Saturday, March 14, 2015

Jimmy and Shakespeare and APT

In which we figure out why someone who used to detest Shakespeare is now crazy about American Players Theatre:

Four years have passed since Gary and I headed into the city to see In Acting Shakespeare.  It seems like just the other day.  The show made a huge impression on me.  (Recent runs of IAS have been nowhere near here.  If it ever comes back to this area, I sure hope we hear about it and can snag some tickets.)

Tonight I watched Ian McKellen's Acting Shakespeare, upon which Jimmy DeVita's show is based. There were fabulous sections that caused thrills to run up and down my spine.  But you know what?  Shhhh -- don't tell anybody I said this: Jimmy's show was even better than Sir Ian's. 

Jimmy's play discussed education.
And fatherhood.
And family.
And hard work.
And art.
And how amazing words can be.
With no pontification.
It was all in a riveting story, full of laughs and even a few tears.

He tells of his youth and his blue-collar jobs.  He tells about dropping out of college.  Twice.  And how he finally ended up on a college fieldtrip where he saw Ian McKellen Acting Shakespeare ... and how he was transfixed by the play.  He too wanted to be able to affect people that way!

But when he finally convinced his dad to come see one of his performances, his father didn't like it.  Why?  Same reason I hated Shakespeare.  (Honestly, it's same reason I still hate a whole lot of presentations of Shakespearean plays.)  Too often, a Shakespeare play makes you feel dumb.  Dumb dumb dumb.  You don't understand the words.  Therefore you don't follow the plot and you don't get the jokes.  And you certainly don't get the play's commentary on power or forgiveness or mercy or grudges.

As Jimmy explained in In Acting Shakespeare, the Bard's plays shouldn't make you feel small.  They should make you feel BIG and grand and full.  If they make you feel small, there's something wrong with how the play is being presented.

Jim DeVita began to learn how to converse with the words of Shakespeare.  In the play he talked about coming to APT.  Jimmy's not the only one at APT who handles the Shakespearean language as if he were conversing.  Most of the actors and actresses do.  Every now and then you run across an intern who doesn't get it yet, and that person sticks out like a sore thumb.  At APT they tell the story in such a way that you follow it all:  the story, the jibes and barbs and witty insults, the silly love triangles, and maybe even The Moral Of The Story.  You don't go to APT so that you can pretend to be part of the [ahem] cultural elite that watches Shakespeare to show off what a Smarty you are.  You go to APT to be entertained and to laugh and maybe even to have your heart-strings tugged, because that's what Shakespeare was all about -- entertaining the masses.  And at APT, they work hard to make sure everybody finds delight in the shows.

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