Saturday, January 27, 2018

William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken: Star Wars Part The Seventh by Ian Doescher (2017) Book Review

I became a huge fan of Star Wars in 1977, when I was five years old and saw the first film in the theater. I started collecting the toys and everything else I could get my hands on. I stopped being a fan a couple of years ago when I saw The Force Awakens. What a useless, pointless pile of garbage. Disney is all about money and marketing; Disney cares nothing about story, originality or character development. As a result, Disney destroyed Star Wars. I haven’t even bothered to see The Last Jedi. Who cares? It’s done. I was curious, however, to see if Ian Doescher would continue his series of Star Wars Shakespeare books. And I am glad to see that he has, for his take on The Force Awakens, titled William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken, is so much better than the film.

As with the previous volumes in this series, the story is divided into five acts, with the dialogue done in iambic pentameter. The opening crawl is presented as a Shakespearean sonnet. BB8, unlike R2-D2, does not speak in English, but in droid sounds, though still in iambic pentameter. BB8 is the best of the new characters in the saga, with the others falling quite flat. When watching the film, I found Kylo Ren to be the lamest villain in the history of cinema. He’s just a whiny little bitch. Give him a spanking and send him to bed without supper. But he is a much more enjoyable character in this telling. For example, check out this speech: “Impotence beyond imagining!/O, fie, that I this madness must endure –/A fico for thine errant, bumbling face!/The great First Order bested is by droids,/Who ally ‘gainst us with our own stormtroopers?/Is this the folly-fallen end to which/The galaxy doth run with lout-like haste?/Ay, out upon it! Tilly-vally! Tush!” (pages 50-51). I might have truly enjoyed the movie had he spoken like that. The rathtars were among the many stupid things in the film, but in the book they are delightful, as they sing their lines. Oh, if only they could reshoot the film using this book as the script.

Of course, there are plenty of references to specific speeches from Shakespeare’s work. At one point Rey asks, “What fight through yonder window breaks?” (p. 55), obviously a reference to Romeo’s line in Romeo And Juliet. And Maz does a version of Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech, oddly speaking of herself in the third person: “O, then I see keen Maz hath been with you./She is the vision giver, and she comes/In shape no bigger than an agate stone/On the forefinger of a Jedi Knight” (p. 88). And Han Solo says, “We would be less than kin, still less be kind” (p. 79), a play on Hamlet’s line “A little more than kin and less than kind.” Han Solo also does a version of Henry The Fifth’s famous St. Crispin’s Day speech: “This day is call’d the feast of Odan-Urr./They that outlive this day, and come safe home,/Will stand a-tiptoe when this day is nam’d,/And rouse them at the name of Odan-Urr./They that shall live this day, and see old age,/Will yearly on the vigil feast their neighbors/And say, ‘Tomorrow’s the centenary.’/Then will they strip their sleeves and show their scars/And say, ‘These wounds I had on Odan’s day’” (p. 118). Certainly it is a longer speech than Han ever uttered in any of the films. He concludes the speech, “We few, we happy few, we band of comrades;/For they today who shed their blood with me/Shall be my comrades; be they ne’er so vile,/This day shall gentle their condition, yea./So be ye not afeard, my friends, be strong –/’Twill be our finest victory to date,/This grand Starkiller shall be our kill yet!” (p. 119).

There are some playful non-Shakespeare references in this book as well. For example, early on, Finn says, “Lo, I have walk’d five hundred miles at least,/And I would walk five hundred more, forsooth!” (p. 41). That is obviously a reference to The Proclaimers song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).”

I don’t think that Ian Doescher disliked The Force Awakens nearly as much I did, but he does offer a scene that pokes fun at the movie’s complete lack of originality. The scene finds two Stormtroopers, one much older than the other, talking about events from the original Star Wars film, and how things have changed greatly since then. Trooper 2, as evidence of how things are so different now, mentions Darth Vader: “When I began my job,/I did report unto a dreadful man/All garb’d in black, his face hid ‘neath a mask,/With vicious moods and lightsaber of red” (p. 122). Trooper 1 then asks, “Hath Kylo Ren been all this time alive?” Trooper 2 mentions the Death Star, describing it: “A vast, forbidding base form’d in a sphere,/Which some mistook for some celestial body./It hous’d more soldiers than most armies boast./Its purpose was to crush a planet whole” (p. 123). That leads Trooper 1 to ask, “Starkiller Base existed even then?” Many more similarities between A New Hope and The Force Awakens are pointed out in this scene, which is presented with a wonderful sense of humor. As you might guess, it is my favorite scene of the book.

William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken: Star Wars Part The Seventh was written by Ian Doescher, and published in 2017 by Quirk Books.

Shakespeare References in A New England Love Story

A New England Love Story: Nathaniel Hawthorne And Sophia Peabody, by LouAnn Gaeddert, contains a few Shakespeare references. About Nathaniel Hawthorne in his childhood, Gaeddert writes: “Of course he could not understand all of what he read, but he discovered stories and sentences that appealed to him. Shakespeare’s Richard III contained one line that he entoned dramatically to himself and to anyone within earshot: ‘My Lord, stand back and let the coffin pass’” (p. 15). About Nathaniel’s sister, Gaeddert writes, “Ebe had shown great promise as a child; she could read Shakespeare at the age of six” (p. 23). The final Shakespeare reference is simply to the title of Measure For Measure: “Later he recorded an idea for a story she had given him and then this item: ‘There is no Measure for Measure in my affections. If the Earth fails me in love, I can die and go to GOD.’ – S.A.P.’” (p. 75).

A New England Love Story: Nathaniel Hawthorne And Sophia Peabody was published in 1980 by The Dial Press.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Shakespeare, His Wife And The Dog (2018 Production) Theatre Review

Shakespeare, His Wife And The Dog production photo
Not much is known about Shakespeare’s last few years, when he stopped writing and returned to Stratford-upon-Avon. What led to that move? How was his relationship with his wife, Anne? Had he missed her while at work in London? How did the death of their son, Hamnet, affect them and their relationship? What’s the deal with Anne being bequeathed Shakespeare’s “second best bed”? We don’t know, and likely will never know, but people have been speculating about the answers to these questions for a long time. Shakespeare, His Wife And The Dog takes us into Shakespeare’s home on April 22, 1616 and provides for us possible answers to these questions.

Shakespeare, His Wife And The Dog had its world premiere at the 2014 Edinburgh Festival and then toured the UK in 2016. Now this absolutely wonderful one-act play has come to Los Angeles, with its original cast of Philip Whitchurch as Will and Sally Edwards as Anne, and original director, Julia St. John. The set is fairly simple, with a large chest overflowing with papers and other items, and a mess of papers on the floor around it. (As the audience is on three sides of the play space, which is at floor level, one curious audience member was able to bend down for a closer look at the papers before the start of the play.) Stage left of the chest is a small bench, and that is basically it for the set. As the play begins, there is the sound of a dog barking, and Anne calls out the dog’s name, “Crab,” which Shakespeare fans will recall is the name of Launce’s dog in The Two Gentlemen Of Verona. It is the first of many references to the works and characters of Shakespeare’s plays, and the play soon reveals the reason for the references – many of the lines and circumstances come from Will and Anne’s relationship, including Kate’s famous speech from The Taming Of The Shrew, which – in the world of this play – Anne spoke and Will wrote. She accuses him of writing their lives for all the world to hear. This play itself adopts elements of Shakespeare’s theatre, with both characters at times directly addressing the audience. At one point, Will wants to address the audience alone, and so gets Anne to leave briefly. He playfully recites lines from Julius Caesar and As You Like It, and it is clear that he is happy to have an audience. In fact, he delights in it. But Anne returns to spoil his fun. Though she too will eventually read from his plays, and even engage him in a bit of acting, as she helps him to recount a funny anecdote.

Early on, we learn that Will is waiting for Ben Jonson, who never arrives. If that reminds you of another famous play, it is intended. In fact, later there is a direct (and quite humorous) reference to Waiting For Godot. Both Will and Anne, due perhaps to age, have trouble with their memories, and there are moments when we wonder if the mixing of Will’s work with their lives might not be caused by some form of dementia. As funny as this play is – and it is quite funny – it is also surprisingly touching and moving, and deals with some serious subjects, such as aging and loss of faculties, fidelity, and how parents continue after the death of a child. As for the issue of fidelity, Anne uses Will’s sonnets to question his faithfulness, just as we do. In some ways, Anne acts as our voice, asking some of the questions that Shakespeare fans have been asking for ages. Who is the dark lady? The play is most moving when it addresses the subjects of the dog and of their son, and we see genuine affection and love between the two characters. Both actors turn in excellent performances.

You certainly don’t have to be a Shakespeare scholar to enjoy this production, but the more you know about Shakespeare, the more delight you will find in this play. It is interesting, for example, that both Will and Anne refer to the “a rose by any other word” line from Romeo And Juliet, with Will using the preferred Q2 reading of “word,” and Anne later using the Q1 reading of “name.” And in addition to references to Shakespeare’s works, there are references to the few written accounts we have of his life. For example, Ben Jonson’s line about how Will had “small Latin and less Greek” is spoken by Anne in this play. And later Will calls Webster an “upstart crow,” using the criticism he himself received early on in his own career from Robert Greene. This play even makes use of the legend of Will getting caught poaching as a young man. And, yes, the play provides a reasonable – and incredibly sweet – explanation for the line in Shakespeare’s will about his “second best bed” going to Anne. But, as clever as this play can be in its use of Shakespeare’s lines and material about Shakespeare, at its heart this is about the relationship between Will and Anne, and that should speak to those with even little or no knowledge of Shakespeare’s works.

Shakespeare, His Wife And The Dog is now playing at The Edye, at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center. It’s a short run – only eight performances – so don’t wait on this. After this, the play moves to San Jose. I highly recommend checking out this production. The Edye is located at 1310 11th St. in Santa Monica, California. There is a free parking lot, which you can access from Santa Monica Blvd.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Entire Country Needs A Macbath

The most beautiful woman in the universe sent me some gifts for the holidays, including two Shakespeare-related items that completely raised my spirits. Thinking they may do the same for you, I figured I’d better share some photos of them here.

Both are bars of soap. The first one I unwrapped is called “Lady Macbeth’s Guest Soap,” featuring a splash of blood on the label and the caption “Out, Damned Spot!” On the back, it combines lines from Macbeth with the soap’s ingredients: “…who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him or a vegetable soap with glycerine to have so much shea butter, cocoa butter, olive oil and grapeseed oil enriched with creamy buttermilk?” Wonderful, right?

The second one is labeled “Wm. Shakespeare’s Bard Of Soap,” and contains a line from The First Part Of King Henry The Fourth: “Live cleanly, as a nobleman should.” There are playful references to other Shakespeare plays on the package, including these lines: “Much ado about bathing,” “For a midsummer night’s clean” and “For when love’s lather’s lost.”

I need to keep these items handy, because as long as Donald Trump and Mike Pence are allowed to remain in power, I will need to have my spirits raised.