Monday, October 27, 2008

Move Over Shakespeare, Now There's Something Meatier...or is there?

I just saw Seattle Shakespeare Company’s new production of Henry IV parts I & II, adapted by the esteemed Dakin Matthews and directed by the talented and charming Stephanie Shine.

I’ve actually seen three variations of this adaptation from John Goodman playing Falstaff at the Old Globe in San Diego to Kevin Kline wearing a fat suit at Lincoln Center. All I can say is this production easily holds its own with both of those. The directing is fast-paced, the performers talented and energetic and the over-all production is quite thrilling, especially the big battle.

Whenever I see a great production of Shakespeare, I always wonder why anyone would bother writing new plays. Hasn’t the Bard of Avon captured everything about humanity in his 36 plays? What new visions can be offered by a modern playwright that can’t be found in Richard III or Othello (Which seems to be particularly popular given this year’s election)?

And here’s my answer…

Shakespeare lived in a different age. He wrote for a different time.

He didn’t live in a world with technology like the atomic bomb or the computer. The dude couldn’t even type—he wrote his play with a quill (which in a lot of ways is much more reliable than MS Office). In the world he lived in, the main method of communication was talking and listening. He didn’t live in an age of world wars and mass genocide (okay, well, there was that thing called The Crusades, but I'm talking Holocaust here, 9/11, Kosovo, etc). His economy was not global. He wasn’t able to attain any information he wanted via Google. He wasn’t able to read any newspaper from any part of the world on his computer, or see any image of atrocity from Sudan, poverty in India, or see YouTube clips of events happening in London or New York or Paris.

Shakespeare wrote about humanity and basic human drives like greed, love, fear, ambition don’t change even over the centuries. Which means his work is still relevant and I wouldn’t want to do without it.

I love me my Shakespeare.

But his work alone does not hold all the answers nor does he ask all the questions that are relevant to us in our age.

That’s why we need new plays.

David Hare’s Stuff Happens does a better job of examining our own political and military actions in current events much better than just dressing up Julius Caesar in business suits.

We need plays like Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. We need Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. We need Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.

And just as important, we also need plays from a female point of view with good parts for women (because let’s face it, if you’re a woman in a Shakespeare play, you’re probably one of these four: young lover, queen, bawdy wench or the nurse. I like to believe that in today's world, a woman has more options than that. I like to believe that a woman can be the protagonist (and no, I don't think its as easy as just casting a woman as Hamlet). We need playwrights like Wendy Wasserstein, Paula Vogel, Naomi Iizuka, Marsha Norman, Rebecca Gilman, Caryl Churchill, Tina Howe, Melanie Marnich, Sarah Ruhl, Julie Jensen, Sheila Callahan, Neena Beber, and on and on and on.

Not to mention plays from other viewpoints outside of the privileged class of white male centric society—plays from August Wilson, Lynn Nottage, Suzan Lori-Parks David Henry Hwang, Maria Irene Fornes, Octavio Solis, Nilo Cruz, Diana Son, Young Jean Lee, Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones), Kwame Kwei-Armah, Yussef El Guindi, and on and on and on…

Like I said, I love me my Shakespeare. But as I was watching Henry IV yesterday, I kept thinking…this is great English history, but where are the histories of the U.S.? Who is examining our own political legacy over the ages? Why aren’t we thinking about what leadership means today with language and events from today?

We've spent a lot of time and energy honoring and supporting a dead playwright from another country. Isn't it time we start looking for our own Shakespeare of our time? Does he/she even exist?

1 comment:

Seattle Shakespeare Company said...

So glad you enjoyed Henry IV and thought that is stood up to those other productions of the play in San Diego and NYC. And you had some interesting thoughts about American History (where are those plays?) I think Bill Rauch at OSF is starting to work on it.