Review : Still Time, by Jean Hegland

Author Jean Hegland knows how to pitch a Shakespeare geek. She told me that her latest novel was “about a Shakespeare scholar struggling with dementia who is trying to come to terms with his life even as his estranged daughter (an aspiring video game designer named Miranda) is attempting to reconcile with him.

I told her that the Lear/Prospero crossover was going to get me all misty-eyed even thinking about it.  The whole “video game designer” thing is just a bonus for my computer programmer life ūüôā

I’m not going to lie, this is a difficult book to read.  It opens, for heaven’s sake, with a wife explaining to her husband why she has to put him in a nursing home.  It opens with that. There’s not going to be any “happily ever after” here when you start like that.

Look, I’ve always said that Shakespeare means different things to you depending on where you are in life. The entirety of human emotion is, at one point or another, played out upon Shakespeare’s stage.  When we say he wrote the recipe for what it means to be human, he didn’t leave out any chapters.

There will come a time in everyone’s life when they have to experience the closing act.  Maybe it’s for your parents, or your grandparents, or yourself.  It’s never a fun topic to think about because, as I said, we know how it ends and it’s not going to be happy. But there is oh so much Shakespeare to help us through it.

That is exactly what this novel wants to do. It strikes such a personal chord that I counted half a dozen moments (at least!) that come straight out of my life. But you have to take the good with the bad. When he complains of no longer being able to organize his thoughts clearly in his head, how brilliant large scale theories come to him so frequently but yet he can’t seem to pull them together coherently when he attempts to write them down, I know exactly what he means and fear that it will only get worse. When he realizes that he’s forgotten the ending to King Lear it is heartbreaking as I simultaneously imagine what that must be like while I pray that I never learn.

Structurally speaking this is not the kind of book I usually read. One of the reasons that I love Shakespeare is that I believe in dialogue-driven character development.  I could read an entire novel of nothing but people talking to each other, as long as I didn’t lose track of the pronouns.  This is a novel about the thoughts of a man alone in a nursing home, and I admit to skimming at times, waiting for a visitor to show up so people could start speaking out loud.  There is a plot – we do learn about his estranged daughter and what’s going on in her life, all mapped against musings of the theme of forgiveness and second chances in Shakespeare’s late plays.  But when you put one character who speaks in snippets of Shakespeare into a conversation with a character who actively denies them, there had better be some depth in that other character. I didn’t see it.  Maybe that’s yet another personal chord, giving me a glimpse into a future where I don’t understand what is important in my children’s lives, and why what is important to me is not important to them.

That’s perhaps the most compelling thing I can say about this book – not only does everything that happens map back to Shakespeare, it maps back to me.  Chances are, you’re going to feel the same way. Whenever people want to whine about the relevance of Shakespeare today, this is what we try to explain.  Everybody gets older, everybody has regrets, everybody wishes for the chance for reconciliation and forgiveness.  Shakespeare knew that. Jean Hegland knows that.

At the time of this writing I have not finished the book. I am honestly afraid of how it ends.  I know that Winter’s Tale and Tempest manage to pull off a happy ending, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

~ Leave a comment

Review : The Fosters – Romeo and Juliet

I think I would have liked this show 20 or 30 years ago.  When I was closer to high school. This just made me feel old.

Look, every sitcom in history that’s had anything to do with a high school or high school aged students, from Head of the Class to The Brady Bunch, has at one point or another done a Romeo and Juliet episode. But not too many attempt to pull off a rock musical version. ¬†Not only that, they had alumni from High School Musical and Glee helping out (including Corbin Bleu as Mercutio). ¬†So I wanted to have high hopes.

As always, and I think seriously this has become my trademark, my review is this: ¬†“Needs more Shakespeare.”

I don’t know the show, or the characters, or their arcs. So I’m sure that I missed the lion’s share of the significance of what else was going on, who kissed who, who used to be a couple but broke up and are now on stage together. But you know what? This is where I feel old. ¬†Because I didn’t care. ¬†I just wanted to hear the text.

It started out well, singing the prologue to piano accompaniment. The song itself wasn’t that good, but I applaud the effort. ¬†But just about all the other songs had little to no text in them, and instead were focused on this theme of being “unbreakable” and/or “unstoppable”, whatever significance that is supposed to have, and also how “love will light the way.” ¬†There’s a token reference to jesting at scars that never felt a wound, which is a repeated lyric in one of the songs, but out of context it’s just kind of hanging there.

Meanwhile there’s a whole other story arc going on that just reminded me that these people are closer to my kids’ age than my own. ¬†Example? ¬†Ok, picture this. ¬†Set against the backdrop of SHAKESPEARE, here’s some actual dialogue:

“I’m still in love with you!”
“Then why didn’t you answer my note?”
“What note?”
“I left a note in your backpack.”
“I never got it. What did it say?”
“That I’m in love with you too.”

Whoa. ¬†I’ve got to sit down for a minute. For a brief minute there I got a kick out of the parallel of an important letter gone unread, but I couldn’t get over the overly dramatic dialogue over something so childish. ¬†But then I suppose if I’d let my kids watch this show they would have thought it’s the greatest thing in the world.

Oh, well. ¬†I’ll still probably try to download some of the songs again to see if full versions are available, and if they do more justice to the text than I first noticed. ¬†But I’m pretty sure it’s not going to knock off Hamilton anytime soon.


~ Leave a comment

Review : Station 11

Back in college (which would be about 25 years ago, for reference) I worked at the local supermarket as the head cashier. ¬†I was just coming to discover my love of Shakespeare so I was anxious to talk about the subject with whomever might be interested (who am I kidding, I still do that ;)). ¬†One of the cashiers was a retired English teacher, so I asked her if she was a fan of Shakespeare. What she said to me has stuck with me all these years. ¬†She told me, “If human civilization were to be wiped out tomorrow, and only a single book remained to represent what once was, that book should be King Lear.”

Station 11 makes me wonder whether the author was checking out on aisle 4 when we had that conversation, because that’s pretty much the story. We open with a production of King Lear where the lead character drops dead of a heart attack on stage. ¬†(Why is it always Lear when that happens? I could swear I’ve got memory of at least three different Lear-dies-on-stage stories). ¬†Anyway, it also just so happens that this night is the outbreak of the “Georgia flu”, an epidemic that quickly decimates 99% of the world’s population.

Cut quickly to twenty years in the future, when all the gasoline is gone and cars have been turned into hollowed out metal chassis pulled by horses. A caravan of traveling players roams the countryside, going from village to village performing classical music and … you guessed it, Shakespeare. Why, in a world where people are trying to rediscover the basic skills needed to survive, are they still performing Shakespeare? Because the people want to remember the best of what it was to be human.

I love that. ¬†I think I’ve got the quote wrong, as I listened on audiobook and can’t easily find it again, but it captures the essence of what we’ve always talked about here. ¬†Shakespeare makes life better, and it does so by holding a mirror up to our own nature.

How’s the book? ¬†Not bad. ¬†It’s certainly not the first to do the “99% of the population is wiped out” story, notably thinking of Stephen King’s The Stand as a defining example of that genre. ¬†I was a little disappointed in the author’s belief that technology could be wiped out so quickly. ¬†After twenty years, ¬†nobody’s got the electricity up and running again? In the span of less than a life time they’ve forgotten about how computers used to work? I don’t buy it. I much prefer the stories where, when technology is forced to take a step backward, humanity gathers its forces to move it forward again.

But this isn’t a technology story and doesn’t claim to be (go read Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano or the aforementioned The Stand if you want that). This story is about the eternal transformative nature of literature and how it can change the world. There’s a particular book that keeps coming up again and again, before the plague and after, and only once you’ve understood who touched the book and when does the story all fall into place.

As always with stories like this there’s not enough Shakespeare for me, but what can you do. I can tell you that I was looking for the sequel before I’d even finished the first one. ¬†Alas, there’s not a sequel.

~ Leave a comment

Review : Kurzel Macbeth (2015)

How long have we been waiting for this movie?  I first wrote about it (when it was rumored that Natalie Portman would play Lady Macbeth) in April 2013, two and a half years ago. Was it worth the wait?

I think it’s difficult to review movie versions of Shakespeare plays, because there’s the inevitable clash of expectations between what the viewer wants to see, and the story the director wants to tell. When we go see a staged Shakespeare, we pretty much always get the story we expected, with the only real room for interpretation coming in the characters, rather than the action.  Moviemakers seem far more likely to say “Ok, I’m going to take the Shakespeare story up to this point, but then I’m going to do my own thing.”

This version is definitely one of those. While watching there were at least three instances where I made this face:

(* Yes I know precisely the context for that original image, that’s why it’s funny ūüėČ

I don’t really want to give spoilers, but let me put it this way – this Macbeth likes to kill people in front of other people. It’s not just that there are witnesses, either. At one point he makes it a public spectacle.  Yeah.  The film clearly goes right for the “Macbeth is crazy and everybody knows it, but he’s also the king now so what are ya gonna do?” vibe pretty much immediately.  I suppose it’s a way to go, but it was certainly different from what I’m used to seeing.

I’m not a fan of the directorial style, either, which has got a lot of 300 going for it, if you remember that movie.  When a sword hits a body, expect to switch to slow motion so you can watch the blood fly.  Then switch back to fast forward to get the audience nauseous.  I could actually live with the nauseating camera work, especially during the battle scenes, because isn’t chaos kind of the point?  I don’t really go to movies to say, “Oh, cool, look what the director chose to do there.”  It’s like special effects – the best choices are the ones that make you forget you’re watching a movie at all, rather than reminding you of it.

Speaking quickly about special effects – there are none. In this movie about witches and ghosts, there are no sudden apparitions, appearances or disappearances. The witches just kind of wander in, say their thing, then wander out. Which is a way to go,  I suppose, but then we cut to Macbeth running down a hill saying, “DID YOU SEE WHERE THEY WENT? THEY JUST VANISHED!”  Really? You lost them that fast? It was almost a weird throwback to what you might see on stage where the actors really do have to exit the old fashioned way.  Only … have you seen Teller’s Macbeth? I’ve seen witches disappear on stage. It’s pretty cool.

There’s also no ghosts to speak of.  I mean, they’re there, but they’re just played by the exact same actors with no change in physical appearance.  Again, it’s an interesting way to go – I guess it’s supposed to reinforce the idea that, to Macbeth, they’re real? But for a movie that’s ok with all the slow motion / fast forward / blood spattery things, it just felt lazy to me that they didn’t do *something* with the idea. Are we supposed to be seeing the world as Macbeth sees it? Or seeing Macbeth as the world sees him?  I don’t think you can have both at the same time.

Ok, let’s get to some good stuff, because there is some.

There’s children everywhere. You’ve probably read in other reviews that the movie opens (as do many interpretations) with the funeral for the Macbeths’ child. We then switch over to a scene that I thought was something right out of Henry V as Macbeth and his battle-hardened warriors (who have been so made up with injury that they look like orcs out of a Lord of the Rings movie, by the way) come to meet the reinforcements that Duncan has sent them … and they’re all pretty much children. So Macbeth and the others prepare the new soldiers for battle, teaching them how to properly prepare their weapons, painting their faces with war paint, and you and Macbeth know full well that most of these kids are about to die really badly. This bookends nicely at the end of the movie when Macbeth sees the progression of ghosts – the same children that he took into battle at the beginning.

But that’s not all. We see Banquo with Fleance (obviously), but we also see Macduff with his children on several occasions. There’s even one scene where Macbeth wanders through camp and stops to interact with some children playing.  Maybe it was a bit heavy handed, but I liked it.

Now let’s talk about the Macbeths. They’ve been called one of the greatest couples in all of Shakespeare’s works. Just watching the two of them can be fascinating, and we can let all the other weirdness with changing the plot slide.

It took about two sentences for me to think, “Ok, Lady Macbeth is nuts.”  Seriously. I don’t have the original text memorized to the point where I know how much was cut, she goes from zero to sixty in a single scene:

Macbeth:  “Honey, I’m home from battle. The king’s coming to dinner.”
Lady M: “Let’s kill him.”
Macbeth: “WTF?”

I’m being a bit facetious there obviously, but only a bit. The pacing feels like it’s been sped up, and it works.  Everything in the first half moves very quickly, and Lady M is the driving force. They don’t cut Macbeth’s uncertainty, or his wife’s “Are you a man?” speech.

Here’s where it gets really interesting, though. After “it’s done,” Lady M seems satisfied. So when her husband tells her that Banquo has to go, she starts to worry, and keeps trying to tell him that it’s over, it’s done, they got what they wanted. But she realizes quickly that she’s created a monster that she cannot control. She’s completely helpless in the second part of the movie, and can really do no more than beg her husband to leave well enough alone, but he doesn’t listen to her.  The line “What’s done is done” is repeated several times, to emphasize the point. She started it, she wanted it over, but she could not be the one to say when it would be over. So when she loses her mind, we understand why.

Let’s talk a bit about the ending. I’ve always thought the end is one of the best parts. How will the “Lay on, Macduff” line play out? Is Macbeth still trying to win? Has he resigned himself to the inevitable? I’ve often wondered, does he truly believe he’s immortal at this point? If so, that makes his “at least we’ll die with harness on our back” line a little unusual.  Unless you figure that he’s just saying that to motivate his troops.

True to the rest of the movie, the final battle is over the top violent. There’s no old fashioned “run through with a sword” move. It’s all a slice here and a gash there, and you wonder when one of them is just going to fall down from blood loss. That detracts from the scene in my opinion, because as the climax of the movie the director wants to make it last, but the longer it lasts the less realistic it looks.

I won’t spoil how it goes down, but I will say that I was ok with it. It’s different. Didn’t love it, but I get it.

Speaking of which … there’s an entirely separate ending that the director adds to this one, that Shakespeare did not write. So when you think it’s done, there’s still a few more minutes.  Eh. Nice touch, I suppose, but I found it completely unnecessary unless we should expect Macbeth 2 next summer.

I’ll end with two trivial things that drove me a little crazy.  First, the porter scene is cut, but this makes sense based on how they set the play. What annoyed me is that later in the play, Lady M still has her, “There’s a knocking at the gate!” line. Sure, she’s crazy, she’s hallucinating. But when you’ve made it a point to give us a setting where the whole idea of “gate” is not relevant, why leave that line in there? Maybe we can shrug and say it’s supposed to be some sort of “knocking at the gates of hell” thing.

The second one is just lazy in my view. We know that Banquo’s going to die and Fleance escapes, right? That’s not a spoiler. Ok, here’s the thing. Banquo goes down via crossbow.  And Fleance runs away.

Banquo goes down via crossbow, and Fleance runs away.

That bug anybody else? Hey, assassins, you’ve got a long range weapon and have just demonstrated your accuracy with it. How about shooting at the fleeing enemy, instead of chasing and losing him? At least shoot and miss, to let the audience know that you didn’t forget you have it.  I said before that I don’t like when the director reminds me I’m watching a movie, and this is one of those examples. They clearly went with the arrow so we could get a jump scare rather than a confrontation. But if you’re going to establish that the bad guys have that weapon, you have to be consistent!

Ok, I’m done. As with any Shakespeare there were parts I liked, but in general I can’t say I loved it. I’m glad I did not bring my wife. It’s not the kind of thing that I’ll show the kids when it comes out on DVD (apparently they’re already taking pre-orders).  Years down the road when we compare notes about Shakespearean film adaptations and people talk about the McKellen/Dench Macbeth, or Patrick Stewart’s, I don’t think anybody’s going to be talking about this one.

~ 1 Comment

Review : Commonwealth Shakespeare’s King Lear on Boston Common 2015 (Part 2)

[The tale begins here!]

Ok, where was I?  We did Goneril, right?  Regan.  Regan is just the right partner for Goneril. She’s shorter (shorter hair as well, for what that matters) but manages to give off an older sister vibe, like she should be the one in charge. She comes off as smarter, definitely – but it’s Goneril that you want to curb stomp at the end of the night.

What of the husbands? Just right. Albany is appropriately mousey in the beginning while Goneril walks all over him, but then has a change of heart and takes over in the later scenes. Cornwall is … well, he’s insane. Early on he needs to establish that he’s the kind of guy that can rip another man’s eyes out with his bare hands, and that’s exactly what he does in spades. We’re scared of him long before he learns about Gloucester, so not only do you know what’s coming, you totally believe what’s coming.

How was the scene, you ask?  Pretty gross. From our vantage point I unfortunately plainly saw Cornwall reach into his costume for a blood pellet, but man was there a lot of blood. He even whipped his hand back to get a nice spurting effect that you could see from a distance. When Gloucester’s face can be seen again, half his face is covered in blood.

How was Gloucester? I liked him, but it’s not like he drives the play. He was played by Fred Sullivan, the company’s comedy star, so sometime’s it’s tricky to see him in a serious role. He even got the occasional laugh, even after he was blinded, if you can believe that. His exchanges with Tom/Edgar as he’s being led to the cliff are funnier than I realized.  “Wait, didn’t your voice change? It seems like you’re speaking more normally now.”

Edgar.  Much like the Fool, I haven’t always understood half of what Poor Tom says.  But Edgar did a spectacular job of talking to the audience – doesn’t he have a line of some sort that basically says, “If I cry to see what’s become of the king I’m going to ruin my disguise”?  He plays off of Lear wonderfully, especially when he howls to the moon and Lear howls right along with him. I don’t love the final battle with his brother Edmund, but that has more to do with what I’ve always considered relatively poor stage combat by this group.

That leaves Cordelia and Lear, who I can talk about together. The first scene, as I mentioned, isn’t what I expected. Cordelia’s been portrayed as the equal of her sisters, so when she says “Nothing” there doesn’t seem to be much fear in it, like she’s afraid to say it (although her lines indicate that this is what she’s supposed to be thinking). Instead I felt like her response was more, “Nothing. There’s my answer. I know you don’t like it, but that’s the way it is.” She doesn’t like that she has to say it, but she doesn’t hesitate either, if that makes sense.

Which leads to another unfortunate problem.  Cordelia is a relatively big girl.  Not fat, but not a little waif, either.  So for the big climax? Lear can’t carry her. As they enter he’s only got one of her legs, and the other sort of drags along the ground as Lear walks. I don’t really know what they were thinking there. I wonder if it would have worked to just have him dragging her body, like he is literally using the last energy in his body to do it? I don’t know, it just didn’t work. I did not get “This father is trying and failing to carry his daughter,” I got “This actor can’t carry this actress.”

Now, Lear.

How do you explain Lear?  I could do a series of posts entirely on Lear.  I thought he was amazing. I loved him in the storm, I loved him interacting with Poor Tom, I loved his back and forth with the Fool. I think that my favorite scene is the “Why is my man in the stocks?” scene, whichever that is. The way he just has to confront, all at once, that he no longer has any power is … well, amazing. In the early scenes when Lear had to repeat himself you definitely felt like heads were going to roll if somebody didn’t jump (and people did jump). Now he’s got nothing, He wants to speak with his daughter, but she won’t come. He demands to know who put his man in the stocks, and no one will answer him. The way his voice changes during the scene as he asks this question again and again, how he wails in frustration that he cannot get a simple answer to his question, really drove the point home.  Then he has to go back and forth between his daughters with the math problem – “I can only have 50 followers with you? Fine, I’ll go with her so I can have 100…I can’t have 100 with you? I can only have 25? Fine, I’ll go with her and take my 50…what, I can’t have 50 either? I can’t have any?” These are his daughters, and they just destroy him in this scene, all while telling themselves that they haven’t done anything wrong. It’s just spectacular all around.

(Funny story, if a bit non sequitur? My son is 9, my daughter 11. Well, my daughter had a friend over, and they were all playing nicely together. My son gets the idea that maybe they can walk down to the corner store and get a snack.  The girls agree that this is a good idea and they go to ask permission from my wife, who has to explain that while the 11yr olds are old enough to go, my son is too young and cannot (had my older daughter been home to chaperone they all could have gone). So to see him go from the joy of “I suggested something to do and everybody agreed it was a good idea” to “they can go but I am not allowed” just crushed him. The helplessness of the situation was radiating off of him.  I feel like that for Lear in this scene. Once upon a time he was the king, and everything he said was law. Now people are just plain ignoring what he says, and he can’t comprehend what just happened.

For the record, when my oldest daughter returned from camp they did all go down to the store for a snack, so the situation was remedied a bit. Didn’t want people to think this was an entirely sad story. ūüôā  Anyway, back to Lear!)

What of his madness? It was hard to pity him because he was having so much fun, honestly. He howls at the moon with poor Tom, he passes out flowers, he makes the soldiers chase him. The characters around him of course watch his descent in horror and have no idea what to do with themselves. After the trial when they finally get him to sleep, only to wake him up and move him, you feel Kent’s helplessness that they can’t even give him that little comfort.

The big ending didn’t move me as much as I’d hoped. I’ve mentioned before that I still can’t really watch Olivier’s version of this scene, especially when he gets to the “Cordelia?  Stay a little…” line. This wasn’t that. When you’ve got a Cordelia that’s basically the same size as you and you struggled to get her on stage, lines like “Her voice was ever soft, gentle and low…” just don’t really work.

One thing seemed different, that I liked. Lear’s actual last words are “Look, her lips, look there, look there” and I’ve always taken that to mean he is staring at her face, watching for signs of life, and convinces himself in the last moment that she still breathes.  That’s not what they did here.  This time Lear is staring straight off in space (they may have even skipped the  “her lips” bit, I can’t remember) so when he delivers the “look there” lines he’s clearly looking at something none of the others can see. Is it Cordelia’s spirit calling to him? I think it must have been. Either way his last thought is a happy one.

So I loved it, did I mention that? One last funny story. As we were leaving, somebody with a video camera asked if we’d be willing to do a quick video testimonial. Sure, why not? They shoved a microphone in my hand and I said something simple about having come for 12 years and this being the best show yet. Then they asked for more, and asked what I liked about it.  What I liked about it? That’s like asking my favorite play, a question I used to refuse to answer. Ask me my favorite child next time. I could not think of a single specific example to give that did not trivialize other bits I equally loved. So what I ended up saying was, “….it’s King Lear, it’s Shakespeare’s masterpiece. It’s perfection on the page and tonight was perfection on the stage.”  I have no idea what happened to that video but if I find it I”ll post it.

Great show, Commonwealth Shakespeare! Happy 20th anniversary! I hope to continue my unbroken streak for many years to come.

~ Leave a comment

Review : Commonwealth Shakespeare’s King Lear on Boston Common 2015 (Part 1)

I once drove several hours to see a production of King Lear. It wasn’t worth the trip. It might have been before I started this blog because I can’t find where I wrote it down, but the thing I remember the most was the big moment, the storm on the heath, and Lear … bargaining with the storm.  Timid.  Instead of “Come at me, give me everything you’ve got” I got a Lear that was more “I never did anything to you, please don’t hurt me.”

This weekend I saw Commonwealth Shakespeare’s production of King Lear on Boston Common. This is their 20th year, and I’ve been to 12 of them.  This is, without doubt, the greatest thing I’ve seen them do.  (To be fair, we’re talking about Lear here.  Shakespeare’s masterpiece. It’s not like a Comedy of Errors or a Two Gents, no matter how good, is even going to be in the same conversation.)

The staging is interesting this year, showing just a backdrop of curtains (arrases?) that leave enough space for random exits and entrances, if that’s what they’re planning.  I think this is oddly basic, but I like it. In the past there’s almost always been two levels to the stage, as well as a great deal of scenery (such as a crashed airplane for As You Like It, or neon signs for Two Gentlemen of Verona).

The play starts with an interpretive dance between Lear and his daughters.  Right away I’m struck by something I did not expect — I cannot tell which daughter is which. I am fully expecting Cordelia to stand out from her sisters like black and white, but as they start I realize that any of them could be Cordelia. Soon the dance splits, however, and Lear clearly spends more enjoyable time with one of the girls while the other two plot and scheme to work together. They have a scarf that they are dancing with, and use it to get between Lear and Cordelia, dragging him away from her, wrapping him up, and so on.  Then it gets crazy dark as they pull the scarf up over his eyes and a mob comes out to torment him, before finally dragging him offstage.  Wow.

I can’t begin to describe the play in detail, because my post will be longer than the script. Instead, let’s talk about characters.

Fool.  When I first tried to read and understand King Lear, I didn’t really get the Fool.  Were his jokes supposed to be funny? Or profound? Does he love the king, or mock him? Or rather, since the answer is obviously “both”, is the line between the two? He clearly tries to show him, repeatedly, the folly of giving away his kingdom.  But to what end? It’s too late to do anything about it. If he’s just taunting the poor man, that’s hardly what I’d call love.

I liked this Fool a lot. From the minute he dances in and jumps up on the table, I knew I liked him. The way he just keeps hammering Lear over the head with variations of “Who’s the bigger idiot? I’m not the one who gave away my kingdom” despite Lear’s half-hearted warnings for him to stop really made me appreciate the scene more than I ever had. What exactly is that relationship? Is Lear even listening to what he’s saying? When he says “Careful sirrah, the whip” (or whatever the line is), it’s not delivered like an actual threat, more like a joke between them, like never in a million years would that be a possibility.

As the play progresses he has less and less to do, until he literally just stops showing up. Unlike some productions, there is no death for the Fool added in.  He just stops appearing. But two scenes really make his presence felt.  First when they come upon Kent in the stocks. Kent asks him why Lear is going around with so few followers, and we learn that his 100 knights, that magical number that is so important to him to retain his pride, have been deserting him.  All except poor Fool, who will be faithful quite literally for the rest of their lives.

The second is the storm.  Oh, the storm.  Massive wind machines appear, the dry ice / smoke starts to swirl, and here comes the rain.  It is a full on tempest right there on stage. We can feel ourselves getting colder in our seats.  Act 3, Scene 1, the storm is in full swing as a minor character forces his way on stage against the wind.  Kent, from above in a scaffolding, calls down to him – yells, to be heard over the storm, “WHERE IS THE KING?” Then, when told that he is out in the storm, “BUT WHO IS WITH HIM?” and we learn that dear Fool is the only one left to follow him.

I tell you, it’s the scenes like those that are the ones that get me all misty (and not just because of the dry ice machine!).  Kent is no fool, in a number of meanings of the word. He’s not stupid. He’s disguised himself and gotten into Lear’s ranks so that he can continue on his one mission – protect the king. All the smart characters are taking shelter from the storm. Not Kent.  Kent’s about to run right out into the middle of it. How could he do any different?

So let’s talk about Kent.  I didn’t really get him at first because in the opening scene he’s wearing glasses and a fake beard that may have interfered with his ability to deliver his lines. Or maybe it’s just that he was putting on an accent early, so that he could spent the rest of the play without it. Either way, I didn’t fully understand much of his delivery, but he certainly got his point across. He was right up in Lear’s face, letting him know exactly how stupid he was being. When Lear draws a sword and threatens to cut Kent down, Kent doesn’t back down in the slightest – instead he bares his neck and points at it, calling Lear’s bluff.

What was wonderful about his performance, though, was that in Lear’s presence he was often left having no idea what to do.  He had a plan – be near the king. Check. But when the king will not come out of the storm, how can Kent force him? When Lear ultimately carries in Cordelia’s dead body and will not let her go, what is Kent to do? Often he is left doing what appears to be cowering, stuck in this “Should I go to him? But what would I do once I got there? I have no idea what to do next” limbo that, once I recognized it, fit his character perfectly. When it comes to his final line, though, there is no hesitation in his voice. He is not merely calm and resolute in his response to Albany, he is … I’m trying to find the word. At peace? He knows exactly what comes next, and the way he delivers his last line is almost pitying, like, “Oh you silly man, don’t you see what happens next? I follow my master.”   (Reminds me of the Lord of the Rings line,  ‚ÄúDon’t leave me here alone! It’s your Sam calling. Don’t go where I can’t follow! Wake up, Mr. Frodo!‚ÄĚ If it had been Kent mourning over Lear’s body, this is exactly what he would have said. And you know what? If Fool was on stage at the same time I bet he would have said the same thing.)

I’m going to have to split this post into parts because it’s getting too long.  Before we go let’s talk about Edmund.

When we talk about villains sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in seeing them as the start of the show.  Consider Iago, after all. Othello is practically The Iago Show. He is so charismatic in everything he does and says that half the time the audience is left waiting impatiently for when he’ll come back.

You can kind of imagine Edmund like this. He goes from Gloucester’s bastard son to the romantic interest of both Goneril and Regan, so he’s got something going for him. He manipulates everyone around him.

But the play is not about him.  This is Lear’s play.  Edmund is what Edmund’s supposed to be – a bastard, in multiple senses of the word. His own father gives him a note detailing the enemy’s plans and says, “Whatever you do, don’t show this to Cornwall.” So of course he runs to Cornwall and says “Look what I have!’  Bastard. I didn’t spend any time at all admiring the personality that Edmund manages to convey.  There are none of those “Ooooo, that’s so evil it’s just brilliant” moments you get with Iago.  You just spend all your time with Edmund thinking, “I hope that son of a b*tch gets what’s coming to him.” Perfect.

Wait, before I go!  Goneril.  Oh dear god in heaven did I want to see her die on stage. She played her role so perfectly that, had I come with rotten tomatoes, they would have been flying in her direction. Which is exactly how it was supposed to be. Even just standing there she could put an expression on her face that made you want to wipe it off with a length of barbed wire.  Great job.

Ok, to be continued.  Otherwise I’m never going to get this posted!

~ Leave a comment

Review : Strange Magic

When I first heard that Strange Magic,¬†Lucasfilm’s new animated effort was “inspired by Midsummer Night’s Dream” I wanted to be excited. I really did. I wasn’t exactly holding my breath, however.

Good thing. Whoever started throwing around Shakespeare’s name in the marketing for Strange Magic seems to have had about a high school student’s knowledge of the subject, at best. ¬†A C student.

The way I explained “inspired by Shakespeare” to my kids went a little something like this:

There are basically three different ways that a movie can use Shakespeare. I’m not talking about actual movie versions of Shakespeare plays, I mean original movies that say they’ve got something to do with Shakespeare. First are the movies that come right out and talk about Shakespeare and use his words. Like Gnomeo and Juliet. Then there’s movies that don’t use any of his words, but try to tell a modern version of one of his stories. ¬†(10 Things I Hate About You is the classic example here, though my kids don’t know that movie.) Then there’s movies that just take a single idea that came from Shakespeare and throw the rest away, thinking that just because they’ve got a boy and a girl whose parents don’t like each other they can call it Romeo and Juliet, or just because a king gets killed by his evil brother you can call it Hamlet with lions.

Strange Magic sits firmly in this final group. ¬†There’s a love potion and there’s fairies, therefore we can claim it’s got something to do with Shakespeare. No humans. ¬†No war between a king and queen of the fairies. There’s an “imp” who I guess we’ll call Puck who runs around throwing the potion on people for fun, but entirely minor characters in a single montage, that has nothing to do with the story. There is no parallel at all for Helena/Hermia/Demetrius/Lysander that I could figure out.

In fact, as I also pointed out to my kids, this story has more in common with a completely different Shakespeare story, and I bet the creators didn’t even realize it. ¬†The king of the fairies has two daughters – Marianne and Dawn. (Trivia for you – on the television show Gilligan’s Island, the character of Marianne was played by Dawn Wells). ¬†Marianne, for reasons that are obvious in the first two minutes, has sworn off love for good. Dawn, the younger sister, is boy crazy. The king basically won’t let Dawn get married until Marianne does.

Ok, show of hands, sound familiar to anybody? ¬†That’s right, it’s Taming of the Shrew.

But, again, that’s as far as it goes. The actual story is all over the place, and honestly a pretty shameful product from a name like Lucasfilm. More than once I felt it was the kind of thing that seemed like it was written in about a half a day, and felt like one of my middle daughter’s straight-to-video Barbie movies. ¬†There’s a good forest and a scary dark forest, and along the border between the two is the only place that the primroses grow. ¬†And primroses are used to make love potion, of course. But only the Sugar Plum Fairy can make love potion. But the evil Bog King, ruler of the dark forest, has captured her and ordered that all the primroses be cut down (the latter, by the way, is a plot point that has absolutely zero bearing on the plot as the hero finds a primrose petal as soon as he goes looking for one). So of course the meek little best friend of the younger sister, who is secretly in love with her, gets convinced by the other bad guy, who wants to marry the older sister in order to raise an army (something else that’s never really explained), that he (the shy one) should go get a love potion, and then it all just gets weird.

Oh, and it’s a musical. Of cover songs. ¬†Like a big Glee episode. When someone gets hit with the love potion they apparently just start singing “Sugar pie, honey bunch” over and over again.

Skip Strange Magic. I can’t really find anything worth recommending. It looks nice, I’ll give it that. But even that is weird, as none of the characters have that “I wish I could get that in a stuffed animal or action figure” appeal. The fairies look so human that every time they sprout wings you think “Where did THOSE come from?” and the goblins are so shapeless and generic that there’s even a joke in the script that they can’t tell their own gender apart.

~ Leave a comment

Review : “Teaching Will” by Mel Ryane

So the other day, the good people at Familius wrote and asked if I’d like a review copy of Mel Ryane’s “Teaching Will : What Shakespeare and 10 Kids Gave Me that Hollywood Couldn’t“. A book about an actress who starts a Shakespeare Club at the local elementary school? How could I resist?

Having gone into my own children’s classrooms since they were in the first grade (which would translate to maybe six years old, for my non US audience), I admit that I was looking for tips. All I ever do is a one time unit on some Shakespearean topic of the teacher’s choice, I’ve never had the guts (nor the opportunity) to set up a full length after school program, culminating in a performance. This is exactly what the author does.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: my POV for stuff like this is always, “I’m in it for the Shakespeare.” The Shakespeare bits will exert their force on me like a magnet. The more Shakespeare, the more drawn I am into the book.

Having said that, there’s not much Shakespeare in this. This is primarily a book about the author’s adventures in trying to teach these children how to work together to achieve something that they and most everyone else thinks is beyond their abilities. But it could just as easily have been about teaching them how to sing, or play baseball. A scene where a child finally “gets” the rhythm of iambic pentameter might as well have been the scene where the catcher finally manages to get the cut off throw to second in time to tag the runner.

Perhaps my baseball analogy isn’t completely fair, however, because that makes it more about competition. You’d expect the big climax of a baseball story to be the ragtag team of misfits winning the big game. Shakespeare is not about competing with anyone or anything, except maybe your own limiting beliefs about what you can accomplish.

The big climax of this story is the performance at the end of the year. With each chapter comes a week of rehearsal, chaos and catastrophe, and I spent the entire book thinking, “She’ll never pull this off.” Half the time it was impossible to tell who was playing each role because half her students quit and the other half refuse to play the parts they are given. It seemed like every chapter ended with the author going home to her dinner with her husband, sipping a glass of wine and pondering why she’d gotten herself into this in the first place.

A few words on that subject. The book really tells three stories. First is the attempt to put on a Shakespeare performance (A Midsummer Nights’ Dream, by the way, if that wasn’t your obvious first guess). The second is the “behind the scenes” story where we learn all about the author’s interactions with the kids, their own family situations, and basically all about life outside Shakespeare Club. Which kids hate each other, and why? Which parents are supportive of the idea and which are just using it as glorified daycare? It probably should not come as a surprise that this had to be a … what’s the politically correct term to use here … ethnically diverse, lower income, dare I say “inner city” environment? Nobody ever seems to want to tell the story of upper middle income white kids? I admit to making the comparison to Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds, only with elementary school children. I hope that doesn’t sound racist of me. It comes from a POV that I can’t escape. When I walk into a classroom and try to teach Shakespeare to kids I will not have to deal with those issues. I respect and appreciate that somebody is doing it, hey, more power to them. But it makes the story less relevant to my own life. If I went into this book looking for tips about how to wrangle children into performing Shakespeare, too much time was spent hitting me over the head with “yes but don’t forget where these kids come from and the other issues they have to deal with”. That’s true of every kid. Just because their stories are different doesn’t mean that they don’t all bring something unique to the party.

The third story is that of the author’s childhood and her relationship to her own parents. I just plain didn’t care for these bits. Whose story are you most interested in telling? I would have preferred more content about the actual play rehearsals. I suppose it’s only now that I realize the subtitle of the book is “What Shakespeare and 10 kids gave *me*…” so perhaps that was really her goal all along? If so, I clearly missed it.

But, back to the story. I approached the end of the book, the performance was only a week away, students were still fighting and dropping out and chaos still reigned. Through the entire book I’d been saying, “This is a failure, and it will end.” It did not. The show must go on, and it did. It’s not a big movie scene with the whole town packed into the auditorium. On the contrary, the author goes to great lengths to let us know that some of the parents could hardly be bothered to show up at all. The performance goes exactly as expected, mistakes are made, lines forgotten, props dropped, and generally the chaos of rehearsal projects itself upon the stage, exactly like you’d expect in any other elementary school production.

“When it was over, we all cheered.”

I admit with no shame that my eyes watered and my vision became blurry the instant I read that. Hell it’s happening again just recalling it so I can write this. Good god, isn’t that what it’s all about? They’re kids for heaven’s sake. Of course it’s not perfect. It’s not about perfection, it’s about accomplishment. They didn’t quit. The author didn’t quit. As a parent I know that feeling of cheering your brains out not for the quality of your child’s performance, but for the very fact that it’s your kid up on that stage, showcasing not how well they did it, but that they did it at all. That’s something to cheer indeed.

“Hamlet’s on my nuts!”

Ok, I’m not telling where that line shows up, I’ll just say that the book is not over at the performance of Midsummer, and when I got to this part I laughed so hard I cried all over again. I’m glad I excused myself from the room to finish the book, otherwise my friends and family would have thought I’d gone mad.

I get that this was not a handbook in how to teach Shakespeare to elementary school children (though I would have liked that very much). It took me most of the book to accept that. As I said at the beginning, the Shakespeare content is a magnet to me. Every scene or line that snuck its way into the text made me want more, and it was difficult not getting that. I think that Ms. Ryane’s story is an excellent one, very well told, and I’m very glad that it had a happy ending. I just wonder how important Shakespeare is to that story.


Review : The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth

When Bardfilm showed me his early review copy of The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth
I was all, “Awwww!  Want.”

Then Ian wrote and asked if I wanted a copy as well and I was all, “Yay!”

This … can we call it a graphic novel? Tells the story of animals in the zoo putting on a performance of Macbeth.  Not only do you see the audience, the audience interacts with the show in a series of inset panels, commenting on the action and making various puns and other jokes. This has been done before (Marcia Williams’ books come to mind) but I like it even more here, because it doesn’t overpower the story. The audience gets a single panel at most, in context with the rest of the flow of dialogue. You don’t feel as if one story is talking over the other.

This is a very kid safe version of the story. Macbeth, a lion, does not kill people – he eats them (apparently whole, as they keep talking to him from inside his belly). There is no blood, there’s ketchup (and lots of it). Lady Macbeth, forced to do her husband’s laundry, cannot seem to get the ketchup stains out and this drives her a bit crazy.  As people begin to notice Macbeth’s increasing waistline, they start asking questions and he starts overeating.   The best part is that somehow Lendler manages to give us a happy ending, while staying pretty true to the original story (including a nice twist on the “not borne of woman” thing).

The best praise I can offer comes from my son, who is 8. Right now we are going through a tough time getting him to read. He sees it as a chore, and no matter what we put before him, he’ll kick and scream and go through the same routine even though he knows it never gets him anywhere. It’s worse than pulling teeth.

Well, when this book showed up I brought it to him and said, “You and I need to read this book. This is a big deal, because the man who wrote this book knows that I have kids, and that my kids like Shakespeare, and he thought we might like to read his book and write a review of it so other people can decide if they might like it.”  At first, without opening the book, he gave me the same eye roll and drooped shoulders I’ve become so familiar with.  But I persisted, and said that we should sit down and read Act 1 together, which we did.

The next day, before I went off to work, I told my son, “Don’t feel as if you have to wait for me, you know. I know that story. You can go ahead and read it without me.” Fast forward to later that night when I returned?  He tells me, “I finished the Macbeth book, Daddy. I like books like that, get more of those.” Not completely ready to trust that it had been that easy, I asked him to tell me the story. He told me of how Macbeth’s friend “Banksy” talked to much and got eaten, and how Macbeth’s wife had to do so much of his laundry to get the ketchup stains out that she used up all the soap in the castle, and how “Detective” Macduff eventually solved the mystery … but I’m not going to spoil the story for anybody. ūüôā

Ian tells me that Romeo and Juliet is already planned, and I can’t wait. This one may not score highly on the classic Shakespeare scale, but I’m ok with that. I’d rather have a book like this that has my kids asking for more, than a more advanced book that I feel like they’re only reading to keep me happy.

~ Leave a comment

Teller’s Magical Tempest : A Review

This weekend I had the pleasure of sitting front row center at American Repertory Theatre’s production of The Tempest, re-imagined by famed magician Teller (of Penn & Teller fame).

I think that the best thing I can do is just walk through the play and describe what I saw. This will include a whole bunch of spoilers, so factor that in as you will. If you’ve got tickets and haven’t seen the show yet, by all means don’t read this.

We open with Ariel, who looks a whole lot like Commander Data from Star Trek : The Next Generation, performing card tricks at the edge of the stage. He brings an audience member up to perform and interactive trick. Never says a word.  Fine, I guess. Sort of like a warm up act.

Center stage is a clear bowl full of water, and a paper sailboat. The stage is split into levels, with plenty of room taken up by the musicians. The music is a big deal here, by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan. There are two singers, and musicians playing a wide array of instruments, including parts of the stage. I could swear I saw one of them playing wine goblets full of water.

Enter Prospero, dressed like a classic stage magician, tails and all, carrying the traditional magician’s wand. He looks a bit like Vincent Price, to pin a name to the character.  The magic begins as Prospero sets the boat in the water, and starts producing smoke from his hands. The sailors and crew come on stage, on the higher level. Prospero sets the paper boat spinning without ever touching it. It’s sitting in a clear bowl of water so we cannot see what mechanism is causing it to move. All of a sudden it plunges into the water. Prospero crushes it with his hands.  “We’ve split! We’ve split!” we hear as the first dialogue of the play.

The whole opening has clearly been re-interpreted, and it’s very dark. Ferdinand is the only character to “fall” overboard, and by that I mean Ariel drags him away from his companions. Alonso screams after his son, and even removes his crown and tries to use it as a life preserver by holding it out for him. There’s a nice shot of both their hands clutching the crown before Ariel drags Ferdinand away, still holding the crown. Then, in something straight out of Penn & Teller’s playbook, Ariel drowns him in the pool of water.  Holds the actor’s head under water while his arms and legs kick and flail, and eventually stop. All the while Alonso and the others watch in horror. This is fascinating. Completely different than the text, of course, but fascinating. It’s clear from this scene that Alonso has just watched his son drown. Powerful stuff.  That’s all we get of the opening. No introduction of the characters, no Gonzalo looking for a bit of dry land.  Just dead Ferdinand.

Ferdinand’s not dead of course, and shows up on the island in some sort of bird cage. In something that I haven’t seen a lot, Ferdinand is a ….well, a nerd. He’s terrified, has no idea what’s going around, jumps at every noise. He reminds me a lot of Kevin, the curly headed guy from Kids in the Hall, if anybody remembers that show. It’s a cute act that adds something to the character, but it did get tiresome. There’s just so much you can do with the role I suppose.

Caliban…..defies explanation.  He is portrayed by two actors, simultaneously. I would say “conjoined twins” but that doesn’t do it justice. They have not been stitched together into some sort of single costume. They are both wearing loin cloths and covered head to toe in this reddish green mud, which I did like. But they were more like acrobats or contortionists, carrying each other around the stage all the time. Sometimes one would be piggy back on the other, another time he’d stand on the other guy’s needs and stand up straight so he was and shoulders taller.  And then sometimes they’d just cartwheel themselves upside down so now somebody else was on top. They spoke of themselves in the singular, and both of them delivered every line simultaneously. That effect was pretty neat, gave a real other-worldly quality to his lines. But what was the directorial intent of the two bodies? I really have no idea. It was a great visual effect, to be sure. And it added the boardwalk/sideshow feel that the show was going for. But I don’t know if it was supposed to say anything about Caliban’s character.

Trinculo and Stephano came up….you know what? I was going to say they came up short but I’m not going to say that, because Trinculo was played by a little person and I did not intend it as a joke. Both of our jesters come out with musical instruments, looking like something out of Guys and Dolls with suspenders holding their pinstriped pants up over wife beater t-shirts. Their scenes were all chopped up, since they decided to have Stephano enter singing some original music and then interact with the audience too much. Stephano in particular seemed like he was given to much freedom to improvise, given his comic role. He asked whether Trinculo was a moon-calf turd.  Really?  He even left in the “can this moon-calf vent Trinculos?” line instead of switching to the obvious fart joke. Later, when Ariel throws his voice (“Thou liest!”) he does it using a cool trick of animating the handkerchief in Trinculo’s pocket. Which causes Stephano to say, “You didn’t say it? You’re telling me the magic hanky said it?”  Stop breaking the illusion, damnit.

All the rest are, well, the rest. Miranda is about what you’d expect, although more on her a bit later. Each of the others is introduced during Prospero’s retelling of his backstory, as Ariel plays the role of magician’s assistant and causes each character to appear on stage when Prospero mentions his name. Or her, since Gonzalo is played by a woman in this production.

Antonio is, well, evil. Over the top evil. If he had a bigger beard he would have spent the play stroking it.  Scheming scheming, always scheming. Sebastian, on the other hand, is basically a big ball of nothing. He’s playing it like he’s so busy being scared to death of the island that he barely understands what Antonio is asking of him, yet he’s supposed to be prepared to do it? I wasn’t really buying it.

I quite loved Alonso. He saw his son drown. He’s in denial. He’s roaming the island, looking for hope that his son is still alive. And, because he is the king, everyone just follows him.  So when we get our ultimate happy ending, I was actually overjoyed for him to be reunited with his son. His speechless realization of everything that Prospero had said about losing his own daughter was quite wonderful, and honestly brought a tear to my eye.

Best illusion, by far, was the banquet scene. There are illusions throughout the play, of course, in ways you wouldn’t imagine. But you know that something big has to be coming for the banquet reveal. The “fairies” in this case are human-sized crows dressed as butlers, which is oddly amusing. They reveal the banquet, and offer napkins and hot towels to the guests. One raises the giant dish in the center to reveal a roast turkey, before putting it back. I’m pretty sure I see Alonso sample some of the food, which correct me if I’m wrong is a mistake, isn’t it? I thought part of the whole point was that they never touched the food.

Anyway, right as they are about to dive into the food a fairy opens up the banquet tray again to reveal that the turkey has been replaced by a zombie head.  Screaming and running ensues, and Ariel appears. Ariel as harpy, right? Scary demon bird creature?  Nah.  Just Ariel in his same costume, holding Prospero’s cape like it’s wings. I was pretty disappointed at that. But then!

You fools! I and my fellows
Are ministers of Fate: the elements,
Of whom your swords are temper’d, may as well
Wound the loud winds, or with bemock’d-at stabs
Kill the still-closing waters, as diminish
One dowle that’s in my plume: my fellow-ministers
Are like invulnerable. If you could hurt,
Your swords are now too massy for your strengths
And will not be uplifted. But remember–
For that’s my business to you-

AND THEN *POOF* ARMS GO UP, CAPE GOES UP, AND ARIEL IS FRICKIN PROSPERO! Center stage, instantaneous switch, I never saw it coming. Truly a holy shit moment, pardon my language, but that’s what it was. And now it’s the illusion/hallucination of long dead Prospero screaming at his enemies

-that you threeFrom Milan did supplant good Prospero!Exposed unto the sea, which hath requit it,Him and his innocent child!

And so on.  Seriously, I love that. A little confusing for the newbie audience who was probably thinking that Prospero had just revealed himself to the party, but I recognized it for the desired illusion/hallucination that they were going for.

Enough of the illusions, because I don’t want to give the impression that all we got was magic. They made some interesting directorial decisions that I found showed some real attention to detail:

Antonio is the only character who does not repent. When Miranda does her brave new world speech, she runs to touch every new person – and Antonio flinches away from her, refusing to be touched, standing away from the rest of the party. They all exit until it is just Prospero and Antonio. Prospero puts out his hands in forgiveness and I think, “Oh, you’d better not show a reunion!” but I am pleased that Antonio instead hides his face in his hands and runs away, unable to look at his brother. I don’t know if  I ever really thought of Antonio as *ashamed* of what he did, but I like that they chose to put some focus on it and not just have him walk off stage with the others.

My other favorite moment is Ariel’s release. Ariel brings out Prospero’s finery and helps him get dressed in silence, straightening his tie and adjusting his buttons. They truly look like lifelong companions right at this moment, who know that a goodbye is coming.  He works his way behind as Prospero speaks, and when Prospero says, “Be free…” Ariel disappears. Prospero turns as if to speak to him, and he is gone. Love love loved it. No slow walk away, no lingering look, no last words. That’s how goodbyes happen. You turn around and the person is gone.

And then another interesting change, as Miranda joins her father on stage. She helps him put away his magic robes, and destroy his books. I liked that. Throughout the entire play he’s talking about how he’s done everything for her, yet when they are actually on stage together he’s usually telling her to sit down and shut up, Daddy’s working. So it was very nice to end on a father daughter moment.

Couple of missed opportunities?  Prospero reveals Ferdinand and Miranda playing cards, not chess. I think Shakespeare said chess for a reason, since the play has been Prospero’s big chess game moving his pieces around the island. Perhaps this was their nod to the card tricks that Ariel has been slinging throughout the play? Then how about this? Why not show Miranda actually trying to teach Ferdinand a card trick? That would bring in the idea that Prospero has been teaching his daughter magic.

Another one, that Bardfilm brought up. What of Caliban? Do we get one last shot of Caliban, alone on the island?  Nope. We get nothing. Caliban goes to clean the cell, and that’s it. I think that was a waste. I mean, they didn’t exactly focus on Caliban’s story at all so it’s not like it was necessary to button up that particular angle.

Overall I loved it, but I was never going to not love it. It runs over two hours even with the substantial editing that they did, and there are plenty of places where the trick gets in the way of the message. For example? When recounting the tale of Ariel in the tree, Prospero actually puts Ariel back in a tree and tortures him. In this case it’s one of those “lady in the box” tricks where Prospero twists his head around and around while telling the story, all with Ariel groaning in agony. They open the box to reveal Ariel tied in knots. So….what are we supposed to take from that? That Prospero periodically “reminds” Ariel of his debt by torturing him again? That certainly does not feed into the complicated love/hate relationship that I usually look for in Ariel/Prospero.

You know what? Now I wonder if I misinterpreted Ariel. I wonder if Ariel was just biding his time, waiting for the moment where he could disappear? That would be interesting. I’ll have to think about that.

That’s ultimately what I love about Shakespeare. There is so much depth that you can always find something fascinating, something new, something that makes you want to talk about it with others.

Shakespeare and magic is a natural combination. See it if you can, and if I haven’t spoiled it for you :). I can only hope that Teller is going to tackle A Midsummer Night’s Dream next!