A few years ago on television, “Rome” was all the rage. Now it’s “Spartacus,” which has taken blood and gore to a whole new level. Not so long ago, I turned away and covered my eyes during “Nip/Tuck.” I had nothing to fear, compared to “Spartacus.”
Seeing Rome in all its gory glory made me rethink our production of Julius Caesar a few years back. How could we, as Shakespeare says in Henry V, produce “… on this unworthy scaffold to bring forth so great an object: can this cockpit hold the vasty …” royal court of Bohemia? So we produced Julius Caesar, not unlike Orson Welles’ W.P.A. fascist take on the Shakespeare, in modern dress. The black shirts of Julius Caesar brought the words to life.
When I think of all the money down the tubes for costume rental, I am dizzy with dollar signs. In the past, Gerry Tatham, Meredith Gildrie or Art Conn worked what magic they could with Mrs. Kimbrough’s donated red velvet curtains. (I always think of Scarlet O’Hara and Miss Ellen’s portiers.)
The Winter’s Tale is two plays in one: first, a court full of intrigue and accusations and, second, a pastoral comedy and the glorification of the simple life. I’m reminded of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the royal court, the common folk (often referred to as “rustics”), the four lovers Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius and Helena, and enchanted fairies Oberon, Titania and Puck. If they are all costumed in high Elizabethan garb, who can tell what’s what? All classes are foreign. But put the royals in tuxedos, the country bumpkins in patched overalls, and the lovers as teenagers that you might see at the mall or at school, and everyone knows who everyone is supposed to be. The words carry the plot; the imagination fills the gaps; and Shakespeare says nothing new, but says it so very well.
There is a speech in The Tempest which touches my heart. I can almost hear a young actor whose mother had created a costume for her son, but being in terror that he was to appear in The Tempest and his new costume would get wet — tempest soaked. The young actor pleads to Shakespeare, and Shakespeare writes a speech to cover his distress: “That our garments, being, as they were, drenched in the sea, hold notwithstanding their freshness and glosses, being rather new-dyed than stained with salt water.”
I know the Bard of Stratford on Avon isn’t for everyone, and I feel about his work the way I feel each time I witness a shoddy production of anything … they’ll never come back. But give The Winter’s Tale a chance. As MGM would have said, “You’ll laugh! You’ll cry! You’ll be amazed!” And you’ll understand, like you never hoped to, the words, words, words. Three more times remain to experience The Winter’s Tale: tonight at 8pm and Saturday at 2pm and 8pm.
See you at the theatre!