  There's bills to be paid and fantasy football teams to draft.

Why can't we change that?

Why can't we introduce Shakespeare and his work to children from the time that they're born?  Fine, there's plenty of stuff in Shakespeare that's over the head of most college students, let alone toddlers.  Dr. Seuss wrote propaganda cartoons during World War II, too.  But I'll bet we can all quote Cat in the Hat.

How great would the world be if everybody you ran into on a daily basis was as familiar with "I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, where ox-lips and the nodding violet grows" as they are with "One fish two fish, red fish blue fish?"

"To be or not to be" and "Wherefore art thou" have tipped over into cliche, but wouldn't you love to hang out with somebody who not only recognized "Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises," but could complete it with, "sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not?"

Shakespeare is poetry.  Children learn language through rhyme and poetry.

Shakespeare painted pictures with words.  Children learn words through association with images.

There's absolutely no reason why somebody can't take Shakespeare's poetry and Shakespeare's pictures and put them in the hands of new parents to read to their children from day one. You know what happens when that happens?  Those kids like it. Those kids ask for it. Those kids want more.
Most importantly, those kids grow up with Miranda and Ariel and Titania and Oberon in their brains right next to Winnie the Pooh and Piglet and the Wild Things and the Lorax and Alice and the Mad Hatter...

Before that little candle can throw its beams, somebody has to light it, and that is precisely what Erin is trying to do.

I know I've bugged you all about this already, but her Kickstarter deadline draws near, and she hasn't hit the goal yet, so she still needs help.  Back this project.  Get this book into existence. I don't care if you've got kids.  Mine aren't going to read this.  But I backed it. Because I want others to be able to read it. Imagine one day going to the store (if they still have bookstores!) and seeing Shakespeare in the baby book section. Even better imagine buying it and giving something you love as a give to someone you love.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Maybe Angelina Should Try More Shakespeare?

When I heard that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have filed for divorce it wasn't that interesting to me.

Then I heard the rumor that they're divorcing because he's having an affair with Marion "Lady Macbeth" Cotillard, and now we've got something to talk about!

In case you missed it, here's our review of the 2015 Macbeth starring Cotillard and Michael Fassbender.

Although Pitt and Cotillard are apparently working together on a new project that hasn't come out yet, who knows? Maybe he saw her in that and liked the whole Shakespeare vibe.  I can't find any Shakespeare in Pitt's biography, but I do see that Gwynneth Paltrow, who went on to win an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love, claims that after he broke up with her she was almost too distraught to audition for the role (item #10).

Perhaps Brad never knew that Ms. Jolie has some Shakespeare in her past as well?  No, I'm not talking about Cyborg 2 or Hackers, both classics in their own right.  Nor do I mean her epic Cleopatra project that was the star of the Sony email debacle a few years back.

I'm talking about Love is All There Is, a 1990's Romeo and Juliet re-telling set in an Italian restaurant in the Bronx.  Angelina plays our Juliet.  It also happens to be available in full on YouTube.

Please share and enjoy:

(Trivia -- looks like Paul Sorvino is in this, and then again in Romeo+Juliet just a couple of years later.  Apparently as a palate cleanser. :))

Monday, September 19, 2016

Three Projects To Get Excited About

When I read a headline that the Actors Hall of Fame was bringing back Shakespeare classics after 20 years I thought, "What, something like the Criterion collection? DVDs?"  Nope, I'm completely wrong. They're doing multiple ground-breaking things that look crazy exciting!

A MidSummer Night’s Dream will be produced as a state of the art family animated film, with the addition of new songs and dances from established and emerging artists. The film will be released globally in midsummer 2018.​
All my children's lives I've wanted "start of the art family animated film" versions of Shakespeare.  I just hope this one hasn't got gnomes in it.

The Taming of the Shrew will be produced as a 10 hour miniseries for broadcast/streaming, and will also introduce the next generation of characters in the lives of Petruchio and Katherina.
I've seen rumors that at least three major television networks are doing some version of a Shakespeare series, including a Romeo and Juliet sequel. The idea of a mini series is an interesting one, because you can tell a determined story arc without worrying about having to create ongoing material for several seasons.

Romeo and Juliet  the classic story of young love will make history by airing ‘LIVE’ on mobile and social media around the world starring today’s most popular young stars from film, television and music.
Since joining Twitter back in 2008 I've been inundated with every possible combination of live tweeting the plays in "text speak" from various accounts behaving in the persona of the individual characters, and I've never liked it. I'm at least curious what "airing live on social media" means because I am interested in the advancement of the technologies to do that, however.

Should be very interesting to keep an eye on these projects!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

More Strange Than True: Yay! More Midsummer Movies!

Look what I found in my browsing today!  Behold More Strange Than True, coming soon to a cinema near you (assuming you are in the UK):
After beheading her husband, Queen Titiana takes over the mystical woods where lost souls and ghouls wander about confused in this surrealist film inspired by William Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'.
First thought:  "Wait, did they spell Titania wrong or did they do that on purpose?"  It's listed that way as well in the credits so I guess it's Tie-tee-AH-na instead of Tie-TAY-nee-ah.

Second thought: "After beheading her husband..." who the...what the.....huh?

I'm not quite sure what to expect out of this one, but I think Bardfilm is going to have a field day if this summary from the director is any indication:
Writer/Director Ben Rider originally intended to adapt A Midsummer Night's Dream into a musical. He abandoned the idea when he decided his vision to interpret the play as a post-modern homage to German Expressionist cinema, particularly the works of German filmmaker F.W. Murnau, mixed with the stylistic films of Guy Maddin, such as Archangel (1990), would be better suited to the surreal elements of Shakespeare's writing.
What? Who? How?  Is Death going to ride in on a bicycle with his scythe hanging out of a grocery bag like a baguette?

Anybody in the UK recognize any of these names, or their work?

Thursday, September 08, 2016

The World Needs Shakespeare Baby Books

This blog started in 2005, when my first child was just barely three years old.  She's now entering high school and has two younger siblings.  They've grown up with Shakespeare.  It goes without saying that if I could have found age appropriate Shakespeare material for them since birth, I would have been all over it.  True there was that short lived "Baby Einstein" series that had a "Baby Shakespeare" offering, but that was really just random poetry and nothing especially Shakespeare.

My kids are grown now and reading Shakespeare on their own, but I think about all the new and soon to be parents out there that are in the same situation that I was, that maybe want some Shakespeare stuff for baby, and aren't finding it, but don't have a great soapbox like I do :)

So that is the reason I'm very excited about this Kickstarter for Behowl the Moon,  a "board book" based on A Midsummer Night's Dream and aimed at ages 0-3.

It's important to get the word out about a project like this.  It's not the kind of thing that goes straight to viral and makes its goal in half an hour.  At the time of this post they're about 1/3rd of the way there, and I seriously hope that they make it.  I keep saying my kids are too old, but as my pal Bardfilm reminded me, one day I'll need something to read to the grand babies.  Can you just imagine?  Passing our love of Shakespeare down two generations?  I just can't even.

Projects like this seeing the light of day pave the way for other projects to do the same, and the world gets more Shakespeare for all ages, and before you know it there's generations of geeklets growing up with love, rather than fear, of the greatest writer the world has ever known.  Who says you can't change the world? Go big or go home.

I know that money's a funny thing and not all of us have the kind of disposable income we wish we had.  But I also know that I've got well over ten thousand followers, all with friends and family and followers of their own, so take a moment and hit whatever version of the "share" button you prefer and keep spreading the word! Let's push them over their goal and get this thing made!

Behowl the Moon: An Ageless Story from Shakespeare's MSND

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Review : Heuristic Shakespeare with Sir Ian McKellen

This review is all kinds of late, given that the app was released back in April for Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary. But an app this complex takes time to review properly, and.I wanted to do it justice. I really, really wanted to like this app. I just don't, and it makes me sad.

I’ve imagined an app like Heuristic Shakespeare forever. A true multimedia creation that allows you to explore Shakespeare’s work in the way that works for you. Do you want to read, or watch video? Do you want it paraphrased and explained to you, or do you want the original text? How about both? How about actors like Sir Derek Jacobi and Sir Ian McKellen reading the text to you? I think that alone is part of the genius of this app. They're not acting it, this is not a performance. They’re reading it like an audio book - but, this being an iPad, there’s still video. So it’s like the greatest Shakespeare talent of our generation is your own personal tutor, reading alongside you.

The problem that there is just oh so much packed into the app, that the interface is a mess. Half the time I find myself just pressing random buttons, never sure what comes up next. Sometimes I’ve got the text, sometimes I’ve got a character map telling me (with little thumbnail faces) which characters appear in which scenes. Oh, wait, now it's a modern English translation. Hold on, now I’ve got essays and videos *about* the play.

I love that all of this stuff is in there. Imagine it, you’re on a particular scene you’ve always liked. First you have Sir Ian reading it to you. All the hard words are highlighted and footnoted so you an always pause and make sure you understand what’s being said. Do you understand what’s happening in the scene? Flip to the modern translation and get a quick refresher. How has this scene been performed? Click somewhere else and you get a historic list of famous performances, complete with images. If you’re into the academic side (maybe you’re doing your homework), there’s also a mode where you can learn all about character development and themes and all that fun stuff your teacher requires that sucks the life out of just sitting back and enjoying the show :)

I have a perfect example of my frustration. I’ve mentioned several times that our greatest Shakespeareans can read the text along with you, in video, right? I lost that. I cannot find it, and I want it. I can get audio, but my video has disappeared. I don’t know if it’s a bug in the app where it’s legitimately no longer showing me an option that it’s supposed to, or if I’m doing something wrong, or what. And I think my regular readers probably know that I’m not exactly a newbie at this stuff. If I can’t figure it out, something’s wrong.

[UPDATE - I found it!  The videos only appear when the app is in portrait mode.  I was reading in landscape.  Very happy to have found my videos again.  Of course, my iPad is in a keyboard case so it's much more convenient to keep it in landscape but I guess I'll live.]

This app needs to exist. It’s the closest I’ve ever seen to the ideal Shakespeare browser. If I recall it’s on the expensive side for a mobile app — did they want $5.99 for it? But if you told me that’s the “player” price and that I can add content for additional plays at a lower amount, it’s a no brainer.

I just hope that they rethink large parts of the interface. I don’t know how, exactly, but it needs something. This is an app that even has a built in “What level of detail would you like?” feature so that it can be enjoyed by amateurs and scholars alike, so you’d think that a great amount of effort went into the design of the interface. Unfortunately I think it all went into trying to cram in as many trees as possible, and they lost track of the forest.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

I Think I Resent This Article

I've often said "The mission is working" when random friends and coworkers bring me Shakespeare references.  I smile and think, "I've had an impact on this person's life. If they didn't know me, they would never have recognized and paid special attention to that Shakespeare."

So it was when my coworker Bryce tapped on the aquarium-like glass wall of my cubicle this morning, holding up a copy of the Wall Street Journal emblazoned with a huge First Folio image.  I immediately waved him over.

Conspicuous Consumption for Shakespeare Junkies

I don't know how to describe the tone of the article, but I don't like it.  "It's called one of the rarest books in the world," it begins, "but it's not - not by a longshot."  After all, 233 copies exist and "more are always turning up."

If you cringe at the term "bardolatry" you're going to have a conniption over "bibliographic fetishization" that "can't be explained in rational terms." Because, you see, most modern editions of Shakespeare don't even follow the First Folio, because it's so full of printing errors. The theory that all the punctuation and spelling choices are Shakespearean directorial choices is a "dubious" one at best, you see, because Shakespeare died before the FF was published and no original manuscripts exist.

It goes on like that, questioning whether there's any scholarly purpose for the Folger collection to even exist, and making it a point to let the reader know that Charlton Hinman's implausible theory of five compositors is "nothing of cosmic importance" and can only lead to the conclusion, "So what?"

I feel like the entire article is trolling us, and I'm not going to respond. I'm going to forget the author's name (which I have not bothered to include here), and will promptly forget it myself in the morning.  If Shakespeare makes life better, as we believe, I hope the author is happy with his average life. He doesn't understand what he's missing.

No, you know what? I'm not going to end there.  I'm going to remind my readers of the time I got to see the Most Beautiful Book in the World, and something a different co-worker said to me:
"You look so happy!" she said. "Look how happy you look! It must be amazing to be that passionate about something that it can make you that happy."
The author of this article will never understand that.

How To Think Like Shakespeare

Scott Newstok is a name I recognize. He was one of the very first contributors to Shakespeare Geek, dating all the way back to January 2008 when he sent me a copy of his book about Kenneth Burke.  This was at a time when I was still re-blogging links to Wikipedia pages and pretending that I knew anything at all about the subject :)

So when I saw everybody sharing How To Think Like Shakespeare by Scott Newstok I thought, "Hey, I know him!" Sure enough, by the time I got home from work there was an email from Scott waiting for me.

Scott's article, taken from a convocation address he delivered, is what I mean when I say, "Shakespeare makes life better." I've always seen our mission statement as having a great deal in common with "The unexamined life is not worth living." It's not about "How will memorizing passage X, Y and Z get me a job that pays 10% more than the other guy?" That's such small thinking, I've never understood what to do with that. It's about a picture so much bigger than that, and I love pointing to places where people smarter than I have said it better than I can.

Through Shakespeare, Scott reminds the class of 2020 that they have "an enviable chance to undertake a serious, sustained intellectual apprenticeship. You will prove your craft every time you choose to open a book; every time you choose to settle down to write without distraction; every time you choose to listen, to consider, and to contribute to a difficult yet open conversation."

"Do not cheat yourselves," he tells them. I tell that to everyone I meet, whenever the subject comes up. Oh, you never paid attention to Shakespeare in school? So what, what's stopping you now? There comes a time when you are in charge of your own education, and it never ever stops. Why would you ever miss an opportunity to make your life worth living?

Great job, Scott! Always happy to show off your stuff.

Monday, August 29, 2016

We Are The Music Makers, and We Are The Dreamers of Dreams

You've likely heard by now that Gene Wilder has passed away. He was 83.  As has become tradition here on the blog, we like to look back at those icons of stage and screen who made life better with the help of Shakespeare.

Mr. Wilder's most famous role must surely be that of the original, the one and only Willy Wonka.  Here's our good friend @Bardfilm's video take on all the Shakespeare references in this masterpiece from our childhood:

Did you know that Wilder's first performance in front of a paying audience was in a production of Romeo and Juliet when he was 15?  He played Balthasar.  (That's ok, I didn't know that either until I read his wikipedia page :))

But wait! There's more.  Gene Wilder was actually born Jerome Silberman. Where and why did he get Gene Wilder?  "Jerry Silberman as Macbeth didn't have the right ring to it," he thought when he joined the Actor's Studio, choosing Wilder from Thornton Wilder and Gene from Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel. He later said that he couldn't imagine Gene Wilder playing Macbeth either :).  Our loss - I can't find any record of him ever trying.

Though it has nothing to do with Shakespeare, I love the trivia that Gene Wilder basically rewrote the part that made him famous, Willy Wonka, including such specifics as the entrance where his cane sticks in the cobblestones and he does his little somersault entrance. He also entirely redesigned the costume.  So shines a good deed in a weary world...

Those who know a little more about Wilder's personal story know that he never fully got over the death of his wife Gilda Radner from ovarian cancer.  At last they're reunited.

Good night, sweet prince. Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Review : A Midsummer Night's Choice by Choice of Games, LLC

Everybody remembers "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, right?  Always told in the second person, you read a few pages, then it said "If you choose to open the door, turn to page 74. If you choose to jump out the window, turn to page 123."  I loved these things as a kid. Not only would I read through all the different combinations (and really, there weren't that many as no matter what you picked you eventually ended back up in the same spot), I'd hack them backwards by opening to random pages and then trying to figure out what decisions I would have had to make in the story to get to that page.

It  was an easy jump for these stories to make it to the digital medium, and Shakespeare's always a great source.  Back in 2012, Ryan North pulled off an ultra-successful Kickstarter with To Be or Not To Be : That is the Adventure.  Truthfully I think I've got that one kicking around someplace, I'm pretty sure I've never reviewed it and I probably should.

But! This is not about that. This post is about an entire company dedicated to the medium called Choice of Games, and their latest offering, A Midsummer Night's Choice (or, Frolic in the Forest). These folks have actually got a content management system designed for creating these kinds of stories, and their library (user generated as well as their own stuff) is gigantic - I lost count at 50+ titles.

What I find cool, as a programmer, is that these "books" are really small interactive apps that can be read as part of the web site, but also treated like apps for your mobile device.  This is a game changer, because now you can bring things like variables and character attributes into it, and make all of the choices that much more complex.  In other words, whether or not the king has you executed for speaking your mind in chapter 7 is going to be directly related to whether the king is 90% angry with you, or only 10%, based on your previous choices in the story.  (That example is totally made up.) In the iPad version (the one that I played), you see all the key status bars while you're reading the story, and several times I'd make a decision, watch one of them go in the wrong direction, then silently curse that I'd made the wrong move.  What's also cool is that there doesn't appear to be a back button, so no cheating - you play the hand you're dealt.

The story itself, an original concept by professor Kreg Segall, consists of over 190,000 words that tell a mashed-up novelization of a number of Shakespeare stories.  To quote from the site:
When your father, the Duke, tries to force you to marry, you'll leave civilization behind as you flee in disguise, cross-dressed, into the enchanted forest. Mistaken identities, inexplicable bears, and tiny but fearsome fairies await! (Seriously, they wear little walnut shells for helmets, and ride armored baby bunnies into battle.)

Will you fall into the mysterious Faerie Queene's clutches? Will you (or your identical doppelganger) find true love? Or will your father's spies find you first?
I haven't finished it yet - the thing is *huge* - but I have to admit, I'm enjoying it far more than I thought I would. It doesn't play like an old fashioned text adventure game that's light on story and description and really just wants to walk you through the action. It also doesn't feel like one of those old fashioned ones I read as a kid that comes across like a 50 piece jigsaw puzzle, where you may think that your 10 choices result in 1000 different paths through the story, but really they all converge (typically in an awkward an unbelievable manner) down to a dozen endings.   As I work my way through this one I honestly can't tell how I'm affecting the story because it just continues to flow smoothly as if my decision was the one the author had in mind all along.

One of the absolute best things, to me, is that for the most part the decisions are not of the "turn left or right" variety, but get at more of the character psychology, instead asking questions like, "You realize that your friend is looking at you like he wants to be more than friends, how do you feel about that?" and then you'll have choices like, "I'd be open to exploring that relationship," or "Absolutely not." If this engine is complex enough to factor in evolving character relationships and still work through the plot in a believable manner, I'll be quite impressed.

As I mentioned, the various status bars are a neat touch - but I'm not fully sure what to do with all of them.  I have a charisma score of 23%, ok, now what? Is that good or bad? How is that changing the story?  Which of my decisions is changing that?  One UI feature I'd like to see is that when something you do changes a status bar, it should flash to let you know that.  Since I couldn't figure out how my choices were changing those, I basically started to ignore them.

However, some of them detail your relationship with the other characters, and those are interesting and easy to follow.  The story starts and your father is angry with you.  Depending on your decisions you can make it better or worse.  I made it worse :).

I'm very impressed, a bit surprised that I hadn't heard of these folks before, and hopeful that they're doing well for themselves.  Wired magazine isn't writing up efforts like these that just continue to plug along at their craft, churning out a good quality product on a regular basis.  It's hard to even describe it well enough to market it. Is it a book, or an app? Is it a game?  Educational? Sure, it's all of those things.

There's a few UI things that I'd change.  As noted, I think the status bars should flash or something. I think there should be a back button so I can return to previous parts of the story to see how my decision would change things (although, full disclaimer, I know that I'd use this to reverse engineer how all my options stack up against the changing status bars and then optimize my path :)).  Although the text of the story is put on the right half of a landscape-mode iPad, it still uses vertical scroll, which meant that sometimes (often) I'd have to scroll just a tiny bit to get to the Next button.  That was a little annoying and disrupted the "page flipping" flow.  In fact, knowing that iPad offers a "page flip" layout, I'm wondering if that wouldn't be better than the vertical scrolling.

How's the story? It's compelling enough.  It's got plenty of Shakespeare elements, and is self-referential enough to have fun with it. It's only a matter of time before you're cross dressing and lost in the forest, for example.

What I wasn't thrilled with was how much it tries to force a love story.  The site claims that you can play as gay, straight or bi -- which basically means answering questions about what gender you want to play as, what gender your friends are, and how you feel about them.  I made it pretty clear that I was interested in playing it "straight" :), but found myself having to answer questions repeatedly about whether I wanted to do anything to encourage this other guy's advances.  If you want to play the game that way I suppose go ahead (note - I did clarify with the publisher that this is not erotica and there are no choices that will get you sex scenes), I just wasn't interested in that. I was here for the Shakespeare.

I'm going to keep playing through to the end, because I'm genuinely interested to see how much Shakespeare they've thrown into the soup, and how the story works out.

You can try the game for free, so take it for a spin and see what you think!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Bardy Bunch

We join the Bradys and the Partridges in 1974 just after the ABC Network ceased airing their chronicles. No longer under America’s watchful eye, the two families meet on a collision course in a blood-soaked, vengeance-fueled, lust-filled crossover episode of Shakespearean proportions. THE BARDY BUNCH is a mash-up of a dozen Shakespeare plays set in the 1970s that star the two classic TV families. The New York Times deems this show as “irresistible.” The production will make audiences fall in love with the Bradys and Partridges all over again!
This just showed up in my inbox, I'm just not quite sure what to do with it :).  When something calls itself anything "of Shakespearean proportions" I roll my eyes and reach for the "Next" button - but this show is also calling itself "a mash-up of a dozen shakespeare plays set it the 1970s", and that's got my interest.  The problem is that I can't find a single reference to what those plays might be, or how they integrate with the plot?

What do we think?  Anybody in the neighborhood familiar with this group, or going to go check it out?

The Bardy Bunch

UPDATE!  I asked for more detail about the Shakespeare connections and got back, "The show makes comparisons of the characters of the families to famous Shakespeare characters. For instance Marcia Brady is Juliet and Keith Partridge is Romeo."

Which makes me happy, because we all remember how much Marcia wanted to play Juliet!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Challenge : Non-Shakespeare Shakespeare Movies?

At lunch today we were discussing movies.  Which led to Star Trek.  Which led to a discussion of Star Trek VI, which led to a discussion of Shakespeare movie references.  Ok, I may have been driving the discussion in that direction. :)

Here's the question I was asked: What movie, that is not fundamentally a movie about Shakespeare, contains the highest amount of Shakespeare references?

Star Trek VI, of course, would be a good example.  Shakespeare in Love would not.

What do we think?

EDIT : I wasn't very clear by "references," I meant "actual quotes."  Not just plot lines or character names.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Singles Nights At The Folger!

Hey!  You there, in the Washington DC area!  Got any plans?  Starting today, single tickets to the Folger Shakespeare Library performances are now available for sale!  Everybody knows that the best way to see more shows for less money is to scoop up those single tickets. (Take it from me, I'm a Red Sox fan, I know a little something about trying to make tickets affordable.)

Bring a date, fine! Go out for drinks before or dinner after - but at the door, give him his ticket and say, "See you at the end of Act V."

Don't have a date?  Maybe the person sitting next to you doesn't either, if you know what I'm saying.



*(elbow, because Shakespeare is the first documented instance of its use as a verb)*

*say no more*

I Want My Shakespeare TV

The good people over at (the definitive Shakespeare app) just sent out an email announcing ShakespeareTV for AppleTV.

The only problem is, I don't have an AppleTV ;).  We've got Roku boxes in the house, and generally more Android devices than Apple.  But I expect I know exactly what the app is - a "video jukebox" of Shakespeare content.

I actually have a Plex server in my basement, and a good amount of Shakespeare content that I can watch at any time.  So I'm not really sure what this app would give me that I don't already have, expect perhaps the surprise that comes with incoming content, because the only new content that I get right now is whatever I go out and discover for myself.  I've already got more than I will ever watch.

You know what I'd really like, though?  I'd like an actual Shakespeare channel, like something that would show up in the tv guide.  I'd like to see that at 2pm, the 1999 Midsummer Night's Dream with Kevin Kline is coming on.  And after that, the 1934 version.  Just a steady stream of Shakespeare content that I could turn on at random.  Maybe I look ahead and "bookmark" something to save it, DVR style.  (When I first thought of this idea 10 years ago it seemed silly. Why have your computer running constantly, playing video that no one is watching?  I don't think you'd have to do that -- just have a list of movies and a timer, and whenever you flip on that stream, jump to the current video and timer and nobody is the wiser.)

That sounds backwards - isn't the trend all about on demand "binge" watching?  True, but I think there's a weakness there.  "I can watch it any time" means it goes in the pile with everything else that I can watch at any time, and now there's competition over what I want to watch.  Most of the time I don't get the television to myself until maybe 10pm.  So is that the best time to start in on Paul Scofield's King Lear?  I'll fall asleep before Cordelia is banished.  I speak from experience :).

I don't watch anything live anymore if I can help it. A dude jumped out of an airplane without a parachute the other night and I still recorded it (mostly because you know perfectly well that for an hour long special they're just going to talk for the first 45 minutes - fast forward!)  I think that one of the reasons is just commercials. If you can skip them, why wouldn't you?  So if I had a steady stream of video without commercials, that would be very tempting indeed.

I'd also like to see something that mixes in interviews and documentary bits and such.  Even the most hardcore fans can't forever sit through nothing but 3 hour tragedies.  There's value in short form content.  Hey, now that I think about it, I wonder if somebody could pull off a multi-episodic tv version of a play, maybe doing a single scene per episode?

What would you like to see in a Shakespeare TV channel?

Friday, July 29, 2016

Horrifical Comical Tragical Pastoral?

Let's be honest, there's some problems with some of the comedies when you judge them by today's standards. Taming of the Shrew isn't exactly a feminist masterpiece whether Katharina winks at the end or not.  And there will never be a production of Merchant of Venice that doesn't come with a protest.

But is horrifying the right word to use?

I'll give the author points for an interesting angle.  But you can probably guess all 7 plays that make his list, and why.  There's two "bed tricks", a shrew, a Shylock, and ... hmmm .... I suppose it all depends on your definition of horrifying? Apparently the two gentlemen are anything but, and don't get me started on the less than noble kinsmen.

The most interesting element on the list is Much Ado About Nothing. I know, can you believe it?  Turns out the horrifying bit isn't Claudio calling Hero a whore -- it's Hero's father siding with Claudio and telling his daughter that he'd rather she just died and saved the all the dishonor.

I suppose he's got a point with that one.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Finally I Can See The Globe On Screen

There's been a trend of late to film live stage performance for distribution to a wider audience, and I'm all for it.  I just wish I could get to see more of them!  Too often (I'm looking at you, Benedict Cumberbatch) the performane is a special event, one night only, and you have to be in the lucky position to be near one of the limited theatres in the very limited release.

But good news for me!  The Globe on Screen series - featuring Measure for Measure, The Merchant of Venice and Richard II - is scheduled to come to my neighborhood this fall.  I actually park in the movie theatre parking lot every day when I go to work (and no, I don't work at a movie theatre - we just happen to have reserve space in the garage).  So it looks like going to see all of these productions - none of which are on my "seen it" list - is going to be a easy as taking a quick detour of about 50 yards instead of walking to my car that night.  Awesome!

Alas, Poor Deadpool

I loved the Deadpool movie.

I hated Star Wars : Shakespeare by Ian Doescher.

So how then should I feel about the upcoming special Deadpool Shakespeare issue this fall, written by Mr. Doescher?

I'm cautiously optimistic.  Well, that's not the right word, that implies that I'm leaning toward "it'll be good."  I don't think there's any reason to put any real effort into it. I think there's a pattern here where you take a pop culture phenomenon like Star Wars or Deadpool, and you make it do vaguely Shakespearean things like putting the main character in a ruff, or maybe some puffy sleeves or pantaloons, maybe have him talk to a skull. Then force all the dialogue painfully into iambic pentameter.  You ever try to read iambic pentameter for any length of time where it's clear the author is doing it just to prove that he can?  It's like someone telling you that they're awesome at haiku, that they've written hundreds of them,

but when you begin
you see that they're just
counting syllables.

There's much more to it
than just the simplistic math
of five seven five.

I also fear that they're going to take a cue from Kill Shakespeare, another project that I very much did not love.  Saying that something has Shakespeare content needs to be more than just naming your characters the same.

Yeah, optimistic clearly isn't the word.  Is there a single word for "wishful thinking"?  I'm that.  I wish that it's going to be something I like.

Shakespeare or Pokemon?

Can you pick the Pokemon names out of this list of Shakespeare characters?

I thought this quiz would be a lot easier than it was. I assumed the difference between Shakespeare names and Pokemon monsters would be obvious enough.  I was wrong - I got 4/10.  Then I looked at the comments on the quiz itself and people are all, "10/10, big deal." But I realized that it's because they're memorizing the Pokemon characters, just like we'd do for the Shakespeare characters. Admittedly I've got little knowledge of the lesser plays like Pericles and Cymbeline, which is where many of the questions come from, just so you know.

I thought it would be easier to just invent my own, so I mashed up both lists :)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Review: Commonwealth Shakespeare Presents Love's Labour's Lost on Boston Common 2016

I've lost count of how many times I've been to see free Shakespeare under the stars courtesy Commonwealth Shakespeare. I've been telling people 13 years, I'm pretty sure that's right.
This year we've got Love's Labour's Lost, which is one of those "Really?" kind of choices because no one other than existing Shakespeare geeks is going to know anything about it.  But I suppose by that logic they'd just rotate through Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet every year, so they've got to dip into the other works regularly.  (This company has also recently done Two Gentlemen of Verona and All's Well That Ends Well, so they're not afraid to explore the canon.  Both of which I saw, by the way.) At least I can add this one to my list, having never seen a production.  Technically I saw half of one once, but that's a story for another day (actually it's a story from years ago that I no doubt posted when it happened).
Anyway, here's how I've tried to explain LLL to people when they inevitably say, "ooo, I've never heard of that one" ...
The play opens with the king and three of his followers deciding to swear off women for the next three years. They're going to do nothing but study, no women in sight.  So, of course, four attractive single ladies immediately show up on the scene and you can imagine that antics that follow. Each of the guys falls in love with one of the girls and goes about trying to woo her, without letting his fellows know that he is breaking the oath that they all took.  Love notes are written and secretly passed, the messenger gives the wrong note to the wrong girl, and silliness follows. It all gets straightened out at we end with the promise of a wedding, as all the comedies do. 
It's not one of Shakespeare's greatest, which is probably obvious given that nobody's heard of it. If it's famous for anything it is for the complicated word games all throughout it where Shakespeare was showing off exactly what he could do, including an appearance by the word "honorificabilitudinitatibus."  So it can be hard to follow, and productions will rely on over the top physical comedy to keep the audience interested and laughing. 
Kenneth Branagh made a movie version, but it didn't do so well.  I couldn't tell you whether that's because it wasn't a good version, or it just reinforces the fact that nobody recognizes this play.  I didn't see it.
A coworker saw the play before I did. I asked him, "And were you able to follow it?"
"Mostly," he said, "But my wife and I weren't paying all that much attention, we were just having a picnic with our wine and dinner and enjoying the evening."
Another coworker didn't even realize that's how it works.  She thought this was a closed, ticketed event.  "Oh no," I tell her, "This is Boston Common. People will be walking around right through the crowd.  People on their bikes, walking dogs ... people will just stop and take in the show for a little while."
I asked for more details about the show from the coworker who'd seen it.  "I was surprised by just how ... bawdy?  it was.  *Lot* of penis jokes in this one.  Is Shakespeare always like that?"
I didn't recall this one being especially over the top, so I said, "He can be.  But it's also the kind of thing the director will play up to get a laugh out of the audience."
"Even my wife said, 'I thought this was family friendly, there are kids here!'"
I later learn that one of my other coworkers was in acting classes with Remo Airaldi, one of the clowns in the group who will be playing Don Adriano de Armada.  That should be interesting!
So, that's what I had to work with going in to the show. My wife and I decided to skip the picnic this year and just get dinner beforehand, so we grabbed some lawn chairs and found a nice spot house right, under a shady tree, and hunted Pokemon while waiting for the show to begin.

I thought the scenery was excellent this year.  Most years they go with some sort of "decorated scaffold" sort of thing where it's obvious that there's a center exit, and some sort of upper level.  I don't even know what they were trying to go for here - is it a castle? a forest? A wall?  All the above?  It looks a bit like the Emerald City.  But I like it!

The play opens with a dumb show that gets the point across quite nicely - three gentlemen sit studying a growing pile of books, while random people dance in and out, constantly swapping the book or adding more.  Every time a pretty girl goes by, the men are distracted from their studies. Pretty soon the random people are wandering in with food and pillows and it's a blur - we're studying too much and not eating or sleeping enough, which is pretty spot on.
It's obvious that Biron (or Berowne, if you prefer) is going to get all the stage time, while Dumain an Longaville are basically just sycophantic yes men who literally trip over themselves to do whatever the king wants.  That's not their fault, though - that's all Shakespeare gave them to work with. But Biron carries the opening scenes nicely.  He makes a good lead.
Enter the princesses, and I have a question. I don't usually get into racial issues and color blind casting, but it bothered me, so why not bring it up?  It just so happens that the actor playing Biron is black.  Fine. But when the four ladies enter, wouldn't you know it, one of them is black as well and of course she's Rosaline, who is matched with Biron, and I'm left thinking, "Really??" I thought these days we're beyond that simplistic "gotta match the black guy up with a black girl" logic?  I want to give them the benefit of the doubt here, though. After thinking more about it, each of the princesses is a physical match to the gentleman each is paired with, which is certainly not a coincidence.  So to have both Rosaline and Biron be African American makes sense. I just wonder if I'm the only one in the audience that found it strangely racist, and whether that was the reaction the director thought he was going to get. He's literally saying "judge these books by their covers and match the girls up with what guys you think are appropriate, based entirely on their physical appearance."
It gets weird later during the masquerade where, if you don't know, the ladies all pretend to be each other to play a prank on the young men. So now we've got the one black actress pretending to be one of the others, and now we're supposed to do the color blind thing and ignore that.  Maybe it's making a mountain out of a mole hill, but I call it like I see it, and it was distracting, what can I say.

I wanted to laugh myself silly at Don Adriano. Sometimes I did, but not much. I wish I could say otherwise.  Everything was delivered in a heavy lisp where you could see the spittle spraying in the lights.  He reminded me of Hank Asaria's character in The Birdcage, if you remember that one.  At some points I thought his servant Moth was more interesting - but maybe more exciting is the better word. Don Adriano just lolled around the stage moaning, while Moth was always bouncing around the edges, ready to run off and do something exciting.

A quick word about the bawdiness? I get what my coworker meant.  I didn't think it was bad - I've seen worse.  There's a particular dialogue in The Comedy of Errors that has more sex jokes than I think this whole play has. But there were a couple of instances where, unless I'm drastically misreading the move, a male character has a moment to describe the woman he loves, and halfway through his speech he grabs a pillow or book to hold in front of his crotch, like a middle school student called up to complete a math problem on the whiteboard in front of the class right after the pretty girl that sits next to him dropped her pencil.  If you get my drift. When I saw that move twice I was rolling my eyes.  Shakespeare gave you so little to work with? 
Anyway, back to the good stuff. I thought all the character casting was excellent (racial worries aside).  Rosaline was excellent.  I wanted to make some Beatrice/Benedick references, but this Rosaline would have sent Beatrice home whimpering. She brought some serious attitude and it did work.   The Princess was equally good, verbally sparring with Ferdinand.  Even Boyet was spot on.

All in all I just didn't love it, compared to many of the other shows I've seen here.  I think the material has a lot to do with that. The only real laughs came from the physical setup -- Biron's reveal when he discovers Ferdinand, Longaville and Dumain have all broken the oath is perhaps the funniest moment in the entire play.  I laughed a little at Holofernes - a little.  Which is a shame, because Fred Sullivan, Jr has always been the comic star of Commonwealth Shakespeare and having seen his Jaques, Malvolio and Nick Bottom, I hate to see his delivery reduced to just yelling and repeating himself.  Oh, and occasionally whacking people with a ruler.  Funny gimmick, got old fast. I didn't even really laugh at the Nine Worthies.  I spent too much time thinking, "Well, this is like a light version of Midsummer." And then *bam* right in the middle the scene just stops, we learn that the princess' father has died, and it switches over to a funeral as all the characters don black robes and the whole mood just goes right out the window.  I realize that this is how Shakespeare wrote it, but I don't get the point of sending the audience home depressed.  There's one funny line to wrap up, where Biron says something about waiting a year and how "that's too long for a play".  People laughed at that.  But that was it, time to go home.
Going into an evening like this, and coming out of it,  I can say the same thing:  Shakespeare makes life better.  This evening is one of the highlights of my year, and it doesn't matter whether they performed LLL or Merry Wives of Windsor or Two Noble Kinsmen.  The fact they perform it is what matters.  Every year they give it their all and I appreciate the hell out of it.  It's free for heaven's sake.  Do like my coworker did, go have a picnic and drink some wine with your significant other, and if you want to laugh at the dirty jokes, go for it, that's what they're there for. Shakespeare as backdrop makes for a lovely evening.