City Paper is not for tourists
Thanks to Bob Mondello of the Washington City Paper and Nelson Pressley of the Washington Post for their feverishly detailed critiques of my staging of the Washington Shakespeare Company’s ambitious and successful undertaking Much Ado About Nothing.
I am immensely flattered that, after all the wacko Shakespeare productions that have been performed over the years, set in locations for no apparent reason other than a director’s need to condescend toward a public unschooled in Elizabethan language, this production has been singled out by two supposedly liberal papers for its dark, perverse, and unorthodox treatment. It is a riot that the Washington Blade and the Washington Times both got the lightness I attempted to convey, yet the City Paper and the Post were turned off by my so-called bleak and anti-romantic world, posing as puritans about how to perform a work by a playwright whose identity itself is debated. (Apparently, they fall on the side that Shakespeare is Queen Elizabeth or, perhaps even more perversely, the pope.)
The so-called distancing effect I created was not for alienation; it was in fact to make the entire play a comedy, as opposed to the usual two-thirds. Those who know the play have remarked repeatedly that I have “solved the problems” of the play. The main plot, as written, climaxes (in the Shakespearean sense) when a young man cruelly ditches his bride on the altar. This play is not a romantic comedyit is a comedy of class ranking and sex roles. In fact, the main plot has always been seen by scholars as dark, problematic, and one-dimensional. Despite Mondello’s mistaken notion that Beatrice and Benedick are the leads, I restored the couple’s story to its proper function, as the secondary plot.
If you took five directors and asked them to reproduce on stage what they think is actually in the text (and they take longer than a month to really do research), you’d have five very interesting productions. Whatever sexuality I am seemingly allowed or not allowed to include by some unknown higher authority, the fact is that Shakespeare was a bawdy writer, and he has been entombed in museum reproductions or deconstructionist renderings.
My purposes were not to deconstruct the text, although I am sure that if I had actually taken a hammer to the play these critics would have applauded. I have attempted to integrate what has been seen as a confusing main plot by calling attention to what is already there in more than latency. I admit that the tricking scenes are overwrought standard situation-comedy scenes and, although cute in some ways, employ the most forgettable dialogue in Shakespeare since Love’s Labour’s Lost.
Perhaps the sheer physical labor involved in this production was ultimately too much for a struggling nonprofit theater to nimbly pull off, but in the end, the production has been profitable and worthwhile. Yet I am concerned to hear from many in the theater community that, like the movie art houses in D.C. that have gone out of business, if this climate of criticism continues, there will be even fewer challenging ideas brought to the D.C. boards, as the small theaters that allow themselves to take risks will be disinclined to do so.