David Tennant as Richard II
Oct. 10-Nov. 16; Stratford-upon-Avon, UK: The Royal Shakespeare Company stages Richard II, starring David Tennant as Richard. Self-indulgent at first, the king makes enemies who unseat him, but he exits a nobler and wiser man. For more details, click here.
African-American Miss Daisy
Nov. 2-17; San Francisco, CA: The African-American Shakespeare Company performs Alfred Uhry’s Driving Miss Daisy, about American race relations through the prism of an elderly Southern Jewish woman’s relationship with her black chauffeur. Click here for more details.
Fighting Windmills in NYC
Nov. 5, 14, 20, 23; New York, NY: Repertorio Español adapts Cervantes’s Don Quijote into 12 scenes that stress the absurdities of the "hero’s" quest to right wrongs and rescue damsels in distress. Performed in Spanish, with English translation via earphones. Click here for more details.
Flying Solo with August Wilson
Nov. 5-Dec. 29, New York, NY: Ruben Santiago-Hudson plays August Wilson in Signature Theatre Company’s Off-Broadway, one-man biographical show about the writer's first jobs, jail stint, first kiss, and more. For details, click here.
Love’s Labour’s Found at NDSU
Nov. 6-22; Fargo, ND: North Dakota State University stages Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, about the laughable attempt of four noblemen to swear off women. For more info, click here.
Much Ado at San Diego’s Globe
Nov. 9-17; San Diego, CA: In a joint venture, The Old Globe Theater and University of San Diego present Much Ado About Nothing, about two love matches. False allegations about unfaithfulness threaten one of these matches; in the other, there is a great deal of verbal sparring between "lovers." For more details, click here.
France’s Madwoman in NJ
Nov. 11; Madison, NJ: The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey performs a reading of The Madwoman of Chaillot, Jean Giraudoux’s prescient post-WWII comedy, which pits an eccentric Frenchwoman and her allies against financiers out to profit from oil they think underlies Paris. Click here for more details.
Iliad Revival at U Chicago
Nov. 13-Dec. 8; Chicago, Ill: The University of Chicago’s Court Theatre revives its 2011 adaptation of Homer’s classic about the wrath of the Greek hero Achilles and the Trojan War. For more details, click here.
Mockingbird in Romeoville
Nov. 15-24, Lewis University is one of several academic venues staging Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird this month. The novel concerns a lawyer’s struggle to defend a black man accused of rape in a 1930s Alabama. For the performance at Lewis, click here. For other college and high-school venues, click here.
Camus’s Stranger Revamped
Nov. 20-24; Durham, NH: The Universities of New Hampshire and Maine jointly produce a takeoff on Albert Camus’s The Stranger, called eStranged. The show explores 21st–century life for humans who are split into physical and digital selves. Click here for more details.
Tristan Tale at Berkeley Rep
Nov. 22-Jan. 6; Berkeley, CA: On tour, the British theater group Kneehigh performs Tristan & Yseult, a medieval tale about a love triangle, involving Cornish King Mark; his future wife, Yseult; and his favorite knight, Tristan. Comedy, song, dance, live music, and visual magic grace the celebrated adaptation. For more details, click here.
WRITING CONTESTS MR Prizes in Fiction and Poetry
Dec. 1 deadline; Hattisburg, MS: The University of Southern Mississippi's Mississippi Review invites entries to its fiction and poetry contests. Submit fiction of 1,000-8,000 words or 3-5 poems in 10 or fewer pages. All submissions must be in English, and multiple entries from a single contestant are accepted. The prize includes publication and $1,000. Click here for further details.
New Research: Reading Literary Fiction Promotes Empathy
These days scholars often find themselves justifying study of the humanities. It’s not uncommon to be asked What are you going to do with an English degree? Here’s a research-based answer: "I’ll understand others." David Comer Kidd and Professor Emanuele Castano of The New School for Social Research enlisted more than 1,000 participants in five experiments whose results were just published in Science magazine (Oct. 18). Participants read a passage, then answered questions that examined their ability to understand others’ states of emotion, a skill referred to as Theory of Mind (ToM). The ability is deemed an important one. Without it, the researchers say, complex human societies could not exist. The study used three types of texts: literary fiction, popular fiction, and nonfiction. Among the literary-fiction authors were Anton Chekhov ("Chameleon"), Louise Erdrich (The Round House), and Téa Obreht (The Tiger’s Wife). Popular-fiction selections were drawn from the Amazon bestseller list (Danielle Steele’s The Sins of the Mother, for example). For nonfiction texts, the study turned to works such as Charles C. Mann’s "How the Potato Changed the World" and Cathie Gandel’s "Bamboo Steps Up." Participants would read a randomly assigned selection from one of the genres, then take classic tests that measure ToM. In the "Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test," participants choose what emotion an actor expresses by looking only at an image of the actor’s eyes. The Yoni Test shows participants four images surrounding a central character (usually named Yoni), then asks what the character is thinking or wants.
Lovers of high-brow reading will likely feel satisfied at what the researchers uncovered: Reading literary fiction leads to better performance on the ToM tests. Why? Referring to the ideas of French theorist Roland Barthes, Kidd and Castano mention "writerly texts" and "readerly texts." Popular fiction (readerly texts), the two say, spells out a character’s motives and emotions in a predictable, understandable way, without the need for examination. In contrast, literary fiction (writerly texts) often challenges a reader to engage in mind reading and character construction. How long do these effects last? Castano thinks they’re short-lived, probably a "few hours to a day or two" but also that "repeated exposure to literary fiction, and thus to this 'exercise' in mind-reading and mind-construction, can lead to more long-term, chronic effects" (NPR, Oct. 4, Book News). What a fine reason to major in literature!
L to R: Emanuele Castano; David Comer Kidd; literary text in their study.
Robert Frost Controversy
In this month’s Harper’s Magazine, the short story "Lovely, Dark, Deep," by Joyce Carol Oates, skewers poet Robert Frost as a racist, sexist boor, greatly upsetting his family and stirring much controversy over the real Frost and how much license a fictional work should be able to take.
David Auburn's Proof: Still Vibrant in 2013
Maybe it’s this year’s most popular play on American campuses, not to mention professional theatres. We’re speaking of David Auburn’s Proof, whose mathematical protagonists would no doubt prefer numerical evidence to such a speculative Maybe. But then the play is not math per se, but drama—emotionally haunting, madcap (in an old, serious sense of the word) drama, about family and mathematical proofs "so complex they approach the realm of poetry" (Chicago Theater Beat, April 6, 2013). A 2001 Pulitzer Prize winner, Proof has this year been staged in Chicago, Boston, San Antonio, Memphis, Princeton, Cedar Rapids, and Los Angeles. This month alone, the play opens at Brevard and Moravian Colleges (NC; PA), Portland Community College, and Pistarckle Theater (Virgin Islands).
Why pay all this attention to a thirteen-year-old play? Well, it conveys universal truths about genius, madness, and family in a modern-day academic setting, with romance and mystery, to boot. At the heart of the play is the pursuit of mathematical beauty on a level beyond most of our understanding. But the pursuit certainly is not, nor are the family tribulations, or the fine lines between genius and mental instability. The setting is the Hyde Park home of Robert, a mathematical genius. In his 20s, Robert twice revolutionized mathematics with his work. Then came a starlike teaching career at nearby University of Chicago, followed by a descent into mental illness. For years, Robert grappled with life as a shut-in, his psychosis punctuated by manic scribblings of nonsense into notebooks. His daughter Catherine—a mathematical whiz in her own right—dropped out of school to feed him, bathe him, safeguard him from the old-age home or mental institution. The two-act play opens on the eve of her 25th birthday as she speaks to her father, now dead a week. In the present, Catherine herself suffers intense mood swings, flitting from depression to anxiety-ridden panic over her own possible descent into madness. If she has her father’s mathematical brilliance, why not his mental failings? Enter two more characters: In from New York for the funeral is well-adjusted Claire, the annoying sister bent on rescuing Catherine. Hal, a former student of her father’s, arrives too, intent on finding some mental gem in the notebooks. Nerdy Hal meets brilliant Catherine and romance flickers. But then she shares a groundbreaking proof she claims is her own (the mystery). He doubts the claim, which shatters her fragile composure, for how long? we wonder. On a more or less sparse set, Catherine’s body language speaks volumes (e.g., she curls up in a fetal position under the porch swing in Chicago’s Court Theatre production). Watch a clip from Chicago (featuring Charon Cross as Catherine, Kevin Gudahl as Robert).