Thursday, July 21, 2011

Two plays, both alike in dignity

Shakespeare in the Park is one of my favorite New York institutions. Mostly because it's free theater, and I work in children's book publishing. But also because it's outside with a stage overlooking a lake and the productions are, without exception, fabulous. Normally, it can be a bit difficult to get tickets, but this year there were no Al Pacino's to speak of, so it was a (relative) breeze. In fact, the only person in the cast who looked even vaguely familiar appeared in such films as Confessions of a Shopaholic and The Happening. She also (according to imdb) had a bit part in Revolutionary Road, which must be why I recognized her. I think she was the secretary that Leonardo Dicaprio cheats on his wife with...but I'd have to watch that movie again to be sure, and nothing could induce me to plan a repeat viewing of that movie.

But at any rate, due to the relative ease of procuring tickets, I actually went to both shows this year, which naturally led to my comparing the two. I thought the productions of Measure for Measure and All's Well that Ends Well were both good, but preferred the latter. But beyond the notes on each director's approach to the material (MfM was kept in Renaissance Italy, while the director of AWTEW transported the action to WWII era Europe), I also couldn't help but compare the two plays themselves. Seeing them relatively close together causes me to note how similar the two are, although perhaps many of the conventions I noticed are true of most Shakespeare comedies, and I just don't usually watch them in such quick succession.

This photo isn't from the production I saw. You can't take pictures at Shakespeare in the Park. In fact, there is an army of Public Theater volunteers whose whole job (as far as I can tell) is to scan for photo takers and then stand over them menacingly while they delete the photo they just took. I fear and respect them too much to try anything.

Both plays were written about a year apart, and both run the farcical gamut from clever to ridiculous. Both involve the convention of the "bed-trick" (seldom seen outside of Shakespeare comedies, 18th-century French farces, and daytime soap operas) in which the man is seduced and convinced he is sleeping with one woman, when another woman takes her place in the dark. Also, in both cases, the woman who tricks the man into sleeping with her is a scorned ex-fiancee/wife. There was also a great similarity in dialogue between the two plays, which again is probably true of all the comedies. The strings of insults between the character of the sharp-tongued older gentleman and the foppish cad could be lifted from either play, and I doubt even the savviest of Shakespeare scholars could tell the difference. Also, both plays have a strong female lead who drives the action by having to respond to the ridiculous scenarios laid out by men--one because she must prostitute herself to save her brother's life when ironically he is to be executed for the crime of fornication, and the other because her husband refuses to sleep with her until she is pregnant with his child. Oh the hijinks!

At first I thought it odd that they would put two such similar comedies playing concurrently, but then it does seem like they play nicely off each other. Anyway, if any of my readers are currently in New York and looking for a good (and free) time, you should definitely check out Shakespeare in the Park during the final week of it's run. If for nothing else, then to enjoy the fact that the line for tickets is actually less than the line at Shake Shack these days.

No comments:

Post a Comment