“Feast here awhile”: Shakespeare for a Portland Autumn

Dear readers:

According to American Theatre magazine, “Shakespeare remains the most-produced playwright in the country, with 108 productions (including various adaptations). And this year his most-produced play will be Twelfth Night with 9 productions.” In fact, Shakespeare in Love was the most produced play of the year, with 15 full-scale professional productions nation-wide. This does not take into account all of the Shakespeare-ish works making the rounds to be excited for, including the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged) and Emma Whipday’s Shakespeare’s Sister. If you are in the Portland area this fall, there are a couple of exciting productions to keep your eyes peeled for.

Pericles Wet

This December, Portland Shakespeare Project will be producing a full-scale run of my colleague, Ellen Margolis’ adaptation of Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Based on the act printed in a recent issue of Proscenium and a reading I saw last year, this is likely to prove special. This re-magining refocuses on the assault of Princess Hesperides and the framing device of Gower.

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WIL Festival 6.2: “The First Part of Henry IV”

 Plays about the life and times of Henry V, affectionately referred to as Hal (Nikolas Hoback), were big business in 1580s and ’90s England. There were multiple versions, some treating him as a hero and others as a villain who comes to be reformed, before William Shakespeare came on the scene. The History play genre was a new thing, brought to great success by an earlier company called the Queen’s Men. (Check out their plays, here.) I am convinced by Jim Marino’s argument that “The First Part of Henry IV with the life and death of Henry sir-named Hotspurre” was a revision, rethought by Shakespeare as part of a tetralogy, what some call the “Henriad” after Homer’s Iliad, rather than a stand-alone piece.

Similar to thinking about Shakespeare as an expert reviser, watching an “original practice” or First Folio performance take on any of the plays challenges your assumptions about what is and isn’t there. I discussed in a previous post the useful and necessary fiction that are critical editions of plays: they pull together all the extant versions of a play with a name like “King Lear” into one place. This isn’t really a different act than Shakespeare’s revising an old play new again, except that critical editing isn’t interested in (and typically doesn’t retain) performative coherence. And it’s not objective either: critical editing creates its own myths about what we want a play to mean at a particular point in time. Watching an O.P. production, a performance that picks one version of Shakespeare’s text and sticks with it, illuminates just what those myths are.

So what happened in this performance, where the actors trust their text?

From left: Mikki Lipsey (Duke of Northumberland) and Isabella Buckner (Hotspurre).

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