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Happy birthday, Willy Shakespeare

So what's the best Shakespeare production you've seen?

April 23, 2010

Like just about everything else about William Shakespeare, his birthday is in dispute. But since today is widely regarded as the big day, I say "close enough." And in celebration, I'm asking you to tell about the best Shakespeare production you've ever seen.

A short list of mine include:

--The stunning Goodman Theatre take on "King Lear" just a few seasons ago. Stacy Keach played the title role, but it was truly an ensemble work that was able to find both the grand scale and the intimate humanity inherent in the masterpiece This may sound pretentious, but at times during it, I felt like I was looking into the soul of humanity. And some of the images still haunt me. The production moved on to Washington D.C.'s Shakespeare theater and...

--...speaking of the Shakespeare Theatre, in 1995 I visited Washington and went into its production of "Love's Labours Lost" never having read or seen the play before. And this charming, very human production made clear that prior knowledge of a Shakespeare play shouldn't be necessary for an audience. All the dramaturg notes in the world can't compete with a clear, passionate presentation where the actors live the words. A fire alarm and evacuation during the first act didn't even break the magical spell of the show. It featured Sean Pratt, Floyd King, Melissa Bowen and others who you never heard of. I mention their names now, along with director Laird Williamson, in hopes that they might google themselves, find this post, and know how much pleasure they brought.

--I've yet to see an "Othello" that feels complete, however I've seen two amazing Iagos--Campbell Scott at the Philadelphia Drama Guild and Christopher Plummer in the Broadway production opposite James Earl Jones (who seemed to be holding back that day).

--Now an established anchor on the Philadelphia Theatre scene, the Arden Theatre Company proved with its 1989 production of "As You Like It" that Shakespeare doesn't require a massive budget to work. This youthful production, featuring Robert Christoph, made a name for the newborn company when it played in a small, borrowed theater. Now the company has its own theater complex, a stack of awards, and national recognition. Inspiring.

Do all these sound too American? I'll admit here that I have yet to get to England. Some day.

Your thoughts? Tell about a Shakespeare experience that worked for you (whether as an audience member or as part of the company).


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