Friday, July 26, 2013

A Fly on the Wall, July 26, 2013

To Be or Not To Be
by Jim Murchison 

A while back in a review of Carousel, I opined that perhaps it was time to retire this play. My reasoning was that it was largely filler anyway and more importantly it ceased to have value because of it’s stance on abusive behaviour. There were those that questioned how I could involve myself in The Taming of The Shrew if I found the abusive behaviour in Carousel so repugnant. In fact I felt that The Taming of The Shrew was much more ambiguous in its viewpoint and particularly Eleanor Crowder’s treatment was to highlight the elements of farce so that in the end you weren’t 100% sure if Kate - who is as strong a character as Petruchio - wasn’t just playing along at the expense of her father. The play may also be a parody and commentary on the societal norms of courtship and marriage at the time it was written. 

Shakespearean language has a lot of word play and double meaning, but Shakespeare often has all sorts of historical inaccuracies and unexplained diversions. Many of the most salient points and a great deal of its humour are made through well crafted ambiguity in the language. 

I think The Elephant Man for example would be a better play without Dr Treve’s overstated epilogue

In an article written by Joel Fishbane he said he would be all for The Merchant of Venice being retired forever. I would love to see a production of the play. I feel that the apparent anti-semitic viewpoint may be mitigated by Shylock’s; If you prick us do we not bleed speech that calls for the understanding of people based on a principle that we all suffer, laugh, cry and eat. I also feel that the quality of mercy soliloquy adds a layer of balance to the play that suggests that justice should be rendered with compassion. Having said that, I do understand that where there are stereotypical depictions of a race, a group or a gender these stereotypes should always be challenged. 

However Mr Fishbane dislikes TMOV more because he feels it is a badly crafted play than any other reason and I frankly adore a couple of speeches, but haven’t really read or looked at the play as a whole in a couple of decades. I have never seen a production of the play. When an actor connects with an audition piece so well that he gets cast after the reading he may lose his objectivity. When I audition for a director I think of the particular speech as a play unto itself. I am not thinking of its context beyond what that specific character has in his heart at the exact moment he is saying those words. The Shylock speech I have auditioned with is the one that speaks to Antonio’s hypocrisy in rating him on his beliefs and business practices, until he needs his help and then he comes begging. It is very powerful on its own, as it demonstrates anger, hurt, sarcasm and loathing towards a man that feels his very birthright entitles him to benefits that others have to struggle for. I love performing that speech.

There may be certain plays that should be shelved for a period of time and reintroduced when we have an understanding of the historical context. Like Joel Fishbane, my feelings on the merit of producing a play are strongly affected by how well I think the piece is crafted in general. I think The Elephant Man for example would be a better play without Dr Treve’s overstated epilogue but the idea and message of the play otherwise is good. Carousel on the other hand is a 6 minute concept stretched into 2 hours of drivel. Even without the horrible “When people beat you with a spirit of loving, it’s fine” message, I don’t think it’s worth doing. 

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