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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: March ::
Re: Casting; Fletcher; Shrew; NYSF Mac.
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0207  Tuesday, 10 March 1998.

[1]     From:   Matthew Gretzinger <
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        Date:   Monday, 09 Mar 1998 13:41:43 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0194  Re: Casting

[2]     From:   Jonathan Hope <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Mar 1998 11:18:52 +0000 (GMT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0203  Fletcher and others

[3]     From:   Stevie Simkin <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Mar 1998 09:49:56 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0201  Re: Shrew

[4]     From:   Charles Weinstein <
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Mar 1998 18:56:07 -0500
        Subj:   Alec Baldwin and Angela Bassett in Macbeth


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Matthew Gretzinger <
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Date:           Monday, 09 Mar 1998 13:41:43 -0500
Subject: 9.0194  Re: Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0194  Re: Casting

Re/the casting thread, I think that I can see Larry Weiss' point (and
no, I did not have to employ "thought process[es] similar to [those]
used by psychiatrists who try to enter their patients' delusions.")
However, I'm not sure that I entirely agree with him.

I believe that the "dimensions" of a text are limited only by the
interpreters involved, whether the interpreters be readers, actors, or
audience members.  I don't believe that authors are capable of crafting
texts that exclude the new "dimensions" that future interpreters will
bring to them, and I believe in the right of an interpeter to accept or
reject the various meanings that have attached themselves to a text over
time.  I don't believe any text has meaning unto itself, lacking an
interpreter.

Certainly, there are things that are "not in a play."  However, those
things will be different from interpreter to interpreter, won't they?
Some feel that The Tempest is about colonial expansion-some don't.  Some
think that certain of Shakespeare's characters are homosexual in nature-
some don't.  Some think that The Merchant of Venice is Anti-Semitic-and
some don't.  Who is to say, with authority,  which interpretations are
"incorrect" or "un-Shakespearean" and which aren't?

The point is about freedom of choice in interpretation.  The text
remains the starting point of any interpreter.  So, yes, to me, it IS
absurd to cast Shirley Temple as Lear, or for the fat bearded bald man
to play Juliet, because I can find no basis in either text for these
choices.  I cannot see what, if anything, of interest, would be
revealed.  Perhaps I lack vision, or perspective-someone else may not be
so limited.

The pink-clad Richard III of "The Goodbye Girl" is amusing, but not
because of "the absurdity of grossly revising [the] character."  The
character there is not revised-it is interpreted, and, to my thinking,
poorly interpreted.  That I think it is mis-interpreted makes me laugh,
but does not lead me to think that excesses of interpretation should be
discouraged.  Richard, I worry not (my personal Richard), will be
himself again.

Larry Weiss points out that Miller's Death of a Salesman was not written
for me alone.  Of course it was written for no one "alone," but for
everyone, and it is (or will be) the property of posterity.  As such it
"means" whatever the actors and audiences need it to mean, at the time
of interpretation.  What Miller wrote cannot be changed (except perhaps
by Miller).  What use (for good or for ill) his words are put to,
however, is not up to him, nor to Weiss, nor to me, nor to anyone
"alone."  It is, of course, a "different play," each and every time it
is re-staged, indeed, each time it is re-discovered by a new reader, a
new audience member, or a new generation.

Mr. Weiss says that "a white Othello is not the play Shakespeare wrote."
He says that Shakespeare told a "certain story," and that the Patrick
Stewart Othello is a "different story."  I question the first statement,
but wholeheartedly agree with the second.  I don't know that Shakespeare
told a "certain story."  He wrote a play.  A play is a blueprint, not an
end in itself.  The story is told in performance, or in the mind of the
reader, as she imagines the characters, the words, and the action.

The Stewart Othello is a different story. Isn't that one of the reasons
Shakespeare has survived?  Because his plays can be constantly reborn in
new ways, telling new and different stories, to suit new and different
generations, cultures, audiences?

Patrick Stewart's production is just as deserving of being called
"Shakespeare's" as any production of the play since Burbage's time.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jonathan Hope <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Mar 1998 11:18:52 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: 9.0203  Fletcher and others
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0203  Fletcher and others

As someone who has also read through the Fletcher canon, best wishes to
Drew Whitehead, but let's drop the Beaumont please - it may look like a
useful shorthand, but it misrepresents the canon badly.  Massinger has a
better claim to be remembered as Fletcher's 'other', and there were
enough other others for 'The Fletcher canon' to be the best
formulation.  I know the Cambridge edition uses the B-word, but more
shame to them and their misguided, overpriced books.

As to which plays you should read, it is harder to think of plays that
aren't relevant, rather than ones that are, but you might want to look
at the 1619-22 plays as a group (including Custom of the Country, Island
Princess, Sea Voyage etc).  Gordon McMullan's The Politics of Unease in
the Plays of John Fletcher (1994:
Massachusetts) has a very handy chronology of the canon on pages 267-9,
and should provide ideas and starting points generally.

I'm told, by the way, that the success of their current Henry VIII
(coming to the US soon), has prompted the RSC to look at the Fletcher
canon with a view to more productions.  The John Fletcher revival is on
its way.

Jonathan Hope
Middlesex University

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stevie Simkin <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Mar 1998 09:49:56 -0000
Subject: 9.0201  Re: Shrew
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0201  Re: Shrew

I'm sorry that my comment on Shrew caused misunderstanding

> If Stevie Simkin, in writing that "When we start reading 20th century
> psychology in Shakespeare instead of a reflection of common practices in
> early modern England ... the attempt to turn a blind eye to the play's
> misogyny looks more like self-mutilation with a sharp instrument," he
> means that all attempts to psychologize automatically turn Kate into a
> masochist, I'm afraid that I have to disagree.

I agree entirely that "Turning her into a victim of Petruchio's depraved
psychology still leaves her a victim."

My comment about the sharp instrument was intended to say that when we
apply 20th century psychology in this way, we are not so much turning a
blind eye as deliberately blinding ourselves to what the text
represents.  The production I saw I felt was deeply problematic in that
it attempted to "excuse" Petruchio's behaviour by saying he had an
unhappy childhood.  This seems to me to be the worse kind of casuistry.

I'll try and be less clever-clever and more transparent in future!

Stevie Simkin

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[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Charles Weinstein <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Mar 1998 18:56:07 -0500
Subject:        Alec Baldwin and Angela Bassett in Macbeth

The New York Shakespeare Festival production of Macbeth starring Alec
Baldwin and Angela Bassett is sold out for its entire run, including the
previews.  But "sold out" is always a relative term, and a few tickets
will usually turn up on the day of performance.  Should you try to get
one?

No.  The production is truly awful:  dully directed and wretchedly acted
by an unrelievedly mediocre ensemble.  Deprived of his cinematic
whisper, Baldwin reveals himself to be a callow lad, without passion or
presence. On screen, with his fires carefully banked, he can give a
plausible imitation of intelligent menace.  On stage, his thin, reedy,
adolescent voice conveys no power, no villainy and no torment.  The
proverbial wisdom is true:  An actor can't hide in the theatre, and a
stage is more pitiless than a camera.  A close-up can be a disguise; a
soliloquy is always an X-ray.

Angela ("What's Talent Got To Do With It?") Bassett is equally inept.
Sawing the air with her hands, strutting and bellowing like Tina Turner,
she makes one wonder if Nature's journeymen had fashioned her and
botched the job.  She and Baldwin have no chemistry and generate no
heat.  When Lady M grabs her husband's crotch on "screw your courage to
the sticking place", the moment has all the erotic charge of a housewife
shopping for cucumbers.

George Wolfe's staging couldn't be more routine, and the small cast
(only three guests at the banquet!) gives no sense of a society, let
alone a country.  None of the actors speak Shakespeare effectively; all
of them resort to the faux-British mid-Atlantic accent that I once
thought American actors had abandoned for good.  The performance is
peppered with "my lohrd"s and other phonemes that set the teeth on edge.

Are there any redeeming features?  Not on stage, but you might see some
celebrities in the audience.  Danny ("Lethal Weapon") Glover and little
Stephen Baldwin were there the night I saw it.  Who knows; if you're
lucky you might catch a glimpse of Kim Basinger.

But the performance itself is an amateurish bore, which I abandoned at
intermission, 2/3 of the way through.  The money isn't important, but
the waste of time and life is hard to forgive.
 

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