Friday, May 1, 2015

GEM at the JEWEL

Dueling sibs: Mike Ryan and Julie James
Sharp writing, great cast, highlight JTC's 'Complications From a Fall'

For the fourth production of its Tenth Anniversary season, Jewel Theatre Company has plucked out a plum. Santa Cruz's own Kate Hawley bestows a gift on JTC and its lucky patrons with her new play, Complications From A Fall. This is the World Premiere of Hawley's play, a witty, often breezy comedy about a  serious subject—aging parents, and the grown children reluctantly deputized to care for them.

The play has everything to recommend it to theatre companies large and small. It can be staged on a single set (with a few inventive flourishes, like those dreamed up for the JTC production by director Paul Whitworth). The cast is small, consisting of four terrific acting parts. And the subject matter is universal—parent-child relationships, sibling friction, family secrets, and memories, lost and found. Hawley skillfully mines this material for life-sized humor, without resorting to farce, or cheapening the drama of the situation.

An agitated Helen (Julie James), a spinster-ish university professor, is fuming in the house of her elderly, bedridden mother. She's awaiting the arrival of her younger brother, Teddy (Mike Ryan), a scruffy musician in an obscure rock band that's perpetually on the road. Helen has been their mother's caretaker since the older woman took a fall awhile back, but she has a scholarly conference to attend so Teddy has to come home for a few days to help out.

Teddy faces his first hurdle when his mother (infuriating, yet beguiling Nada Rowand) wakes up; she recognizes him as her beloved son, but keeps calling for the previous hired caregiver, Lucy. His sister has told Teddy she let Lucy go because pieces of their mother's jewelry kept disappearing, but Mom becomes so distressed, Teddy calls in Lucy (an engaging Audrey Rumsby) for back-up.

Everything works, from B. Modern's effective costumes and Kate Edmunds’ smart set design (its walls covered with the handwritten script of old letters), to the wartime-era pop songs that play between scenes in this thoughtful and entertaining production. (Read more)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

IMITATION GAME

Sci-fi gets smart in literate robotic thriller 'Ex Machina'

Screenwriter Alex Garland has written some of the more interesting sci-fi scripts of the last few years—the bio zombie plague thriller, 28 Days Later, for one, and Sunshine, about a group of astronauts on a mission to jump-start the dying sun in time to save the earth.

Now Garland moves into the director's chair with his new film Ex Machina. It's a simmering chamber piece for three, with elegant echoes of Frankenstein and Blade Runner, yet very much rooted in both the technology and the prevailing mind-set of today.

The dialogue-free prologue sets up the premise in swift, deft strokes. Caleb (appealing naif Domhnall Gleeson), an anonymous programmer at a gigantic Internet search engine company, receives an email at work one day, telling him he's won a company-sponsored contest.

The prize is to spend a week with the company's elusive, tech-genius founder at his private, forested retreat in the mountains, accessible only by helicopter, hours away from any other human habitation. (All of this is conveyed via text messages and computer screens, until the info goes viral, and Caleb's co-workers come spilling into his cubicle to congratulate him.)

After hours in the air, Caleb is finally set down seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Thus, he descends into the lavish, largely subterranean compound of his boss, Nathan (Oscar Isaac).

Mercurial, no-nonsense, hard-drinking Nathan needs another brainy guy to help with his latest project, a top secret experiment in artificial intelligence. He schedules Caleb for daily test sessions with his new robotic creation, called Ava, to help determine if the machine has developed a consciousness of its own.

But while much of her body is clear Lucite, revealing the wires and circuitry within (think of the '60s kids toy, Mr. Machine), Ava has the face and form of a seductive young woman. She's played by Alicia Vikander (abetted by some very sophisticated CGI imagery).
 And here, the game of cat-and-mouse begins, although Garland is cagey about which of this three players is which. Any one of them might be predator or prey, at any given time—or not. (Read more)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

DARK MAGIC

Baby critic in the making: media was always the message
40 years on the movie beat in Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz in 1975 was heaven for a fledgling film buff. The movies were great: Dog Day Afternoon, The Godfather Part II, Nashville. Admission was around $2.50 for a double-bill.

Those were the days! Much has changed in the world since then—especially the movie scene, and the moviegoing experience, here in Santa Cruz.

My affair with both began in the summer of 1974. As a freshly-minted UCSC grad, I packed up my BA, and went to work nights selling tickets and popcorn at the U. A. Cinemas (now the Riverfront). It was the streamlined "flagship" of the United Artist chain of theaters in town (which at that time included the Del Mar, the Rio, 41st Avenue Playhouse, and Aptos), before the corporation lost interest in Santa Cruz and let its theaters crumble into ruin.
Fledgling critic ca. 1976

The flip side of this corporate mentality were independently owned mom-and-pop movie houses. The Nickelodeon, operated by Bill and Nancy Raney (one screen, with a vintage nickelodeon movie machine roped off in the lobby), was a popular venue for foreign films, maverick indies, and festival programming. (Like a brilliant French New Wave retrospective that my roommate, Jan, and I drank in like fine wine every Saturday afternoon for weeks.)

The family-owned Capitola Theater, and Cinema Soquel, showed less-than-brand-new double features. (Although, in a couple of years, Cinema Soquel switched to X-rated films in a desperate, but doomed attempt to stay solvent.) The Skyview Drive-In was still showing movies, but Gary Culver had not yet opened Scotts Valley Cinema, and the Cinema 9 was not yet even a gleam in the developer's eye.

In January, 1975, Rene Fuentes-Chao opened the Sash Mill Cinema, with 25-cent popcorn and double bills like A Streetcar Named Desire with Last Tango In Paris, Sunday Bloody Sunday with Persona, or Chinatown with Touch Of Evil.

It had poor insulation, no ventilation, and a corrugated metal roof that guaranteed patrons would freeze in the winter and roast in the summer; raindrops sounded like Taiko drumming. We loved it. Its program of vintage and recent films changed three times a week, and they published a poster-sized schedule every quarter, which everyone I knew had taped to their refrigerator.
  
Early GT promo (ca 1977) for its new full-time critic
The Sash Mill and the Nick catered to Santa Cruz's new identity as a university town. Programming was inspired and offbeat, prices were relatively low, and the sense of community was enormous—especially among students (and recent students) discovering David Lynch, or RKO musicals, or Japanese samurai movies together.

Jan and I went out to the movies with my brother, Steve, almost every night. And I wrote obsessively about everything I saw in my journal, long before anybody ever paid me to do it.

Enter Good Times, a 12-page entertainment weekly started in April, 1975, by Jay Shore. By then, I was working at Bookshop Santa Cruz, in the textbook room managed by Steve, and my nights were free. When GT film reviewer Christian Kallen advertised for an assistant, I hauled out my old (manual) college typewriter, hammered out a one-page review of some dreadful B-movie we'd recently seen at the drive-in, and mailed it in. Two weeks later, Christian called me up to tell me seven people had responded to his column, but I was the only one who'd actually written something. It must have worked; I became Christian's official stringer

I love to write, and I love movies, but the rest was strictly on-the-job training. When Christian left town, about a year later, I inherited the job.
In the lobby of the "old" Nick, ca 2004

One of the greatest perks of that job was the fabled Nickelodeon press screening. In big cities, films are screened early for the press, so writers can meet their deadlines and get a review out on opening day. The Raneys embraced this idea for a small, movie-loving town like ours. Their eclectic films needed attention right away; if a movie didn't get reviewed that first week and draw a house, it probably wouldn't last a second week.

For years, Thursday afternoon press screenings at the Nick became the place for the SC film elite to meet. It was like a private club for local scribes, where we all got to hang out together, whatever rivalries might have been going on between our papers.

I had known Buz Bezore slightly at UCSC, but the Nick lobby is where I first met Christina Waters, Tom Maderos, and Michael Gant, all of whom wrote about film sometime or other in the various incarnations of the Santa Cruz Express/Independent/Taste/Metro/Weekly. Bruce Bratton was a regular, as were Rick Chatenever and, later, Wallace Baine, from the Sentinel. I'm pretty sure I met Morton Marcus for the first time at the Nick, and probably Geoff Dunn, when he was making his first local history documentaries. UC professor and film historian Vivian Sobchak attended the screenings for years, and, more recently, Dennis Morton and David Anthony from the KUSP Film Gang.
My first GT review! Monty Python & the Holy Grail. October 23, 1975
In one sense, we knew we were all on the same team—the collective treasure hunt to discover great movies and spread the word. We saw the sublime, the ridiculous, and everything in between at those Nick screenings. And since we rarely agreed on which was which, debates were spirited as we filed back out into the (always unexpected) daylight.

Sadly, those press screenings are no more, much like film itself.     Movies are projected digitally. Vintage film reels are preserved as objets d'art suspended from the ceiling in the lobby of the Nick, relics as quant as that old nickelodeon machine once was. Today, movies assault you in 3D, seats rock or recline, theaters call themselves "cafe lounges." But it was never about all that stuff. All that really matters is the transformative magic of the movies.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

BECOMING BEAST

Posted to my Goodreads page this week!
Listen closely: do you hear that lovely vibrato wafting on the breeze?

Sounds like the fat lady is singing at last!

Previously, here on the blog, I was trembling on the brink of a new direction in my writing career.

Now, it's my pleasure to announce that a very generous offer has been made for my novel, Beast: A Love Story, by the good people at Candlewick Press. I spoke to my new editor-to-be, the esteemed Kaylan Adair, last week, and I know this is the beginning of a productive relationship.
Soulful Beast or handsome Prince. Which would you choose?

How do I know? For one thing she loves my book! 'Nuff said. For another, you can Google her until your keyboard turns blue and not find one single iota of snark directed at her by anyone she has ever worked with. Her authors and colleagues all adore her, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to join their ranks!

Set in Renaissance France, Beast is an origin story from which future Beauty and the Beast tales might have evolved. In my story, "happily ever after" depends on perspective as Beast struggles to conquer his treacherous inner prince and emerge as the true hero of his own tale.

Publication is set for Spring, 2017, which gives you an idea of the time, care, and attention Candlewick lavishes on its books. And you can be sure I'll keep you posted as the process unfolds!

In the meantime, if you'd like to visit Beast's world, please do hie thee off to my Beast page on Pinterest!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

COVER STORY

Hey kids, feast your eyes on the cover flat for the new paperback edition of Alias Hook!

Cool, no?

Okay, it looks a lot like the "old" cover from the hardcover edition.

But that's okay, because I love this image! Captain Hook, himself, a mysterious thicket of roses, and enough of a subtle feminine presence to whet one's curiosity.

Just enough to let you know this is not your father's Captain Hook!

Publication date is May 5, from St. Martin's/Griffin. Available soon at a fine book emporium near you!

(Or pre-order it this minute from Bookshop Santa Cruz. Shop locally, read globally!)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

GRAY MATTER

Juicy story too subdued in lovely but listless 'Effie Gray'

The first time Emma Thompson wrote a movie script, she won an Oscar for her smart and lively adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. She doesn't have the good fortune to collaborate with Jane Austen on her new film, Effie Gray, but she does have a fascinating true story to tell in her original screenplay. The real-life Effie Gray was an innocent country girl wed to influential London art critic John Ruskin at age twenty, in one of the most bizarro marriages of the era, even by Victorian standards.

It's a tale rife with thwarted desire, confused sexuality, monstrous in-laws, cruelty, scandal, forbidden love, and Pre-Raphaelite art. And Thompson and director Richard Laxton have assembled a cast of stalwart British thesps to tell it. But as juicy as the story ought to be, the movie just misses the mark dramatically. The acting is generally first-rate, and the film is lovely to look at, but the writing is often flat, as if Thompson were trying so hard not to sensationalize the story that she drained the life out of it instead. 

Effie and John: not exactly a fairy tale
In her clever prologue, Thompson sets up the story as if it were a fairy tale about a beautiful young girl (Dakota Fanning, as Effie) who leaves her drafty home in Scotland as bride to a famous and wealthy man (Greg Wise, as John). "Her mother and father were kind," the narrator intones. "But his were wicked."

And how. Effie soon realizes she's married the entire Ruskin household, including John's imperious mother (Julie Walters), who still bathes him, and his father (David Suchet), who prizes his son's influence as a critic for increasing the value of the paintings he invests in. They stand guard over every precious minute of their son's day so he has plenty of time to write, and not be distracted by petty matters, like a wife. Effie is ignored by everyone, including John; on their first night together, when she plucks up the nerve to strip off her chemise, a horrified John walks out of the room.
The real Effie Gray

Effie is untouched, unloved, and belittled at every turn. It's not until his parents commission a portrait of John from one of the Pre-Raphaelite painters he has championed, John Everett Millais (Tom Sturridge), that anybody begins to pay attention to her. (Read more)

Btw, Internet commentators have objected to the use of Millais' famous painting of Ophelia on one version of the poster (above), implying that Effie was the model. But in the film, it's clear that Effie attends an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art where the painting is already on display before she and Milllais ever meet. But the painting does recur throughout the film as a potent symbol of the way Effie is drowning in the social and sexual mores of the day—until she dares to make a gutsy move to free herself.

The real-life Gray is famous for fighting back against the conventions of her era. But this satisfying conclusion to her story is only hinted at in the film, while we don't see enough of her courage and determination in achieving it.

Monday, April 6, 2015

LET'S GET WICKED

Something wicked this way comes to Santa Cruz Shakespeare this summer. And if you know your Bardic quotes, that means that Macbeth will be one of SCS's featured productions. Since rising, phoenix-like, from the ashes of the entity formerly known as Shakespeare Santa Cruz for its first forward-funded season in 2014, SCS continues to soar with an ambitious four-play program for 2015. (Which is already one more play than last season.)

Full of blood, murder, and intrigue, not to mention witches and ghosts, Macbeth is always a crowd-pleaser—especially staged at night in the spooky Sinsheimer-Stanley Festival Glen. The dark maneuverings of "The Scottish Play"will be balanced out by one of Shakespeare's wittiest, sprightliest romantic comedies, Much Ado About Nothing.

Also on tap is The Liar, David Ives' modern adaptation of a 17th Century farce by Pierre Corneille, in which a young man torn between two lovers embroils himself in ever more Pinnochio-length deceptions. And continuing in the spirit of antic male-female relationships, this year's Fringe Show will be The Rover, a Restoration comedy by Aphra Behn, one of the first English women writers to earn her living by her pen, famed in her day, as now, for her frank observations of sexual politics.
Gender-bent Hamlet, 1899

Gender equality is also much on the mind of Artistic Director Mike Ryan, who, according to a press release, "aims to fill at least half of all roles with women" this season. In the famously comic and romantic battle of the sexes at the heart of Much Ado, one assumes that Beatrice and Benedick will be played by gender-appropriate actors.

 But in the interest of inclusiveness, Ryan has announced that the role of Leonato, the patriarch and father who opens his home to the returning soldiers, will be re-cast as a woman, matriarch Leonata. Which ought to deepen the comedy (or at least the "ado") even further,  with a household of women juxtaposed against the military men.

This isn't some random attention-getting device, either. There's a long tradition of slippery gender identity in the plays of Shakespeare, dating back to his own era, when women were forbidden to act onstage and female roles had to be played by boys and young men. It wasn't until the Restoration era of Charles II that female actresses were grudgingly allowed to play female parts on the boards.

(For a wonderful overview of the complications arising from this transitional period, I highly recommend Stage Beauty, a sly and marvelous film about love, passion, gender identity and sexual confusion on the Restoration stage. Netflix it today!)

At the turn of the last century, the legendary stage actress Sarah Bernhardt was acclaimed for her interpretation of Hamlet. More recently, Julie Taymor's The Tempest featured Helen Mirren as a female Prospero ("Prospera")—giving extra texture to the idea of a noble skilled in herbs and magic banished from her homeland for "witchcraft."

In addition to the usual subsidiary events, like Noon at the Nick lunchtime appearances by SCS actors and directors, and the annual Weekend With Shakespeare, SCS will be providing a free groundling ticket (the open picnic area just in front of the stage) for anyone under 18 years of age accompanied by a paying adult. The 2015 season runs from June 30 to August 30.

The forward-funding method has already netted the company 75% of this season's operating costs. But donations are always welcome, so visit the SCS website for further details on all of the above. Then get ready to get wicked!

Monday, March 30, 2015

PERCHANCE to DREAM

I'm bingeing on Bard-related books this month. First, I finished The Serpent of Venice, Christopher Moore's fabulous follow-up to Fool (pardon me while I alliterate), which gleefully mashes up plots and characters from King Lear, Othello and The Merchant Of Venice.

And now I've segued into Kate Danley's Queen Mab, a fairy fantasy woven in and out of Romeo and Juliet. Danley had me at the first hint of turning Mercutio—one of the most lamented of all the Bard's untimely deaths—into the hero of her story.

In tales of the Fae, death need never be final if an author has the chutzpah and imagination to rewrite a story we think we already know. Fortunately, Danley has both.

Queen Mab is a figure from ancient Celtic folklore, the Fairy Queen known as the Bringer of Dreams. In Danley's story, three generations after the Roman demi-god, Faunus, tricks beautiful Mab and breaks her heart, the two immortals enter into a wager for sport—a chess game in which two mighty houses of Verona are pitted against each other: the Capulets and the Montagues.
Mab brings dreams to sleeping mortals.

But the game has scarcely begun when Mab finds herself bewitched by Mercutio. A witty, compassionate mortal man allied with neither house, he sees beyond Mab's magical aspect to the complex and beautiful soul beneath. She and Mercutio become lovers, but the stakes of the game rise fearfully as Faunus secretly plots to steal Mab's power and banish her from the world.

In Danley's view, all the events in Shakepeare's play—sudden brawls, reversals of fortune, changes of heart—are chalked up to fairy interference. This allows Danley to use large sections of dialogue from the play (not scary: written as prose) in the unfolding of her story.

In one clever invention, Mercutio's show-stopping "Queen Mab speech" becomes his desperate attempt to hold onto her memory, fading like a dream, after she charms him into forgetting her for his own safety.
An untimely end, but only in the Bard's version

Using so much of Shakespeare's text might feel like cheating. But the original material that Danley's weaves in—the love story of Mab and Mercutio, appearances by Faunus, and the Old Gods—is such a great idea, and so well-integrated into the plot of the play, that it draws us in. (Mab and Mercutio even get their own balcony scene!)

The formatting of this self-published book can be a bit wonky from page to page, with the expected typos sprinkled in here and there. Of more concern to me was overuse of the word "upon"—sometimes twice in the same sentence—when "on" would serve just as well.

But this is a pet peeve of mine; so many authors seem to believe that "upon" makes their prose sound more historical.

It also feels as if the book were written very fast. A little more time spent on building resonance, particularly in the closing chapters, to appreciate the plot twists, would have been nice. But Queen Mab is also a fast read (due in part to its enormous print), and the sheer audacity of Danley's premise kept me happily engaged.
Another guest appearance by Mab.

Rewriting the fates of classic literary characters has become its own sub-genre in recent fiction. (Hey, I did it in Alias Hook!) Moore and Danley cheerfully rewrite Shakespearean plays the way we wish they had all turned out. Still, one of my favorites of the bunch reimagines the lives of the playwrights themselves, not the plays.

In Elizabeth Bear's outstanding Ink and Steel, Christopher Marlowe (Kit Marly) is resurrected in the Court of the Fairy Queen after that unfortunate incident at Deptford. There, he becomes the innamorato of several important fairies while helping to train his successor, Will Shakespeare, in the art of weaving magical fairy spells into the gorgeous texts of his plays to protect the mortal realm of Elizabeth.

Every idea on every page of this two-book tale (including the sequel, Hell and Earth) is rich, complex, and literally beguiling.

Gee, I think I'll go read it again...

(Above: Queen Mab by Gustav Dore.)
(Above: The Death of Mercutio by Edwin Austin Abbey)

Monday, March 16, 2015

TWICE UPON A TIME

Charming cast, lush production, but no surprises in Cinderella


With Once Upon A Time still knocking 'em dead on TV, the folks at Disney now realize what profits can be made from repackaging their old cartoon fairy tale classics into new live-action formats. Last year, they tested the cinematic waters with Maleficent, which was bold enough to re-tell the story of Sleeping Beauty from the viewpoint of its "evil" fairy villainess.

Flawed it may have been, but it was such a radical retelling of the familiar story that it earned its own place in the Disney canon.

The latest Disney live-action reboot, Cinderella, sticks much closer to the original story (the Disney version, anyway), and so doesn't feel quite as fresh. Yes, the production values are absolutely luscious, and Kenneth Branagh's skilled direction imbues the story with humor, tension, and emotional complexity.
Diversity in the realm, just not in the starring roles

He's even mindful enough to populate his canvas with many visible people of color, although mostly as extras (except for the always impressive Nonso Anozie as the captain of the Royal Guard).

But the difference is in the writing. Scriptwriter Linda Woolverton, who wrote Maleficent (also Disney's Beauty and the Beast and Alice in Wonderland) comes from a generation of women who grew up chafing against the passivity of Disney cartoon heroines.

Chris Weitz, who wrote Cinderella, does his best to provide more of a personality for both his heroine, and her Prince, than they had in the cartoon version, and he succeeds pretty well.

But he doesn't have the same feminist fire. He's content to stick to the same bare bones of the plot—complete with friendly, live-action mice (although at least in this version, they don't actually talk)—and tell the same old story in much the same old way.
Irredeemable: Stepmom, sisters don't get much sympathy

Still, what the story lacks in innovation, the film makes up for in sheer loveliness, performed by a thoroughly engaging cast. It's great to see Ben Chaplin back on the big screen in the prologue as little Ella's charming merchant father.

He and his beloved wife (a blonde Hayley Atwell, TV's Agent Carter) raise their daughter in an idyllic country cottage surrounded by animals, beauty, and love. Her mother teaches Ella to "Have courage and be kind," advice she clings to when her beloved mother dies.

Years later, when Ella is a young woman (now played by Lily James, Lady Rose from Downton Abbey), her father remarries. No sooner does Ella's new Stepmother (a ferociously red-haired Cate Blanchett) move in with her two petulant grown daughters (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera), than Ella's father also dies, leaving her at the mercy of her cruel, resentful new step-family. She becomes their kitchen drudge, her quarters removed to the drafty attic, her only friends those sympathetic mice.
Madden, James: hope they're not planning a red wedding

Why does she put up with it? Weitz invents a promise made to her parents to look after the house where they were all so happy once. Well, okay...

He's more successful with a scene in the woods where Ella meets a handsome young stranger calling himself Kit (Richard Madden, Robb Stark from Game of Thrones) whom she doesn't realize is the Prince.

It's because Kit is so beguiled by the girl's beauty and kindness (she talks him and his hunting party out of pursuing a deer, which must be some kind of Disney penance for Bambi), that he orchestrates the whole royal ball ploy, open to all the marriageable ladies in the kingdom, just to find her again.

A coach to flip your gourd for
Some sections are a bit slow: Ella bravely facing oppression from her step-family, or the overly-lengthy ball sequence. Yes, it establishes Ella and Kit's connection, but that first dance goes on forever. With her blonde hair and dark brows, James so resembles Daenerys Targaryen, the dragon girl in Game of Thrones, you might find yourself wishing for a flying dragon to come along and jolt things back to life.

But Helena Bonham Carter is loopy fun as the fairy godmother. The first transformation scene is well done, and the gold filigree coach conjured from a pumpkin is outstanding! But Branagh's piece de resistance is the coach's mad dash away from the palace as the clock strikes midnight, footmen morphing back into lizards, the driver becoming a goose again, snow-white steeds sprouting mouse ears and devolving down into rodent form, all while on the run.

It's a brilliant sequence that makes up for the unadventurous familiarity of the story.
Identity theft: mouse-eared steeds devolve before our eyes
Due next year: a live-action Beauty and the Beast, written by Woolverton. Stay tuned.

Friday, March 13, 2015

REVENGE of the FOOL

Here's why I love Christopher Moore.

His latest comic novel is The Serpent of Venice, an entertaining pastiche of Othello, and The Merchant of Venice, with a soupcon of Poe tossed in, and a guest appearance by Marco Polo.

There's a moment late in the story when the lady Emilia has cause to be even more horrified than usual by the schemes of her devious husband, Iago.

"Thou mendacious fuckweasel!" she spits at him.

Talk about le mot juste!

Having gleefully played havoc with King Lear in a previous novel, Fool, which brings that  character front and center to tell the story his way, Moore has another go at Shakespeare in this sequel. This time, the wily and resourceful Pocket, fool to a king and consort to a queen, is on a diplomatic mission to Venice that turns into a crusade for revenge.
 
Moore sets his tale in a recognizable historical period, although not the one Shakespeare envisioned. He moves the action of the two Venetian plays back in time by about 300 years (to 13th Century Venice), so they sync up with the more medieval setting of Fool.

But, like Shakespeare, Moore manipulates the historical setting to grapple with issues familiar in his (and our) world. 

With the irrepressible Pocket as his protagonist, Moore's tone is unfailingly comic throughout—witty, profane, brash, and scatalogical. But the issues he tilts against with such vigor are serious, from excoriating the idea of religious warfare as a twisted kind of patriotism, to the notion of a corrupt merchant class that's "too big to fail."

As this series progresses (oh, please, let there be more Pocket stories!), Moore turns some of the Bard's most timeless tragedies on their ears, and restores justice—for good and ill—to some of Shakespeare's most deserving characters.

Most satisfying of all, Moore demonstrates how a few smart women (most of whom were only minor characters to Shakespeare), and an honest fool can subvert even the most mendacious political fuckery.

Bravo!
Christopher Moore, posing as his alter ego!