Much Ado About Some Things

March-April 2015

Events   Literary News
Black British All My Sons
Feb. 12-Apr. 25; various, UK:
The Black British cast of Talawa Theatre tours its production of a modern American tragedy—Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. A post-World War II drama, the play features Joe and Kate Keller, whose fighter-pilot son has been reported missing in action. His fate is intimately tied to the family business: Joe, the father, a self-made man, manufactures substandard fighter-plane parts. For more details, click here.

Steinbeck at Houston Collge
Feb. 26-Mar. 7; Houston, TX: Houston Community College stages John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, about simple-minded Lennie, his devotion to George, and their hardscrabble lives as California ranch hands in 1930s America. Click here for more details.

Hamlet at Stanford U
Mar. 5-7; Stanford, CA: Watch Stanford undergrads perform Shakespeare’s tragedy about regicide in "historical" Denmark and a son's struggle to wreak revenge. For tickets, click here.

The Scottish Play in Philly
Mar. 5-Apr. 19; Philadelphia, PA: Arden Theatre Company stages Shakespeare’s Macbeth. An ambitious general, with the "help" of his wife, attains the throne at devastating external and internal cost. Click here for performance details.

Two Williams on Tap at USC
Mar. 5-8, Apr. 2-12; Los Angeles, CA: The University of Southern California stages two classic comedies: Banishment, cross-dresssing, romance, and more take center stage in William Shakespeare’s As You Like It. William Congreve’s The Way of the World follows Mirabell in his quest to marry Millamant with her dowry intact. The feat entails outwitting an aunt who’s armed with entirely different plans. For more details, click here.

U Montana’s Gatsby on Tour
Mar. 10; Chattanooga, TN: Montana Repertory Theater brings its production of The Great Gatsby to the University of Tennessee. On prosperous Long Island in 1922, Gatsby, a self-made millionaire, pursues an old love with disastrous results. Click here for details.

Othello at U Arizona
Mar. 11-Apr. 5: Arizona Repertory Theatre performs Shakespeare’s tragey of interracial marriage and all-consuming jealousy at the University of Arizona’s Tornabene “Black-Box” Theatre. For more details, click here.

RSC’s Wolf Hall on Broadway
Mar. 20-July 5; New York, NY: The Royal Shakespeare Company performs Wolf Hall, Parts 1 and 2 at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway. For production details, see the article on the right. For performance info, click here.

NT Live’s View from the Bridge
Mar. 26; various: National Theatre Live begins its broadcast to cinema houses worldwide of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge. Watch a live performance by London’s Young Vic Theatre of the 1950s family drama, which features illegal immigrants in an Italian American neighborhood. Click here for a venue near you.

Much Ado at U Georgia
Apr. 9-19; Athens, GA: The University of Georgia stages Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing about two “loving” couples: Beatrice and Benedick, and Hero and Claudio. The first pair engage in a battle of wits until tricked into confessing their love for each other. The second pair falls victim to a false accusation of infidelity on the young lady's part. For more details, click here.

Austen’s S & S in the Windy City
Apr. 18-June 7; Chicago, IL: Chicago Shakespeare performs a world-premiere musical of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Two sisters—one, full of good sense; the other, of passion—seek suitable husbands after their father’s untimely death. For additional details, click here.

U Idaho Poetry and Prose
May 1 deadline; Moscow, ID: The University of Idaho’s Fugue literary magazine welcomes submissions of poetry and prose (either fiction or nonfiction) to its Annual Writing Contest. Submit 1-3 poems, or one work of prose (a short story or an essay) to win $1,000 and publication in the summer/fall issue of Fugue. Multiple submissions from the same contestant are accepted. Click here for further details.

  Ishiguro's New "Fantasy" Novel
In an abrupt change from his other novels, Kazuo Ishiguro’s newly released The Buried Giant dips into fantasy, featuring wizards, knights, dragons, and even child-snatching ogres. Also unlike much of his fiction, the story takes place not in the recent past but in the Middle Ages, in a “desolate, uncultivated”  England:

Icy fogs hung over rivers and marshes, serving all too well the ogres that were then still native to this land. … But such monsters were not cause for astonishment. People would have regarded them as everyday hazards, and in those days there was so much else to worry about. How to get food out of the hard ground; how not to run out of firewood; how to stop the sickness that could kill a dozen pigs in a single day and produce green rashes on the cheeks of children. (p. 1)

Two of the inhabitants are Axl and Beatrice. Both are Britons; they're a couple living circa 450 CE (“not much beyond the Iron Age”). The story, which some argue defies categorization into any one genre, includes historical anchoring—the Roman invasions have just ended and there are bloody clashes between the Saxons and Britons. England, as we know it, is coming into existence. Axl and Beatrice reside in a village with homesteads carved deeply into the frigid hillsides. Often the door to a homestead is just an archway, which allows the warmth of fires to circulate as a buffer against the dense, bone-chilling fog. And weather isn’t the only challenge: Axl and Beatrice have great difficulty retaining memories. Even recent ones escape them, leaving the two in a seemingly dreamlike state. The reader soon learns that their condition is not a product of senility; the entire village suffers from a collective memory loss (“It simply did not occur to these villagers to think about the past—even the recent one”). The couple recalls that they have a son but details of him remain murky. They search for him, guided by a vague notion that he's in a neighboring village, a two-day journey away. En route, the couple encounters Wistan (a Saxon warrior) and Edwin (a boy whom Wistan has rescued from the ogres). They also encounter Sir Gawain, by this time an aged knight in rusty armor. The traveling band ventures forth, confronting betrayal, monsters, and a dragon—the key, we learn, to the Britons’ failing memory. Axl, once a statesman to King Arthur, created a treaty that put limits on wartime killing. But his treaty was eventually ignored, and the Britons committed genocide against the Saxons, slaughtering whole villages. To avoid more bloodshed, Merlin cast a spell on a she-dragon, Queirg, giving her breath the power to cause amnesia in both Saxons and Britons. Wistan, having avoided the spell with his memories intact, is on a mission to avenge the Saxons. The story, at heart, concerns memory and its place in trauma, raising disturbing questions: At what point do people forget horrors, or re-invent history to avoid horrors? The Buried Giant doesn’t deliver a neat answer, but then how many thought-provoking stories do?


Indian American Wins Asia's Richest Literary Prize
News Flash Announced Jan. 22: Jhumpa Lahiri has won the $50,000 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2015 for her novel The Lowland. The work features two brothers of mid-1900s Calcutta whose paths diverge. While one joins a Maoist Naxalite uprising, the other leaves for the United States.

Wolf Hall on Broadway, Courtesy of the RSC
Revisionist history that a writer serves up as fine art—some of our greatest talents shined at the endeavor. Shakespeare did. And lately Dame Hilary Mantel has. Mantel won Booker Prizes for her first two novels in a trilogy on Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to King Henry VIII. The third novel is in the making. But already Mike Poulton has adapted the first two for the English stage; performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, the two plays riveted audiences in England in 2014. Now, in 2015, Wolf Hall, Parts One & Two are crossing the pond to Broadway, and American theater is all astir with the promise of three hours each of engrossing showtime.

Let's step back and recap. History’s King Henry had a string of top advisors, including, in succession, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Sir Thomas More, and Thomas Cromwell. The first two fell out of favor over the King's break with the Roman Catholic Church and the annulment of his lengthy marriage to Catherine of Aragon. The third, Cromwell, son of a drunken blacksmith and brewer, suffered a hardscrabble past. Largely by wits and grit, Cromwell climbed his way into high office, first as secretary to Cardinal Wolsey, then as chief minister (1532-40) to King Henry at a cataclysmic time in his reign. Wolf Hall, Part One traces Cromwell's rise, up to the beheading of Sir Thomas More (1535); Wolf Hall, Part Two, up to the beheading of Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn (1536). What's new in this telling? Mantel relays the story through Cromwell’s eyes, from the perspective of a man demonized in other works as a villain. Yes, in the RSC performance, Cromwell (played by Ben Miles) is a sly, power-driven master of spin, a flawed figure who’s callously ready to sacrifice truth to suit his political needs. But he’s also loyal, witty, religious, and, in his own way, equipped with a moral conscience. The focus in this production is on his charm and conscience, and on his guardedness too. This is an intently watchful Cromwell, whose approach to others helps frame our perception of them in a way that echoes Mantel’s novels. Some 20 actors play more than 70 roles in the shows, with a skill that does justice to the novels' nuanced characterizations: Henry VIII (Nathaniel Parker) is charming, petulant, insecure, tough. Cardinal Wolsey (Paul Jesson) is arrogant yet kindly, and heartbreaking in his fall. So is a manipulative yet piteous Anne Boleyn (Lydia Leonard). But Thomas More (John Ramm) surprises the most. Sainted in real life, he’s pious onstage, but also cruel, bigoted, self-righteous, scheming (the unflattering image has stirred pushback in the press). The shows’ sets are spare; the costumes, opulent; the stagecraft, deft (at one point, an execution morphs into a wedding). The Broadway opening is March 20. A couple weeks later, the BBC crosses the pond with a televised miniseries of the same two titles (debuts on PBS, April 5). Click below for a clip from the RSC production detailed here.

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