Thursday, December 3, 2009

Discussing As You Like It

My friends over at the New York Neo-Classical Ensemble (who've put on some good Shakespeare lately) have gotten into a back-and-forth between different Ensemble members on their blog about the merits of As You Like It.

Marc LeVasseur, from the anti column:
Attention: potential producers and directors of As You Like It! Put your copy on the floor, pour gasoline on it, and light a match. Would you put on a play whose plot dies halfway through? Would you put on a show with completely unmotivated character changes? Would you actually put on a show that had unfunny jokes and an absurd ending? This play should never be produced, you monster!

Why would you shatter the already too fragile opinion of Shakespeare that’s held by most people? All the good writing is entirely in the first half. Characters are drawn, plot is focused, and trajectory is established. Two unhappy children are exiled to the forest with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and the money in their pockets. This will surely be a great survival play, right? What are these uptight courtly young lovers going to do once they reach the hard, gritty world of Arden forest with its lions and hunting and despair? Surely not sit around and write poetry, surely not that?

That's only the beginning. The tract continues, picking specific plot points and gripes with the text. I have to say it's not necessarily all that persuasive, but it does raise a lot of interesting questions about why people produce Shakespeare's less good plays.

Many of those raised questions are tackled by company member Teddy in his defense for the pro column, which wraps up with:
I don’t think As You Like it is and more or less flawed then most (its certainly got a lot more going for it then Two Noble Kinsmen, but Gorilla Shakespeare’s production may prove me wrong). All plays, I find, follow more or less similar paths and it tends to be the points of contention, disconnection, scary and weird shit that makes them individual. The only way that we’ll get more people to “like” Shakespeare is not by staging comfortable productions to protect a fragile opinion held by some, but by bravely staging productions we believe in. Not every will care for any production, but if we continue to stage work we’re proud of, I think we further the case for Shakespeare’s talent far more than if we limit ourselves to a select number of titles. The more scared and uncertain I am of a play when I begin working on it, the more ability I have to get really loud and messy, scratching at the walls of the plot and the sensibility of the character.