Weekend Assignment #319: The Play's The Thing. Nowadays we get most of our comedy and drama from television, from movies and even from internet downloads. Perhaps we sometimes forget that all of these evolved from a much older art form, the stage play. Do you ever attend plays, musicals or operas? Why or why not?
Extra Credit: Have you ever seen anything by Shakespeare performed live?
Sad to say, I hardly ever get to any sort of live performance these days, aside from the occasional convention appearance by a writer or actor. The last live acting I saw in person was an outdoor Dillinger Days reenactment in January 2008. I've been working through my memories this afternoon, and the most recent play of any sort that I attended was a Gaslight Theatre show circa 2006 or early 2007. That hardly counts, I think. As I wrote a year ago, the Gaslight's stock in trade is deeply silly musical melodrama pastiches, full of puns and send-ups and satire. The last Gaslight show I went to, courtesy of First Magnus in the days when they were riding high on the housing bubble, was Sgt. Preston of the Mounties, or Yukon Count on Me. It was a lot of fun, and I'd like to go again sometime, but somehow it never seems important enough to spend the time or money to do so. And that's the basic problem: money. The big touring companies charge so much per ticket (because they have to) that I can't justify the cost of a ticket, even for a show I really want to see. On the other hand, smaller productions don't even hit my radar.
But I have seen Shakespeare performed, twice. The first time was way back in 1974, on a school trip to New York City. The play, The Tempest, was one of my favorites. This particular production, at the Lincoln Center's Mitzi Newhouse Theater, starred a familiar-looking young woman as Miranda. Carol Kane had just appeared in a comedy melodrama Dr. Pepper ad. Within a year or two she would be famous for her role as Simka, Latka's significant other on Taxi. I enjoyed the play very much, far more than the other two shows I saw on that trip: Carol Channing in a dreadful show called Lorelei, and the Madame Butterfly at the Met. Glorious as the music of that opera may be, I was really annoyed by the title character's relentless (and by today's standards, needless) suffering.
More recently, but not recently enough, John and I saw an RSC production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Stratford-Upon-Avon, circa 1994. I was a little thrown by the sparse set design, which consisted mostly of three rope swings hanging from the rafters, but other than that I liked it a lot. For me, the pastoral comedies are the most accessible and enjoyable of Shakespeare's works. Call me a philistine, but I generally don't like tragedies. They're depressing, and too often it seems that the characters could get out of their predicament if they just behaved more reasonably.
Still, there is one Shakespeare tragedy I'd like to have seen live in 2008. It was my least favorite Shakespeare play, Hamlet, starring my favorite actor, David Tennant. I recently got to see most of the BBC film of the production on PBS, starring Tennant as Hamlet and Patrick Stewart as both the murderous king and his ghostly brother. It was a modern dress version of the play, with Hamlet sometimes in a t-shirt, sometimes in evening clothes, often brandishing a handheld video camera. I still dislike Hamlet's whiny indecisiveness, but this particular cast and director made for a fascinating, eminently watchable update.