What began as an admirable effort to show the wide ranging influence of an eighteenth century London club whose members included Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, David Garrick, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, Joshua Reynolds, and Edward Gibbon rapidly devolved into an unsatisfying biography of Boswell and Johnson. Continue reading
The little one saw her first Shakespeare play last night: Love’s Labours Lost.
If you have ever read this blog before (and ninety percent of you who have are my mother), then you know how much I love the edifice and institution that is the Folger Shakespeare Library and how unsurprising it is that her first experience of live theater (we are not including Frozen on Ice) would be there.
It is not his finest play, but there is some of Shakespeare’s most elegant language and some of his most arch sex jokes. While the more than usually high language passed her by, she loved watching the performances and madcap antics (and costumes).
The movie had gotten great reviews and while it wasn’t absolutely at the top of my ‘if you’re going to see a movie that’s out right now, it’s definitely this one’ list, it was on that list, so when a friend suggested we all see Beatriz at Dinner, I was one hundred percent down with it.
And it’s a really good movie. It’s a little too cinematic, though, not trusting in its actors (Salma Hayek is great and plays Beatriz’s subtle, aggressive power very well and John Lithgow makes a truly horrible person three dimensional, yet also sympathetic because he is a real, three dimensional human being, without shying away from the fact that he is an awful blight). I feel like it could have been a more politically and ecologically minded My Dinner with Andre (one of my all time favorite movies), if the director had trusted the audience to be able find the clash of ideas in conversation to be riveting.
Also: Chekhov’s gun appears.
If you don’t know what that means, don’t just look it up online. Read a book. Go to the library.
Last week, I cashed in one of my birthday presents – two tickets to see Emmanuel Ax play Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto at the Kennedy Center, followed by a Shakespearean themed program.
This was my second time hearing Ax play and, of course, he’s good; and he really seemed to enjoy playing such a youthful piece. I’m not a music expert and can’t even play the triangle, but it did seem to me that he had some rough moments during the first movement, but then really hit his stride, especially of the middle movement.
When they have stars like this, I wish they wouldn’t put them first, because, after hearing a great pianist play Beethoven, pretty much whatever follows is going to disappoint. I like Berlioz, but if one of his pieces immediately follows Bach’s Passion of Saint Matthew, well… it’s going to be a bit of a letdown, isn’t it?
The three pieces that followed were Erich Korngold’s Much Ado About Nothing Suite, Richard Strauss’ Macbeth, and Antonin Dvorak’s Othello Overture. I liked Dvorak the best, but the Korngold was fun. Also, I found out that Korngold wrote the scores to two of my favorite Errol Flynn swashbucklers: Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood!
One of the cool things they did was have two actors who feature a lot locally come out and perform bits from the relevant Shakespeare. I lost the paper that told me who they were, but the man was someone I had seen in many, many plays at the Folger Shakespeare Library (off the top of my head, I’ve seen him in District Merchants, Twevlth Night, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and Mary Stuart. He got a great presence and a delicate comic touch that works even better, because he himself is such a big guy.
Written by frequent Folger production director, Aaron Posner, District Merchants is new take on The Merchant of Venice which seeks to tackle to elephant in the room: Shakespeare’s unforgiving and cruel and anti-semitic take on Shylock, the titular merchant.
Posner keeps the names, but shifts the action to Washington, DC and the time to the months just before and just after the Panic of 1873. He mostly keeps the original names, or else uses something very close (which sometimes seems jarring – especially the continued use of ‘Shylock’), but plays with race and ethnicity, making the majority of the non-Jewish characters black. This does create a more nuanced view of discrimination and prejudice (especially in the form of a young mixed race man who ‘passes’ as white), as does the addition of topics like the pogroms in Russia and war profiteering during the Civil War. Muddies the waters, those last two, though I’m not always sure to what end. I mean, I know to what end, but I guess that I’m not sure if it really succeeded.
But the play does succeed, sometimes, in spite of itself. But The Merchant of Venice, when it succeeds, does so in spite of itself, does it not? And, as a DC resident, references to places like Eastern Market made me smile with pride/recognition.
This is the third production (though the first two were staged readings) I have seen by Taffety Punk in recent months that is based on a classical source of some kind (Shakespeare and the Bible, in the first cases).
What did I think? Excellent, enjoyable, and problematic. The play was written to sound explicitly like an English translation of an ancient Greek play, a la Sophocle, Aristophanes, etc. The program notes even said it was written in iambic pentameter (though I remember grasping a line in my head and the beats didn’t quite work out). For me, I would rather the playwright not have tried to write in the style of those great playwrights.
The titular Phaeton, in this case, is a secular, social justice reformer and his father (a disembodied voice, sometimes with the rest of the cast performing interpretative dance to embody him) an imperfect and non-omnipotent God, with a capital G, because the references to the Bible are frequent in the second act, so Apollo is definitely symbolic, representative, or whatever of a theistic, more or less Christian god.
Lines like (remembering as best I can), ‘You are my only son, with whom I well pleased,’ and phrases like ‘sacramental blood’ (after Phaeton dies) and ‘plagues of locusts’ drive the point him even further. Apollo is a flawed Christian God and Phaeton is his son, the Christ, but a less spiritual and more political messiah (not that Christ wasn’t highly political, because he was, but you get my point, I hope). There’s even a sort of ‘new,’ sacramental act at the end, which, while not physically resembling the Mass, is also referencing the Mass, in that it is reinforcing Phaeton’s Christ-like role.
A few laugh out loud lines in the first act, but I felt that the Greek model straitjacketed the first act and the Christological revisionism made the second act feel too detached from the first.