Shakespeare

Texas Shakespeare Festival: Richard III

Shakespeare Festival - Richard IIII went into the theater last night feeling excited, but a bit apprehensive. I’d only finished reading Richard III a few days before, and while I was looking forward to seeing it play out on stage, it was one of the bloodiest and most disturbing Shakespeare plays I’d ever encountered. I wasn’t sure whether I’d be entranced by the gruesome events unfolding or simply disgusted. I left the theater a few hours later, literally speechless and breathless. It was like a horrible train wreck that you just can’t look away from, and I mean that in the best way possible. I loved it!

This was my second night at the Texas Shakespeare Festival, and seeing Richard III was a very different experience from Much Ado About Nothing, which is a light, humorous romantic comedy. Richard III had me gasping in horror, biting back screams, and waiting on the edge of my seat as the doomed members of the House of York plotted against each other. I’ve never been a fan of horror movies, but I’d imagine it’s much the same effect: what’s happening in front of you is just so horrible it leaves you gasping for breath as if you’d just come close to drowning.

Only Richard III isn’t a horror movie. It’s Shakespeare, and it’s – at least in part – history. Elizabethan propaganda, historically inaccurate, yes, but still. The sides may not have been as black-and-white as Shakespeare would have us believe, but the War of the Roses was still an incredibly bloody and violent time, and history is filled with dictators and tyrants as horrible as Shakespeare’s villain.

Shakespeare’s work often speaks to universal themes. Romeo and Juliet is about love and hatred – irrational hatred and irrational love. Hamlet is about the inevitability of death. Othello is about jealousy and distrust. King Lear is about false flattery and backstabbing and the unfortunate fact that the honest often suffer while the dishonest profit. Many of the comedies deal with some of the same themes, coming to happier resolutions. Richard III, likewise, paints a blunt and unvarnished picture of the evil in the world and the ways in which ordinary people allow it: by trying to profit from it, underestimating the dangers, or simply being too afraid to speak up. There’s something about the play, as is the case with so many of Shakespeare’s works, which transcends time and continues to feel relevant today.

Shakespeare

Texas Shakespeare Festival: Much Ado About Nothing

shakespeare festival - much ado

This weekend, I’m at the Texas Shakespeare Festival.  They’re performing two plays by Shakespeare: Richard III, which I’m going to see tonight, and Much Ado About Nothing, which I saw last night. It was incredible!

I’ve read 13 of Shakespeare’s plays now (having finished Richard III this week), and I’ve seen movie versions of about half of those, but there’s something very special about seeing Shakespeare performed live. If a movie brings the script to life, a play transports you there as if it were happening all around you. I still stand by my preference to read the plays before I see them, but in the end, seeing them performed live is the best way to get past the antiquated language and let them take your breath away.

This production of Much Ado About Nothing was perfect in almost every way. The set looked like something out of a fairy tale, the actors’ performances were excellent, the chemistry between Beatrice and Benedick was just right, and the audience could never stop laughing at the characters’ antics. The later part of the play, where Hero is accused of being unfaithful, was given just the right amount of drama and seriousness, while still adding in enough humor to make the happy ending feel realistic.

When I first read Much Ado About Nothing, and even when I watched the movie, it wasn’t one of my favorites. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. Well, I loved it last night. Perhaps not quite as much as Twelfth Night, my favorite Shakespearean comedy, but now that I’ve seen just how funny, heartwarming, and exhilarating Much Ado can be, I think it will always have a special place in my heart.