at some point in the '80s a community theatre company came to my elementary school and performed the pyramus-and-thisbe scene from a midsummer night's dream; i tingled both with the dead leg i always got from wearing a skirt on assembly day and having to sit sidesaddle on the carpeted multi-purpose-room floor and with the first stirrings of a serious and lifelong shakespeare jones. for the next decade i tended to scratch the itch with rental movies and questionable summer stock productions, but things got and stayed serious when i went away to college and discovered that no one would prevent me from registering for every shakespeare and shakespeare-adjacent class i could find. joe and i turned into a couple when our overseas program sent us to stratford for shakespeare's birthday and a few dozen royal shakespeare company productions; our friend jacob read sonnet 116 at our wedding. i'll fold in another playwright every now and again if i must—we roll out for shakespeare in the park twice every summer whether the second show is more shakespeare or, like, into the woods (eh) or hair (FAH), and we're turning into regulars at playwrights horizons—but i have weathered a lot of midsummers at this point, is what i'm saying. i wondered if six "new" plays could really be new to me.
happily, they can; having to chase down happenings like a matinee performance of the national theatre's fantastic post-financial-crash timon of athens when we were in london for a wedding and a crazily-edited international-collaboration version of antony and cleopatra set in colonial haiti* has been good for me. i now know, for example, that "timon" rhymes with "simon" and not "limón," and that london retirees love eating ice cream super-loudly more than i have ever loved anything. i have new favorite language on stoicism (from antony and cleopatra, act IV, scene 14)...
Nay, good my fellows, do not please sharp fate...and i know never to cast a semi-mechanical water snake in a death scene (so distracting!). i have enjoyed myself immensely.
To grace it with your sorrows: bid that welcome
Which comes to punish us, and we punish it
Seeming to bear it lightly. Take me up:
I have led you oft: carry me now, good friends,
And have my thanks for all.
imaginary reading group discussion questions
01 how many of shakespeare's plays have you seen performed live?
02 the worst theatrical production you've ever seen?** the best?
03 would you be more likely to eat at a matinee performance than at an evening performance? (yes, i'm asking about eating in theaters again.)
*that one was just down the street at the public's snazzy new HQ on lafayette, but you get my drift.
**one of my shakespeare profs, the inimitable charles lyons, told a wonderful story about a production in which the beleaguered actor playing hamlet was unable to stab through gertrude's bedroom draperies in order to kill polonius and was finally encouraged by the audience to beat him to death.