June 19, 2019
Day 25: “Strangely familiar” is how artistic director Ben Spiller puts it when I ask him how these translations sound to him.
The button on my black jeans still hasn’t been re-fastened. I know that traveling sewing kit is around here somewhere.
I’m also trying NOT to buy any lotion. I grabbed all the tubes from many hotel stays in hopes that I can run through them and not spend a lot of Keihl’s. As much as I love that Coriander formula of theirs. So I’m storing bottles upside down to get every last drop.
It’s our third company breakfast and Hannah has gone all out. More fruit. And little omelettes. We have a pretty great turnout. I know that company is getting tired. It’s like they are in summer stock, punching out a new play every week.
Ben (quoted above) mentioned a few months ago that he wanted to come to NY to see some of the translations, and so Taylor and I decided that we would sponsor him. In 2005, Ben started the 1623 Theater Company with the motto “See Shakespeare differently.” Their mission is to give “voices to marginalised people in response to Shakespeare and the world today.” They do this “by making theatre, supporting artists, inspiring learners, engaging communities and championing diversity.” The name 1623 should pop for many of us as the year that the First Folio of Shakespeare’s works was published.
Taylor and I met him four years ago when he was on some kind of boondoggle with the OSF education department. He was traveling with a few of his other British theater colleagues and I can’t remember now what all they had to do to sing for their supper, but there was one of those public dinners in the brand-new rehearsal center at OSF. And they were invited to talk about their work.
We struck up an immediate friendship based on mutual admiration for each other’s projects and Taylor had kept in touch with Ben via social media. (I gave up on FB in 2016 right before the Presidential election. It just got to be so loud. I still technically have a page, but I rarely look at it.)
Earlier this year found me in London on a boondoggle of my own. Ostensibly it was to check in on playwright Josh Wilder and dramaturg Davina Moss, who were polishing off the second draft of Josh’s translation of Love’s Labours’ Lost. They were colleagues at Yale graduate school but Davina is now working as the literary manager at the Hampstead Theatre and it’s hard for her to jet over the pond. So I brought Josh to her. Which meant that I could tag along.
I did manage to sit in their last session where they read the entire play to me, alternating roles. It didn’t matter if Josh was Rosaline the last time, it only mattered that they read every other line. Davina was editing on her laptop and Josh was rewriting on the spot. It was very funny. And not just because of their presentational style. Josh has unlocked something in the play. The comedies are so hard, people!
I wasn’t going to be in town for long but I wanted to see my friend Ishia Bennison as the Nurse in the RSC production of R&J at the Barbican. She was GREAT! And I had arranged to go to Stratford – WHERE I HAVE NEVER BEEN! – I know, I know, but I’ve never claimed to be a good Shakespearean. (I’m a bad lesbian in that way too.)
And I had an afternoon free, and so I thought i’d check in with Ben and see what he’s been up to. He was dramaturging a new piece by company member Shane Gabriel called Queer Lady M, a fusion of drag, autobiography, and Shakespeare. He has sent me a video clip of it and asked my opinion about it. The piece started right off with autobiography, and I said that it should start with Lady M, which is something more of us might have in common. It opens on July 4, so I’ll be interested to hear how it goes.
Timon and Lear began rehearsals today. Saturday’s double-hitter is the one that I have been dreading. I mean, think about it: Timon in the afternoon and Lear at night. Oof!
Dave and I slip into the Timon rehearsal. He too has an affinity for this one as it was our first commission and the first to be produced. I think Dave and his brother Ken may hold the Guinness Book of World Records for number of live Timon performances they have seen – it’s something like five! And he has studied Kenneth’s translation, as it was in the early days when we weren’t chasing after 34 of them.
We’re introduced to three characters by name, all hangers on who you know just aren’t true friends of Timon. And sure enough, when Timon needs to ask for his loans back, his friends aren’t around. In Kenneth’s translation, he lists the three people that Timon goes to as Lords 1, 2, & 3. Dramaturg Dave asks why are we being introduced to new Lords, when we have already met those three earlier? Couldn’t they be the three that Timon requests money from? Good question, we all say. And I think Kenneth decides to rename those characters.
Marcus won’t be able to come to NY until the third day, so director Ian Belknap and dramaturg Philippa Kelly are jumping right in. We haven’t cut much of this one, not only because it’s Lear, but because I’m interested to see how fast the cast integrates Marcus’s text. This translation is the most translated, and I have this theory that with a more contemporary syntax, and with a more direct understanding of what is being said, perhaps the delivery of language is faster, more like the speed of contemporary speech.
Still, it’s going to be a long night. We have already determined that we will have two intermissions, which I am also interested in testing. So three days is going to go by quickly. Especially as our Lear, the incomparable John Glover, can’t be there on the third day. They are going to have to do some “film” acting, and by that I mean that they will be jumping in and out of sequence. The entire Gloucester story will be addressed on the third day with John isn’t around.
Gar, that Troilus and Cressida is a nasty, gnarly play! It’s one big description of a diseased body, which is not only literal but I take it to mean the political and family situations too. It also reminds me of the diseased state of the state in Henry IV.2. It seems that Shakespeare is making the case that diseased thoughts are more disturbing than bad language, that a prudish mind is worse than a bad mouth. But that isn’t what lands with audiences, who flinch at Thersites’ foul mouth. My pal Lillian, like Kenneth, seems to have an affinity for creative expletives, and she has a field day with this play!
It turns out that T&C isn’t much about Troilus and Cressida. They are more like the B Plot. They certainly don’t set off the action like Romeo and Juliet do.
And what is done to Hector by Achilles. Oh dear. The honorable characters don’t seem to fare well in Shakespeare, do they? Some days, I think that outcome is very realistic.