Macbeth is the new Game of Thrones?

Who shall achieve the throne?

Who shall achieve the throne?

I hate writer Erin Whitney for little fault of her own aside from the gaping wound that she has rent into my soul with the opening lines of her Huffington Post piece announcing the release of the latest trailer for Macbeth, as performed by Michael Fassbender.

“Imagine Game of Thrones with Michael Fassbender speaking Shakespearean. Then you’ve got Macbeth.”

Her approach is entirely justified for a generation(s) that did not grow up on the works of William Shakespeare​ but instead find themselves immersed in the worlds of George RR Martin and the like.

But it is in pointing out this sad fact—sad to me, at least—that Ms. Whitney has earned my enmity. With all due respect to Mr. Martin, it is his works that should be defined in Shakespearean terms, even if only from a chronological perspective (taste is personal).

[I would also argue that a better parallel is made with either the British or American versions of House of Cards, but that is beside the point.]

Frank & Claire Underwood are Lord and Lady Macbeth

Frank & Claire Underwood are Lord and Lady Macbeth

Please do not take my condemnation and enmity personally, Ms. Whitney. It is not entirely your fault that you tripped this social and literary landmine.

If, however, I might make one recommendation: Get thee to a Shakespearean festival!

* * * * * * * * * * *

stratfordfestival

Some North American Shakespearean festivals (not a comprehensive list):

Stratford Festival (Stratford, ON)

Bard on the Beach (Vancouver, BC)

Shakespeare by the Sea (Halifax, NS)

Shakespeare in the Parking Lot (New York, NY)

Folger Shakespeare Library (Washington, DC)

Chicago Shakespeare Theatre (Chicago, IL)

Shakespeare for all time (more comprehensive list with links)

On shaky Groundlings (a review)

94629-swg

Just got back from seeing a preview of The Groundlings latest improv show entitled Slippery When Groundlings and really have only one response: Watch for the names Jill Sachoff-Matson and Alex Staggs. I don’t know when these two artists will hit it big, but I guarantee you they will.

Unlike the standard Second City shows I am used to watching, this one didn’t seem to have much of a theme beyond irritating people…but then, all sketch and improv comedy seems to be reduced to irritating people. And given the reputation of The Groundlings, I was surprised at how many sketches seemed to be one joke spread over 3 or 4 minutes. I expect that from student shows, but I expect more from main stage casts.

The first third of the show was evenly bad with the exception of a piece called “Carl’s Jr.”, where Sachoff-Matson first caught my attention as a dweeby woman who has been run down and then backed over by life.

Jill Sachoff-Matson

Jill Sachoff-Matson

The second third picked up somewhat, starting with “Church Camping Trip”, but a solid premise was completely let down by a lack of where to go with it. It’s a good sketch, it just needs more brainstorming. This was followed by Sachoff-Matson’s “Kindergarten”, which actually caused me to laugh out loud. Sachoff-Matson is mesmerizing both physically and in how her mind works, particularly as she portrayed yet another train-wreck character.

But just when I thought I had seen the best part of the show, Alex Staggs shows up with “Giving Up”, a lounge act in which he gets the audience involved with hilarious results. I would be willing to see where Staggs goes with this every night because he exudes comedic range with this.

Alex Staggs

Alex Staggs

Following the short intermission, Ariane Price gave us her send up of sad-sack informercials with “Emulsion”, another audience participation bit that was incredibly tight because of the character Price portrayed. You felt so sorry for her Eastern European refugee glam-girl wannabe that your heart melted and you wanted to give her a hug.

Ariane Price

Ariane Price

The problem was, the crew then wasted all that good will with “Sub”, a throwaway bit about an aged substitute teacher who has trouble reading fine print on an attendance sheet. That’s it. That’s the bit.

But the show was rescued by the big musical dance finale “Brittany” where again Sachoff-Matson showed what she can do with a woman completely at odds with her world and her own body.

If I have one complaint about Sachoff-Matson’s overall performance, it is that her three best pieces all largely portrayed the same character. But where this would normally kill it for me, she managed to do so in such unique ways that it wasn’t the mortal sin it might have been.

I don’t know what other sketches they have in the hopper, but there is a definite need to replace several from tonight before this show will be solid from front to back. And while good, the other cast members are going to be challenged to shine as brightly as Sachoff-Matson and Staggs.

groundlings

Much Review About Nothing

http://prettycleverfilms.com/movie-reviews/modern-times/review-much-ado-about-nothing-2013

There is a certain degree of irony in this review of Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing which is just that; the reviewer complains at length about the bare-bones nature of the production and the lack of interpretation over mere presentation (i.e., modern dress without modern sensibilities).

I seriously doubt the reviewer would have had quite the same issues with the setting simplicity if this had been a staged production rather than a filmed production, and it is important to remember that Shakespeare’s plays were written for the stage, not the screen.

As to modern interpretation and sensibilities, I largely think this is impossible without a complete rewrite of the play into another project all-together and most particularly in the case of the comedies. Take, for example, the movie 10 Things I Hate About You as a modern interpretation of The Taming of the Shrew.

The tragedies so better lend themselves to simple modern reinvention by simply changing the uniforms of the many and varied soldiery or political figures. As an example, I give you House of Cards, which to me is a retelling of Richard III with a soupcon of Othello for flavour.

And let’s face it, Much Ado About Nothing is one of the more frivolous and playful of Shakespeare’s comedies…it is play for the sake of play. It offers no deep meaning but instead centres on the silliness of love; a topic that will remain universal for all time.

Which brings me to the biggest challenge I have with this review.

The reviewer seems to assume that Whedon meant for this to be anything more than a lark…but Whedon being Whedon, a lark that he filmed with very good friends who happen to be very good actors.

I know as little as the reviewer, but I have every reason to believe the choice of modern dress was simply the reality of not having racks of Renaissance costumes lying around the house. The choice of black & white cinematography was perhaps an homage to the screwball comedies of yesteryear, of which this play is truly one and possibly the most yester of yesteryears.

As you can probably tell, I liked the movie…I had few expectations other than laughter and those were met. I also liked Kenneth Branagh’s version, which really only differed in multiple sets, colour film and period costume.

 

Cadence and Orson Welles

My favourite shot of Welles as I believe that smile and those eyes tell me everything I need to know about the man

My favourite shot of Welles as I believe that smile and those eyes tell me everything I need to know about the man

Being a good writer necessitates having a good eye and a good ear.

The good eye is the attention to details that will help you paint a word-picture of what you have seen with your physical eyes and processed in your mind’s eye. It’s not necessarily about writing long-winded passages of backgrounds or going into minute detail of a character’s physical attributes (I’ve done plenty of that), but rather in choosing the most precise and meaningful words to describe the environment or the person.

The good ear is the attention to how people communication and how they speak, not always the same thing. Again, it involves finding the right words and inflections (at least implied inflections) that give the reader and actor clues as to who this person is. And perhaps just as importantly, it is about finding just the right cadence for your character’s speech patterns.

If you listen really closely to a conversation, you’ll realize that there is little difference between speaking and singing. There is a rhythm, a cadence to speaking. Conversation is an improvised duet sung a capella. But unlike a traditional song which may have a subset of arrangements, each of us sings to our own tune, with our own rhythms and inflections. It is one of the many things that sets us apart from each other.

When writing characters, it is important to keep this in mind as all too often, a group of characters can have a certain monotone, which I use not to imply flatness so much as sameness. Often, I believe, it occurs when the writer neglects to add variety to his characters’ speech patterns and instead writes them with one voice; his or hers.

The best writers don’t make this mistake…or at least minimize its occurrences. Each character he or she presents us is truly unique, jumps off the page or screen, provides his or her own internal musical accompaniment.

One of my favourite writers of the last decade or so is Aaron Sorkin whose overall writing has its cadence but whose characters also tango (or more often tarantella) across the screen. Read the pilot to The West Wing or the screenplay for The Social Network and you will know you’re reading Sorkin.

But for me, perhaps a better example is Orson Welles, the man who would be Kane.

Recently, someone discovered a long-lost unproduced screenplay by Welles called The Way to Santiago, written in 1940-41. Another blogger discussed the find recently, and provided a link to the actual screenplay (see link below). You only have to read a couple of pages to remind yourself (or educate yourself on) how Orson Welles wrote and the energies he imbued in his characters, each one a snowflake of facets and reflections.

The opening page of The Way to Santiago

The opening page of The Way to Santiago

Now, listen to the films or read the screenplays of The Third Man, The Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil. Although you may question the choice of actors, you can clearly hear or see the distinctions in the characters. Bathe in the richness and depth of each one as he or she is captured for this brief moment. This is the stuff of which dreams are made.

It is also interesting to consider that Welles got his start on stage and in radio, where the human voice plays such a larger role in conveying a story than it does in film. There is much less to occupy the mind onstage or in radio and so dialogue carries a significant burden of not only informing but also entrancing the listener.

Although the stories I write are distinctly different from the Wellesian oeuvre, there is much I can and do learn from this master of the written word. He is worth the read and the listen.

A classic image of Welles in his radio days

A classic image of Welles in his radio days

Links of interest:

The Way to Santiago at Cinephilia and Beyond

The Way to Santiago, starring Howard Hesseman on Vimeo (A valiant but not brilliant attempt)

“Thank You, Mr. Welles: Definitive actor, consummate director, and true auteur” at Curnblog.com

“Screenplays by Orson Welles” (listing) on Wikipedia

Me and Orson Welles A light but adorable movie that probably portrays Welles’ character better than Welles