Will #7 : A Midsummer Night’s Deux Ex Machina!

SPOILERS ABOUND!  IF YOU’RE NOT CAUGHT UP, DO NOT READ!

Hurray! Less sex and violence!

You don’t hear that very often. But we finally get an episode that doesn’t have gratuitous people running around naked, and instead focuses on the Shakespeare. There’s a little violence, sure, but nothing like what we’ve seen before.

Last week ended with Presto setting the theatre on fire after his sister died.  At first this just made me hate him even more, because I don’t care how angry he is, why is he taking it out on them? What did they do?  But this week we actually get some closure on that, as he confides in Shakespeare that he was intending to just stay there and kill himself, but couldn’t go through with it.

The plot, admittedly, is a little thin.  The theatre was already in financial trouble, and now that it’s half burned to the ground, Burbage sees no choice to but to sell.  Shakespeare, meanwhile, has a plan. He goes straight to Emilia Bassano, our Dark Lady.

I like this character. Not only is she smart enough to see through Burbage a few weeks ago and say, “I want to talk to whoever actually wrote this sonnet,” but two seconds after meeting Alice Burbage she says, “Oh, that’s who you wrote that sonnet for.” She’s very smart. But she doesn’t come across as an emasculating presence like so often happens in these situations, where the men end up like clowns who can’t figure out the solution to a problem and need the woman to come to the rescue.  In fact she informs him that she doesn’t have any money of her own to help him, so he can forget that idea.

However, while she doesn’t have any money of her own, her friends do.  We meet a new character (whose name I literally cannot remember and who is not listed in the IMDB page) who requests a special performance so he can win the hand of his lady.  The play?  A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

<Yay!>

Against the backdrop of the most recognizable play they’ve done this far, the characters all fall into place.  Shakespeare wanders around trying to think of great things to say about love. Emilia feeds him ideas, without just writing it for him.  Young Burbage complains that he has to play a fairy and has to have his ego stroked by Moll, who is madly in love with him but he doesn’t see it. Kemp gets to act his ass off as Bottom.  See what I did there? 🙂

The rest resolves as expected, a little too easily – cut to Burbage about to hand over the keys to his competitor, only to have Shakespeare and the gang burst onto the scene, tossing a bag of coins up on the stage to complete the transaction.  Because this is movie economics, that one transaction generated the exact amount of money that Burbage needed.  Nobody ever seems to ask for more, you know, for cushion.  They still have expenses the next day too, you know.

Should we check in with Marlowe? I need his story to get a little better. He enlists the aid of his dark friends again because he wants to see the devil.  I find this ridiculous. The major plotline of this show is that to be a Catholic is punishable by imprisonment and torture, and there’s a small army raiding houses all over town looking for any kind of evidence.  But Marlowe walks up to a guy and says, “Show me the devil” and the next thing you know they’re having a pagan sacrifice.  Sure, why not?

This, of course, leads to the obligatory “sell my soul” reference which gives him the idea for Dr. Faustus. Ok.  Keep it moving.  Once upon a time this was supposed to be about some sort of competition between Marlowe and Shakespeare for who is the greatest playwright, and Marlowe’s written nothing for all seven episodes of the show.

There’s the usual advancement of story with the other characters as well – Southwell’s printing house is raided, but he takes Alice to a baptism.  Presto tries killing Topcliffe again but Shakespeare saves him, again.  Apparently they’re finally friends now.

I liked a lot about this episode – mostly because it was about Shakespeare and crew and not about random sex and violence. But I hate that it wrapped up so nicely. Bardfilm is the one that called it a Deux Ex Machina, but I think he’s right.  “We need money.”  “Hey, here’s this new guy that’s willing to give us the money we need.”  “Let’s put on a show!” It’s like the plot device of every sitcom in the 1970s.

Everything feels like it’s building toward something, which is good. I guess they’ve got 10 episodes.  I’m wondering how far we get, and what resolves and what’s left open.  Mostly I’m wondering if the series will do well enough to merit a season two.  I even told my wife the other night, “I have to go watch my Shakespeare show.  In all the years you’ve known me when have I been able to say that?  Shakespeare is on tv every week.  That is so many kinds of awesome.” I don’t want it to end.

 

 

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Will #6: Dark Lady! Blackfriars! Sonnet 29!

Ok, now we’re getting somewhere! I’ve often said that I’m in it for the Shakespeare, and tolerating all the other bits.  Tonight, and I realize I’m a day behind, I’m happy.

We open with Shakespeare’s family still in London with him, and it’s not long before Hamnet is lost in the crowd. Just like last week they play “family” well, with the kids pointing at everything in every direction, wanting to buy everything they see, the parents having to slap hands away and say no. I like Shakespeare as family man – although the more they do it, the more plain it looks that he is too young to be father to these children.

There’s soon a riot as the pro-Catholics start handing out literature and the fighting begins.  Enter the Queen’s guard who just start….stabbing people indiscriminately.  There’s literal blood spraying everywhere.  This I guess is the reminder that we’re trying to be Game of Thrones. We get it already. This is a violent time.  Move on.

Shakespeare’s trying to come up with his next play, and nobody likes his idea for the sequel to Henry VI, so Alice convinces him that he should write the prequel. Meanwhile the flippin’ Dark Lady is introduced! Of course “Big Dick” Burbage wants her, and commissions a sonnet from Shakespeare to woo her. For some reason Shakespeare pulls Sonnet 29 out of nowhere and gives it to him, but she immediately sees through it, tells Burbage, “You didn’t write this,” and demands an audience with the real poet.

In other news, James Burbage is trying to get funding for a new theatre so we have plans for the Blackfriars Theatre in the works. That’s kind of nice to keep the chronological pace of the story moving forward, as it’s a minor story arc at best.  In a show that’s so interested in pushing the boundaries of sex and violence, it’s odd to see the devote any time at all to real estate deals. But, looking at the whole episode, we can predict where that story is going and what’s going to happen next.

Speaking of which, I continue to be embarrassed by the sex in this thing.  It’s like softcore, it reminds me of when we first had cable when I was in middle school and we’d come up with reasons to stay up until midnight so we could catch a show on “Skinemax’ that never really showed anything but at the same time didn’t leave much to the imagination.  We even get a walk through of the brothel where there’s a fully naked woman bouncing up and down in the lap of a customer.  Move on already, unless the audience for this show is horny twelve year olds.  We have the internet now, if we want that we know where to get more, more easily.

I wish I knew more about Marlowe’s history, because his story is getting interesting.  Last week he met a new friend, obviously someone very important to him, but I have no idea who it is.  This week we see Marlowe’s portrait! Now I’m hoping a Marlowe historian fills me in and tells me everything I’m seeing is historically accurate.

The “urchin” story (I’ve learned his name is Presto) gets as dark as it’s going to get this week, where we’ve not only confronted the child rape angle, but when the sister tries to rescue him we get to watch her whipped until he comes back. I won’t spoil how it all plays out, but I hope they’re done with it.  We really don’t need it to be that dark. Who do they think they’re appealing to, exactly?

In the WTF scene of the week, Anne comes to visit Shakespeare at the tavern and meet his friends.  This is incredibly awkward – they don’t know anything about her concerns (like the price of fish) and she hasn’t even bothered to see their play yet.  But then Kemp appears and it’s wonderful. He starts flirting with her, composing a poem on the fly that turns into a song. It feels so in character, his personality perfectly matches the action on screen and how he makes himself the center of attention…

…and then it turns into a music video set to James Brown.  I’m not kidding.  I loved it right up to that moment, then it was just laughably stupid.

Overall I liked this episode (even the urchin stuff, dark though it may have been, did move the plot forward). There’s plenty of content, lots of Henry VI action (Anne does eventually go see the play), sonnet 29, Burbage, Kemp, Dark Lady, Marlowe …  if they focused on those stories and less on the violence and torture (I haven’t mentioned Topcliffe at all this week, even though he’s here), I’d be much happier.

 

 

 

 

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Commonwealth Shakespeare 2017 : Romeo and Juliet on Boston Common

I haven’t missed a Commonwealth Shakespeare performance on Boston common since the infamous Hamlet incident in 2005. Every year I wait to see what they’ll play, every year I tell friends and family and coworkers for weeks leading up that I’ll be going.  It’s something of a holiday for me.

This year is Romeo and Juliet. Or, like I told everybody, “The one everybody knows!” I could not say that about Love’s Labours Lost or Two Gentlemen of Verona :). Better, I could at last take the kids. People might think that my kids have grown up with Shakespeare, and they have. But that doesn’t mean that at under ten years old they can sit through an actual 2-3 hour Shakespeare performance in the original text.  They’ve seen movie versions, clips, kids versions, modern versions – but this would be the first time they would sit through a “real” show.

This was a very traditional interpretation, which made it even more perfect.  Period scenery, with a balcony dominating the stage.  Period costumes, with the Montagues in one color and the Capulets in another (and Mercutio in a third).

All in all I liked it, and I’m glad my kids – who also liked it – got to see this one. But I didn’t love it. My oldest, who just finished the play in high school, spent the play explaining things to her sister, and occasionally turning around to me when they chose a particularly interesting interpretation, or altered a more obvious line. My middle, who is fascinated primarily with story, wanted me to tell her the plots of basically all the Shakespeare stories. At one point she apparently realized that Shakespeare collaborated (when I called The Tempest his last solo effort) and she got all bent out of shape over that, declaring that she never knew Shakespeare was a fake, and that she’d have to seriously think about this. My youngest did his best to piece together everything he knew about the story, coupled with what he could skim in the program, with what he was seeing on the stage.  Of course that led to moments like the early scene where Benvolio is explaining to Lord Montague where Romeo has been, and my son explains to me, “That’s Tybalt talking.”  In this particular cast, both Benvolio and Tybalt were two African American gentlemen, and from our seats I’m sure they looked very similar to him.

Stuff I Liked

One particularly fascinating moment came during the “pre-show” of sorts. The troupe put on a stage combat demonstration. No explanation or narration, just an opportunity for the audience to get a sneak preview at the fight scenes.  I watch two guys go at it and tell my kids, “That must be Romeo and Tybalt, because that’s not how Mercutio gets it.”  My attention drifts, because in a few minutes I realize there’s about twenty people all battling and I think, “Oh, cool!  The opening scene!”  When suddenly this tall, athletically built woman, in a dress, leaps into the fray with sword drawn and parts two warring men.  It was actually pretty cool, and looked like something out of a movie fight scene. I had no idea what was going on.  My brain immediately flipped through the script trying to figure out what I’m watching.  “Wait,” I say out loud, “Are they going gender blind for this?  Cool.”  I ask my oldest to look her up in the program, and without looking (because apparently she already had), all I hear her say is the word “princess” because now there’s some other noise, I think the director had come out to talk.  I still don’t get it, and I think that this is the actress’ name.

Nope – that’s Princess Escalus.  They have gone gender flipped for that particular role, and I’m totally ok with it because she was seriously badass. When this Princess said to knock it off, people took her seriously.  (What I did not like is that they put her in a dress but still left her lines calling herself Prince.  Can’t we just pick one?  Either you’ve got a woman playing a man, or else you’ve flipped the gender of the character.  It’s jarring to me when they play it from both angles.)

Love Mercutio.  I tell my kids, “The trick with Mercutio is, the minute you see him, you have to like him.  He’s the cool guy that everybody wants at the party.  He’s the one where you’re invited to hang out and you’re all, Oh, Mercutio’s gonna be there?  Dude, absolutely, let’s go!”  And this Mercutio (who was giving off a strange Key and Peele vibe) crushed it there.  During the Queen Mab speech all of the other masqueraders are hanging on his every word.  But he can just as easily flip and talk one on one with his pal Romeo.  I find myself looking sadly forward to watching him die because I already like him.

Commonwealth Shakespeare 2017 Romeo and JulietRomeo and Juliet are … well, annoying. Overacting every word.  And I’m totally ok with that.  I am of the “Romeo and Juliet are two stupid kids who think the world is ending around them” school, and kids in that situation *are* annoying, even if it’s Shakespeare they’re reciting.

The soundtrack. I don’t know how to explain it, it just worked.  The party scene was hopping.  The fight scenes were ominous.  With my kids at this one I was especially aware of anything happening that would help make it obvious what is happening on stage, and when the music suddenly switches when Tybalt walks in, you know something’s about to go down.

There were also bits of interaction with the audience that were pretty cool, and kept my kids entertained.  Several times the Friar actually motioned to the audience to complete his lines.  Granted this had the effect of really killing the mood because he was enunciating the first part like Inigo Montoya playing rhyming games with Andre the Giant’s Fezzick the giant (“You have a great gift for ….rhyme…”) but hey, it was fun.  I’m not holding this production up to any high standard.

There’s also a funny bit in the beginning where Romeo and Benvolio are arguing about Rosaline, and Romeo’s got his line, “Show me a mistress that is passing fair,” so Benvolio hops down into the audience, picks out a woman to stand and show off for comparison to Rosaline.

It was little stuff, but it worked.  The party scene at the Capulets had the dancers all come through the audience to enter, but then back out into the audience to dance.  There were even these little mini stages set up around the edges that they made their way toward, which I even commented at the time seemed like a lot of effort because they were there for just that scene, and delivered no lines (just regular dancer/partygoers).  Strange amount of extra effort for that little effect.

A word, too, for the overall visual presentation of this production. I thought it was absolutely beautiful. Totally traditional, but that’s fine, there’s a reason why it’s iconic.  There’s a moment when Juliet’s up on the balcony in her nightclothes and the wind is blowing them just ever so slightly, I found it quite near perfect.

Stuff Not So Much

The pacing of many scenes was off.  Fred Sullivan, the most senior actor of the group, plays Lord Capulet as I expected. I go into every show wondering what role Fred will play, because I know he brings everything he’s got.  Saw him as Nick Bottom years ago and never forgot him. But it felt like all of his scenes this year were this sort of zero to sixty ride where one moment he’s laughing and jovial and the next HE’S RANTING AND SCREAMING AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS LIKE HE’S GOING TO HAVE A STROKE and then he’s back to being his jolly old self.  This was true at the Capulet ball where he had to yell at Tybalt, but it was really obvious when Juliet tells him she doesn’t want to marry Paris.  He’s talking to her so softly and quietly that you barely realize he is…taking off his belt.  The next thing you know he’s chasing her around the scene trying to whip her with it, screaming the whole time.  It got so bad that when he finally delivers the “My fingers itch” line, with his hand poised above his head to strike, I’m thinking, “Dude, the belt was way scarier.” Later when she apologizes and he goes back to being the loving father. He basically seems bipolar.  Which I think is an oversimplification of his personality (seems to be a theme here).

Same with the opening scene.  I like the opening scene to build and be mostly comedy, so the audience can get into it and feel the transition between the humor and the violence at any time.  Not here, here it is all loud screamy violence all the time.  We all know the Baz Luhrmann version, right? The scene in the gas station with all the screaming?  I liked that one better. Here it just felt like the actors couldn’t bring any more depth to their roles than, “These guys just want to fight because they hate each other so much.”

Worse, though, was Mercutio’s death.  Above I said I sadly looked forward to it, because I liked the character, and I think that the whole mark of a tragedy is you can know what’s going to happen and still be sad about it because you feel something for the characters.  Here I didn’t get that.  First, it was over way too fast.  They fight, Romeo dives in, Mercutio is struck and then immediatelydelivershisnextthreelinessofastIwasn’tsurewhatwashappening.

I like a good dying Mercutio. I want him struggling for breath, on the ground, uttering his dying words like a curse. This Mercutio was running around the stage during the whole thing.  It wasn’t even obvious that there was any blood on him until the end of the scene, and if you didn’t know what was going on you might have missed it. He even walks out practically under his own power.

I did like (and I realize this should go in the section above but they go together) Romeo’s reaction.  I’ve always thought that his line about “Mercutio’s soul is little ways above our heads, and you, or I, or both must go with him” is underrated.  I like a Romeo that’s a combination of fire-eye’d furious and yet also terrified because he thinks there’s an equal chance that he’s going to die, too.  I got that.  That was cool.

Bonus?  The rest of the scene plays out, and at some point, as the lights go down, Tybalt’s body is borne off.  But not before Benvolio taps one of the Capulets on the shoulder and takes his spot, helping to carry him.  Loved the idea of that.  Easily went past many people – it was dark, they were getting focused on their intermission bathroom break, no words are even spoken.  But it shows that Benvolio, who just replayed the scene as “Romeo didn’t do anything wrong, he came here trying to make peace,” maybe realizes, unlike the parents, that this is an opportunity to bring the families closer, not farther apart.

Conclusion

I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I ended up describing it to a co-worker this way: “It’s way better than any school or community performance you’ll see, but at the same time, it didn’t feel like the professional standard you might expect. I’m glad it was a free show. If I’d paid fifty bucks to go see it, I think I would have come away disappointed. There were things I liked, a lot, but there were many things that I felt could have been done so much better.”

It disappoints me to say that, but I’m just being honest. I’ve seen more than a dozen of their shows, and I’m not going to say each one of them moved me to tears. They’re quite capable of it. I’ll never forget the image of Kent in the storm, calling out for King Lear.  I loved the play so much I wrote two posts about it- part one, part two.

Of course, everything I’ve said above – the traditional interpretation, the oversimplification of the characters, the over acting – all made it the perfect show to take my kids.  So there’s that!  I just hope that next year when it comes around again, whatever show they may choose – because I’m going! – that I bring it up to the kids and see whether they want to come with us again.

 

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Review : A Midsummer’s Nightmare

I lasted less than five minutes into this one and I’m not kidding. It opens with this scary scene straight out of Wicker Man as a girl’s arms and legs are duct taped and a mask is placed over her face. She’s then thrown into an open grave while Courtney Love (pretty sure that was her) takes Polaroids.  Then they throw a beehive in with her.  Told you it was Wicker Man.  Not the bees!

The guy shovelling dirt on her?  Has a donkey’s head.

I’ve already got the remote control in hand but I’m trying to give it a chance. Shortly we’re introduced to the hotel manager Puck, and the handyman Nick Bottoms. Just when I think I might get something resembling Shakespeare, instead I get a play by play of a girl in the bathroom, which ends with a closeup shot of her phone in the (used) toilet.

At that point I weigh the odds of there being any Shakespeare of note in this, decide no way, and give it up.

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Review : WILL, Episode 5

I actually kind of liked this episode, which starts with Shakespeare’s wife and kids showing up for a surprise visit in London.  This of course throws a real monkey wrench in his plans to swive Burbage’s daughter. But he makes it work, taking them for a tour of town that includes meeting all daddy’s friends from work.

I like this bit.  It’s exactly like you’d expect.  The kids are young and excited and wild and in the middle of things one of them says they have to pee.  Poor Anne Hathaway spends most of her time chasing them around, trying to get them to behave, not losing them in the crowd, all while still trying to be a wife to her husband and not just mother to his kids.

Of course she also learns that her husband is cheating on her in about the first ten seconds, so most of the episode is them fighting over what to do.  Of course he says he’ll break it off, but then what?  Will the family stay in London with him, or return to Stratford? Will he give up writing and come back with them to be a glove maker?

I particularly like the kids.  There’s a scene where Hamnet has written a story about dragons, and tells Shakespeare that it’s for him to use in his work. He reminds me greatly of my son.  They’re kids. They’re oblivious to the problems of the grownups. When Shakespeare enters a room they all yell “Daddy!” and hurl themselves at him in their excitement. It’s exactly what kids do.

As a juxtaposition in this family episode, our head torture guy – Topcliffe, right? – also has a “take your kids to work day.” His does not end so well. He catches his daughter singing a “Mary, Mary” rhyme and explains to her exactly how horrible Mary is. But the teenage son actually gets to see daddy beat some guy half to death, until he (the son) has to yell for him to stop.  Which of course humiliates dad, and son is off to boarding school.

I still hate the street urchin. I hate everything about the story. On the one side, the woman in charge of the prostitutes has seen him in the dress and tells the sister that she’s going to put him to work because there’s customers that like boys dressed as girls.  Great, so we start with the threat of pedophiles. But then he’s caught by the theatre folk for stealing a dress, and immediately declares, “Shakespeare give it to me!” making it clear that he’ll blackmail Shakespeare for the whole secret Catholic thing.  So now we have to pretend that he’s Shakespeare’s distant cousin, and they give him a job at the theatre -a job he promptly quits because he can’t read.  So we’re left with him cutting himself again.  I so don’t care about any of that, it’s all just awkward and uncomfortable and has nothing to do with Shakespeare.

Marlowe’s got this weird obsession with death going on, that ends with him hiring people to bury him alive so he can experience death.  Huh?  I so don’t get what’s going on with him. There’s an appearance by a character that’s obviously very close to him, but I have no idea who it is.

Is there any actual Shakespeare in this episode? Yes – sonnet 116 is recited throughout, which is an interesting choice if we were otherwise following a reasonably accurate timeline.  But we’re to believe that the “two minds” are actually Shakespeare and Alice Burbage, who, whether they’re sleeping together are not, are going to keep the theatre alive.

 

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Review: Will, Episode 4

SCENE : The “Will” writer’s room.  BILL sit lazily about, staring at the ceiling, drumming fingers, periodically crumbling paper and tossing into a wastebasket.  DAVE sits in a corner, reading.

DAVE: (looking up)  Hey, do you  know what swive means?

BILL:  Swive? Nope. Why?

DAVE: (showing book) Because it says in this Shakespeare glossary that it’s another word for the F-bomb.

BILL:  So?

DAVE: (devious smile appearing) Don’t you get it?  If we didn’t know about it, neither will the censors!  So we can fill this week’s script with stuff like “Shut up and swive me now” and “They can go swive themselves for all I care.”

BILL: That’s genius.

Last week was all about how many naked buttocks they could show, this week is apparently archaic swear words. I can’t make this stuff up.  (For the record, my searches indicate that Shakespeare himself never used the word.)

“But what about the torture?” I hear you asking.  “I’m not here for the language and the nudity, I want to see blood spattering for no reason!”

Well then fear not, I have good news!  There’s actually what I thought a funny scene where our resident psychopath (Topcliffe, is it?) is fishing.  “Ha!” I thought.  “Fishing.  Shakespeare. That’s funny.”  (“Shakespeare” is actually a very popular manufacturing line of fishing poles.)

Hahaha, it’s all fun and games until somebody gets a fish hook embedded in his chest. Topcliffe then picks up the fishing rod (still attached, mind you) and starts walking away.  I think, nay hope, that he’s going to now lead the poor soul away like a leash.  Nope.  Just goes ahead and rips it right out of him.

Grossed out yet? Later we’ll see him actually hung from the ceiling by giant hooks in his back.

Sometimes I wonder why I watch this stuff.  Seriously.

There’s almost no actual Shakespeare in this one.  He’s riding on the popularity of Two Gents, but everybody keeps calling it a “tragicomedy” and saying how much they like the dog, and Will wants to be taken seriously.

He’s got some good lines about why he wants to write – to explore why we love and why we fight and what it means to be human. That’s the good stuff, that’s what I want to hear about.  But it’s pretty brief.

Of course we drop a few random lines, Marlowe talks about how it’s not his fault that his life’s not going so great, the fault lies in his astrology. This of course is wide open for “The fault is not in our stars but in ourselves,” or maybe ” Additionally we meet Sir Walter Raleigh, who has been to America, and describes it as “Brave new world with such stuff in it.”  You get the idea.

 

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Will #3 : Oh, Sylvia!

(I’m going to try reviewing every episode of Will on TNT as they come out. If something doesn’t seem right this week, it’s because last week they actually ran 2 episodes.  So this is second week, third episode.)

This week’s episode does not bode well (bode Will?)  for fans of the text.  For fans of naked guys, absolutely.

You know the theory that Marlowe is gay?  Not really a theory in this show.  Marlowe is naked for much of the show, and surrounded by lots of other naked dudes.  Not knocking the lifestyle, just saying that’s not what I’m here for, and I think they’re trying way, way too hard.  It’s not even that naked Marlowe wakes up, strategically draped by another naked guy. Or that he leans over the balcony and yells to the other six naked guys, “Time to leave, I have to go to work.” Later there’s a full on naked orgy, with Marlowe in the middle demanding that he be serviced.  Can we get back to the text, please?

The actual interesting plot line opens with Will being way too confident in his abilities and knocking out a random play that sucks.  Everyone tells him, even Burbage’s daughter who is normally on his side.  It takes him a little while to accept that he’s still new at this and needs to learn to improve his craft.  Specifically, he needs to do so, daughter tells him, by stealing from other people.  “Everybody does it, even Marlowe.’

Off they go to the bookseller to find source material, end up stealing a book, getting caught, and then … nothing happens. I found that relatively pointless, other than to set up as a cute little bonding adventure between Will and, I really should go look up her name.  Alice?  For a universe that started out showing us torture, you now have someone catch a thief red handed and play it for comedy.  Make up your mind.

Anyway, now we get to the stuff that’s cribbed right from Shakespeare in Love as this girl acts as Will’s muse, helping him alter his ideas into the lines we know and love.  It is not until I hear them change a character’s name to Sylvia that I can finally relax and think, “Ok, cool, they’re doing Two Gentlemen of Verona. The universe is back where it’s supposed to be.” Hence title of this post, by the way 🙂

Shakespeare in Love
The comparisons are obvious, but the competition isn’t even close.

I hope that we can fast forward a little bit and get to some of the material that typical audiences know. It’s going to be cliche as all heck for we geeks to have to sit through Romeo and Juliet like it’s a new thing, but I think that’s part of the reason why the show is so weak now.  There’s nothing for the regular audience to recognize.  They don’t know their Two Gents from their Two Kinsmen. Once we get to writing Hamlet and Lear and Othello (if we get that far!) then maybe we can settle in to having some episodes center around what the actual Shakespeare actually did, and not all this made up nonsense.

 

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Review : WILL

I wish I had more time to review this, but I barely had time to watch it.  So I’m going to try and hit the highlights, and we can talk about it.

When Shakespeare, Kemp, Burbage and the other “moderately historically accurate” characters are on screen, I am enraptured. I could watch it all day.  I’ve been telling people it reminds me of the recent “Jobs” movie starring Michael Fassbender, which was basically two plus hours of a universe centered on Steve Jobs.  To the degree that this show will be a universe centered on Shakespeare and his circle, you won’t be able to tear me away from the television.

Alas, television producers don’t have nearly enough faith in modern audiences to allow for that.  Instead it’s set against a backdrop of such gratuitous language, sex and violence that I’d be embarrassed to share it with anybody, and almost turned it off fifteen minutes into the show.  Think I’m exaggerating?

  • We watch a man’s intestines pulled out.  Another has what I believe was some sort of hot poker shoved down his throat.  Great, we get it, we live in a world where to go against the crown is to risk torture.  But you could just as easily have said “you risk losing your head” and had the same effect. Unless you want an audience turned on instead of off by that sort of thing. If I wanted that I know what channel Game of Thrones is on.
  • I’m not a prude and I realize that the later the hour, the more sex is allowed in these shows.  But as I told one friend, “I didn’t realize that people were allowed to get that naked for that long.”  Seriously, it made me wonder whether they were going in and digitally erasing bits, because there’s literally nothing for them to strategically hide anything behind.
  • If that’s not awkward enough for you, there’s a side plot involving a prostitute and her little brother who is desperately trying to make enough money to get her out of that life.  Just to hammer the point home, we’re treated to a scene of him hiding under her bed while she services a client. The icing on the cake is when he takes out his knife and starts cutting himself, so we’re quite sure of how emotionally messed up he is.  Tell me again what the show is called and how any of that has anything to do with Shakespeare?

We could get into the details about the storylines and characters, how much they’re playing up the Catholic/Protestant thing, and whether or not we’re supposed to like Marlowe (I don’t).  But that’s my summary for now.  When it’s about Shakespeare, it’s got me.  Just about everything else, I’m disappointed and embarrassed for the people that made it.

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Review : Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

What about Romeo and Juliet?
Shallow, confused, then dead.

Eleanor and Park : Romeo and Juliet?I honestly thought that Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell as a new release, after seeing it on some random “must read this summer” list.  It had some sort of Romeo and Juliet connection, so I thought, “I’m in.  Maybe it’ll be something my kids will like.”  Turns out it’s published in 2013 so I’m late to the party.

The first line of the book is, “He’d stopped trying to bring her back.”

Interesting!  I immediately wondered whether the book was taking a page from Romeo and Juliet and giving us ye olde “star-crossed lovers take their life” right there in the prologue.  So I was hooked for the rest of the story thinking, “When’s it all gonna go down?”  The boy (Park) is still narrating so I guess he doesn’t die, but then again, no one says that we’re starting at the very end.  This could be the middle.  He could be telling us the equivalent of standing in front of her tomb holding his own poison.

Eleanor and Park does have some Romeo and Juliet in it.  On the surface, it’s just the standard “boy and girl decide they like each other to the backdrop of high school English class,” where of course they’re studying Romeo and Juliet. This gives us a chance to learn about the modern teenager’s interpretation of love at first sight:

 

‘I just don’t think it’s a tragedy.’ She rolled her eyes again. She knew Mr Stessman’s game by now. ‘But he’s so obviously making fun of them. Romeo and Juliet are just two rich kids who’ve always gotten every little thing they wanted. And now, they think they want each other.’

‘They’re in love …’ Mr Stessman said, clutching his heart.

‘They don’t even know each other,’ she said.

‘It was love at first sight.’

‘It was “Oh my God, he’s so cute” at first sight. If Shakespeare wanted you to believe they were in love, he wouldn’t tell you in almost the very first scene that Romeo was hung up on Rosaline … It’s Shakespeare making fun of love,’ she said.

The rest of the book, of course, is two teenagers from different worlds (he from the nice happy family, she from the broken home with the abusive step father) who fall head over heels in love and can’t bear to live life without each other.

I still can’t figure out if it’s supposed to be a Romeo and Juliet story or I’m just looking for parallels.  It’s got some weird gender flippy things going on, with the weird girl who likes to dress in boys’ clothes and the longer boy who discovers he really likes how he looks in makeup.  I thought that would be cool to run with.  But the girl’s still got violent family members and her boyfriend couldn’t be caught dead at her house, so I guess she’s still playing the Capulet role. She’s welcome at his house, though, which was the motivation for my earlier post “Dinner At The Montagues.”

Without the Shakespeare? I suppose it’s good, but maybe it’s too far removed from my world to fully appreciate.  I get what it’s like to be young and in love, I’m not that old.  The author does a great job of painting that slow, slow crawl from “Oh god I hate you” to “I hope that girl I hate sits next to me again” to “Maybe today I’ll tell her I liked what she said in English class” to “I should ask her about those song lyrics written on her book cover…” until one day you’re deciding whether or not you’re boyfriend and girlfriend and should you tell anybody? Eleanor and Park ride that entire rollercoaster right before our eyes.

I was expecting a Bridge to Terabithia twist through the whole thing. I thought I knew where it was going.  I was mistaken.  I think I would have liked my ending better.

 

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Review : Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

Loyal readers know I’ve got a soft spot for The Tempest.  I worry that I sound like a broken record saying that. So even though my book review queue is backed up well beyond my ability to ever get through it, I said sure, go ahead and send me Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey.

I wish I could say I liked it, but I just can’t. First of all it’s written in that “I want to sound Elizabethan” manner of speech which ends up being more grating than anything else. The author’s got a particular fondness for the word “mayhap”, to the point where it would sometimes appear multiple times on a single page of dialogue. Does she think that sounds like Shakespeare? I checked – that word does not appear in Shakespeare.

The story itself is interesting, starting with Miranda and Prospero’s attempt to catch Caliban.  So we get to see Caliban being taught language, and learn what he knew about his mother, and how she died, and the role Setebos played in their lives.

It’s clear from the beginning that Prospero is the bad guy in this story. As a savage, Caliban had his freedom to roam the island.  But as soon as Prospero decides to civilize him, he is their servant, locked in his cell and only given limited amounts of freedom as a reward for good behavior. It only gets worse from there.  We also learn that Caliban would rather Ariel remain trapped in his tree. He’s there for a reason as far as Caliban is concerned and bad things will happen if Prospero frees him.  Prospero doesn’t care,

We also learn that Caliban would rather Ariel remain trapped in his tree. He’s there for a reason as far as Caliban is concerned and bad things will happen if Prospero frees him.  Prospero doesn’t care, invoking the name of Setebos to break Sycorax’s charm and create his own to bind Ariel to his service.

None of that would be a deal breaker for me.  I didn’t love the “if I say mayhap enough times I’ll sound like Shakespeare” approach to the dialogue, but it was a reasonable retelling of what happens in the story.  I should mention at this point that my daughter saw the book, recognized the characters, and asked if she could read it – before I was finished with it.  I had a bad feeling about that – this is, after all, spun like a romance novel – but I trust my kids, and told her that if it becomes inappropriate I expect her to tell me and give it back.

Fast forward a few days when she returns from school with a look of horror on her face, hands the book back shaking her head and saying, “I should not be reading that.”  She later tells me, “When you get to page two fifty it’s disgusting.”

I never made it to page two fifty because around page one seventy it becomes a Blue Lagoon story.  Everybody know what I mean by that?  Fourteen-year-old Miranda gets to learn in great detail about her first period.  She has no idea what’s happening. Neither does her friend Caliban. Fine. I’ve actually argued in the past for sympathy for Caliban, because biology is a hell of a thing that you can’t always control, especially when you don’t know what’s happening.

Cut to the scene where Miranda’s taking a bath trying to get the blood off, while Caliban watches (without her knowledge).  Caliban who goes off into the forest and, to put it the way Ariel puts it after catching him, commits the sin of spilling his seed on the ground. Even better, Ariel then blackmails Caliban by threatening to tell Miranda and Prospero about it. So there’s now this ongoing sexualization of Miranda that’s entirely the invention of the author, because there’s none of it in the original.

 

Yeah, I’m out.  I can’t go on to what I know must ultimately be sex scenes between them, and knowing that my daughter read it before me doesn’t help at all.

If nothing I said above bothers you, you might find that you like this one. But I just can’t.  The characters are too special to me, and you can’t do that to them. The Tempest for me is a fairy tale about a long lost princess stranded on an island with her sorcerer father, who meets a prince and falls in love and first sight, who takes her away to live happily ever after.  I know there’s more to it than that, and it can be looked at and interpreted many ways. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Be sure to check out the new Shakespeare Geek Merchandise page, new for 2017 on Amazon! All new designs!

 

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