Clean-up in the Shakespeare Aisle

There is nothing wrong with Shakespeare that couldn’t be fixed by getting rid of all the violence, and, oh! those sad endings. So many of his plays end with a pile of bodies on stage and no detective to sort it all out for us and arrest the bad guys. No one leaves the theater smiling after seeing one of those productions.

For the first few generations of critics and theater producers that followed Shakespeare, this was a common attitude. The audiences loved Shakespeare from the start, the 1590s, when his plays started to be performed in London, even if they missed some of his … finer points. There were a lot of entertaining murders, after all.
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Meeting Spalding Gray

“I began to realize I was acting as though the world were going to end and this was helping lead to its destruction. The only positve act would be to leave a record. To leave a chronicle of feelings, acts, reflections, something outside of me, something that might be useful in the unexpected future.”—Spalding Gray, 1970, The Journals of Spalding Gray

Two friends and I started a theater company in the summer of 1990. Perhaps you have not heard about it; it was kind of a not-at-all-big deal in Poughkeepsie, New York, for almost two entire weeks. Call it ten days.

Our endeavor yielded one sell-out summer night’s performance in the open-air back porch of a bar, a bad review in our local daily newspaper, yet one more (mostly unattended) performance, and a bunch of t-shirts. With grad school beckoning we shut it down, and with time and many residences I lost our newspaper clippings and even eventually forgot the name of the “company” we had started.

My one t-shirt wound up in Spalding Gray’s hands. Spalding Gray was born 75 years ago today, which prompted this recollection of one of my more awkward moments with celebrity.
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Masked & Anonymous

I am a self-conscious actor, yet I sometimes work at it half-heartedly. Now and again. Half-hearted and hesitant—I blush easily, which makes radio the perfect venue for the experiment (and if you write for that type of character, a blushing, stammering sort, I’m your man).
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Social Disaster on Broadway

Noises Off” is one of the most popular comic plays of the last forty years. If you have ever seen it performed, you know it can be hilarious; the film version proved that there are some plays that can not be made into movies because they are so completely theatrical.

This is a story about the original Broadway production and an apology from me to Victor Garber, who starred in it.
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Good. Bad. Not Indifferent

In Act 2, Scene 2, of Hamlet, the doomed Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are chatting with Prince Hamlet. They are his old college buddies, and King Claudius (Hamlet’s step-father) and Queen Gertrude (his mother) have sent for them to attempt to learn what is bothering the young man, who has been acting with an “antic disposition” and saying strange things, half to himself and half to, well, no one can figure out who.

Hamlet greets them and speaks in the same riddling manner that he has been using with the rest:

HAMLET: Let me question more in particular, my good friends, what you have done to deserve such fortune, that she sends you to prison hither?
GUILDENSTERN: Prison, my lord?
HAMLET: Denmark’s a prison.
ROSENCRANTZ: Then the world is one.
HAMLET: A goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons, Denmark being one o’ the worst.
ROSENCRANTZ: We don’t think so, my lord.
HAMLET: Why, then ’tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison. [Emphasis mine.]

Hamlet quickly determines that they are not merely dropping in to talk about sports and the weather or to compare Klout scores but are indeed spies. Ultimately, he manages to have them both killed.
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The Kingdom of Anxiety

The concluding sections of W.H. Auden’s Christmas oratorio continue his blend of the contemporary and everyday with the mysterious and eternal. All of modern philosophy is briefly made to vanish in a blur of the mundane world:

But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid’s geometry
And Newton’s mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays.

The fact of faith—not what one has faith in, but that faith exists, is a reality itself—that is the miracle of the day, is what Christmas is about:

Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

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For Christmas: ‘For the Time Being’

During World War II, the poet W.H. Auden wrote a book-length poem entitled “For the Time Being.” It is subtitled, “A Christmas Oratorio,” and it is a retelling of the Christmas story, but with a 20th Century sensibility. His Herod, for instance, is a technology-loving king who loves that he lives in an Age of Reason and is ever-perplexed by faith and irked that he must hunt down and exterminate the baby Jesus.

An oratorio is a type of composition that was popular in the Baroque period and in churches and has not had many comebacks as a poetic or theatrical form because it never had a period of dominance. It never went away but it was never the first choice of writing mode for many writers. (Paul McCartney produced a quite famous one, “A Liverpool Oratorio,” two decades ago.) Auden was a poet of structures and forms, though, and he produced an attempt at almost every style and poetic structure in his body of work (about 400 poems and several full-length verse plays).
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A Christmas Oratorio

During World War II, the poet W.H. Auden wrote a book-length poem entitled “For the Time Being.” It is subtitled, “A Christmas Oratorio,” and he desired that it be set to music; because it is fifty-two pages long as it is, without the addition of music or stage directions, he could have easily subtitled it, “The Longest Christmas Oratorio: Bring Snacks.” Benjamin Britten decided that composing music for the full work was too difficult so he set two sections to music.

“For the Time Being” was published in 1944. I will explore it a bit more tomorrow. It is found in Auden’s Collected Poems. Here is one section:
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