Tuesday, July 31, 2018


From The Shakespeare Oracle Tarot deck
In Runaways, my unpublished sequel to The Witch From the Sea, my hero, Jack, a Georgian-era actor-turned-pirate, rhapsodizes about William Shakespeare:

"Everything you could ever think or feel or want, Shakespeare has already written about it. And everything that happens in your own life affects how you to respond to him, so his words always seem new and fresh, however often you play them."

Or hear them.

I put these words in Jack's mouth because I believe the reason Shakespeare's work continues to be performed and to stir audiences over 400 hundred years later is not only due to his timeless themes and elegant poetry.

It's mostly because of his keen sensitivity to the quicksilver fluctuations of human nature and his incisive ways of expressing it.

So it doesn't matter how many versions of a particular Shakespeare play you've seen, its effect on you is different every time, depending on what's going on in your own life.

The Zefferelli version: lush
Case in point: the opening Santa Cruz Shakespeare's handsome new production of Romeo and Juliet last week. Who knows how many times I've seen this play?

There was the lush Franco Zefferelli movie (seen when I was an impressionable 16-year-old — which is two years older than Juliet is in the play), the gorgeous full-length production staged by the San Francisco Ballet back in the '80s, and, I believe, two (possibly three) previous productions at Santa Cruz Shakespeare (the entity previously known as Shakespeare Santa Cruz).

(But what's in a name?)

The point is, no matter how familiar I thought I was with the play, I was not prepared for my own reaction at the finale, this time around. (Spoiler Alert: don't expect a happy ending.) Typically, one mourns the tragedy of the young lovers' wasted lives as they  choose suicide, one after the other, when each believes the other is dead.

Romeo and Mercutio: fervor and fury
But recent upheavals in my own life have altered my perspective. This time, when Juliet awakens from her sleeping potion, finds Romeo's lifeless corpse stretched across her bier, and seizes his dagger, I found myself sort of cheering her on.

Not because I wanted to see the poor girl dead, but because it seemed like the only logical solution, faced with the enormity of her loss. This way, at least, it flashed through my mind, they are together.

Shakespeare is always interactive — what you get out of it depends on what you bring to it!

Particular virtues of the current SCS production include an exuberantly acrobatic Romeo (Taha Mandviwala), the giddy poise of Isabel Pask's Juliet, and a fierce, female Tybalt (Maggie Adams McDowell), Juliet's hot-headed cousin. In the showpiece role of Mercutio, Lorenzo Roberts may have been overly encouraged to ham up the physical clowning, but he also conveys every potent syllable of Mercutio's dark, dry wit with fervor and fury.

Random festival-goers, 2017!
Mike Ryan brings both playfulness and moral authority to the role of Friar Lawrence. And director Laura Gordon concludes the first half on a lovely, visual grace note, and opens the second half with a sharply choreographed and dynamic street brawl. The action is swift and engrossing.

I was especially interested in seeing this play again after recently reading the novel The Master of Verona, by David Blixt, sort of a prequel to events leading up to Shakespeare's tale. Another novel I loved, Queen Mab, envisions a romance between Mercutio and the fairy queen he describes with such lively intensity in his first speech in the play.

That's the thing with Shakespeare — he's always ripe for reinterpretation!

PS: There's a new innovation at Santa Cruz Shakespeare this season: shelves are now installed along the back of each row of bleachers so the people sitting the next row back have a place to put their stuff. It's a revelation! James would've loved this device when we went to SCS last summer — we would have had a place to set down those champagne glasses between sips!

1 comment:

  1. That Shakespeare Oracle Tarot was one of my favorite projects ever in my time as an acquisitions editor. Thanks so much for including it in this fab post.