Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ashland Shrew

Another Ashland theater note: I've complained more than is good to me how  (ironiically?) the Shakespeare company doesn't seem to trust Shakespeare: how they they feel to tart it all up for fear the'll poison the box office if they just what is advertised.

But here is a play for which it works pretty well: Taming of the Shrew.  The dancing, the wrestling, the juggling, the air guitar--it's all fine and adds to, rather than detracts from, the whole effect.

To anticipate: you're going to say they can do that because it's because Shrew is a bad play, not echt Shakespeare, or at any rate not what we want him to be.  But that's the thing: it's not a bad play, it's just a different play, and taken on its own terms, it works fine. Recall that Shakespeare tried just about everything over a long career.  He even joked about trying everything: see what Polonius tells Hamlet about the players.  He certainly tries farce; no surprise at all to find that he also tries slapstick.  It's obvious to even a casual observer that farce/slapstick is fiendishly difficult, and it's a tradition which at Ashland by now seems deeply ingrained.

Indeed if there is any surprise here, it is how the play almost (well: not quite) slips its traces and becomes a better play than Shakespeare felt he needed.  You remember Petruchio and Kate; what you may not remember is that they aren't on stage really all that much, in contrast with a dozen or so other characters, many of whose names you have trouble remembering. Almost in spite of the playwright's apparent intention, the lovers come close to emerging as flesh and blood.

And while we're on topic, we might as well pause for a moment to put the play in context.  It must be--what, the fourth? The seventh?--play Shakespeare wrote.  And look at the menu: o;ne way or another in these early hears he does a blood-and-thunder horror show  (Titus Andronicus); a good-natured rom-com (Two Gentlemen of Verona);   an almost-tragedy (Richard III); an old-fashioned Renaissance comedy (Comedy of Errors)-and whatever he did of the three parts of Henry VI. Not only does he try everything; he tries everything at here at the beginning of his career.  He'll do virtually everything better (one of the many wonders of Shakespeare is his unexampled capacity for self-correction, and for learning from experience).  But a good way to approach Shrew is to think of it as one more instance of his courage, his daring, his optimism and his (it must have surprised even him) his natural creative fluency.

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