Law & Order – Keystone Kops Style

May 27, 2010 at 10:48 pm (Film Adaptations, Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , )

I had a flashback to tenth grade—falling asleep in class during an endless, boring movie. I’ve had the flashback over and over again over the past couple weeks. Here’s the thing. I want to like Joseph Papp’s 1973 New York Shakespeare Festival production of Much Ado About Nothing. I really want to like it. I know I should like it. It keeps putting me to sleep.

It’s 2.5 hours long, and (yawn) I just never get through more than about 30 minutes in a sitting. I’ve watched it twice so far. Reader Tue says I need to watch it again after I read the text, so I’ll put that on my agenda (I’ll block a week for it). Just kidding. It’s not that bad. It does put me to sleep.

This production was originally done in Central Park and then moved to the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway before being filmed for television. Televising it was the kiss of death for the stage production. According to the Internet Shakespeare Editions website, the TV broadcast killed ticket sales and the Broadway show closed nine days later.

I like the actors. I think Sam Waterston does a nice job with Benedick and I like Kathleen Widdoes as Beatrice (she was nominated for a Tony for the stage role). It’s fun to see these two actors in their youth. But it’s also hard not to compare them to their present, 37-year-later TV selves (Waterston on Law & Order, Widdoes on As the World Turns).

This production is set in turn-of-the-century America, with soldiers returning from Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War. The sets are a bit hokey; I kept worrying that a shaky balcony might come tumbling down. The costumes are fine, although I find Leonardo’s (played by Mark Hammer) wig and false beard distracting.

I like this Dogberry (Barnard Hughes) better than the strange Michael Keaton version in the Kenneth Branagh production. Here, Dogberry and his watchmen are portrayed as the Keystone Kops, and it’s very slapstick and silly. He’s an ass. He’s an ass. Yes, he’s really an ass.

Yawn. It’s making me tired even writing about it. I want to like it, but this movie is just long and kind of cheesy and boring to me. There is a lot of loony fast-action running around with madcap music to match… sort of an Edwardian/Benny Hill thing going on. Odd!

Maybe it will all come together for me after I read the text. I guess I need to get reading!

By the way, I added a page Play by Play so you can easily find all my posts on a given play. I’m only on the third play, so it’s not unwieldy yet, but I thought this might help as I get further in.

© All Content, Copyright 2010 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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  1. Renee said,

    So, does anyone discuss WHY the TV production killed the stage production? If it’s supposed to be so good, wouldn’t presenting it on TV make more people want to see it?

    That’s how it usually works with serious theatre goers (and those who go to stage productions of Shakespeare can’t be anything but).

    • orwhatyouwill said,

      Hi Renee, on the DVD, Joseph Papp does an intro that must have aired on CBS with the movie. He talks about the fact that this night the play would be watched by more people in the television audience than had ever seen the play in the whole 300some years since Shakespeare wrote it. He’s obviously excited about this.

      From what I’ve read of Papp, his whole MO was to get Shakespeare out and accessible to as many people as possible through free/cheap community performances.

      So…it backfired here. Here’s what it says on the Internet Shakespeare Editions site that I linked in the post:
      “Originally produced for the New York Shakespeare Festival Delacorte Theater in Central Park, it then enjoyed a commercial success at the Winter Garden on Broadway. For rights to the national television program, CBS gave the Festival Theatre $775,000. This apparent bonanza backfired badly though when the cost of the television production soared to $810,100, and, even worse, hurt box office sales for the live show. The show was then forced to close down on February 11, 1973, only nine days after the national television transmission on February 2, 1973 (see “Much Ado of TV Dooms Stage Version,” NYT 7 Feb. 1973: 30). Ironically IBM, the sponsor, had taken out a full page ad in The New York Times on February 2nd that pointed out how much cheaper it was to watch the play on television than to see it live in the theatre for $9.50 [sic] (Broadway ticket prices now range from $25 to $60 and up!). In any event this struggle between television and live theatre for an audience is paradigmatic of the gradual withering away of theatre audiences even in such traditional bastions of the stage as New York City.”

      So my take on it was that people realized they could watch it for free on TV, and the potential audience in NYC dissolved to nothing. The production was already on shaky ground money-wise due to the expense of the TV production. Maybe if they’d had better reserves they could have held out for a Broadway audience to return… 9 days is not much. But in any event, it does seem TV killed the broadway show in this case.

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  3. And Be You Blithe and Bonny « Or What You Will said,

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    […] read the text a couple times, I’ve also had a chance to go back and watch the Branagh and New York Shakespeare Festival versions. Here’s my take: the Branagh movie is by far the best. It’s a beautiful and […]

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