Avaunt, and quit my sight! – MACBETH, III iv

I have one measly day off.

I chose to ignore the citywide bacchanal that is the Kentucky Derby because I’m marshaling my energies. I read, there may have been some knitting, and I spent a fair amount of time planning the first session of this Shakespeare readers’ workshop/book club/thing I’m doing this week. We may have watched the entirety of Princess Leia’s Stolen Death Star Plans with our lunch. There was a cocktail, another thing, like free time, that will be scarce as the summer continues (for vocal protection).

At 8:00, The Bad and the Beautiful, which I haven’t seen in quite a while, came on TCM. It’s good (an Essential, even*), so I left it on. Shields (Kirk Douglas) comes to Georgia‘s (Lana Turner) apartment and finds out she’s daughter of a (dead) John Barrymore-esque actor he had known. He puts on a record of her father performing (voiced by Louis Calhern, which I just realized I should look up and check except I know that voice and have no need to confirm). He is of course performing Shakespeare. Because as I have noted time and time again, I am not allowed to escape.

Calhern is doing a gloriously orotund Macbeth, kicking in at “She should have died hereafter”, but then (because that’s what I’m listening to, of course, not the scene that’s happening on top of it) the audio loops back to an earlier bit from before Lady M.’s death with which I’m reasonably familiar. (My wife confirmed it, as she remembered hearing it while waiting to scream offstage when she played said Lady.)

But I decided not to let it ruin my night; simply to accept the inevitable. And keep watching, at least until Gloria Grahame’s part is finished.

I wouldn’t mention it here were it not the second time it’s happened this week.

Rehearsals started Monday, so we’re not in crazy crunch time like we’ll be in, oh, another week. So we thought we’d tick one off the DVR on, I forget, Tuesday or Wednesday. We watch a lot of Cagney and a lot of the sort of comedies of that era some call screwball, yet somehow neither of us had seen The Bride Came C.O.D.

It’s a so-so movie, mostly a rejuggling of It Happened One Night, but on a night off I ask little, just a dopey bit of escapism after a long day of acting (and dancing) Much Ado, and a few minutes in, on comes the manipulative radio announcer (Stuart Erwin) to report that “the musical world’s most eligible bachelor, Allen Brice, will tonight become a Benedict”.

Now, I ask you. This isn’t even a movie about actors where one might expect that sort of thing. Unfair. Badly done, DVR.

Back to work tomorrow. Heaven knows what will accost me in my three-week-old New Yorker on the bus.



* And full of great lines. “There are no great men, buster. There’s only men.” Also Gloria Grahame, for which I would watch and have watched nearly anything.

Never came trouble to my house… – MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, I i

After two solid weeks of travel which involved no small amount of crashing in the houses of kind friends and family, and weather fluctuations from blizzard to unpleasantly warm 75 degrees (in February? In Massachusetts?! We broke it; sorry, kids), I’m at last in the range of 66-75% done with annotating the summer scripts for Kentucky Shakespeare and, as always, primed for self-distraction. My mind is a wanderer. This time I can at least trace the path:

– The Wife and I are thrilled to be able to say out loud now that we’re taking on Beatrice and Benedick this summer (come on down; we guarantee a good time);

-the only time we’ve approached these roles before was in a reading of Davenant’s The Law Against Lovers, his 1662 adaptation/squishing-together of Measure for Measure and Much Ado About Nothing, a weird little thing that I can see the reasons for, MfM being such a dark piece except for the randy people, who quickly became socially inappropriate for squeamish theatregoers. There’s a company in Louisville, Savage Rose, that alongside its regular season hosts readings of such under-heard classics as this and has for years now. Lots of fun to partake of.

-this squishing-together of Much Ado and some other thing popped into my head during the Much Ado editorial process (which I’m still during-ing and instead of finishing, writing this) when I came across two exchanges, one spurring a notion, the other cementing it. Hear me out…

Act One, Scene One. Soldiers show up looking to crash on the abundant sofa of Leonato and the Prince who leads them enters and says to his host:

          Good Signior Leonato, you are come to meet your trouble: the fashion of the world is to avoid cost, and you encounter it.

To which Leonato replies:

          Never came trouble to my house in the likeness of your grace.

Innocuous host-/guest- flattery. But it reminded me of a similar situation in a slightly less wacky play in which royalty shows up at a crashpad to declaim:

          The Love that followes us, sometime is our trouble,

          Which still we thank as Love. Herein I teach you,

          How you shall bid God-eyld us for your paines,

          And thanke us for your trouble.

And the hostess (Lady M., if you haven’t recognized Duncan’s howdy by now) responds:         

          All our service,

          In every point twice done, and then done double,

          Were poore, and single Businesse, to contend

          Against those Honors deepe, and broad,

          Wherewith your Majestie loades our House…

…and so on, fancier and more versified than Leonato (King vs. Prince and acquaintance vs. spouse’s boss certainly comes into play here), but substantially the same thing. So what happens…

…if we replace Don Pedro with Duncan…

…and leave in Leonato’s silent wife. I should explain.

In the Folio/Quarto, Leonato has a wife, Innogen, mentioned only in two stage directions in the first part of the play that call for her to enter. She has no lines and is only referred to barely in one of those “Is this your kid?” “Well, her mother says she’s mine, heh heh” bits of banter that reappear with variations in a couple of the plays. In almost all productions, she’s taken as a “ghost character” (one who is named in stage directions or Dramatis Personae but never speaks) and just written out, seeing as how actors expect to be paid and all. What if she stuck around, this silent hostess, and…

“But”, I thought, “that’s silly. Get back to work.” Which I did.

So on I went, annotating this for understanding and slightly modernizing the spelling of that for clarity and removing the odd anti-Semitic remark for crying out loud. And on another pass of the same scene, but a few dozen lines later, the Prince returned with:

          …in the meane time, good Signior Benedicke, repaire to Leonatoe’s, commend me to him, and tell him I will not faile him at supper, for indeede he hath made great preparation.

And thought I had heard such an oath to be there in time for supper before; that’s right:

          To night we hold a solemne Supper sir,

          And I’ll request your presence.

To which Banquo replies:

          Let your Highnesse

          Command upon me, to the which my duties

          Are with a most indissoluble tye

          For ever knit.

That dinner ends even worse than Hero’s first wedding, but there’s a history of thrift in Shakespeare when it comes to using funeral food for weddings, so vice versa seems legit, non?

Which brought me back to Innogen. What if we gave her some lines…made her a more complicated hostess…

…assume the comedy is either simultaneous to the tragedy or – no, wait…

…is a backstory for it…they’re soldiers after all…

…squeeze Benedick/Beatrice together with the title couple of That Other One…

…ditto the younger lovers and the Macduffs…

“But”, I thought, “that’s silly. Get back to work.” Which I did.

I pray you remember the Porter. – MACBETH, II iii

Look, I must get back to doing some footnoting and pronunciating for Kentucky Shakespeare’s summer season. I’ve been busily & desperately trying to get Guildenstern’s lines into my addled and aging brain which has delayed my dramaturgerery for a spell. There are new old plays to work on, so I need to put the old old plays to bed for a bit.

But I have one last thought on my roughly twenty month on/off sojourn in Mostly Fictional Scotland.

People cut the Porter. And when they don’t cut him entirely, they trim him down mercilessly*, especially considering the shortness of Macbeth to begin with. And I get it. No one knows what equivocation means, and if they do, they don’t much care. (Nowadays, we just outright lie, which seems to get the job done for a lot of people; Jesuit-era shenanigans seem almost quaint.) I’ve been in a production without him; I’ve been in a production with little of him; I’ve been in a production where I was him. And very few people mind it when he’s gone.

I’m here to say a word for him.


Yeah, that’s the word.

Dick jokes in Shakespeare get a bad rap, primarily because actors are under the impression that no one in the audience ever knows what they’re talking about and therefore feel the desperate need to point eternally towards their junk. Every. Single. Time. There’s a dick joke in the text.

I say, demand, plead, now to those actors: please don’t do that. Please. I get that a lot of you signed on to Shakespeare under the mistaken notion that the tragedies are the real classics and are therefore not all constitutionally equipped for comedy. But I swear to you if the audience understands nothing else you’re saying, they hear those. They get those. They make up their own in places where they may or may not be. We are a culture of nine-year-olds and we may miss political machinations (real or fictional) or relationship nuances ( r or f), but everybody knows a dick joke when it happens. Don’t Point To Your Crotch. Make literally almost any other choice but that. I’ve known some bawdy people in my life, but none of them ever underlined a dick joke by pointing to one. That’s not how good jokes work.

And audiences: stop blaming Shakespeare. Blame the actors. Don’t let them do that. Bring old veggies if you must. Whatever stops this.

Where was I?

Right. Standing up* for the Porter.

In a play about succession and male children and who gets dad’s job when he’s gone and who even has a son to begin with, it’s hard for me to agree that the Lecherie Routine is irrelevant. We’ve already established that Lady M. lost a child at some point, that Banquo’s issue Fleance is a threat constantly present in Macbeth’s filed mind, that “man of woman born” is not a phrase to be taken lightly. Duncan has already o’erleaped the usual protocol and said, “You know what? You’re all great at your jobs but I’m handing all this to my kid when I’m gone.” Whether or not the family jewels are in working order comes up a lot.* Especially for men who do battle in nothing but kilts.

And it’s not like the Porter is the only one who brings this up.* Mr. Fancy Tragic Star Himself notes that the witches in prophesying Fleance’s inheritance have “put a barren sceptre in [his] grip”.  Even Freud probably thought that a bit much. And I’ve always been convinced there’s a barely-veiled offer going on in Lady M’s “and you shall put/ This [k]night’s great business into my dispatch” – he is rather easily led around*, isn’t he?

She’s prone to taking this to places we Still-(Still?!)-Post-Victorians aren’t comfortable with, too. After all, just before his entrance,* she was going on very un-bawdily about her own Lady (M.) Parts, what with all that begging the Spirits to

                                              …make thick my blood,

         Stop up th’accesse, and passage to Remorse,

          That no compunctious visitings of Nature

          Shake my fell purpose…

Plus her eventual (and frequent) introduction of the topic of nursing, which bounces around to some other folks too before all is done.

(Performance* Digression: We had to cut a lot of those for the student tour version I was in. Not because it would offend some puritans so much as because there’s nothing so disheartening at 9:00 a.m. as seeing the dead eyes of fifteen-year-olds aggressively ignoring you until “woman’s breasts” wakes them enough to make them snort for ten minutes. I add here with pride that my wife’s Lady M. during those shows kept all of

                                           I have given Sucke, and know

           How tender ’tis to love the Babe that milkes me,

           I would, while it was smyling in my Face,

          Have pluckt my Nipple from his Bonelesse Gummes,

          And dasht the Braines out, had I so sworne

          As you have done to this.

She so grossed them out and terrified them with the image and its coiner that neither “nipple” nor “suck” got a single laugh that whole tour. Take that, Adolescence.)

(Second Performance* Digression: I was also proud of how we handled the Lecherie Routine in the production in which I was the Porter, which was that neither Macduff nor his gang thought a single bit of it was funny, which explained why it went on so long – the Porter wasn’t going to let it go until he got a laugh. And all he got, after eleventy repetitions, was “Is thy master stirring?”* as if to say “Is there someone else up there we could talk to?”


The Porter doesn’t answer. I just shrugged and left the humorless jerks. Fortunately, Maccers came down right after. Their problem now.)

(Comedy Digression after Second Performance* Digression: There are solid and underappreciated non-dick laugh lines throughout Macbeth. In all three productions, occasional-to-consistent laughs came: at the Doctor’s “Will she go now to bed” after sleepwalking Lady M’s “To bed, to bed, to bed”; Macbeth’s own understated “’Twas a rough night”; and often at the ur-Schwarzenegger kill quip “Thou wast born of woman” when (spoiler) Young Seyward goes down*.  I always had a hankering to do a commedia production with the text unchanged, mostly so I could cast Punch & Judy as the Macduffs – when he keeps asking for repeated confirmation that his awful family is dead it’s because it sounds too good to be true.)

It’s not just the Porter, is all I’m saying. It’s a penis-ey, vagina-ey play. And not in a “Will* was male and we can’t go too long* without mentioning it” way, but in an “inherent to the lines of story and succession” way. The vitals are vital.

That’s it. That’s my defense. I pray you, remember. The randiness is all.

(Final Digression: I keep threatening to use my meditative needlecraft hobby to make my Scotch-derived wife (though that blood has undergone a full bourbon transfusion since I moved her here) a bed-coat with her clan tartan on it purely because there’s a “sleep, that knits up the raveled sleeve of Kerr” line in there somewhere. But I’m having a beer as I type this, so I’m placing all the blame there.)



*I’m just going to put an asterisk next to any unwitting potential dick joke/reference as I go back through this.

Seafaring men, sir. They say they have letters for you. – HAMLET IV vi

In pulling out the previous post title (and remembering one from a couple of months ago regarding the same scene), I’m was hit by the notion that the reason scenes like that are often trimmed mercilessly or cut entirely (besides of course the human bladder) is the very reason people love particular episodes of the better episodes of this New Golden Age of Television we’re in.

Ask fans of Game of Thrones or Mad Men or what have you for a favorite or at least a monumental and point-turning episode and they’ll frequently mention “that one where they dropped sixteen of the seventeen plotlines we usually jump around among and focused on just one for the whole hour”. (“The Watchers on the Wall” and “The Suitcase” episodes of the aforementioned are good respective examples. You no doubt have your own favorites.)

But the moment the Burbage Break hits a play like Macbeth, the whining begins. “That’s not our lead actor; that’s not the main story; can’t we get rid of most of that and get back to a star turn speech or a swordfight?

The Burbage Break, for people who don’t do this all the time, is a colloquial term (one of many – I’ve heard it called other things, but I like plain “Burbage” most) for that moment around Act IV when Shakespeare et al. would leave a nice and probably contractually dictated gap in which the inevitably Richard Burbage-portrayed protagonist would be captured by pirates or something and the actor himself could go have a pee or an ale or a shag or just a seat before coming back refocused for the big swordfight that led to his temporary demise, twice Wednesdays.* And the candles would get their wicks trimmed for the indoor shows, and the audience would have to live with other stuff going on.

(In the midst or rehearsals for Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, I noticed that even in that play’s Act III version of what happens during Hamlet’s Burbage, Hamlet sleeps through most of it. All that nattering is exhausting. And even during his break, Hamlet won’t butt out – he sends a long letter poor Horatio has to just stand and read on stage. There are other people in your nutshell, Hamlet. Make room.)

All this is hearsay, of course, but the fact remains that these rest spots do exist for the big feather-in-the-cap tragic roles – Shakespeare was a practical man; just look at his grain storage.

And that Other Stuff gets fascinating. You don’t notice Lear disappears for several scenes because of the onstage eye-gouging. Hamlet’s gone? Groovy – let’s watch a woman go stark raving mad. Malcolm & Macduff, though, bless their hearts. I’ve seen their long (long) scene done really well, but there’s a long while between the baby-murdering that distracts us from the start of Macbeth’s teatime and Macduff’s grief about something we knew already as Macbeth finishes his biscuit. And most of that long while is a not-even-argument-exactly purity test given in real time. It’s a staging challenge when compared to blinding a man with one’s thumbs.

So TV producers out there, hear me out: do a four or five hour episodic adaptation of one of the plays (instead of doing four plays in that span coughhollowcrowncough); let your star off for Episode Four and suddenly everyone will be all excited about Malcolm and the lingering visuals of the healing hands of Edward the Confessor and of Rosse’s long ride to England and no one will even notice the big jerk was gone.

…I suspect the lack of break for Rosencrantz & Guildenstern was in the back of my head when I thought of this. They don’t rest. There’s no ale. And I’m blogging when I should be memorizing. Back in a bit.



*I know, I know, they didn’t do twice Wednesdays then. We barely do it now, relatively. It’s an expression. The internet demands such a lot of preemptive defenses against literality.

The mere despair of surgery, he cures – MACBETH, IV iii

I add nothing to the current human conversation when I note that much of 2016 was thoroughly rotten, unsettling, cruel, and relentless. I’ve even started a list for myself to keep my memory of it in some sort of balance – the Cubs won; I got a surprise last minute first row chance to see Springsteen again; some of my favorite people on the planet had a healthy baby; our young nieces are memorizing Hamilton and leaping headfirst into DC comics and Agatha Christie; our teen nephews are aging rapidly, settling nicely into their personal freak flags, and asking all the right questions about Dr. Strangelove; my wife and I have played Olivia/Malvolio, Speed/Launce, and started in on a new set of song for our music duo; the Tavern re-opened after an overlong arson-based hiatus.

I save two things for last. I’m not very good at Stillness, and if my body is, my mind ain’t. One or both are always moving. So the time my body forced me to spend recuperating after the glorious surgery in mid-March, after which the innards were dandy but the muscles that usually protect said innards had to spend a lot of time engirded and, yes, still, was necessary but ohgoodgoddifficult. And while I’m anything but a bodybuilder, I was almost constantly weak and quivery in an unpleasant way I hid from most people.

But in August, after an international trip and a three-month outdoor performance gig (which you’d think would be enough proof of recovery, tough though it was), the gem of my summer was reaching The Rock out in the lake when we visited my in-laws.* It’s the thing one swims to when one goes to that lake. Because it’s there. Just far enough out to be worth going to, but not really tiring. Nice quiet place to sit (barring interference from the inevitable speedboating jackass, but they’ve been around since well before 2016). I wasn’t sure if I’d be making it to The Rock this year.

I made it to The Rock.


For the second thing, I direct your attention back to that international trip I mentioned both above and here. The Stratford Trip. Just in time for the quadricentennial of Shakespeare’s death (probably, -ish) and his 452nd birthday (-ish, probably), Kentucky Shakespeare took a tiny contingent over to be part of the festivities. And as things that I’ll try to remember about this year when posterity marks it as the time many great people and nations died, this trip will rank highest.

For starters, I got to be Shakespeare Himself (sort of, –ish) bright and sweetsweetMoses early on the BBC’s kickoff to the 23 April festivities as there in slightly muddy and as-yet-unopened New Place (though they did let Prince Charles in later that afternoon, so now I suppose anyone can enter) four of us did a variation on the house blessing scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream live on national(ized) television. That was terrifying after the fact.

Then we had an opportunity to perform some scenes in the courtyard of the birthplace proper, which while not widely recognized as a performance space has a fascinating vibe when used as one. It was touch and go for a moment there when my wife-as-Kate faux-kneed me-as-Petruchio-with-a-“ch”-thank-you in the groin (as planned) and I dropped to my knees, which takes a bit more abdominal strength than I was ready for, but the day was saved by the power of the muscle-tightening and quite slimming girdle under my doublet. We acquitted ourselves well enough, I guess, that two locals said afterwards, “They were quite good! Despite the accents!” to our (also American) friend and artistic director, who smiled and nodded so as not to betray his own accent to them.

Also, I touched a Folio.

There’s a First Folio floating through town right now, at Louisville’s Frazier History Museum. We went to see it (and some Shaker furniture and a Prohibition exhibit and the dresses from the “Sisters” number in White Christmas – there’s a lot going on there) with my folks last week and it was fun to see their reactions…but I had touched one.

You see, down in the vaults beneath the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (and its research facility, at which I got to browse through Bram Stoker’s old Irving/Terry playbills and the prompt books from the RSC’s Barton-era Wars of the Roses which made my fingertips tingle a bit with impertinence), we were shown some fancy and ancient tomes, your Holinsheds and your Plutarchs and your medical treatises of the era and whatnot, and I poked an aforementioned emboldened fingertip at a spine and said, “And what’s this one?”

“Oh, that’s a Folio.”

Now had this been one of my average days, my recoil, which was significant and covered no little ground, would have sent me backwards into a seven-foot plinth atop which was a bust of antiquity which would fall into my arms after I danced about trying to keep it from becoming a bust, full-stop. But the spirit of Buster Keaton kept his distance and all that fell through the air was a high-pitched “Eep!” from me.

But the covers of Folios are well known for being not-particularly-valuable, relatively, and no one seemed terribly upset by it, myself excluded. We had scrimped for the part of the trip we were responsible for, but an irreplaceable volume wasn’t in the budget.

Then a week in Bath, just us two (my wife, not the Folio), then home for more of 2016, ptui.

Thirty-two more days and counting.

(A quick note: I always grouse about quotes out of context, especially when I’m the guilty party. So I’ll note that this post’s headline is (clearly) not about Shakespeare as I imply but about the healing (?) hands of King Edward the Confessor, as spoken by Malcolm in that English Doctor mini-scene everyone cuts, and I didn’t have scrofula anyway, but an intestinal complaint. I also can’t help but note sadly here that we’re not very likely to get aid from England these days in dealing with our own impending tyrant, who is practically on his way to Scone, whatever you choose to rhyme it with, as we sit, what with England having its own non-scrofular troubles at the moment.)

*My in-laws don’t live in the lake. Just near.

…why do you start and seem to fear/ Things that sound so fair?–MACBETH, I iii

Well, we closed Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Macbeth yesterday with a two-show day that began with a 10:00 am matinée, obviously designed to prevent as much of the sentimental melancholy of closing a show as possible – despite which I’m going to indulge in one more bit of silliness before I get back around to the business of learning Stoppard’s Guildenstern and making sensible Folio acting editions of the 2017 Kentucky Shakespeare summer shows. No big whoop.

Said silliness is this Macbeth mix, which has little or nothing to do with our production in particular, but exists generally for my own entertainment. As always, whether title, lyric, or groove inspired a given song’s inclusion is left to my whim.


“Chicken Strut” – The Meters   (“And their dam. And your servants. Jeez. I have said.”)

“Season of the Witch – Donovan   (Self-explanatory)

“Our Day Will Come” – Blossom Dearie   (Could you resist making your fate happen if the sweet voice of Blossom beckoned?)

“The First Cut Is the Deepest” – P.P. Arnold   (The rest of the gashed stabs are easy after you break the seal)

“Promise Her Anything” – Tom Jones   (Again, self-explanatory)

“It Was a Very Good Year” – Della Reese   (Duncan’s dying thoughts)

“What’s Mine is Mine” – The Ray-O-Vacs   (Generally true of these folks, I think)

“Too Much on My Mind” – The Kinks   (Calm down, Mac. Take a nap…)

“Fool’s Paradise” – Rufus featuring Chaka Khan   (…and if you can’t nap, just wonder.)

“What Does a Bad Person Look Like?” – Joe Beard   (For the Children of the Student Matinées)

“Bad Blood” – Neil Sedaka   (The only good thing about bad blood is lettin’ it sliiiide.)

“Hey Porter” – Johnny Cash   (Because.)

“I Wish It Would Rain” – The Cougars   (“Where we lay, our chimneys were blown down…”)

“Superstition” – Stevie Wonder   (Actors. Whaddaya gonna do with ‘em?)

“L’Anarchie Dans L’U.K.” – Pastel Vespa   (Ireland, Scotland & Ireland are cooperating in this play. So, you know: fiction.)

“Cut Your Coat According to Your Size” – Apolos Empire Rhythm Orchestra   (Sage advice as only Afro-Lypso Pidgin Highlife can convey it.)

“Repressed Hostility Blues” – Katie Lee   (“By a queer turn of psych,/ I’m bound to be pleasant to those I dislike.”)

“River Deep, Mountain High” – The 2 of Clubs   (Despite it all, they do love each other.)

“Sleep and Dream” – The Keystoners   (At this point I’m just rubbing it in.)

“Are You Sleeping?” – Davy Jones   (Come ON.)

“Tomorrow” – Jay and the Americans   (Creeps.)

“Trust Your Child, Pt. 1” – Patrizia & Jimmy   (In the end, it’s a play about the next generation.)

“One Tin Soldier (Theme from Billy Jack)” – Winthrop Elementary School, Massachusetts Spring Concert   (As the director kept saying was the message of the play: “Use your words, boys.”)

“Our Day Will Come” – Sharon Tandy   (Reprise.)

“Sleepwalk” – Santo & Johnny   (Stop it. Seriously.)

…trippingly on the tongue… – HAMLET, III ii

As Kentucky Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and Actors Theatre’s Macbeth continue and as rehearsals begin (with a merciful trickle, schedule-wise) for Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, I have been thinking lately about pace and airplanes.*

For the last several summers, and for a few spotty ones before that, I’ve been part of a company that performs outdoors. (Which I’m glad we’re getting to do in this final fifteen year span of Liveable Summers before we have to hide in caves for six months of the year.) That meant something different in 1602 than it does now. Since that time, we’ve figured out airplanes, helicopters, emergency vehicle sirens, and motorcycles – or, rather, not the cycles themselves but the particular biker subset who don’t think they’re riding unless they’ve got minimum 110 db happening. Bless their hearts, in the full Southern sense of that phrase.

Fortunately, we’ve also figured out body mics, which take care of the whole overpowering-siren factor of outdoor performance, though I’m one of those who sees “necessary evil” as a two-word phrase. C’est la guerre. Not my department.

But the body mics in no way affect (my war against the non-dental use of “impact” as a verb will continue until they pry “affect” from my cold, dead hands) the holding pattern or runway option or whatever that Louisville International Airport seems to choose starting around 11:00 pm. That pattern passes right above our stage. Sometimes it seems like right above our stage. Like in the actors-getting-sucked-into-jet-engines-like-so-many-Canadian-geese sense of “right above our stage”. A few strays inevitably come by earlier in the evening as well. Planes, not geese. Also sometimes it rains.

The airplane convention the company has established is that whosoever hath the ball calls the play. So if serious doings are afoot, then everyone holds still, extending the silence they’ve created (if you understand “silence” to mean “deafening plane sound); if foolishness, then there’s more leeway. The audiences love these moments, I think precisely because they can’t be planned. Sometimes they require a little improv, like when a WWI-era Two Gentlemen of Verona servant yelled “The Kaiser!” and ducked. Sometimes what we do with the silence is enough: I particularly remember an invasion of “Pyramus & Thisbe” in which five mechanicals cowered in fear and I, as Bottom, just glared at the son-of-a-bitch pilot ruining my monologue, and also the loudest, longest train whistle I’ve ever heard popping in right after Caliban said “The isle is full of noises” to the audience’s (and cast’s) delight. He cursed that train backstage the next night when it came by late, during the next scene. “They don’t even need a laugh.”

Anyway, what the impending and inevitable strafe does affect is our pace. The show needs to be done by 10:45 at the latest or we’re going to be stopping every third word, at which point it is no longer entertaining to anyone. Which means that when I watched the Titus rehearsal the other night – which is not outdoors, though it’s almost ninety degrees here today, so it might as well be – the thing really moved for the most part even without the Tyranny of Boeing poking it in the backside with spears. And I’m pretty sure that’s because the majority of the cast, regardless of their other knowledge and experience and capabilities of self-editing, has performed under threat of airplane.

I’ll add to that the observation that sloooow Shakespeare is usually enslowenated for two reasons: 1) the belief that it will help the audience understand and 2) general hamminess. History tells us nothing can be done about 2) but I’ve listened to audiences tune out when it’s too slow and I’ve seen them lean forward when it’s just the right pace plus a little extra. They do just fine. They get rapidly accustomed to characters who talk a lot, think to themselves by talking, and even pause by talking.

This whole airplane thing, coupled with the encroaching darkness and people having to walk a little ways to their cars, also means the plays get trimmed. Which means my other personal goal, after I get people to stop verbing “impact”, is as actor and company text coach to get all our tongues tripping at the proper rate so season by season we have to trim less and less. The Kentucky Shakespeare audience is surprisingly savvy, and do not deserve to be bored for a second.

So when you hear me talking about Shakespeare Fast ™, know that I mean it in all the senses: tied tight, kept hungry…and trippingly on the tongue.



*I’m also putting together a Shakespeare performance workshop, so this sort of thing has been on my mind of late.  Cheap plug here.


I probably should have brought this up before, but here’s the deal with me and Shakespeare of late. The reason I’m writing all this nonsense.

He’s putting money in my purse.

It’s happened before, but never to this extent. Since about February of 2014, I have, depending on how you count it, been a part of either twelve (12) or fifteen (15) Shakespeare productions. Which, I am led to understand, is not normal. This immersion has been full-bodied and has left my brain simultaneously exhilarated and numbed, or if not simultaneously then toggling rapidly from one to the other. This blog is among other things an attempt to get all this down before I forget it, as the brain space is at a premium these days what with all the verse, etc.

For my own sanity and your clarity, let’s lay them out in briefest possible C.V. here:

Hamlet – An abbreviated (a redundancy when talking of Hamlet, I guess) eight-actor touring version in the spring of 2014 in which I played Polonius, the First Gravedgger, and Osric. I continued as Polonius in the full-cast version that followed as part of Kentucky Shakespeare’s summer mainstage season.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – I finally got around to playing Bottom in my fourth time doing this play (Demetrius in my 20’s, Theseus/Oberon/Wall and Flute/Thisbe in my 30’s). A delight, even with an excessively large, musty, thirty-five-year-old ass head on. This would be the one about which I’d write my Anthony-Sheresque memoir (Bottom’s Up!, obviously). This also marked the stage debut of Oscar, my splendid toupee (named for Oscar Jaffe of Twentieth Century), on which may the iron door never be closed.

Henry V – Fluellen and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Rounding out my 2014 Summer of Yammerers.

As You Like It – a remount of a six-actor cutting I did in 2009 of this one, with commedia masks, an Old West setting, and the opportunity to play Jaques and Touchstone simultaneously thanks to dowel rod lorgnettes and a lack of shame.

Macbeth – another abbreviated touring version leading up to a mainstage remount. I want to count this one as two, though, seeing as I played Duncan/a Murderer/Doctor/Seyton/Probably someone else on tour and the Porter/Lennox on the mainstage, so I had all of about four lines overlap. Felt like a separate production to me, at any rate.

The Tempest – Stefano, with a large sweat-absorbing prosthetic belly and probably more rouge wine blossoms than strictly necessary. 2015 was the Summer of Entering From the House, what with Stefano’s shanties, the Porter’s crowd-climbing/-accosting and…

The Taming of the Shrew – …Petruchio’s big wedding entrance. I had the honor of playing opposite my wife for this one. Saving that for a post of its own. Or the book. (Oscar was in this one, too.)

(I should note here that for the previous three productions I was also company dramaturg/text coach because I suggested that one would be helpful and that it should be me. I seem to have inadvertently pulled some sort of Jedi Mind Trick on the Artistic Director, because it happened. This continued to be true for the following Kentucky Shakespeare shows.)

Twelfth Night – Malvolio, this time opposite my wife’s Olivia. Another pleasure, and, like Bottom, one I had been waiting to sink my teeth into for a long time. I have a much better Yellowstocking Tale from a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon, but again, another post. This was on Twelfth Night itself (and the evenings surrounding), blessedly indoors instead of on the magnificent-in-summer-but-uncomfortable-in-January stage in Louisville’s own Olmstead-designed Central Park.

Two Gentlemen of Verona – Another pairing with my wife, who was Speed to my Launce. Maybe pairing is the wrong word because of the lovely Hope (Crab), who stole most of our laughter, applause, attention, and pride, which is the way of this show and I suspect has always been. I also got to write the setting of “Who is Silvia” for this production. (I played Proteus in college in the 90’s, in the days when all my hair stayed attached to me after the show.)

The Winter’s Tale – Polixenes. What a weird role. What a weird play. I love it dearly. But I defy anyone to deny its weirdness. Unlike anything else. Also a thoroughly justified appearance by Oscar in Act I. And another setting, this time for Sonnet 97 (“How like a winter hath my absence been”) as sung by Mamillius.

Romeo and Juliet – Friar Lawrence. July 2016 being the hottest month in recorded history (until August), it was nice to balance out Launce’s 1919-ish three-piece suit with the updrafty Medieval caftan of Polixenes and the monkish robes of the Friar. Such a pure functionary, which is a great thing to get to play. You’re not going to steal any scenes (or you shouldn’t) because the audience really only deeply cares about two people. So join them, I say. (I was also the dramaturg/text coach for the spring tour of this one, as well as being responsible for the cutting, which was a bit of work and makes me want to count this one twice as a bonus, maybe.)

Titus Andronicus – a Kentucky Shakespeare fall rarity. Previously mentioned in gory detail here. Purely behind the scenes on that one. It opens Thursday.

Macbeth Again – So much Macbeth, this time at Actors Theatre of Louisville until near the end of this month, with a small role that provides plenty of knitting time and time to cobble together this Shakespeare workshop I’m teaching soon.

Purely onstage, that makes twelve (12) productions and in the neighborhood of twenty-two (22) speaking roles large and small over the space of two years, eight months. Somewhere in that time I’ve also finished two separate cuttings of Julius Caesar for next spring/summer, a cutting of Antony and Cleopatra that I think conceptually brilliant but have yet to convince anyone else of (or try terribly hard yet, honestly) and a fair heap of preliminary leg work on another yet-to-be-announced play for 2017. And the trip to Stratford!

I’ve done other things in there (three or four plays from the last hundred years and an understudying gig, probably ninety or so audiobooks recorded, a reasonably major intestinal surgery), but none so connected to each other that they made me want to dedicate an entire blog to them just to clarify my thoughts and tangentially drag other people along for the ride.

So when I seem loserishly footstuck in the Jacobean mires of the rules of performing verse and so on, please remember it’s all I’m allowed to think about. If I didn’t keep a blog, I’d just turn my brain off and play Assassin’s Creed some more and what would that accomplish? (Although a Macbeth or Henriad edition would kick ass. Think on it, Ubisoft. “There’s not a one of them but in his house I keep a servant fee’d – this one’s name is MacGregor. He’s an Assassin.”)

And when I mention one or another of these productions (and I think I’ve at least mentioned every Shakespeare I’ve ever done – wait, no: another Twelfth Night, an Othello, a Richard III, and a college Much Ado About Nothing) eventually in this furious jumble of bloggery, I’ll be able to find them here.

Thanks for the indulgence.

…pardon me, I do not mean to read…–JULIUS CAESAR, III ii

And pardon me while I get more specific than is ever necessary.

I offer two solid reasons to witness and not to read Shakespeare. Which is to say, obviously read Shakespeare, but not silently, and if possible not alone. Three measly lines from two consecutive scenes in Macbeth.

1) It’s not the most important moment in the play by any means, but the Doctor and the Gentlewoman in Macbeth, V i, have this exchange while they witness the sleepwalking Lady M doing her thing and nattering on about dead women and manual hygiene:

          DR: Go to, go to, you have known what you should not.

          GW: She has spoke what she should not, I am sure of that. Heaven knows what she hath known.

I’ve seen and done this scene repeatedly. And there are options about the basic meaning of it the script doesn’t really help with – no stage directions here, and most of the scene is in prose, so even the rhythmic clues are more up in the air. (You could argue that the Doctor’s line is in verse, but you could also argue it ain’t.)

So, options. You’ve got:

          DR: [to the sleepwalking Lady M, whom he knows can’t hear him but has just maybe revealed herself as at least accessory to murder] Go to, go to, you have known what you should not.

          GW: She has spoke what she should not, I am sure of that. Heaven knows what she hath known.

That choice is difficult even to paraphrase in brief – hitting the verbs seems to do all the work – and is therefore the one I like most. But you’ve also got:

          DR: [to the Gentlewoman, who has just heard Lady M maybe reveal herself as at least accessory to murder] Go to, go to, you have known what you should not.

          GW: She has spoke what she should not, I am sure of that. Heaven knows what she hath known. [I.e., “Don’t blame me for hearing it; plus if anyone here has known what she should not…”]

OR, maybe:

          DR: [to himself, having heard Lady M maybe reveal herself as at least accessory to murder] Go to, go to, you have known what you should not.

          GW: She has spoke what she should not, I am sure of that. Heaven knows what she hath known. [I.e., “Don’t beat yourself up, fellow non-royal. These people are clearly a mess.”]

I’m sure there are others, but I imagine they fall under these three umbrellas.

Buried in all this is how much I love the juxtaposition of the plain-spoken Gentlewoman and the Doctor, who starts out trying to sound impressive in jargony prose (“In this slumbery agitation, besides her walking and other actual performances, what, at any time, have you heard her say?”) but eventually is beaten by horror into verse that’s clear, terrified, and caring:

          More needs she the divine than the physician.

          God, God forgive us all! Look after her;

          Remove from her the means of all annoyance,

          And still keep eyes upon her. So, good night:

          My mind she has mated, and amazed my sight.

          I think, but dare not speak.

A thoughtful dynamic for two characters we’ve never seen before and who frankly we don’t need but would miss if they were gone. But back to the topic at hand.


2) This one is a tad more famous, relatively. In the scene before the sleepwalking, Macduff (IV iii) is told (400-year-od spoiler) that Macbeth has killed the entire Macduff household. Among his responses is the great line, “He has no children.”

The hell does that mean? “He”? “He” Malcolm, who just told Macduff to chill, and obviously couldn’t say such a thing if he had children? “He” Macbeth, who couldn’t imagine murdering children if he had any of his own? “He” Macbeth again, who (even though Macduff wouldn’t really linger too long on thoughts of such an act) prevents proper and equal revenge by not having any family for Macduff himself to kill? “He” Macduff himself, who suddenly has to try on the giant robes of widowerhood and hears in his head how pitying people will be describing him now? All of those? Some? One?

No help from the script at all, Silent Reader. An actor will pick one; a Reader Aloud can toy with options. All of them can work. But there’s work to be done.

Man, I love this stuff.

Not in the legions/ Of horrid hell, can come a devil more damn’d/ In evils, to top [Insert opponent’s name here] – MACBETH, IV iii

Not to get all political (because no one would in any way suggest Macbeth is a political play, and I say that with the full knowledge of the internet’s astounding inability to recognize even the most blatant sarcasm), but it’s difficult for me to hear the infamous Malcolm/Macduff scene (IV iii) in this production, or at least during this month, without hearing the current election cycle climate writ Olde.

The metaphor isn’t a precise one – I’m not quite sure whether Macduff is the undecided voter in this scenario willfully filling in some weird blanks for himself or if he’s the quite decided voter making excuses for the inexcusable evils his candidate represents and merrily dances with. Or possibly he’s practicing to be a campaign surrogate but understandably snaps after too many rounds of Cognitive Dissonance Twister. Also, it’s Malcolm who’s really doing the vetting, putting Macduff through a ruthless purity test resembling the sort that filled this primary season in particular (with exceptions). Also, candidate Malcolm’s bald-faced lies are a) apologized for, b) against himself.

(And for all the years of talk about the unusual tenor of this scene considering the relentless action & forward momentum the rest of the play affords, the oddest bit is still to me Malcolm’s admission that he is “yet/ Unknown to woman”. I get why it’s there, but it’s hard for me to imagine any other conversation with a passing political acquaintance in which that comes up. “PS, I’m a virgin.” Lady M. name-checked the sound of crickets some time ago, but here’s where they truly belong.)

I realize now it’s no use to quote bits of it – the whole scene up to the Doctor’s (weird, sucking up to English royalty) entrance plays out this way. Here it is in full. Read along and think charitably of poor Kellyanne Conway, who just hasn’t quite reached her “O Scotland, Scotland” moment, and less so of her boss, Malcolm’s photo negative in terms of integrity. You tell me who has The Best Words.