As I sit making final tweaks to a review for Shakespeare Bulletin of Jobsite Theater‘s production of Pericles, a collaboration with George Wilkins, who is believed to have written the first two acts, and one of Shakespeare’s less frequently produced and most frequently criticized plays, I couldn’t help but think about recent blog discussions of the Bard.
While he is a perennial topic in the theatre community, there has been a particular surge in discussion of his work/shadow/overdoneness/overall value in the past week, in part due to debate over staging new work versus “classics” (which, statistically, overwhelmingly means the Bard) spawned by the recently published Outrageous Fortune: the Life and Times of the New American Play and in part due to Young Jean Lee’s Lear, currently running at Soho Rep (Interesting interview of YJL regarding her latest play here).
Various suggestions have been offered up in posts and comment threads for how to temper the general overproduction of Shakespeare’s works and the overproduction of particular works by him (you know the ones). Critic David Cote (and others) have called for more productions of lesser done Shakespeare plays. Another suggestion has been for only exclusively Shakespeare-oriented companies to put up his work. What about a temporary moratorium that only allows staging of the most done works for educational purposes as part of theatres’ outreach programs?
We’ve seen tons of what’s considered good Shakespeare or Shakespeare’s “best” works. (Of course, some would argue that all Shakespeare is good, but that’s a whole other topic.)
But how about a cheeky, bad-to-the-bone “Bad Bard” festival that only puts up the less often read/staged/taught–and less liked–Shakespeare plays? Perhaps, directors would feel less afraid of taking risks if they weren’t taking on something such as Hamlet or King Lear?
See how my Pericles review got me here…This play has always been saddled by complaints about its uneven structure, multiple settings, vast time frame, etc. which may be why it worked so well in Jobsite’s adapted rendition–a rock musical, no less. (Even formally problematic plays can have worthwhile stories to tell.) The storyline remained in tact, but the play was relocated from its six foreign locations (Tyre, Antioch, Tarsus, Pentapolis, Ephesus, and Mytilene) to familiar American ones (Rikers Island, Brooklyn, Coney Island, and Cape Cod) and recontextualized as a New York mafia story.
What do you consider to be Shakespeare’s worst plays and why (characterization, structure, ending, etc.) ?
Below are a few links to recent discussions. (And I’m sure I’ve missed some):
When did King Lear oustrip Hamlet to become the critical consensus for Greatest Work of Shakespeare? I almost feel like the Shakespeare play is being over-venerated as an excuse to beat up on Young Jean’s latest.
• Chris Wilkinson, “from Godwin’s Law to Shakespeare’s Law” (The Guardian Theater blog)