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-

Like-was like:

'Oh no! It's too late!'

I think.

You know?

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.


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Comments [14]

mgm27 from Los Angeles, CA

Oh, jealous! Both look so so great - if I were around, I might re-neg on my YJL ban to see her Lear.

I'll be celebrating the anniversary with you all in spirit - the club was a highlight of my last months in NYC!


Dec. 26 2009 06:25 PM
Sue K

One for Lear, please, if there are any left. This will be my first P-Club event!

Dec. 24 2009 06:05 PM

One for Lear, please. And happy new year, P-Club!

Dec. 24 2009 12:19 AM

hmm. tedious and addicting feels in some ways very normal and human. I think of friendships or conversations where someone goes on and on and I feel irritated and left out but then also really curious about what happens next. like a soap opera. Maybe there's also something a bit honest and naked about that unedited quality. And I haven't read Proust, but maybe it's a bit like that?

Meg, I was also thinking about many of those things related to remembering the storyline. I went through moments feeling in on something the character onstage wasn't and many moments feeling like the rest of the audience knew something I didn't. And then I kept being fascinated about the nature of memory. (And how any of us EVER connect when we all see and experience and remember things differently!) I also kept wondering if this piece works best in front of an art-going, Shakespeare-remembering (or at least Shakespeare-caring) audience. It seems to me probably so.

And I forgot about the chicken! For some reason it made me curious about the nature of spectacle and clowns during Shakespeare's time.

Dec. 22 2009 12:26 AM
Kirk Bromley

Two for Young Jean Lee's thing.

Dec. 21 2009 05:48 PM
Alice Reagan

One ticket for me for LEAR on the 8th, please. Thank you!

Dec. 20 2009 08:20 PM

I can't go to Othello, unfortunately, but I did get a chance to see Romeo and Juliet and enjoyed it. I thought it went on a bit but never got to the point where I was entirely bored.

At the very beginning I wondered if the humor relied on the people in the audience knowing the play better than the people represented in the monologues. But then as the show progressed I began to think, "Oh no, maybe I'M remembering the sequence of events incorrectly," and thinking about all the Shakespeare plays that I've read and/or seen but couldn't recount well. Interesting to think about this presumably shared heritage (not quite the term I'm looking for but I can't think of the one I want) that is perhaps less universal than we assume. And then there's the feeling that you really SHOULD know something and yet you don't, which I think IS universal, or close to it.

Re: the melodrama--I was mildly annoyed by it at the time but in retrospect think that it made the end, where they actually recited Shakespeare in a colloquial tone, more moving. And I think they did need that contrast. But maybe it could have been toned down a bit? A little less strained and self-consciously bad while still being over the top? Or would that have rendered it pointless?

Also, I'm confused by the giant chicken.

Dec. 20 2009 07:19 PM
Siobhan Burke

One ticket, please. Looking forward to it!

Dec. 20 2009 04:34 PM

You're all on the list ...

I'm glad you brought up melodrama, Aynsley - I was thinking about it, but with regard to how melodramatic so much of Shakespeare is, and how often it's the language that elevates the narrative (sort of the opposite of a crime novel...). Very interesting to hear this ridiculous family feud plot rendered in our ums and aws.

I went in and out in terms of how I felt about the line delivery. I thought that Gridley especially seemed to be straining to be funny or strange at times, but both were guilty of it, and I wondered how it might have read had they made different choices, at least some of the time. What if they had made, as one of their formal choices, a decision to go with natural delivery?

(You mention being more tolerant ...It's funny, the other day I was talking with a big theater guy who hasn't liked much of what Nature Theater did, but loved the company's dance piece, Poetics. And that was the one Nature Theater work I really couldn't stay with...)

Tedious and addicting - why is that a good combination???

Dec. 20 2009 11:18 AM
Eric C.

As they said in the film, Ocean's 11, "I'm in." One ticket for Lear, please.

Dec. 20 2009 10:33 AM

Matt and I'll be at Lear.

And Romeo and Juliet! I was dying to talk about this stuff post-performance. And I've decided I love these guys. They are working in such a specific and thought-provoking way.

Some thoughts:
Related to language--Their use of the ums and likes and weird pauses calls attention to the phrasing and rhythm (or lack thereof!) in everyday conversation. A friend of mine says the problem with dance most of the time is a lack of attention to phrasing. But in these performances there's deliberate attention paid to natural lack of phrasing. Rather than A-B-A or other such structures, these are meandering, stream of consciousness tracks. So the performance can feel meandering and unedited. I find this tedious and somehow totally addicting too.

I was also thinking about the melodrama. When combined with everyday language it feels like a skillful and very funny way to become performance. It is one more way of calling attention to something ordinary and making me see it differently. And at the same time I was wondering if I'm more tolerant of that kind of technique within acting because acting is not my field. When I see professionally trained dancers purposely doing "bad" over-dramatic dance I generally hate it. I wonder if it has to do with intention--in this case I feel from the artists a deep respect and rigor and commitment to the making of art so I don't feel like they're cynical within the melodrama. I'd be curious to hear if other people have thoughts on this.

And last for now, I love what they're doing with myth. recounting, questioning, making new ones... Through all the humor it also feels very tender about the human need to connect and share and have something real to talk about. It reminds me of the fundamental reasons we make art. And discuss it.

Dec. 20 2009 12:21 AM
Andrew Horwitz from NYC

Great to see you at R&J! Please hold one ticket for me for LEAR.

Dec. 19 2009 02:14 PM
Sophie Henderson

Really looking forward to this event. Please hold two tickets for me (+ Kristen Titus). See you then!

Dec. 19 2009 12:56 PM
Tymberly Canale

So looking forward to this! Please hold two tickets for me.

Dec. 19 2009 12:49 PM

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Open to everyone, the Performance Club is a freewheeling conversation about New York performance of all kinds, from experimental theater to gallery installations to contemporary dance. We go, we talk (online and at bars and cafes, with artists and amongst ourselves), we disagree and, sometimes, we change each other’s minds.


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