Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Taymor post-mortem, part two, in which I take issue with more things, dive into Titus Andronicus, and finish with angst about respecting the text.

Continuing my wrap-up of Julie Taymor's talk at George Washington University's Global Shakespeares symposium this past weekend:

  • "I put on stage no more than Shakespeare did." Regarding the violence in Titus.  Well, maybe.  But even if that's a true statement (and I'm really not convinced it is, since you were working with better materials, more money, and more resources than Shakespeare was), nearly everything else you put out there is, in fact, so much more than what Shakespeare put up.
  • She claims to have pulled Lavinia's stumpy marsh setting from the text.  I assume she's referencing Act 2, Scene 4, lines 1-4: 
Demetrius:  So, go now, tell, an if thy tongue can speak,
Who 'twas that cut thy tongue and ravished thee.
Chiron:  Write down thy mind, bewray thy meaning so,
An if thy stumps will let thee play the scribe. 
And later, Marcus's lines 2.4.16-18:
Speak, gentle niece, what stern ungentle hands
Hath lopped and hewed and made thy body bare
Of her two branches... 
 I understand where she's coming from, but she's misrepresenting herself (and perhaps Shakespeare) here, if you ask me (which you didn't, but you're reading my blog, so I'm going to tell you what I think, whether you like it or not, which you presumably understand. So there).  What she means, I'm sure, is that she was inspired by Shakespeare's marvelous language and imagery here, and that those words gave her the vision of Lavinia stranded atop a stump in a marshy, stumpy wasteland.  I just wish she'd been clearer about this point.  Though she was speaking to a room of mostly Shakespeare scholars, who I'm sure understood what she meant, there were several undergraduate students in the room, and I'd hate for them to come away with a warped sense of what Shakespeare created.  On the other hand, after the afternoon wrapped up, I had a lovely, long conversation about Shakespeare with my dear friend Haylie, who's studying early modern literature at GWU, and it appears that she and I (and by extension, GWU and MBC) have fundamentally different ideas about Shakespeare.  Haylie and GWU fall into the post-modern, highly critical, quasi-experimental school of thinking about Shakespeare.  (I hope I'm not misrepresenting Haylie here.  I was really exhausted and I'm doing my very best to remember what she was saying.)  MBC and I fall into the original practices camp, which is based heavily on a healthy respect-bordering-on-reverence for the text and the language, and frowns on the conceptual and experimental approach to the Bard.  (Hey, look at me! I'm drinking the kool aid!)  
  • (Though again, if last night's MFA company performance of Dr. Faustus is any indication, not all the students are buying into the original practices line of thinking.  But that's another post for another day on different feelings.)  
  • (I'll just say this, and then I promise I'll move on: Arg, sexy devils. Arg, ineffectual re-gendering undermining the entire play.  Arg, inconsistent settings.  Arg, random, erratic costume choices.  Arg, essentially pointless "special effects."  Arg, an entire company with no respect for themselves, each other, or their work.)
  • "I think Shakespeare knows what he's doing." In reference to Marcus's very long speech after discovering Lavinia.  She continued her discussion of the speech to include the fact that she cut it in half because it's just too long to let an actor speak unchecked.  (My assumption is she thinks this holds true for film, but not for theatre.  At least, I hope she doesn't think that holds true for theatre.  If she does, heaven forfend she ever directs Hamlet.)  The speech in question here is 2.4.11-57.  It's a mildly lengthy speech, but by no means Shakespeare's longest.  It takes one minute to speak twenty lines.  So, Julie Taymor, you're opposed to letting one actor talk, uninterrupted, for two minutes?  Because if that's how you feel, then you clearly don't "think Shakespeare knew what he was doing," or at minimum, you think you know better.  Which you don't.  Because Shakespeare is the greatest writer in the entire English language, and you, while celebrated now, will not be taught in classrooms worldwide in 400 years.  This is making me angsty.  I should probably give up the ghost for the night.
Tune in later this week for the conclusion of Julie Taymor's talk, which touches on The Tempest and her recently closed, wildly successful, highly praised production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.  There will be more feelings.  

1 comment:

Ellen Margolis said...

I'm loving this series! More, please.