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Recent (Elizabethan) theater
Bar Harbor
Over the last week, I've been watching lots of theater-based media.

First up, was a recording of the recent BU production of Edward II, by Christopher Marlowe. kestrell and I had seen a different production about four years ago. My god, this play has become a *hell* of a lot more timely since then!

It's all about a Chief Executive who thinks that his branch of government is the only one that matters, and that he should never have to compromise (and who whines when people try to get him to compromise). He also views political offices as gifts for his friends, or (under duress) bribes for his foes, with no acknowledgement that offices might come with duties as well as revenues, and that certain competencies might be desirable in the office-holders. Of course, in the play, this monster faces strong opposition; something that our current monster sadly does not.

Mind you, the production took no steps to underline this. It was a straightforward design, in period dress. The parallels were just obvious on the face of it. Well, they did make one change which seemed to be in service of timeliness. Near the end of the play, when the deposed Edward is being imprisoned in flithy conditions and tortured with sleep deprivation (all in the original text), there's a scene where, in the original stage direction, Edward has his face washed and shaved in "puddle water" as a further humiliation. In this production, the jailers forced Edward's head into a bucket of water for mock-drowning, several times, which made the Gitmo connection quite explicit. And it's an interesting connection. His captors want no information from Edward. No explicit motive is given for his harsh mistreatment. The only two that come to mind are 1) to break his will, so that he doesn't pose any further threat to the state, or the more likely 2) simple sadism. Human nature hasn't changed much these last 400 years, there are just new excuses for the same old behaviors.

But enough about politics; I should say at least a few words about the production. It was well above-average for amateur theater, and their primary concern was with telling the story clearly and compellingly, which they did. The costumes, as I said, were period (or at least decent approximations). The nobles were all armed with swords, and the swords themselves were sufficiently distinct that they were a useful aid in keeping the large cast of characters identified. Sadly, they decided not to do any significant stage combat; but their symbolic stand-ins for the battle scenes were well executed and short. They did have a pretty good severed head for the final scene. Like most modern productions of Elizabethan theater, there were too many dramatic pauses, but otherwise the actors were quite excellent. I will definitely make an effort to catch the next show this company puts on.

A friend had loaned Kes the first two seasons of Slings & Arrows on DVD, and we have now watched them both. What a marvelous show! For those unfamiliar with it, it's about a Canadian theater company putting on Shakespeare (and other) plays, and all the travails -- and passionate love for theater -- that go along with that. The show is structured along BBC lines, with each season being a mere six 'hour-length' episodes, describing a specific story arc. There is one major Shakespeare play at the center of each season (Hamlet and Macbeth for the first two), and the storylines that weave around the actors and directors tend to echo the themes of that play, in ways both obvious and subtle. In some ways, this is the TV series version of Kenneth Branagh's movie "A Midwinter's Tale".


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