A Tale of Two Shakespeares
Friday, December 18, 2009
So, first off: The Performance Club's January outing will be Friday the 8th at Soho Rep., where we'll catch Young Jean Lee's "Lear" at 7:30. The good folks at SR are holding 30 tickets for the Performance Club. Please RSVP by Christmas Day to reserve. Each costs $20, $10 bucks off the usual price.
Remember Lee's last effort, "The Shipment"? We saw it at the Kitchen last January, and debated for ages online and off. Now she's taking on Shakespeare, only there's no Lear in her "Lear." Just the kids. Just the messy aftermath and the muddling through.
You could make a larger metaphor here about the relationship of classics and adaptations. Nature Theater of Oklahoma is doing that right now at the Kitchen with "Romeo and Juliet." Adroitly performed by Anne Gridley and Robert M. Johanson as a series of interlocking monologues, it uses as its script not Shakespeare but what various people theyr eached out to (friends, family) could remember of the play (or the movie version, or "West Side Story"). Nature Theater is known for working with everyday language, in all its stop-and-start glory. Here we're reminded that Shakespearean English, now so lofty, was also the language of its day, full of toss offs and bawdy gags:
"And then one took the poison and the other one-
'Oh no! It's too late!'
Is-is that thing anything remotely like that?"
And so on. The smart, exhausting amateur aesthetic is half wondrous and half maddening, a sophisticated exploration/send-up of our deeply felt but often fuzzy ties to these so-called bedrock texts that constitute our shared historical repertory.
It's terribly funny, too funny at times for its own good, with teasing glimpses of a beating heart. We finally hear un-winking Shakespeare when the lights dim and we're safe in the darkness. That's telling, no? As Johanson blurts out late in the show, during an extended riff on the vulnerability and neediness of actors: "It's a competition with Shakespeare!" The rules change but, somehow, not the game.