So I have responded to two blogs on this subject and felt like I needed to hash things out on my own turf. The subject has come up regarding several different productions and plays that I have either seen or directed myself.

First I want to address two Shakespeare works that Jeremy Cole addressed in his blog. I like Jeremy we have worked together before and I have seen several of his directorial works. He speaks of two works Shrew and Merchant. He states that both need to be shelved.

As to Shrew I have only seen it twice live and once in film. The first was back in the golden age of American Conservatory Theatre ACT in San Francisco, this was back when they had a in house repertory company and the work reflected it. They did the work in the Commedia dellàrte style, everything was exaggerated and physical, at the time I thought it was very entertaining I was much younger then. I saw the film with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton; this was really more about their own volatile relationship then anything else. Then an all women’s cast which felt electrifying and subversive.

While at the helm of my own company Butterfield 8 Theatre, now B8 Theatre, we never produced this work, although several company members continued to push for it to be done. By this time in my life I could look at the work through very different eyes, here I agree with Jeremy I cannot find a way into the work and I cannot get past the perceived message of the work. I see it as misogynistic, no matter what spin I was approached with it still left a bad taste in my mouth.

I understand the argument of historical placement, cultural and so on, what does it say to an audience in 2017? I have yet to be convinced on any level that what we leave with isn’t what I want to put forward with my work.

As to the Merchant of Venice my view is quite different. I can only relate to how we as a company approached it. The work has so many different opportunities to frame the questions asked. What is the real cost of love, what are you willing to sacrifice?

I have always seen Shylock as the victim in the work; a man trapped in a world that on one level reviles him and the other uses his services. He is trying to keep his family and faith intact under a constant onslaught of violence and prejudice.

What is the true relationship between Bassanio and Antonio? Bassanio has always struck me as a player, but becomes a different person when he is faced with the fact a man he has used and most likely slept with will die because of the debt he caused him to take on. We had them kiss in the street scene after the courtroom and verdict release Antonio. Not as brothers but as what they had been, lovers.

Portia is an educated woman trapped in her own way to the verdict of her fathers decree. She is smitten with Bassonio but in the end does she realize that she may have picked the wrong casket? Her humorous rant about the ring in the last act has a sting of truth to it. The scene is playful but perhaps now she sees Bassanio as he truly is. In the script she exits alone, not on Bassanio’s arm, or even with him. Where as Nerissa and Gratiano leave together a more down to earth, no nonsense couple with less at stake.

This leaves Lorenzo and Jessica the two who have sacrificed the most to be together. Jessica has given up the most, her culture, family, friends, religion to be with this man. Lorenzo has gone against his culture, standing, and although not mentioned most likely the will of his family. They will never be truly accepted nor will their children. They have only each other.

The only thing we changed was Portia’s line about Shylock when she hands the pair the document giving them all Shylock’s wordily goods at his death. We changed it so that Shylock is in fact dead. I cannot see a point where Shylock chooses to live as a Christian.

This was, and still is my interpretation of the work. However the one point of view I cannot see it through are the eyes of some one who is in fact Jewish. Many feel that it is a stereotype and an overdrawn version of what it is to be Jewish.

My pale comparison is that of my own reaction to the series Will and Grace. Many straight friends, allies, and many queer folk love this show, think it is great and feel it changed perceptions. I find it to be the queer equivalent of Step and Fetch it. Broad stereotypes are paraded throughout the work and celebrated. If at the time of the work we had equal rights and representation across all media then perhaps there would be room for this form of humor. We didn’t and still don’t. This show was in no way ground braking.

So on some level I get it.

Next we come to Melissa Hillman a woman I hold in the highest regard for her writing and work in theatre. She recently posted on the upcoming production of The Glass Menagerie at Cal Shakes. First off it is an all black cast, the work is about family relationships and memory no race or culture holds a monopoly on these themes.

Secondly they have cast an actor who is physically handicapped as Laura; here is where I have a problem.

This echo’s the current production playing in New York; bellow is the New York Times review.

Review: Dismantling ‘The Glass Menagerie’ – The New York Times



For me this is the will of the director imposing his or her vision onto a work that cannot hold it. “My way no matter what cost” has never been a go to for me in directing. Will the text support your idea? If not find another text or devise your own.

Williams is considered to be one of America’s finest playwrights, his work is subtle nuanced and poetical. With all the talk about respect for the playwright where is the respect to his work, where do we draw the line when it comes to interpretation?

What is the play about? It is considered to be autobiographical on many levels and is called a memory play. William’s own sister was mentally fragile and in life is destroyed by a botched lobotomy he dedicated much of his profits to make sure she had a comfortable life outside an institution. Laura,  the theatrical representation of his sister in the play, we are told suffers from a limp brought on by a childhood illness that has also left her mentally fragile.

Its beyond a leap of faith to go from a limp to being confined to a wheelchair or suffering from acute MS. It simply isn’t supported in the text anywhere. The play then becomes all about her physical impairments and not about the journey that Tom (Tennessee Williams) is on and what it reveals about him and his relationships.

This feels more like sensationalism then a well thought out approach

When a role calls for someone in a wheelchair go out and find an actor confined to a wheelchair, or deaf, one that is deaf, or blind. There are things that non-impaired actors simply cannot convey, as hard as they try. This holds true for trans characters as well. Its not about ability its about visibility and opportunity as well as having a visceral understanding to what is being asked.

So in the end my interpretation of this play does not see Laura so physically impaired that she cannot walk unassisted, no wheelchair, no walker, it pulls me out of the trajectory of the work, it is so jarring that I have lost what it is the work itself is trying to convey.

This also challenges me as an artist, what are the limits I put on interpretation and can I see past my own prejudice to view a work in a different way?







0 Responses to “Interpretation”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

RSS notes 4 stage blog

  • What does it mean to be represented accurately in Theatre and Film? May 27, 2018
    There have been a great many voices raised about the current trailer for Bohemian Rhapsody, which is in reality a biopic of Freddie Mercury. Without him there would be no band called Queen. Here is the official description from 20th Century Fox:   “‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is a foot-stomping celebration of Queen, their music and their […]
  • Boys in the band revival February 5, 2018
    The announcement of the revival of Boys in the Band featuring Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, and Andrew Rannells. Co-stars will include Robin de Jesus, Brian Hutchison, Michael Benjamin Washington and Tuc Watkins. Joe Mantello at the Booth Theatre will direct the 50th anniversary production. In the YouTube video promo bellow they speak of the work […]
  • Working in the world of Faire December 5, 2017
    Currently I’m working at the Great Dickens Faire in San Francisco CA. I am with the beverage department and will understudy Fred, Scrooge’s nephew in a Christmas Carol. Before I talk about what I have learned let’s look at a little history. My introduction to Faire came in the seventh grade when we had a […]
  • The State of Queer Film September 5, 2017
    The history of queer film and characters can be traced back to and before the Haze code as we have seen in the documentary The Celluloid Closet. In many ways we have progressed from these early portrayals and in many ways we have not.   Television has actually led the way with how we see […]
  • Interpretation July 10, 2017
        So I have responded to two blogs on this subject and felt like I needed to hash things out on my own turf. The subject has come up regarding several different productions and plays that I have either seen or directed myself. First I want to address two Shakespeare works that Jeremy Cole […]

%d bloggers like this: