24th August 2012
Every summer, a good friend of mine takes the best local actors and performs Shakespeare in a small amphitheatre off the main street in Aspen. They typically run for a dozen performances and get upwards of a hundred people per audience, which, here in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, only goes to show that Shakespeare is alive and well, as if we ever doubted it. Well, they perform Shakespeare, but not as you might find it in Stratford, home of the bard and the Royal Shakespeare Company. It's Shakespeare with a twist, more Kiss Me Kate than The Taming of the Shrew, more All Shook Up than Twelfth Night. Not that they don't stick to the script. They do. But they add a song or two, a dance step or three - this year, Twelfth Night, was set in the Swinging Twenties and featured some very good tap numbers and "Putting on the Ritz," for good measure. I can't help feel the bard would approve. He liked a joke, did old William, at least that's what we have to conclude from the Falstaffs and the Toby Belch's in his plays. He understood that even bleak subjects need a little levity. For me, Shakespeare needs it a whole lot, because I find it so supremely inaccesible. I've been to Stratford a few times; I have heard Shakespeare on both sides of The Pond, even squirmed in the uncomfortable seats at the reconstructed Globe in London. And, believe me, I only go to the lighter stuff. But even in the comedies, I am forcing myself to be entertained, trying to be amused by fairies and asses, and being eternally grateful for characters like Puck. I once saw Benjamin Britten's opera of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." At more than three hours, it was all I could do to stop myself leaping from the balcony to the unsuspecting audience below in a desperate act of suicide. Too much murder has been committed in the name of Shakespeare, including violence against the ear (in Britten's case.)
Of course, I jest. There are sublime lines in Shakespeare and runs of lines, but the rest of it feels like chewing on old steak to me. It's a good thing, I suppose, since man cannot live by bread alone. Except for the hard hitters, we would be malnutrioned. I take full blame for my ignorance. Maybe it was Hamlet read by unwilling high schoolers on the rural west coast of Scotland, maybe it's just the way it is acted by the Gielguds and the Barrymores, and I am sorry, but my eyes glaze over. I hear that Shakespearean voice and I think about what I had for breakfast. "To be or not to be," is all very profound, but it's been overdone. "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" "My love is like a red, red rose." (Woops, that's Robert Burns.) I know it's just me. I know I should be firmly set with the "popular" authors back in the room for paperback sensibilities. I'm just saying, that's all.