Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"Gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves accursed they were not here"

The Chicago Shakespeare Theater is in the unlikeliest of places. Think of the schlockiest part of the schlockiest beach town you can imagine -- end to end to end cheap, tacky souvenirs, cranky, sugar-hyped children, stupid games and rides, glow sticks, cotton candy, and ice cream of the future (on Chicago’s Navy Pier, Ice Cream of the Future comes in a futuristic pouch. Spoons and cups are so 20th century). Anyway, one slogs through all of this misery, skin crawling, and comes at last to the Shakespeare Theater -- an oasis in the desert, an island in the raging sea, shelter in wilderness, what you will. First, it is a beautiful beautiful theater and space. Second, holy crap, they are good. TG and I saw Comedy of Errors this weekend, a thing I would never have done had I not been just desperate to see the place. COE is (with apologies) not a good play. It is very early. It is not very funny. It lacks interesting characters or compelling narrative. It is the same joke over and over and over. And it makes no sense. Two sets of twins? Sure. Both with the same names? Um, no. It’s not just that this company managed to make the play palatable and entertaining. It wasn’t good in spite of its material. It was just brilliant. Brilliant.

But I’m getting off topic. My question was why put this world class theater doing classical (for the sake of this argument) texts in the middle of schlocky schlocksville? To attract a more diverse crowd? Full price tix were 80 bucks (we got them half price of course), about twice the price of any other theater tix in the city save for the totally sold out national tour huge summer musical extravaganza production of Wicked. 80 dollar tickets does not encourage the bringing of one’s totally hopped up, sticky, cranky, glow sticked children, right? The overlap of these two groups of people -- people who want to see Shakespeare and are willing to spend 80 dollars on it vs. people who want to eat fried dough, buy a pencil sharpener model of the Sears tower, and then go on the tilt a whirl -- is small (limited, perhaps, to Greg exclusively, and even he is borderline). Indeed, the audience was as white, middle aged, and blue haired as usual if a bit less high brow and a bit more touristy (so, then, was the show).

It pandered but brilliantly. Instead of just doing COE, it imagined a film studio making a film of the play in London in the 40s, so we got scenes from COE interspersed with this other play they’d written about these people making this movie. The marginalized ham, used to playing star parts, reduced here to playing a silly servant, keeps begging the director to let him do the St. Crispen’s Day speech from Henry V, a recurring joke that is brilliant on at least a dozen levels, but I’ll spare you these as it’s interesting only to me (and perhaps TG who, as you can imagine, already got the full lecture). Anyway, the ham gets slapped across the face towards the end of the “film” and the light changes and cue I’m-seeing-stars music, and he busts into the speech. About a third of the audience maybe got it, but we few (we happy few, we band of...well, you get it) cracked the fuck up. Genuinely. It was actually funny, not intellectually funny. It was brilliant. It was awesome. It was one of the funniest moments I have ever seen in live Shakespeare. And it cost nothing if you didn’t happen to be familiar with the speech -- the delivery was pretty funny anyway. I cried. Not from laughing so hard (though that too) but because it was so damn perfect and good.

Anyway, I would like to think the moral of this long winded story is something like happy marriage between tourists and academics, candy apples and theater snobs, but I don’t think it is. Shakespeare was not writing for a high brow audience, and his theater was located in a much less savory part of town than the Navy Pier. This isn’t the Globe though, and that’s not what they are going for. What they are going for I do not know. However, I expect seldom to see better theater in a more unusual place for it and never ever to see a better production of the Comedy of Freaking Errors of all things. 

Monday, June 02, 2008

Video killed the blah blah etc. blah

My birthday has lately passed and as a gift from Mrs. Transient Gadfly I received a video camera. Putting it to immediate use I have now combined the two favorite things of everyone in the universe: other people's home movies and music recorded in basements.

If, inexplicably, you know me and do not have this mp3 of mine yet wish to, you can download it here. It occurred to me while doing this that I recorded this song ten years ago. Ten f***ing years, man. Also, the fact that Apple makes movie editing software that is so incredibly easy to use that you don't have to read instructions of any kind to make a music video might make you think that designing user interfaces is easy. Apparently though, it is not.