Thursday, August 03, 2006

On Women vs Boys & Acting Shakespeare

A defender of boy actors brings up the example of the soprano arias in Bach's St Matthew Passion. I reply:
We have records of the running battle Bach fought with church officials for permission to use female sopranos for soloists instead of boys. He won some, he lost some. Of course this proves nothing about the skill level of boy players, or Shakespeare's attitude toward them.
At this point I usually toss in Ellen Terry's tribute to the 10 year old Olivier play Kate in his school's Shrew: "That boy is already a great actor".

Another queries: "Is there any evidence that women might have played the female roles when the company was performing in the homes of the great lords and other non-public venues? Or at court?"
I opine:
I feel that the urge to recite these roles is so strong that not even severe sanctions could prevent women from performing them somewhere.... as severity did not prevent women from reading Lolita in Tehran. But alas, that is merely my feeling. However difficult it is for me (and thee?) to believe that ladies who appeared in Masques, and played instruments and sang in social gatherings, would be content to be excluded from play reading and sit silently while their male relatives, untrained in female impersonation, performed for their entertainment-- those who have researched the matter say that the facts are otherwise. How I wish that a letter might be found saying something like: "Cousin Thomas so stank of tobacco o' Tuesday that I could scare bear him near me when he woo'd my Beatrice in the personage of Benedict. My Lady Mother swears that if I do not amend ere next we meet to read a play, she will give the role to my sister Kate-- though Kate be low and brown and fit only to play serving maids...."!

Louise Kennedy reviews Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's The Taming of the Shrew in today's Globe -- That's the picture at the top of this blog.

I 'm rather ashamed of my reaction to her review. It seems to me as if the things
that Kennedy disliked about the production are things that I would not care for either
and that
and instead of feeling that I ought to go see a bunch of good actors, some of whom I think of as friends, who are employed in a production that is stylish and popular-- even if the style is not one I approve-- I feel that the negatives in her review give me an excuse to skip the trolly trip downtown to sit in 90 degree heat on the scorched grass of the common and watch Commonwealth's version of a good-but-not-great play that I know nearly by heart.

Here are excerpts from the excuse:

Company takes its broad brush to 'Shrew'
By Louise Kennedy, Globe Staff | August 3, 2006
QUOTE: If you're looking to make Shakespeare accessible and comprehensible to today's audiences, as the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's annual free production on Boston Common aims to do, The Taming of the Shrew is a tricky play to choose....
... In directing this raucous, raunchy Shrew, set in a vividly realized North End restaurant of the 1950s, Steven Maler has decided to grab the laughs by making everything as broad and extreme as possible. That approach works well in some scenes.... At other times, though, the jokes -- many of them introduced in irritating ad-libs and frat-worthy physical comedy -- get pushed so far that they fall over. .....
...Want evidence? Check the hideous, gigantic red codpiece that encumbers Petruchio in the wedding scene. Observe the humping and bumping and grinding that pervades every interaction between not just Petruchio and Katharina, but Petruchio and his male servants. OK, we get it, he's a macho guy who's fond of his endowments -- once the point is made, we don't need it ground in over and over again, and it's certainly not going to provide many yuks for anyone outside a locker room.
.....This nicely matched pair of hotheads.... is surrounded, on John Coyne's evocative set of brick townhouses and cafe tables, by a flock of talented actors. Unfortunately, though, the players are mostly asked to slather on heavy accents in one of two styles: wicked Bahstahn and spicy-a meat-a-ball. Apparently this is to underscore Maler's conceit of renaming Shakespeare's Padua Bostonia, a change that isn't nearly clever enough to justify the damage it does to meter and sense..... the direction keeps things moving, with lots of horseplay, some fun doo-wop tunes, a roller-skating (and vaguely annoying) Lucentio and Bianca, and even a roaring Vespa.
Maler clearly believes that Shakespeare, or at least his Shrew, needs a heaping spoonful of artificial flavoring to please audiences today. That's not my cup of tea. But if it gets a few people to try tea instead of soda, I won't stop them from taking a sip. END QUOTE

Well, Kennedy-- and Will Stackman, who has similar criticisms in his
On The Aisle review-- has stopped me. When I was a teen, I thought of Shakespeare as a blessed refuge from doo-wop and meat balls. Only a brilliant brilliant production can reconcile me.


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