Friday, January 29, 2010

The Guthrie Presents Macbeth!

Macbeth. Dir. Joe Dowling. Perf. Barbara Bryne, Isabell Monk O’Connor, Suzanne Warmanen, Raye Birk, John Skelley, Benjamin Rosenbaum, J.C. Cutler, Bob Davis, James Noah, Peter Christian Hansen, Tyson Forbes, Erik Heger, Michelle O'Neill, Bill McCallum, Robert O. Berdahl, Sun Mee Chomet, Sam Bardwell, Kris L. Nelson, Nicholas Saxton, Graham Zima, Noah Coon, Charlie Lincoln , Elizabeth McCormick, and Nina Moschkau. Guthrie Theatre Company. Minneapolis. 30 January—3 April 2010.
The Guthrie's new production of Macbeth opens tomorrow, and I believe that it will be thrilling in both the older and the newer sense of the word. This production will be the fiftieth Shakespeare production put on by the Guthrie since it staged Hamlet in 1963.

About a month ago, I was privileged to be invited to a "Meet 'n' Greet" event during which Joe Dowling, the director of the production, and Monica Frawley, the set and costume designer, introduced the cast and crew and spoke about their vision of the play.

It sounds fabulous.

The play, as I gathered from Dowling's introductory remarks, will run without intermission—since Macbeth is Shakespeare's shortest tragedy, time won't be much of a problem. The audience will not have the opportunity (other than those the play itself provides) to break away from the unrelenting horrors provided by the play itself.

The play itself will have a contemporary feel—contemporary to this time period, that is, rather than to Shakespeare's England or to Duncan's Scotland, but no specific time is indicated. The general destruction and the effects of warfare will be brought into a universal, platonic realm.

In light of that, the set design is particularly intriguing. The intention is to have the stage scattered with debris—the residue of the conflict with with the play begins—and to have that debris pushed aside, moved around, and added to but not removed. The effect will prevent the audience from forgetting the warfare on which Scottish rule is built. When Macbeth's palace is established, it will simply be placed on top of the debris scattered on the stage. I'm greatly looking forward to seeing how that comes together.

Doubling roles is not at all uncommon—just as it wasn't in Shakespeare's day—and the Guthrie will have the same actor play the roles of Seyton, the Bloody Captain, and the Third Murderer. That combination isn't altogether unusual—I think the Great River Shakespeare Festival combined those roles a few years ago. A more unusual choice is to have the actor playing the Second Weïrd Sister (according to the cast list, it seems that "Weïrd Sister" is the term preferred over "Witch") will also play the Doctor. Doubling those roles may provide a very interesting subtext.

Dowlling also said that he intends to de-emphasizing the supernatural elements of the play, concentrating instead on the psychological realities imbedded in the play. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are not forced to act according to the prophecies of the Weïrd Sisters—nor do the Weïrd Sisters serve as advisors to Macbeth. The decisions—and, therefore the responsibility—rest with him.

If you're in the Twin Cities, plan to see this play. Here's the calendar where you can choose your performance and order your tickets! I'm convinced that it will be remarkable and that it will give us all—whether we've seen and read the play dozens of times or are coming to it cold—a lot to think about.

When you go to see it, pay attention to the opening lines. The point where the play starts may be astonishingly significant to its interpretation.

The Guthrie recently posted a photo retrospective of the last fifty Shakespeare performances. I'm embedding it here for your convenience and edification!

Thanks, Guthrie Theatre, for providing so many peerless productions! We (I speak for the world here) can't wait to see what the next fifty productions bring.
Links: The Play at the Guthrie Theater.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Henry V meets Braveheart—in South Park

“Starvin’ Marvin.” By Trey Parker. Perf. Isaac Hayes et al. Dir. Trey Parker. South Park. Season 1, episode 8. Comedy Central. 19 November 1997. DVD. Comedy Central, 2004.

I don't spend a lot of time at South Park, but I needed a quick example of scatological humor for my Literature of Humor class, and I thought of them first. Imagine my shock when I found Shakespeare there! I had to use Babelfish to translate the Turkey Language (I don't suppose it qualifies as "Turkish" or "Turkic") into English, but there it was, as plain as day.

In this episode, mutant Turkeys are taking over the town, and Chef needs to rally the citizens to fight them. His speech is clearly endebted to Braveheart, but the Lead Turkey's response is just as obviously drawn directly from Henry V:

There may also be a subtext of the two orations (by Richard and Richmond) to the opposing armies toward the end of Richard III—but I leave the exploration of that for those of you who are attempting to complete doctoral theses.

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2039 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

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—The Tempest