By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Thoughts for Shakespeare’s birthday weekend.…
It’s entirely possible there’s a theatre play ready for germination in every playwright brain.
By that I mean a play about the theatre, and there’s a wealth of raw material to work with. The eccentricities of its high-strung, high-spirited, mouthy practitioners and their large but fragile egos. The scramble to get a script ready to stand on its own too-few legs. The desperate and/or shamelessly creative quest for a grant or a rich patron. Backstage romantic intrigues and rivalries, feuds about the green room fridge, rehearsal insurrections. Onstage disasters with rickety sets or AWOL props, lighting cues, lines, actors….
OMG, there’s just so much that can go wrong or drive you crazy when you’re creating a live world for a live audience to imagine in. And come to think of it, what about that live audience themselves? Infiltrated by loons and drunks answering their phones or laughing in all the wrong place, shouting their disapproval at the stage, or snoring so loudly their fellow theatre-goers fantasize about smothering them.
Vicious critics, opening night nerves, inebriated leading men, corpses that won’t stay dead. Really, the list is endless. And the repertoire is full of playwrights who took the advice to “write what you know.”
Funny how most of them are comedies. Michael Frayn’s Noises Off (the most sublime of modern farces), Alan Ayckbourn’s A Chorus of Disapproval, David French’s Jitters, Chris Craddock’s early spear-carrier satire The Peons, The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society Murder Mystery, Moss Hart’s Light Up The Sky, Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser…. A Brit concoction called The Play That Goes Wrong, apparently a revealing title, is currently flirting with disaster on Broadway. Even David Mamet has a theatre play (A Life In The Theatre).
The Citadel opens its upcoming season with a stage version of the Tom Stoppard film Shakespeare In Love, in which we get to meet a certain up-and-comer (“he has potential,” says the theatre manager) who’s battling writer’s block, struggling with his new work-in-progress Romeo and Ethel. We get to hang out with his theatre pals, drinking in the pub, bitching about scripts.
Even the great man himself, celebrating the big 4-5-3 Sunday, embedded theatre plays in his plays. In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, rustics led by the unstoppable thesp Bottom the Weaver put on a play for the entertainment of the court. Centuries later it remains one of the funniest scenes in the history of English theatre.
Tonight, at this year’s edition of Stage Struck, Edmonton’s venerable One-Act Play Festival, you have a chance to catch a short, funny 1985 play populated by the characters who got axed from the scripts of famous plays before opening night. They’re in a retirement home together. In Lyle Victor Albert’s Cut!, you’ll meet Hamlet’s older, more decisive brother Clyde, Stanley’s mom Mrs. Kowalski, Oedipus’s sister Nippletitus.
Gerald Osborn directs, and his rep company (Ruby Swekla, Francie Goodwin-Davies, Jim Zalcik, John Dolphin and Clayton Plamondon) have at a juicy little script full of in-jokes about Citadel flops and long-gone theatre general managers. Curtain time at La Cité francophone, 8627 91 St., is 7 p.m. And the evening, the second of two at this year’s Stage Struck, includes Scot Robinson’s one-act Five Dollar Kick.
And as for tomorrow, you could spend your day speaking only in iambs, as an homage. You could gather the family together, and do a staged reading of The Scottish play in your basement. You could sing some of the well-known songs from Shakespeare’s plays. It’s April in Edmonton: Start with “Blow, blow, thy winter wind” from As You Like It.