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Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Shakespeare after dark
I'm still paying off student loans from the years I thought it was great idea to spend thousands of dollars studying the works of Shakespeare (thanks for nothing, my inspirational high school teacher that was less like Admiral Adama in Stand and Deliver and more like the Pied Piper o' Lifelong Regret). Now several years removed from the English-lit program at U of O, I can safely say that I prefer Shakespearean productions that pander and patronize the hell out of their audiences.
Give me Patrick Stewart running around a military mental hospital with a machine gun in a recent blood-soaked stage production of Macbeth. Give me exploding gas stations and Claire Danes sluting around Venice Beach. Give me that production of King Lear I saw during a high school field trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in the '90s, the one where the elaborate stage grew and shrunk and the actors ran around the theater waving swords and screaming.
When you're working with beautifully composed but nearly impentrable dialogue and against the short attention spans of anyone living in an era where they can watch fifty fast-cut You Tube clips of skateboarding cats injuring themselves in twenty seconds flat, it just makes sense to cater to the lowest common denominator. Give your audiences sex and blood. Give them violence and gimmicks. Give them special effects and KISS-level arena rock bombast.
I didn't get any of those things when I spent an evening in the Elizabethean Theater in Ashland a few weeks ago. The OSF's current production of Othello is well-acted, crafted and true to the vision of the Bard of Avon. It's also more boring than a symphonic Celine Dion show. People walked out. People fell asleep. People watched other people falling asleep. I'm cheap and the people I was with are also cheap so I was sitting in the very back row of the balcony. I could smell pot smoke drifting down from the rafters where the lighting crew was no doubt struggling to pass the time.
To be honest, sitting through the entire thing felt more like homework than a great way to kill a late summer evening. In the final act, I was sitting there thinking "would you Venetians please hurry up and get pissed off enough to kill one another?" and this is coming from someone who is supposed to like the works of Shakespeare. The only audience members sitting near me who seemed to be enjoying themselves was one middle-aged couple.
They couldn't stop laughing out loud at every little nuance of every one of Billy Shake's 400 year-old gags, making sure that everyone in the place knew that they and they alone were brilliant enough to decipher iambic pentameter while the rest of us were struggling to come up with a reason not to head back to that English pub on Ashland's main drag, the one that serves champagne mixed with Guinness.
I spotted the two of them chugging wine during intermission. I'm pretty sure one of them was my old high school teacher.
Labels: high culture