Last month I laid out a challenge to my readers: Read (or re-read) both Shakespeare plays soon to be produced on Market Square and then see the performances. I promised to do the same and I gave you guys a big compliment when I suggested that surely you, the Urban Blues family, represented the elite literary minds in our fair city. Did you do it? Come on now, be honest. Leave a comment if you actually did – or came close. Or thought about it. Once.
So, what did I do? What I’ve always done: procrastinated. I read about half of “As You Like It” on the beach in mid July. Somehow the lazy splashing of the Gulf of Mexico, the gentle warm ocean breeze and some wonderful adult beverages produced more naps than reading. So, thwarted, though with time left, I returned to the city.
In the dark of the night, somewhere beyond my consciousness, July suddenly turned to August. I quickly finished “As You Like It.” I found it frustrating in a couple of ways. First, the language, the situations and the shared names make it a tangle from the outset. People cross-dress, lie and deceive when a little honesty and kindness would make everything better from the beginning. Sort of like all 339 episodes of Three’s Company. I mean, didn’t you always scream at the screen: “Jack, just tell the truth, already! A lie will only make this worse. She’ll understand! Trust me!” Of course, then every episode would have lasted forty-five seconds and “As You Like It” would be about two pages.
Uncertain I’d ever actually attempted “Julius Ceasar,” I slipped into it and found it delightful, timeless and a bit funny. Did you know that the word “slut” is direct Shakespearean English? Fling it about freely at work today and if questioned, simply site the bard himself. Of course, it has more blood than Hunger Games and more widely-quoted lines than any author deserves in a lifetime: “It’s Greek to me.” “Et tu Brute?” “Beware the ides of March.” “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears.” I mean, what writer wouldn’t sacrifice the last ten years of his life to be immortalized by just a couple of quotes, for Bill’s sake?
So then I had to make it to the performances, right? To complete the deal? So, what did I do? I procrastinated some more, of course. I still had a week or so. Then it rained. Heavily. The weather turned better and I got sick. Majorly. Two nights left. A comedy on Saturday night and a tragedy on Sunday night. Saturday night the outside temperatures dropped and mine went up to around101. Would I let my readers down?
Not a chance. I shivered through that sucker with cold chills wearing a flannel shirt in August for you, dear readers. And it was worth it: the acting really excellent, no lines fell short, no cues seemed slow. This production of “As You Like It” was set in the post civil war southern U.S. The words weren’t changed, but a bit of accent introduced and costumes fitted to the era. The basic plot has an evil older brother driving his younger brother from home where he finds love in the form of a beautiful young girl whose father has been driven from his kingdom by her Uncle. Ultimately the girl pretends to be a man, joins up with the betrayed brother who strangely agrees to woo this man as practice for his true love. The mean Uncle and brother have changes of heart, the girl changes back to a woman and everybody gets married. The slut occupies a minor part of the story.
By Sunday night I felt better, though not great and really relished the performance of “Julius Caesar.” The acting, once again, proved to be superb and the story I find extremely compelling. On the surface it’s pretty straight up: “Why should that guy be king? He thinks he’s bad. Let’s kill him and see if we can be king!” They do, but they can’t because some of the dead guy’s buddy’s get the crowd cranking and then bring on the army. Lots of people die. Especially the bad guys – and often it’s suicide by the very swords that . . . well, you know.
Beneath the surface is a very lean tale exposing the human lust for power and our capacity to convince ourselves that we act only for the best of reasons. We easily delude ourselves, insisting our motives for evil are pure while others apparent purity only obscures their true evil. You could probably look at the national, state or local level in our country right now and select your own cast for the parts. I’ll refrain and let us all enjoy our personal opinions on those who are most villainous . . . I can’t help it – I think Dick Cheney would make an awesome Brutus. There, I said it. Withhold your monthly blog payment if you don’t like it!
In closing this long and strange blog post, I’d like to thank the Tennessee Stage Company for producing these fine plays. It takes a tremendous amount of time, money and energy and we are all enriched as a result of their work. I’d also like to make mention of the excellent musical selections which included, “The Weight,” “Ooh La La,” and “Angel from Montgomery” among many others. One suggestion for next year: keep working on the sound. Had I not read the play before going I could not have followed “As You Like It” since only about half or less of the words were audible midway back in the crowd. Another set of mikes closer to the stage floor and speakers at mid audience, perhaps?
I’d also like to thank Jesus Christ and Bayou Sara Southern Baptist Church in Saraland, Alabama. Jesus used the beautiful words that Bayou Sara Baptist Church required me to read just as he spake them to King James for inclusion in the Holy Bible. Absent his soaring Shakespearean language on the hot Alabama nights in the bayou of my childhood, I doubt I would find William’s words nearly so accessible and compelling. Thank you, Jesus.