I started this post two whole years ago, but was sidetracked. Here it is with a few updates!
I love the local Shakespeare groups in the DC area. The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company is especially fun and vibrant. During the summer, they perform family-friendly productions at the haunted ruins of a Southern Belle finishing school. In the fall, they used to take folks inside those ruins for movable productions in the dark (they did Dracula like that a couple years ago!). Now that they’ve settled into their beautiful Baltimore home, it looks like they plan to stay there for the fall show (though it’s still bloody: Titus Andronicus!).
Two summers ago, I took my kids to see The Taming of the Shrew at the haunted ruins. Light rain was barely noticed and the actors were just happy to complete a performance (so many thunder storms in Maryland that year… and the ruins are on top of a hill). The outdoor venue is really fun for families, with blankets and picnicking encouraged and no need for kids to sit perfectly still and at attention. There are a few hundred folding chairs available, as well as space to spread out. The stage area is built on several levels in front of the ruins and the actors use window openings and the sides of the ruins for entrances and exits. There’s a lot of activity. This production of the Shrew was pure fun. The comedy was slapstick and silly, with hilarious situations and clownish antics. Great fun for kids.
Back in 2013, CSC was also still playing in community spots. I saw The Two Gentlemen of Verona in “The Other Barn” which was a surprisingly pleasant and intimate community performance space located in a shopping center in Columbia, Maryland. It’s a hike for me to Columbia, but it was well worth it. CSC is a a community-minded organization and makes a great effort to be accessible to its audience.
The performance I attended was preceded by a talk with director Patrick Kilpatrick who spoke a bit about the setting he chose for this production… it takes place in 1991, a year Kilpatrick described as pivotal to American culture… the year “everything changed.” His inspiration (if that’s what you would call it) was a combination of the William Kennedy Smith rape case and the Menendez brothers’ trial. “Proteus and Valentine are the Menendez brothers. They are William Kennedy Smith. Two kids from wealthy and powerful families who think they can have whatever they want, because for their entire lives that has been a fact.” It was an interesting way to look at the play and in fact worked really well, with the boys in their button down oxford shirts and smoking seegars.
And it was a great deal of fun watching the play at The Other Barn… the actors were within a couple feet of me. The Duke’s eight-year-old son was sitting near me on a bench watching his dad and hanging out with him between scenes… I loved the casual atmosphere. The CSC players also entertained us with some fun music before the show and during intermission. Love these performances.
This past summer I visited my favorite spot, Staunton, Virginia, once again. I stayed in a fantastic airbnb place and really enjoyed the town. I took in two performances at the American Shakespeare Center: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Antony and Cleopatra. I even won a door prize… a poster signed by the cast! The shows were excellent, as always. They continue through November along with The Winter’s Tale and Henry VI, Part I (called Shakespeare’s Joan of Arc).
I saw ASC do The Winter’s Tale a few years ago in McLean, Virginia. ASC is bringing their Dangerous Dreams Tour to the Alden Theatre in McLean again in 2016. They’ll perform Julius Caesar, The Importance of Being Earnest, and The Life of King Henry V January 22-23. They have a package deal for all three shows at the Alden along with a “Brush up your Shakespeare” talk on January 21. Prices: $88 general public/$62 students and seniors/$50 McLean Community Center district residents… what a bargain, especially if you live in McLean! The DC-area Shakespeare Explorers Meetup group is participating in all the Alden events… maybe I’ll make it out to one!
What if… William Shakespeare wrote The Big Lebowski?
Why would anyone ask themselves this question? No one is sure, including writer Adam Bertocci who wrote The Two Gentlemen of Lebowski in an inspired frenzy in late 2009 and saw it play on stage in New York City the following spring.
In his afterword, Bertocci points out that Elizabethans were constantly reworking earlier stories and that most of Shakespeare’s plays can be linked to obvious sources. He says, “This is my contention: If The Big Lebowski had premiered in 1598, Shakespeare would have ripped it off by 1603.”
I just finished reading it, and wowzas, it’s a bit funny. It’s an adaptation of the Coen Brothers’ 1998 film The Big Lebowski. If you don’t remember the story line, take a gander at the Wikipedia article. It’s an odd movie… the unemployed, laid-back, pot-smoking Dude (Jeff Bridges) and his Vietnam vet bowling buddy Walter (John Goodman) are embroiled in goofy hijinks involving a rug, mistaken identity, a pseudo-kidnapping, missing ransom money, spiked White Russians, misplaced toes, ears, urine, and ashes, and well, throw in a bunch of F-bombs, and I think I’ve set the stage. Remember, it’s the Coen Brothers.
So, Bertocci took this and said “let’s make it Shakespearean.” He rewrote the entire story in Shakespeare-like heightened language, even throwing in Shakespearean references (he claims there are references to all the plays, sonnets, and other works and I believe him!). Bertocci follows the film’s plot closely and even works in the lyrics to some of the songs used in the film.
It somehow works. I can’t really convey how funny it is. It had me laughing out loud several times, and smiling with amusement most of the rest (it’s a really quick read if you are familiar with the movie… I just watched it on Netflix last week, so the story was fresh in my mind).
It is almost too difficult to pick out a few examples, as the whole thing is so hilarious and I feel like the examples will sound dumb out of context. Well, here is one. You may recall my love for Balthasar’s song in Much Ado About Nothing. I started many of my posts with it and used it as my theme.
Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey nonny nonny.
Okay, so Bertocci’s reference to it in Two Gentlemen of Lebowski is sung by Bonnie (Bunny in the film), the slutty porn star wife of the Big Lebowski as she asks the Knave (the Dude) to blow on her green toenail polish:
With toe-nails of verdant and forester’s green
With a hey-nonny-no and a hey-nonny-nonny
Blow thrice on my toe-nails and I’ll be thy queen
And ever preserve me as thine, blithe and Bonnie.
Bertocci also includes textual notes that are… ahem…worth reading. So on the same page as the reframed Balthasar’s song, I’ll take note of an example. Bonnie says to the Knave:
I ask this deed of you thrice now; and that which a damsel craves
constantly is the service of a tongue most moved in capability.
Look to my foot; I cannot reach that far. Blow, wind!
The accompanying note reads:
tongue most moved: i.e., capable of dexterous speech and cunning linguistics
Alrighty then. Another note later in the play:
lance: euphemism for penis; see also most nouns in Shakespeare
So it goes on in that vein, page after hilarious page. Okay, I can’t let go of the toe thing. You may recall in the movie that a severed toe is delivered to the Dude and it appears to be Bunny’s (with green polish). Walter denies that it’s Bunny’s toe. So, here is Walter’s reply in the TGOL version:
Thou wouldst have a toe? A toe can be obtain’d.
Ways are known, Knave. Thou wilt not like to hear.
I’ll have a toe for thee this afternoon
Ere singeth cockerel at three o’clock.
These amateurs would have us soil’d with fear.
I really wish I could see a video of it in performance, but alas, the Coen Brothers have apparently put the kibosh on future productions. There are two short videos that are worth watching on the DMTheatrics’ American Shakespeare Factory archives. I can imagine with music and dancing, it would be a really fun show to see.
The Knave abideth.
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