One thing I’ve made known on this blog: I believe that the beauty of Shakespeare’s work can be found in his written words. For someone to act them out to render the best possible emotional output is genuinely not an easy task, so I do respect actors and directors for trying. That being said, if you present a production that makes me shrink in my seat, then I will leave at intermission. And that’s what I did tonight.
Only a couple weeks into my second at-least-four-year sojourn in Kingston, Ontario, I was looking forward to checking out the theatrical scene, something I didn’t really do last time ’round. Tonight’s fare was a production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), performed by the King’s Town Players. I’d never seen or read it before, but the written version came strongly endorsed by a fellow bibliophile with a wicked sense of humor.
It’s not that other people didn’t enjoy the play and laugh at the humour; to the contrary, in fact. But to me, when one of the players came out, requested for the house lights to be turned on and then quizzed the viewers whether they’ve read King John (one of that handful of Shakespeare plays that don’t get taught at the secondary or early post-secondary level, and rarely get performed), I didn’t like where this was going. It was like a cheap way to assert his experience with Shakespeare as being more exhaustive than our own, giving them license to butcher the plays.
The three male actors that comprised the troupe began with Romeo and Juliet, not only dressing in drag to play the female parts (acceptable, as Shakespeare did it in his own time), but complete with shrieking falsetto voices. Let me tell you, 15 minutes with that voice was enough to make me start thinking exit strategies. After a decent Titus-as-TV-chef skit (Bone Appetite!) and a short Macbeth skit where they poked at Scottish accents (which we rarely ever see performed in modern productions) they got to Othello. Oh, Othello. After seeing how they desecrated the Juliet part, I was expecting the same man to Crip-walk out in blackface. Luckily, he came onstage with a life raft for an almost-as-stupid sketch where is his chastised by his fellow actors (in the worst acting out of embarrassment that I’ve ever seen. Full hand-on-forehead stuff, people. These days, that acting quality is mainly reserved for the Disney Channel — but I digress), who go on to explain that the boating term ‘moor’ is not the same as an African Moor. And then they rap. *Shudder*
And at some point, they’re able to fit in a joke about playing ‘hide the salami’. Shakespeare did vulgar, I get it. But he also had taste, timing, and subtlety. After that, they just had to equate the English history plays (throwing in King Lear, a tragedy – why not? He was a king!) with a football game, and then they realized they had briefly mentioned every Shakespeare play.
…Except Hamlet. At this point, the bile is already rising up in my throat. I’ve spent that delicious first-week-of-class leisure time before the essays hit making my way through Kenneth Branagh’s 4-hour Hamlet. Nobody’s Hamlet will ever be the one I have in my mind, but I really enjoy this one, and have learned a lot from it. I was NOT about to watch them do Hamlet. And, to my even greater displeasure, the actors spent about five minutes pretending not to want to act out such an exalted role, once again looking to the audience for the external validation to let them butcher that, too. At that point, they let us out for intermission, and I suppose that the external validation will be noticing how many audience members stayed for part two.
They did not get my validation, that’s for sure. As I said: life is too short to watch bad Shakespeare.