Given the standard of Shakespeare that we are used to in Chicago, you can imagine that these were a breath of fresh air. By our eminent Chicago Shakespeare Repertory—no, scratch the “repertory,” they have got rid of that, and now go by Chicago Shakespeare Theater —Lear is presented (if you can imagine this) as a comedy, the old king portrayed as an Alzheimer’s patient, with every scene punctuated by loud, bellowed vintage Frank Sinatra recordings. Otherwise, as my companion noted, Chicago productions seem content with throwing on a foreign accent and leaving it at that. I might add, that as with our recent Lear, every scene tends to be played at full emotive throttle (which means full spittle) from the beginning to end, with nary a lull in the high-pitched declaiming.
These actors showed nuance; both Bennett and Terry were especially charming; but the casts were uniformly good—although persnickety I have some quibbles with how they were directed especially among some of the attempts to inject humor into Shakespeare’s comedies.
Never mind: I am not a purist who insists on “period instruments” as it were; though the notion of setting Shakespeare in some other distinct time period has gotten to be old hat. Pre- and post- World War I as in these productions was certainly better than Chicago’s Lear with his TV changer in hand. (It is not fair contrasting tragedy with comedy, I suppose; nor televised with live; nor RSC which has an unlimited budget with CST which has merely an astronomical one.)
What interests me is how differently the two plays played, neither of which I have seen performed live. Both were early studied by me when I was contemplating taking my stab as a playwright—and I would like to say I have not had cause to pick up either of them since (more than two decades ago), but my familiarity with Much Ado is such that I am sure I have glanced at it during the interim, though forget why.
LLL is the less satisfying script to be sure: I remember my initial impression that it was overflowing with wordplay; but that the weight of having four pairs of lovers lent the script a sense of straining too hard. In production none of this was evidenced; though it seemed too long by half. The horseplay at the end, then the telling of the horseplay, seemed to drag. Then too, an element which I had not noticed on reading which seemed an obvious—well, not defect, but—anomaly, gave me to feel that the play might be somewhat less tidily conclusive for an audience expecting the typical round of weddings at the end, as the "boys" go off for a year's hiatus.
MAAN is the superior script; though when I read it initially I felt that Beatrice and Benedict were horribly unevenly weighted. In performance this objection disappeared, and perhaps I would read differently now. So much has been written about the two—including, surely, in the introduction to the edition I used then—that it would be easy to feel let down.
That said, of the two, RSC’s production of Love’s Labours Lost struck me as the better. The setting was the same for both productions; but seemed especially suited to the first. The notion of tying the two together thematically—before and after the war—worked well, though an unnecessary extravagance from the standpoint of the script(s). It was an interesting experiment, to pair the two; the thesis that Much Ado may have been a sequel to the other may be credible: to me it doesn’t matter. No matter how many plays have an appearance of Falstaff, or how differently he may be portrayed, each play is an entity unto itself: that is the playwright’s perspective.
I say little about Shakespeare. The first, which I viewed some weeks ago, left me with profounder thoughts about the Bard of Avon, but I forget what they were. The second, which I saw on Easter, did not. Beyond, in both cases, depthless admiration for his stagecraft, and his knowledge of humanity. When Harold Bloom says that Shakespeare “invented the human” it is almost possible to believe him. Bloom is wrong, of course; but Shakespeare fashioned the lens through which we view so much of it.