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.

2 comments:

Doria said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Doria said...

I agree with both Teddy AND Marc. As suggested by Marc, I agree, 'As you like it' does get pretty darn funky a few breaths past the Arden entrance. However, one of the best productions of Shakespeare I have ever seen was a production of ‘As You Like It’ at Shakespeare & Company in the Berkshires. I remember sobbing senselessly after Rosalind's epilogue; not having any idea WHY but, none the less, feeling more alive than I had ever felt after a theatrical experience. Why did it work for me? At the downright risk of being altogether obvious: They all said “yes”, meant it, and traveled with the piece which allowed my audience to unscrew our minds and believe too. The love, life and joy that came out of the moment by moment commitment through the text ignited the whole world we were all a part of then and there! Superficially: Ros charmed the shoot out of me. I believed in Orlando’s struggle. I ached for their love and thus kept caring. On a more profound level: I felt our shared humanity through timelessness that makes this mans writing so unshakably brilliant. I think we all agree that there is a level of trust one must fully exert when choosing to swim Shakespeare. Trust in the material, trust in the adventure of it. When we let go of the mind we get to feel how the body beats to those iambs. It worked because the actors and creative team said “yes. Lets adventure” and filled it with exquisite unfettered life. As an audience we were given permission to do the same without hesitation. We all know: The man's good. Even his crap is damn un-burnable and at the end of the day I think every single breath breather that gets to make those words of his sound has to mean the shoot out of it. While also understanding that the man is getting paid to write plays in a however long period of time and that’s where he stopped. Wouldn’t it be amazing to get to see how Shakespeare would rewrite his work… We've all thought about it...There’s gotta be a thesis paper out there somewhere….