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Much Ado About Nothing

So Sunday I got out to the Enzian Theatre, the wine and dinner theatre which was the only place showing Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing in the Orlando area.

As it happened, it was also the only place hosting a Master Sommelier and wine tasting during the documentary showing of SOMM, which is about the test you have to take to become a MS. As we learned while waiting in the rain for this to end, the local area has at least four of the 200 odd master sommeliers in the world (go Disney!) (about 133 in the U.S., go California!) which apparently is an Actual Thing and if you are into this sort of thing, REALLY REALLY REALLY big, like, awesomely big. Like, to put this into Geek Terms for you, Nathan Fillion big. Since I am mostly into saying, "Merlot," I was more focused on trying to place to park long enough to get my wheelchair out of the truck before my brother headed off to golf, which turned out to be tricky under the circumstances.

While continuing to wait for the SOMM event to end, I ran into an acquaintance, so we got to chat about comic books and what not, then we got to hide with a lot of people in a small lobby while the theatre rushed round and round and round and round trying to clean up all of the bottles of wine, and then FINALLY, forty minutes past showtime, we got into the movie, to be greeted by the announcement that having hosted Disney Master Sommeliers for a special event, the Enzian was planning on following up that trick by hosting Blackfish, the anti-Sea World documentary, which I had rather assumed was not going to be shown locally except possibly and quietly at UCF.

Also they were out of apple cobbler.

As a mitigating factor, however, they did have chai. Chai = good.

After all this I have to admit that Shakespeare was relatively undramatic, though I thought it was a fun film. Nathan Fillion was one of the best Dogberrys I've seen stage or film – I guess five years on Castle has done something for him; Tom Lenk channels his old Andrew character from Buffy for Verges, also fun; Beatrice did not, at the end, turn into a raging blue goddess as I was half expecting her to, so that was good, and overall it had a number of laugh out loud moments, and if you like Shakespeare, or Whedon, go see it. Especially for Nathan Fillion, who is really good here. Also, I now covet Joss Whedon's house, the setting for the film.

But the film has a few small problems. Some are in the original play – there's really nothing anyone can do with Don Juan, the bad guy who is a bad guy because....he's a bad guy. That's it. I don't blame the actor, and Whedon does what he can to do something with this by adding in a sex scene of sorts and some plastic handcuffs, but...really, there's not much that can be done with the role. I saw an abbreviated high school production that put Don Juan in a clown suit, and even that didn't work, so I can't blame Whedon for this. Some stem from the comparisons I couldn't help making to the 1993 Branagh film. Here, the major sufferer is Alexis Denisof, who is adequate, and quite willing to do the humiliating pratfalls and so on, but bluntly, he's not Kenneth Branagh, and it shows. Then again, to counter that, Sean Maher is no Keanu Reeves either, and that shows.

But the film also has a large problem. It's in the original Shakespeare, so I can't blame Whedon for it entirely, but it stands out here. And it's this:

Um, exactly why are we happy that Hero and Claudio are reunited at the end?

Kenneth Branagh's 1993 film managed to more or less slide past this with a lot of significant looks between Hero and Claudio and a lot of other people before Evil Don Juan breaks them up, strongly suggesting that the two have had a very long term thing going on and REALLY love each other maybe because they are both so boring, and then a lot of tears and YAY YOU ARE ALIVE looks from Claudio suggesting that yeah, they might just make it as a couple afterwards. It helps, too, that Branagh's film was set in some undefined but definitely "past" period where we could imagine that the whole virginity thing still mattered, and that the only lights available at night were candles and stars, making the whole "Oh, that must be Hero having sex against the window!" more believable. And the entire film is suffused with joy allowing us to look past things. A lot of things. It is just possible, in that film, that everyone is drunk enough – at least drunk on joy enough – to overlook that Claudio just HUMILIATED AND DUMPED HERO AT THE ALTAR in a scene awful enough that people honestly believe it could have killed her.

(In the comparable Downton Abbey scene absolutely no one thinks that girl should take the guy back. Run him over with her truck, maybe, but take him back, no. Just saying.)

Whedon's film lacks that joy. And the costuming. It has iPhones. And electric lights. Which means that he can't show us the scene where Claudio watches Margaret, believing that Margaret is really Hero, can't show us that yes, this is, under certain conditions, plausible. And heartbreaking for Claudio. Instead we have to hear it through someone else, and, well, it's not plausible. It makes Claudio seem easily duped, and worse, it makes it look as if Claudio never loved Hero that much in the first place.

This is not helped by the film's cynical tone, or by the fact that Whedon chooses to show very little interaction between Hero and Claudio: why are these two together in the first place again? Couldn't tell you. Or by the fact that the two actors don't seem to care that much for each other. Or by how Fran Kranz chooses to play the role: he's great at morally questionable roles, the tone he takes here. In one way, that makes sense -- Claudio is marrying a wealthy girl that (in this version) he doesn't seem to know that well, one he's willing to dump on the word of a guy who just minutes before was shown wearing handcuffs. And Whedon chooses to leave in Shakespeare's racist bit at the end, moving the camera around just to make absolutely, one hundred percent that we got it. (Branagh cut the line so we could focus on YAY happy! instead of OK CLAUDIO WE HATE YOU.) That's great, that's subtle, that makes a great point about the morality of the play – but it makes it very hard to be happy that these two are getting together in the end, and robs the film of a lot of its joy. Cloaking this relationship, or rather lack thereof, in contemporary clothing and furniture, complete with iPhones and iPads, only strengthened my uneasy feeling that really, seriously, Hero and Claudio should not be together, and that, really, yes, Beatrice might turn into a rampaging blue goddess at any moment.

On the other hand, Nathan Fillion explaining police procedures in Shakespearian English as Tom Lenk toad eats him never gets old. So, as I said, recommended.

Seussspeare!

From Twitter yesterday, the #Seussspeare tag, mingling together the Immortal Bard and the singer of the Cat and the Hat. Some notable entries included:

Hope Dellon, with: #SeussSpeare "I sat there with Juliet./We sat there, we two,/And I said, 'How I wish/I were no Montague.'"

Anne Jamison, with: ""Is this a dagger?" Macbeth asked the air/ "I can't feel the handle but I swear it's right there!" #SeussSpeare"

Dave Wingate, with: "Lay on you crazy Scott Macduff, I hear your untimely birth was rough. #SeussSpeare"

Charles R. Kaiser, with: "I would not, could not kill the King. I would not murder anything. Green Eggs and Hamlet #SeussSpeare"

Naturally I had to join in. My contributions:

Oh Brutus. Would you, could you bury him? Would you, could you, praise him? The odds I sooth seem quite slim. #SeussSpeare

I'm Henry the Eighth I am; of course I'll eat green eggs and ham, once I execute some queens, Madame. #SeussSpeare

Unless someone like you murders a whole lot; it's not going to get better, Hamlet. It's not. #Seussspeare

But we in it shall be remembered, if that is we aren't dismembered, on this St. Crispin's Day, Now off! We have French to slay #seussspeare [This was, not surprisingly, the least popular of the lot. People just don't like dismemberment, do they?]

And finally, my masterpiece*:

I meant what I said and I said what I meant; Hamlet's got issues 100% #seussspeare

* Look, "masterpiece" means different things to different people.

Shakespeare, in the original Klingon

The Washington Shakespeare Company presents an evening of Shakespeare - in Klingon.

Of course, the really shocking part of this whole article is how I missed hearing about Macbeth performed entirely in the nude. Certainly would take care of that whole getting bloodstains on your clothes, issue, but then again, if I recall correctly, Lady Macbeth was more worried about her rugs than her dress....

Other entertainment matters:

1. Over the weekend, I finally got to enjoy my Christmas present from anaisis (and thanks!): the chance to see The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), something that I've been trying to get to for, oh, the last fifteen, twenty years ago, and which just happened to show up at the only theater in range of my trike. Excellent show. I'm assuming they tailor it for all local audiences, or perhaps this group just really liked improv, given the number of local jokes – and the small fact that they spoiled a small part of this season of Lost, something I think we can correctly assume was not in the original script. If you get a chance to see it, do, since everyone needs to have Hamlet completely ruined for them every once in awhile.

2. I may have more to say about this later, but for now, let me just say that I am increasingly convinced that everyone involved with Lost has very, very deep Bunny Issues. Forget the island and the crash survivors for a moment. WILL NO ONE THINK OF THE BUNNIES???? Also, please reassure me that the greater Los Angeles area has more than one hospital. This is becoming a true health concern.

3. I only catch Chuck on a decidedly irregular basis (I've missed most of this season) but the this week's episode touched my happy buttons, even if the main villains seemed oddly incompetent; it's up on Hulu.com if you missed it.

When Shakespeare goes bad

I have previously declared that some writing is so astounding, so magnificent, so marvelous, so exquisite, that absolutely nothing can tarnish or mar it. I am often speaking, in this case, of, say, the works of Shakespeare, and, as so often, I'm totally wrong. I've just been watching the MST3K version of a 1961 version of Hamlet -- filmed for television in Germany and very unfortunately dubbed into English, and even more unfortunately, with Ricardo Montalban dubbing Claudius, which made me keep thinking that Claudius was about to shout out "KIRK!" or that Hamlet would shout out "KHAN!" which does not lead me to the proper mood to appreciate Shakespeare. Not that this particular version could be appreciated without the MST3K additions, because, ow, ow, ow, and if you have any appreciation for a well played Polonius, or a desire to see a well played Polonius, this isn't the film to watch. On the bright side, the ending has never seemed less tragic; you just wonder why the television audience didn't do the killing instead.

Confessions of a guilty English major

So in a conversation with athenakt yesterday I realized that I had to make a confession, a hard and difficult one for a self-described intellectual and not-really-recovered English major:

I haven't actually read much Shakespeare.

Oh, sure, I've read the sonnets, and sighed with utter recognition after reading Sonnet 27, aka Shakespeare's Ode to Insomniacs Like Me, and on a horrible college dare which I subsequently regretted, did read through all of Venus and Adonis. Yeeeeikes! (I survived only because I was talking an advanced Chaucer class at the time, and comparatively speaking, Shakespeare is modern, easily readable English.) And for various reasons that seemed good ones at the time, but weren't, I also plowed through all of Henry VI Part 3, widely recognized as one of Shakespeare's worst plays. (If you don't like the word "worst" associated with the greatness that is Shakespeare, substitute "stultifyingly boring" and "really not recommended for Shakespearian high school performances.) And I've read bits of The Tempest here and there, largely because I've yet to come across a decent performance of that, and bits of A Midsummer's Night Dream, and bits of Measure for Measure.

And that's it.

Otherwise, I pretty much haven't read Shakespeare at all. Oh, sure, I have the book displayed on my bookshelf, right next to an edition of Chaucer (which actually for reasons related to the advanced Chaucer class above is well thumbed through) and I've certainly looked through it, more than once, mostly to read the introductory articles and essays. But I almost never read Shakespeare, even post the training in Middle English that made Elizabethan English considerably more manageable.

But I've heard Shakespeare.

With the exception of a couple of the Henry VI plays, I've seen all of the Shakespearian canon at one time or another, on stage or screen. This could range from horrific (a stage production of Macbeth where the two leads clearly couldn't stand each other, and the general impression left by Lady Macbeth was, "What, I've got nightmares thanks to this asshole? Macduff, couldya get a move on here?") to marvelous (the Kenneth BranaughMuch Ado About Nothing) to incomprehensible (Branaugh again, doing Love's Labour Lost sort of as a Broadway musical which was a mistake on multiple levels) to brilliantly funny (MacHomer…er, moving on….) and so on. I finished off the canon by dragging bayushi to Titus so that I wouldn't have to actually read the play. (The end result was that neither of us could eat meat for days. Warning: do not watch on a full stomach.)

This approach has several advantages: for one, Shakespeare never meant the plays to be read, but only heard. My few and failed attempts to read Hamlet have left me confused and glassy-eyed; show me a fog, and Horatio thinking he's seen a ghost, and I'm there. Hating that Ophelia twit, but there. The plays snap into comprehensibility once heard and seen. And the sex jokes are a lot funnier. Love's Labour Lost is still pretty tedious. Needs more sex.

And disadvantages. I've seen enough Hamlets by now that the various Hamlets dance through my mind, allowing me to create my own Hamlet, but in other cases, I'm stuck with the vision others have created for me. This can be good -- Much Ado About Nothing, or bad, with Othello, which I originally watched staged by a bunch of high schoolers who got just a little bit too much into the final scenes. (For years, I thought that Desdemona actually choked out, "I COULDN'T BREATHE YOU IDIOT WERE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME?" On the other hand I can say that I was thoroughly freaked out by the whole thing and terrified into never carrying cloth handkerchiefs anywhere, no matter how stylish they might look. And it says something that even a badly acted production had such power.) I've yet to see an entertaining version of As You Like It, so, I don't like it very much. And my entire interpretation of Measure for Measure, is, I'm told, fatally flawed since in the first version I saw, Isabella gave the Duke a "Seriously, you are so not thinking marriage after this," changing that to a "Fuck you," look and walking offstage without marrying him, which apparently is not the standard way this is staged. (I mentioned reading this particular play. This is why: I always thought Isabella and the Duke didn't get together, until I was told otherwise. I went and read, and actually, it's kinda ambiguous – but the version I saw didn't account for the ambiguity. Also. Isabella = Ugh. Massive, massive ugh. Moving on.)

And because I can think of only two staged or filmed versions that went to the effort of keeping every line – most productions cut the plays drastically short, sometimes for good, sometimes for ill. Which means that aside from Hamlet and, oddly enough, The Merry Wives of Windsor, I've missed bits. I've never, for instance, seen the Hecate part of Macbeth – I know about it because it was mentioned in a Shakespeare class, but every production I've seen just sticks with three witches and leaves the whole Hecate stuff out.

So, the question: do I owe it to myself, as a writer, to plow through every damn one of the Shakespeare plays, to see what I'm missing and build my own vision of his worlds? Or do I continue to experience Shakespeare as he meant us to experience him, through sound and spectacle, and without the medium of the printed page?
Romeo: And what love can do, that dares love attempt;
Therefore thy kinsmen are no stop to me.

(Romeo and Juliet kiss.)

Small child in audience, loudly: EEEUUUUUWWWWWW!!!!!

Romeo, Juliet and audience FALL OVER laughing.

Person behind me: Pity the damn kinsmen didn't stop the kid.

(Scene progresses)

Juliet: And follow thee my lord throughout the world.

(Juliet kisses Romeo)

Different small child: GET A ROOM!

*******

(later, end of play)

Woman, dragging along small, sobbing child (not the same one as the two above): "You think they'd have TOLD us that Romeo and Juliet isn't APPROPRIATE for small children."

Me: The play definitely should have had more belly dancers.

******

(This is Shakespeare by the Sea, up in Jupiter, FL. Definitely recommended for those that do not insist on purity to Shakespeare's words, with the note that the play had rather more belly dancers than I recall being in Shakespeare's scripts, a nice light touch of bondage and chains, and, rather more oddly, a scene from Cymbeline , and a peanut gallery of small very interested children who liked the gun fight, even if, as noted, the play is perhaps not appropriate for young children.)

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