Day #8: June 2
“Make [Richard] dead funny.” Migdalia Cruz, translator, RICHARD III.
Sundays may be the lightest days of the week. It’s hard to come down from adrenaline rushes, though, so it almost felt boring. Only one play began its rehearsals today — LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST. Playwright Josh Wilder called me and said he was running late, I thought, “well, nothing unusual in that, given the transportation situation here in the city.” But then he added, “I’m in Trenton.” I may not know my geography on the east coast, but somehow, Trenton doesn’t sound close.
I managed to remember to grab my apartment keys this morning – hey, small victories! – but realized halfway to the rehearsals that I forgot to put on deodorant. Ugh! I’m having my issues with this, obvs. Until I get my act together and order SallyCade’s suggestion online, I dashed into CVS and purchased some High Degree, “stop up all pores” brand. Sometimes you just have to stop the sweating. The dangers of aluminum and the brain will have to be dealt with later.
LLL cast is also the first cast to begin our second week of readings. And so I was curious to ask them how their experience went last week. Blake Russell, who was in SHREW, said that he was surprised about the level of audience engagement. They were laughing at the jokes! (Hm, that seems to me to be a basic requirement, but I get what he meant. Sometimes in these Shakespeare comedies, if you don’t gesture broadly or do some kind of slapsticky bit, audiences don’t tend to respond so quickly or heartily. So that seemed like good feedback.)
Actor Marie Thomas said that she found it more exhausting than she thought it would be. I replied that she was in TITUS after all. Who wasn’t exhausted by the end of that?
It was the second day for COMEDY OF ERRORS, and rumor had it that playwright Christina Anderson might show up. There are about 10 playwrights whose lives have dramatically changed since I snagged them to join me on this adventure four years ago, and she is definitely one of them. Her latest play HOW TO CATCH CREATION is being presented hither and yon – its next stop is at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. And so I knew it would take one of those scheduling miracles to get her to drop by.
There are already repetitions of themes, speeches, characters, and actions that are showing up in these plays. I caught “little pitchers have large ears” in both SHREW and one of the HENRYS, or was it R3? Criminy! I need to take better notes!
In a talkback a few days ago, our casting director Ada Karamanyan asked Amy Freed about these first few plays as master pieces. In the sense of “mastering” a style, like an early career painter might. Amy replied that she thought it was possible that by the time Shakespeare got to act four in TITUS, he had invited other writers to toss more horror in. That sequence of multiple stabbings does seem like piling on. (Pardon the pun.)
But I’m intrigued by the notion that Ada raised. I have two masters degrees, and supposedly I mastered something during them. And it does seem like these early plays, Shakespeare is dabbling and testing the paint in three different genres –comedy, history, revenge tragedy. His range is frickin’ amazing, people. My understanding about the other writers at the time is that they had specialty genres, no one wrote in so many different ones as Shakespeare does.
And so maybe our first week has displayed that master piece period. Because something feels like it is emerging with RICHARD III. Maybe it’s the specificity of characterization, or the ability to weave so many story lines together. And maybe his poetic voice kicks into gear, but suddenly, things seems to be three-dimensional.
I know that the HENRY 6’s were some of the most popular plays during Shakespeare’s lifetime, but that, sadly, isn’t the case today. (They have to have been the inspiration for GAME OF THRONES!) SHREW and R3 may be the best known to audiences today. Which adds a different kind of burden to those playwrights. Their charge was not to change or fix the plays. Not to change language that still makes sense to us today. But sometimes, famous speeches aren’t worth the tampering. I noted that Migdalia kept “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse” intact. That didn’t seem like it needed to be changed. But when you have been listening to edits all the way through, sometimes your mind fools you into thinking that the playwright might be messing with famous lines. (The converse is true: you will swear that the playwright changed something, and you come to find out that it was Shakespeare. The reference to flippers in 2GENTS for instance was Shakespeare’s word.)
Richard’s opening monologue is quite famous, of course, as are the opening lines of Richard’s monologue. You would be surprised to know that there is very little changed in that monologue. All it takes is a little bit of surgery here and there.
In the talkback after the reading, the playwright Migdalia Cruz was asked how the Play on translation process was for her. She talked a lot about her writing process in general, which was great to hear. She always does a lot of research. This may be the second longest play in the canon, so there was a lot of text to cover. And a lot of history.
And her writing is always personally linked. (Her other plays are filled with murderers and dark deeds. Hm. I must give her a comedy next time!) She always tries to find the spiritual place within her plays and she wanted to ask forgiveness from the historical Richard. She fell in love with this outsider (who doesn’t love “the bad boy”?) But it was an arduous process, especially as she took on the assignment only a few months ago. For her, it was “exhausting to be a craftsperson which suppressed the artist.” But golly, she walks that line beautifully in this translation. (And wait until you hear her MACBETH!)
As with any play, writers select and combine pieces and parts and put them in a certain order for certain emotional effect. History provides lots of pieces and parts for playwrights to choose from, and Shakespeare’s dramaturgy is true to drama, not history. That’s one of the things that Plato was worried about with fiction: it’s dangerous because it presents a kind of truth.
There are many goals I have for these translations and one of them is “No footnote Shakespeare.” (As opposed to No Fear, Shakespeare, which has its purpose.) I don’t think anyone had to read the footnotes before seeing a Shakespeare play 400 years ago. I also think they probably didn’t get to read the script ahead of time, either. These were new plays to them. I know it’s not possible for us to enter them as if for the first time, but that’s how I’d like us to think about them during these presentations.
I also have the hope that perhaps these can be “No gesture Shakespeare” because I would prefer not to see actors gesticulating to their crotch region to help me get the joke. One thing about cleaning these up: it definitely shows how dirty these plays really are. I’m counting four sexual innuendos per page in Love’s Labour’s Lost.
Next: A Round-up of the first week