Much Ado About Some Things

November-December 2015

Events   Literary News
K. Branagh's A Winter's Tale
Oct. 17-Jan 16; London, UK: The Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company opens its season at the Garrick with Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale. Judith Dench plays Paulina. Branagh plays Leontes, a king who’s convinced that his wife has committed adultery with an old friend. Click here for details.

FSU’s Twelfth Night
Oct. 30-Nov. 8; Tallahassee, FL: Florida State University stages Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, about male-female twins separated by a shipwreck. The female, Viola, survives, disguises herself as a man, serves a duke, and falls in love with him. But she’s sent to plead his love for Lady Olivia, who falls for the messenger—Viola in disguise. For performance details, click here.

Chicago Schools’ Macbeth
Nov. 6- 7; Nov. 29-Jan. 17; Chicago, IL: A company of 23 students and teachers from seven high schools stage CPS Shakespeare! Macbeth, the Bard’s tragedy about a Scottish general who commits regicide. Also showing is David Ives’ The Heir Apparent, an update of a French comedy by Jean-François Regnard (Le égataire universel, 1708). A young man faces obstacles to his inheriting a fortune from a rich uncle: The uncle simply won’t die, and he’s chosen someone else as an heir. What’s the young man to do? For details on both shows, click here.

New Mexico CC’s Trojan Women
Nov. 6-15; Albuquerque, NM: Central New Mexico Community College stages Euripides The Trojan Women. In mourning for sons and husbands lost in the burning of Troy, its women await enslavement and exile. Click here for more details.

The Color Purple on Broadway
Nov. 10-May 9, 2015; New York, NY: Cynthia Erivo stars as Celie in a musical adaptation including Jazz, gospel, ragtime, and blues. The protagonist, Celie, young, female, black, abused, and uneducated, struggles for empowerment in the early 1900s South. Click here for performance details.

Can’t Take it With You at USC
Nov. 19-22; Los Angeles, CA: The University of Southern California stages the 1937 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy. In love with Tony, Alice Sycamore worries that his straightlaced parents won’t mix with her eccentric family, whose antic ways ultimately win the day. For more details, click here.

Christmas Carol at U Tennessee
Nov. 25-Dec.20; Knoxville, TN: U Tennessee, Knoxville, peforms Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, about the change in bitter old Ebenezer Scrooge after he’s visited by a series of ghosts. Click here for more details.

Chinese Classic at MSU
Dec. 3-6; Lansing, MI: Freshmen at Michigan Stage U adapt the 16th-century Chinese novel Journey to the West, about a monk who travels to India to get some sacred texts and suffers greatly in the process. For more details, click here.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at NDSU
Dec. 3-5, 9-12; Fargo, ND: Staged at North Dakota State U, the Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize winner features Big Daddy, who turns 65. The news that he’s dying spreads in a family celebration of his birthday that ends in reconciliation for his favorite son, Biff, and Biff’s wife, Maggie.  Click here for details.

Brecht at U Rhode Island
Dec. 3-13; Kingston, RI: The University of Rhode Island stages Frank McGuinness’s version of Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle, about a land dispute in the post-WWII USSR. The dispute leads to the performance of a parable about two women put to the test when they struggle for custody of a child. Click here for more details.

Tolstoy Takeoff at Harvard U
Dec. 6-Jan. 3;  Cambridge, MA:
American Repertory Theatre performs the “electropop opera” Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. Based on Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, the show focuses on Natasha’s love affair with Antole and Pierre’s despair in the novel (Vol. 2, Part 5). For more details, click here.

Cinema’s New Macbeth
Oct. 2, UK; Dec. 4, US: Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth opens in cinemas nationwide. For details and innovations, see the article to the right. To locate a venue near you, click here.

  Belarusian Journalist Wins Nobel Prize
Announced October 8th, the Nobel Prize for Literature will be awarded (December 10) to investigative journalist Svetlana Alexievich, chronicler of intimacies of everyday Russian souls within the sweep of an epic sociopolitical history. The Swedish Academy’s choice rings unusual in many ways. It is not simply because the 67-year-old Belarusian writer is only the fouteenth woman to win the prestigious award, or because 50 years have passed since the literature medal went to a nonfiction writer. Most strikingly, Alexievich is the first person to receive a Nobel Prize for writing that's based entirely on interviews. For each book, she interviews 500 to 700 subjects, then whittles down the total to roughly 100 to include. The result is intimate history from voices unearthing memories that create a hauntingly sad picture. Theirs is a vision of the Soviet era outside the official Russian version, one that at times inspires vitriol from the Russian government. In an October 8th New York Times interview, book editor Gerald Howard reports that after the publication of Voices from Chernobyl in Russian in 1997, Alexievich “was seen as a traitor, as unpatriotic” and even “vilified.”

Chernobyl took nearly 10 years for Alexievich to finish. Below is a passage (from the 2005 English translation) in which former Soviets share their experience of the nuclear disaster:

Everyone came — his parents, my parents. They bought black handkerchiefs in Moscow. The Extraordinary Commission met with us. They told everyone the same thing: it's impossible for us to give you the bodies of your husbands, your sons, they are very radioactive and will be buried in a Moscow cemetery in a special way. In sealed zinc caskets, under cement tiles. And you need to sign this document here. If anyone got indignant and wanted to take the coffin back home, they were told that the dead were now heroes, you see, and that they no longer belonged to their families. They were heroes of the State. They belonged to the State.
Other works by Alexievich bring us Soviets involved in different crises: War’s Unwomanly Face (1985; 1988 in English) chronicles the WWII experiences of Soviet women. Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War (1991; 1992 in English) features testimony from people affected by the Afghan conflict. Speaking about the effect of her Nobel win on her future writing, Alexievich says that she intends to push forward: “The greater part of my path has been traveled, but much work remains ahead of me. Now I cannot let myself slide.” She is currently working on one book about love and on another about old age and dying.

Svetlana Alexievich; Nobel Medal for Literature.

The Scottish Play—Refreshed or Reframed?
Shot on the Isle of Sky, cinema’s new Macbeth looks like Shakespeare. And, full of his speeches, it sounds like Shakespeare. But is it? Debuting this season in the UK (October 2) and the US (December 4) is Australian director Justin Kurzel’s new interpretation of the tragedy, with innovations that “speak to our age.” The question is, do they alter the story? Set in misty Scotland, the adaptation (which was shot in 36 days) booms into being with fresh “logic,” privileging reason over mystery from the start. The movie gives us a Macbeth (played by Michael Fassbender) who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (reason enough for his later fits and visions), and suffers too from the loss of a child. At the outset, not in Shakespeare’s play but in the film, Macbeth and his wife (Marion Cotillard) attend the funeral of a dead infant son, laying oyster shells over his eyes. But let’s back up to recap the plot: In eleventh-century Scotland, Generals Macbeth and Banquo, having defended King Duncan in battle, return from victory over a traitor. En route, the generals encounter weird sisters, or witches, who prophesy that one day Macbeth will be king and that Banquo’s offspring will reign too. Taking matters into their own bloody hands, Macbeth and his lady seize power, killing Duncan and shifting blame to his servants and sons (who flee). More killings follow: Banquo is murdered and Macbeth, crowned; Macduff, a suspicious nobleman, flees; his family is murdered; King Macbeth devolves into a tyrant; Queen Macbeth, into guilt-ridden anguish. She dies, and invaders (Malcolm, Macduff) threaten Macbeth. Those are the commonalities. Here are more of this film’s innovations:
• Prince Malcolm walks in on a bloody Macbeth shortly after he murders King Duncan.
• Macbeth kills Macduff’s family by burning them to death, lighting the stake himself.
• Lady Macbeth witnesses the burning.
• Unlike the play, the film has no drunken porter, who jokes that the door to Macbeth’s castle is the Gate of Hell.
• The weird sisters provide Macbeth with predictions and warnings via a vision of slain soldiers, and Macbeth is haunted by the image of a boy-soldier who died in battle.
• Lady Macbeth divulges her guilty anguish in chapel to her dead son’s ghost, not while sleepwalking before witnesses (in the play).
• The rebels set fire to Birnam Wood, driving it toward Macbeth in the form of smoke and ash, a logical way to make one of the prophecies come true.

Already the film has won accolades for its haunting soundtrack; raw, visceral landscape; vivid battle scenes; powerful performance moments. Particularly notable is the cinematic feat of evoking the brutally rough environs that conditioned these characters. More in dispute is the sound; the dialogue, say some, is sometimes difficult to hear. Others object to the omissions and innovations. The film is highly Macbeth-centered; less focused on Lady Macbeth than they would like; its logical touches added at the expense of the original’s mystery. So is this Shakespeare’s Macbeth? Click below and begin to see.

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