Welcome to the summer of my discontent: Shakespeare time. Time for Shakespeare by the sea, Shakespeare beneath the stars, Shakespeare in the park, Shakespeare outdoors, Shakespeare indoors. Shakespeare everywhere.
A cursory perusal of upcoming theater indicates that a lot of Shakespeare is either on the boards or will be soon. How much? Don't know. Don't want to depress myself further.
There are few things as glorious as a great production of a Shakespeare play, and few things worse than a bad one. Sadly, the bad outnumber the good. Long, boring and incomprehensible, they add nothing to the Shakespearean dialogue. They neither illuminate, nor comment upon, his limitless play with language or his brilliant insight. They feel like they're being produced by people who know they ought to love Shakespeare for people who feel the same.
Long story short? Too much Shakespeare–too much boring, mediocre Shakespeare–is produced on local stages. If you're not committed to saying something new, different or provocative with your staging, if you're not committed to cutting the windee phuck, and if you're not committed to the idea that, at his core, Shakespeare was a showman who wrote plays to entertain, I present these 10 reasons to stay away from Shakespeare:
1) He's been done to death.
There is so much other great theater out there. Sure, it's not free to produce. Sure, it's not as familiar. But we're going on 500 years of ubiquitous Shakespeare. I don't think papal indulgences, Aztec virgin sacrifices or burning witches at the stake lasted as long. Remember, every time you produce Shakespeare it means you're preventing your audience from appreciating a different writer. Recall the master's own words, "I wasted time, and now doth time waste me."
2) Someone else has already thought of it–and probably did it better. Richard III in Nazi Germany. Hamlet (or Macbeth) in the Nixon White House. Othello as an Uncle Tom yes-man killing other dark-skinned people for the white man and constantly berated by a black-power Iago who spouts Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver. Conceptualizing, updating and generally fucking with Shakespeare is fine. But whether your idea takes place in outer space, the old West or a rectory, it's probably already been done. So why bother? Commit the oldest sins the newest kind of ways.
3) He's wordy.
Shakespeare never heard–or at least never heeded–the adage that less is more. His plays are filled with unnecessary characters, scenes, jokes and rambling speeches. Case in point: the ridiculously convoluted monologue in Henry V,in which a doddering archbishop rambles about the ancient history and geography of France, is some 60 lines long–nearly twice as long as Hamlet's "to be or not to be" monologue. Shakespeare makes David Foster Wallace read like Confucius; if he'd written the begats the Bible would be a 10-volume set. It takes a long time to read him, but even longer to sit through.
4) You don't have the meat.
The greatest Shakespeare plays I've seen locally have either featured fantastic ensemble performances (Mark Rucker's Taming of the Shrew at SCR) or towering individual performances (Ron Campbell in Shakespeare Orange County's Richard III, and the Laguna Playhouse's Othello). For the most part, however, inept actors who neither understand nor are able to deliver the words plague most local productions. Unless you have a cast, from top to bottom, that is skilled enough to speak the speech, don't waste my fucking time. "It is not enough to speak," Shakespeare wrote, "but to speak true."
5) He really isn't that good.
It's not just that everyone knows how his plays will end (Romeo kills himself, Hamlet gets stabbed, Othello chokes the white broad). It's also that he stole most of his plots, created so many unnecessary characters, and, if you take away the dick jokes and not-so-veiled homoerotica, really wasn't that funny. And even those who proclaim him an architect of the English language don't realize that a lot of the phrases he's credited with creating–all that glitters is not gold, it's Greek to me–were hackneyed in his day. "Oh, what fools these mortals be."
6) Period sucks. Period.
The worst Shakespeare is the faithful, the traditional, the kind that tries, desperately, to produce it just as Shakespeare wrote it. This is deadly Shakespeare, the worst kind of bardolatry. It is, invariably, the product of people who love him too much. As Charles Marowitz once wrote, "The people who revere him always do the worst work. Shakespeare should grab you by the throat."
7) Defining versions are readily available.
Yep, there's a lot of unwatchable crap on VHS or DVD. Roman Polanski's Macbeth,Mel Gibson as Hamlet, and the execrable Romeo and Juliet starring Leonardo De Crappio certainly can be missed. But Olivier's filmed version of Richard III, his triumphant King Lear in a 1984 made-for-TV filming, and Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 Romeo and Juliet, which is about the horniest teenage fuck film ever made, kick ass. Some will argue that Shakespeare needs to be experienced live. That may be true, but so does the electric chair. "We have seen the best of our time: machinations, hollowness, treachery and all ruinous disorders follow us disquietly to our graves."