Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Perfect Country for Shakespeare...

John Heilpren seems to dissent from most critics who have taken in the Leiv Schreiber/Moises Kaufmann Macbeth. But I was most interested in his comment on the mishmash of historical settings for the Public's production:

The action vaguely takes place—the Playbill informs us— 'around World War I,' and the cast, led by Liev Schreiber, are therefore costumed vaguely in army gear. In such simplistic ways, we’re meant to be reminded of the horrors of war
(assuming we need to be reminded). But, as always with the Public’s Shakespeare in the Park, the production and its ragbag of costumes dodge haphazardly around various time zones in an effort to popularize an already popular play. Now a sword fight, then a gun. Now the Edwardian era, then the 30’s, then it’s sort of Elizabethan, and always we end up in that fantasy land of ribboned generals, Ruritania. If you are everywhere, you are nowhere.

I once knew Ruritania from an Army battle simulation I worked at, but I just thought they had come up with it with it through the same type of officer magic that once came up with one of the most unique names I have heard, "Operation Banjo Antelope."

Through a quick Internet search, I find that Ruritania is the setting of the fictional novels of Anthony Hope, including his Prisoner of Zenda. Ruritania then took on life of its own as the setting of other Romance novels by other authors.

Wikipedia informs us that: "Hope's novels resulted in 'Ruritania' becoming a generic term for any imaginary kingdom used as the setting for romance intrigue and adventure."

I have never seen a modern dress production of a Shakespeare play that really deals effectively with the violence, and I have seen more than my share of "board room" Macbeth's and "executive" Richard III's. The mind's way of dealing with the incongruities, when it comes to the climactic battles, is not so much willing suspension of disbelief, but rather the equivalent of willingly taking handful of Unisoms. The alternative to conking yourself out during these scenes, is far worse; giggles can ensue.

Actually, Ruritania is probably a better alternative. The violence usually comes off better in rougher updates, the ones where we deal in the underworld of gangsters, although these revisions cause their own problems. The violence in Romeo and Juliet does seem to survive in its street gang updates.

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