Art and About
Why do we love William Shakespeare? And why is pronouncing his name with a hint of British twang so deliciously satisfying?
I have always been fascinated by the dichotomy between what's typically presented in a professional theater company and a symphony orchestra. While classical music ensembles fill their season with the music of yesteryear — compositions by Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart rule concert programs with a few sprinkles of modern repertoire — theater troupes thrive on works written in our own era, with a few exceptions to account for audience and holiday favorites — Dickens and Shaw come to mind.
Shakespeare festivals are everywhere and are as popular as Christopher Marlowe is largely forgotten. Yes, we know (should know) the universality of The Bard's subjects. But there is more. Taming of the Shrew director and 10-year Houston Shakespeare Festival veteran Jack Young explains:
We are the culture we are because of the things Shakespeare wrote. He was one of the first writers that wrote people capable of writing themselves. Because these are core stories — the number of times we quote Shakespeare without even realizing where the reference came from is part of that — each time and each culture brings its on riff on their own productions. We can examine who we are now by how we do this play.
In the '70's, '80s and '90s, there was a big riff about Taming of the Shrew being a battle of the sexes. It isn't really if you look at the text. But because battle of the sexes was a thing in the cultural zeitgast, it was the way to look at the male/female struggle. When looking at the script with 2011 eyes, it's a litmus test of where we are right now. Shakespeare is pliable and plastic enough that, depending on what you do with this multi-faceted gem, we can decide which theme to emphasize.
Young's version of Taming of the Shrew, which will have two more performances on Friday and Sunday, is set in the '80s — big hair included — and spins it to make it an American commedia dell'arte. Though focused on that decade, there are allusions to the roaring '20s through '50s, just as the recent past is part of our collective consciousness today.
Shakespeare with an American "drawl." That, inspired an Art and About adventure with Young and actors heartthrob Grant Davis as Lucentio (rumors of a shirtless scene are running wild) and the sassy Amelia Hammond as Bianca.
Othello, the festival's other production being performed tonight and Saturday, is more traditionally set and equally as satisfying. Will we see you at Miller?
Houston Shakespeare Festival, a professional project of the University of Houston, runs through Sunday at Miller Outdoor Theatre. Free tickets for covered seating will be available between 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. the day of each performance at the theater's box office. Remaining tickets will become available one hour before the show. As always, seating on the hill is open and free. You may want to bring a blanket, lawn chairs, beverages (no glass), bites and nibbles.