Thursday, February 14, 2008

!EXTRA, EXTRA!: Commonwealth Shakespeare serves it up as we like it...

...with more then just five performances (we're going to get spoiled if they're not careful!). For their annual free Shakespeare offering, the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company (under the artistic direction of Steven Maler) will present Willy's As You Like It at the Parkman Bandstand on the Common from July 18th-August 8th. That's right folks, a whole three weeks of delightful comedy chock full of anachronisms and imported actors! In a quick attempt to squelch any remaining hard feelings from last year's Midsummer schedule scandal, the press release for this summer makes it all-too-clear just how much of the Bard they are providing. They front load their release with a description of the Common schedule as "in Extended Run", as well as informing inquiring minds that it will also be "Touring to Springfield". All obvious overcompensation aside, it appears as if they have decided they have wrung all they can out of the cannon, choosing As You Like It (which was CSC's 1998 season) over as-of-yet unperformed tomfoolery such as The Comedy of Errors, The Merry Wives of Windsor, or even the recent Boston favorite, Love's Labour's Lost.

They started this trend last year when they selected the rarely performed problem play, A Midsummer's Night Dream (where else would Boston audiences ever get a chance to see this gem?), which was also coincidentally their debut in 1996. Although they have cherry-picked most of the "greats", with some carefully o'er leaping of The Merchant of Venice (too topical!), Othello (too small!), and King Lear (too tragic!), I find it odd that after only 12 years the company justifies repeating itself. This is not to say I am not looking forward to As You Like It; I actually greatly enjoyed the shiny and bratty Hamlet Mayer delivered three years ago. My question is, "What good is an annual Shakespeare offering if its just going to be the same 11 plays?" Although I have no doubt that they will eventually branch out (The Comedy of Errors? Come on, its fish in a fucking barrel...), I also shake my head at their fear of the "lesser" works. If we've learned anything from recent Shakespeare productions, it's that the more a work is called "lesser", the more popular and mainstream it actually is. Just as brown may be the new black, Cymbeline could be counted as the new Tempest, and Titus Andronicus for Macbeth. What's so great about those high school reading-list titans anyway (besides cohesive plots)?

With the Publick Theatre (who are gearing up for what I hear is to be another Bard-free season) waning as a source for a summer Shakespeare fix, and even Boston Theatre Works dropping its usual winter William spot this year, it would seem as if Boston regional theater is losing interest in such old things. How would I really like it, CSC? How about letting one of the less popular kids bat for you next year? Sometimes those runts sure can surprise...

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