Much Ado About Some Things

March-April 2016

Events   Literary News
The Mousetrap at Princeton U
Mar. 8-27; Princeton, NJ: McCarter Theatre Center performs Agatha Christie's gripping murder mystery. Snowed in, the occupants of a guesthouse receive some disturbing news: They are to be a killer's next targets. Click here for more details.

Hedda Gabler at Florida State U

Mar. 25-Apr. 3; Tallahassee, FL:  Bored by marriage to her scholar-husband, an immoral Hedda Gabler destroys her own life as well as those of an old friend and the friend's lover. Click here for details.

Cymbeline at Yale Rep
Mar. 25-Apr. 16, New Haven, CT: For the first time in its 50-year history, Yale Repertory Theatre performs Shakespeare's Cymbeline. A treacherous queen incites war, while the king's daughter by an earlier marriage falls victim to betrayal and her commoner-husband falls victime to banishment and deadly deception. For more details, click here.

Pygmalion at No. Kentucky U
Mar. 29-Apr. 3, Highland Heights, KY: Northern Kentucky University performs Bernard Shaw's drama of transformation and self-identity. Determined to win a bet, scholar Henry Higgins sets out to transform a Cockney flower girl into a lady by changing her speech. Click here for more details.

Langston Hughes at Ohio's MU
Apr. 7-9; Oxford, OH: Langston Hughes wrote the lyrics for this adaptation of Elmer Rice's Street Scene, Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about tenement life in early 1900s New York. A blend of jazz, blues, big band, Italian opera, and Wagnerian orchestral works, the music reflects the multiethnic mix of immigrant residents in search of the American dream. For more details, click here.

Othello: The Remix in Chicago
Apr. 12-May 8: Chicago Shakespeare stages the Q brothers hip-hop adaptation of William Shakespeare's Othello. After talented rapper MC Othello rises to the status of music moghul, he infuriates fellow rapper Iago by elevating Cassio to second in the crew. Click here for details.

Twelfth Night at Georgetown U

Apr. 14-23; Washington, DC:
Look forward to a new take on this Shakespeare comedy in a co-production by Georgetown University and Black Theater Ensemble. After the loss of her twin brother at sea, Viola, in disguise as a young man, acts as love emissary for a duke she herself adores. Click here for details.

Rarely Staged Ibsen at U Iowa
Apr. 15-24; Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa performs Henrik Ibsen's Lady from the Sea, about Ellida, young wife of an old widower in a remote town on a fjord in northern Norway. After a past love re-enters her life, Ellida struggles to take charge of her future. For more details, click here.

Merry Wives at U North Texas
Apr. 21-May 1; Denton, TX: Falstaff writes the same love letter to two matrons with access to money in Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor. The two compare notes and exact comical vengeance. For more details, click here.

London's Streetcar in New York
Apr. 23-June 4; Brooklyn, NY: St. Anne's Warehouse stages the Young Vic Theatre update of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire, about former Southern belle Blanche, her brutish brother-in-law, Stanley, and her nervous breakdown. Click here for details.

As You Like It at UCLA
Apr. 24; Los Angeles, CA: UCLA screens National Theatre's live production of Shakespeare's As You Like It, a comedy about treachery, banishment, love, and forgiveness. Updating a setting in the original, the production replaces the palace with a 21st-century, business-style trading floor. Click here for details.

Twelfth Night at OSF
Feb. 19-0ct. 30; Ashland, OR:
Oregon Shakespeare Festival updates Shakespeare's comedy to the period described in the article to the right. Consult the article for the description. For tickets, click here.
  Remembering a Beloved Italian Author
Umberto Eco, an Italian scholar who became an international literary hit, due largely to his monstrously successful medieval mystery Il nome della rosa (The Name of the Rose), has died. He passed away at his home in Milan on February 19. Eco was 84. The son of an accountant, the scholar took a midlife turn into writing novels after establishing himself as a specialist in medieval studies and semiotics, the science of communication with a focus on the meaning of signs and symbols, especially in language. Il nome della rosa was first published in Italian in 1980—when Eco was 48 years old—in English, in 1983. Wildly popular, the novel chronicles the pursuits of a 12th-century Franciscan friar who travels to an Italian monastery and becomes tasked with investigating the sudden, mysterious deaths of several monks. In discussion about the work, Eco, famous for his humor, once joked, “the detective novel asks the central question of philosophy—who dunnit?” (Paris Review, 2008).

Eco’s novels were anything but a surrender of his scholarly persona. They are themselves works of considerable scholarship, barnacled with references, both explicit and arcane, to other literary texts and moments in history. For Eco, fiction was not an escape but an embrace of complexity, as explained in his Six Walks in the Fictional Wood.
To read fiction means to play a game by which we give sense to the immensity of things that happened, are happening, or will happen in the actual world. By reading narrative, we escape the anxiety that attacks us when we try to say something true about the world. This is the consoling function of narrative — the reason people tell stories….
Eco's later novels (e.g., Foucault’s Pendulum—English, 1989) only increased his prominence, as did the dozens of nonfiction works (essays and criticism) he produced. He amassed a personal library of more than 50,000 books that is legendary in its own right. Photos of it were a popular internet phenomenon after his passing. “Those who read,” the beloved writer once said, extend their lifetime. They “will have lived 5,000 years.” By this yardstick, Eco was far older than 84 at death. 

Eco’s first and last novels: Name of the Rose (1980) and Numero Zero (2015).

An Americanized Twelfth Night
You can take a Shakespeare play out of its times, but can you take those times out of the play and still have it resonate for audiences?  For Oregon Shakespeare Festival's newest Twelfth Night, the answer is a qualified "Yes." On February 19, OSF opened its 81st season with a hilarious, mostly faithful update of the comedy. This is an Americanized Twelfth Night. The language is nearly all Shakespeare's. So, essentially, is the plot. Separated by shipwreck from her twin brother, Sebastian, Viola (both parts played by Sara Bruner) begins serving Duke Orsino (Elijah Alexander) of Illyria (in the Balkan Peninsula), who's smitten with Countess Olivia (Gina Daniels). The two know Viola as "Cesario"; she's disguised herself as a male to better survive her world. In mourning, the Countess has retreated from life and men, but the Duke insists on wooing her anyway—by proxy. Cesario becomes the Duke's love agent, his emissary to Olivia. But all goes comically wrong in the main plot when she falls for Cesario and—in a subplot—when Olivia's dour steward, Malvolio (Ted Deasy), falls victim to a practical joke (with a poignant edge to it) at the hands of Olivia's other servants. Directed by Christopher Liam Moore, OSF's rendition retains the core story but updates time and place to 1930s Hollywood. Duke Orsino, head of Illyria Studios, is smitten with Olivia, a megastar actress. Sensual, vain, vulnerable, mercurial, she's a femme fatale who's walked off the set of her latest movie due to the death of her brother.   

Onstage are a sweeping staircase and a grand piano for the play's multiple musical numbers. Grainy, black-and-white newslike footage is used to tell the backstory of the shipwrecked Viola. Clued in to her gender transformation, we, the audience, go on to witness her perform in disguise. The cross-dresser vividly, self-consciously mimics male mannerisms as she wrestles with her own budding love for Duke Orsino, who wears jodhpurs and riding boats and speaks with a German accent in this production, touches that suit both the update and the focus on a person’s invention or revinvention of his or her own identity inherent in the play. In one of the few liberties taken with its plot, the show inserts a new, uproariously funny swordfight between Cesario and Sir Andrew (Danforth Comins). A rich, bumbling, would-be suitor, Sir Andrew comes to woo Olivia at the behest of her drunken uncle, Sir Toby (Daniel T. Parker), a has-been film star of silent-movie days. The show takes another liberty with the plot too—spoiler alert, all of you future playgoers who prefer to be surprised. Ultimately Viola’s lost twin, Sebastian, surfaces, but only as a projection on a movie screen. Viola wanders behind it, her black-and-white image joins his, and she exits to rejoin the others in performance, but he never does. While all ends happily for Viola and Duke Orsino, her brother’s fate and Olivia’s remain uncertain. It's not Shakespeare's ending but one that capitalizes on cinematic invention in a way that multiple viewers applaud. The screen trick, says Jeffrey Gillespie (, is stunning; the overall show, Oscar-worthy. It pays homage to “the id of emergent gender fluidity” in society today. In some ways, the show resonates not as much as the original, but more.

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