Friday, March 11, 2011

All is True? For real?

During an early performance of Henry VIII (subtitled All is True), the Globe Theater caught fire and burned to the ground. No one was hurt except for someone whose pantaloons caught on fire and had them extinguished by a neighbor's bottle of ale.
I guess it's just as well. Shakespeare had more or less retired at this point. It was the second to last play he wrote, and it's co-authored by John Fletcher, who goes on to be a famous playwright of the era, but most famous of course for his association with Shakespeare and his appearance in Shakespeare in Love as the boy who loves Titus Andronicus.
Probably many Americans have learned the vast majority of their English history from movies. Camelot, The King's Speech, Robin Hood, A Man For All Seasons, The Other Boleyn Girl... anytime there is a dramatic interpretation of historical events, we know that there are going to be innumerable inaccuracies, and that's okay. Movies are meant to entertain... so are plays. But you would have hoped that Fletcher and Shakespeare would have been able to at least include some of the interesting things about Henry VIII's life...
Movies have always told me he was a dangerous and lusty monarch who left the Catholic church so he could get a divorce and then marry Anne Boleyn who he then had executed on false accusations of treason. This play is clearly a very careful handling of history in order to make sure that the King, who had died only 65 years before it was performed, would not be besmirched. 
All of Shakespeare's histories are propaganda, but at least the one's chronicling the War of the Roses are terribly entertaining propaganda with geniuses like Falstaff, and heroic, banner-waving speeches ("Once more unto the breach, dear friends!"). This play is straight up boring, because you keep expecting Henry to get all horny and evil, but he really doesn't. He hits on Anne and turns on his first wife, Catherine, but everything is so tepid. The only really noteworthy thing about the play is that it was the last one performed at the Globe, which is sad.
I wonder if he had never written this play... is it possible that the original Globe would still be standing? I'd happily trade this play for the chance to see that massive wooden structure in whatever disrepair it might be after 400 years... yikes. Can a wooden building even last that long?
I've been trying to come up with something to say about this play for weeks and I'm sorry to say that this is the best I can do. At this point I just had to write something and move on. I'm approaching the end of Shakespeare's works and it's starting to make me kind of sad/reluctant. I've still got The Two Noble Kinsmen, some poems, maybe Edward III (partial authorship), and a play that was recently attributed in part to Shakespeare: Double Falsehood

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Misfortune is Fortune (at least in Television and The Tempest)

            There’s a story about an Indian man who finds a very nice wild horse. “That’s lucky,” everyone says.

            “Maybe,” the man says.

            He gives the horse to his son, who gets thrown off while riding it and breaks his arm. “That’s unlucky,” everyone says.

            “Maybe,” the man says.

            They send a war party against another tribe, but the man’s son, whose arm is broken, has to stay behind. Many young men were killed. "That's lucky."


            That’s a lovely piece of folk wisdom I learned from Northern Exposure.

            Early in The Tempest, Prospero discloses to his daughter the truth about their situation, that he was the deposed Duke of Milan, her response is:


O the heavens!

What foul play had we, that we came from thence?

Or blessed was’t we did?(1:2:59)


            Miranda knows immediately that all events have the potential to prove foul or blessed, depending on how long you give them to play out. Prospero’s betrayal and banishment aren’t finished running their course until the end of this play. He manufactures a storm to revenge himself on his brother, who overthrew him, and the other lords who had a hand in his banishment. But by the end of the play, his intentions change. Ariel instructs him in forgiveness:



His tears run down his beard, like winter’s drops

From eaves of reeds. Your charm so strongly works ‘em,

That if you now beheld them, your affections

Would become tender.


                        Dost thou think so, spirit?


Mine would, sir, were I human. (5:1:16)


            In a quest for vengeance, Prospero finds forgiveness. Much like the episode of 21 Jumpstreet where Penhall tells the story about how when he was a kid he got picked on by some douchebag bully. The guy ate his lunch, smashed his toothpick rocketship science project, and crashed his uncle's car with his prom date still in it. All the other cops tell stories about the bullies that picked on them when they were kids too, Johnny Depp has an especially touching story about getting beat up every day in 4th grade by a girl played by the Thor-obsessed little sister in Adventures in Babysitting. But Penhall doesn’t feel better until he goes and confronts his old bully at his house as an adult, only to find that he’s a cigarette smoking, little loser who shouts at his miserable wife and clearly has no joy in his life at all.


The rarer action is

In virtue than in vengeance. (5:1:27)


I might be pulling out some old Catholic School brainwashing here, but the lesson seems to be that forgiveness is vengeance. Despite being opposites, they accomplish the same thing: closure from one series of events and progress into another.

Forgiveness is vengeance. Fortune is Misfortune. Fair is Foul, familiar themes here.

            In the very first episode of My So Called Life, Angela Chase and her friend, Rayanne, meet these two guys outside a bar. One of them grabs Rayanne and starts kissing her. Angela narrates: “something was actually happening, but it was a little too actual.” And she steps in to prevent a rape or abduction, the cops come, and it’s this whole little thing. But the next day, they go to school and laugh and laugh about how great it was. Granted they’re ridiculous teenagers, but you can relate. As the people say: someday we’ll look back on all of this and laugh…

            There’s a horrible habit that writers have of telling each other that any thing interesting that happens in their life is “good material.”  Every time I tell a writer about something, like the time that I got hit by a car, they say, man, that’s great material and I want to tell them to shut up. It’s not material. It’s my life.

            Here’s a naïve thought: the power of writing is in universal truth, and its benefit to the world of readers. Your gut-wrenching break up is useless to the majority of humanity, unless you can find the universal truth in the story. When you know things like Shakespeare knew things, about the human condition and the way emotion works, and you lay those ideas into stories, then they resonate. Strike like lightning and thunder forth many Mississippi’s into the future.

I suppose I’m surprised when people think that getting hit by a car is great material, because you can get hit by a car at any moment. People get hit by cars everyday, right?

But if you knew who I was rushing to see when I got hit, or what happened between us in the next few weeks after the accident, then the story might get interesting. If I told you about pulling the quarter-inch shard of windshield out of my thumb the next morning, you might understand the way an event like that, unfortunate as it is, leaves glorious scars.

What I remember most was lying on the ground, having been thrown fifteen feet through the air, my helmet smashed to pieces, the driver of the car – an EMT – cradled my head and neck, and I thought I might never walk again. Never play soccer. Never ride a bike. And I felt just fine. Like I was going to be a new me, and that new me was someone I was looking forward to meeting. Because if you’re a new you, then it’s a new world… well, new to thee.

So is it possible to think of that misfortune -- of getting hit by the car -- as a fortunate event? I’m not foolish enough to label it one way or the other.

But I guess it did turn out to be decent material. For the moment anyway. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Winter's Postamorous Adoration

I had a girlfriend whose favorite Shakespeare was The Winter’s Tale. Now that I've read it and I think about her, I see the play’s about women ruled by the foolish whims of a man who lives too much in his imagination for a short time.

            King Leontes of Sicilia is being visited by his oldest and dearest friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia. The King works himself into a jealous frenzy, thinking that his old friend has wooed and impregnated his wife, Hermione. He convinces himself of this over the course of a single scene and orders one of his servants to poison Polixenes. He begins the day in love and ends it out of love. (As Benedick would say: "man is a giddy thing.")

Leontes’ servant, Camillo, cannot bring himself to kill Polixenes and instead confesses the plot. Polixenes takes Camillo in his service and runs to Bohemia. Leontes considers this an affirmation of guilt. He puts Hermione on trial, and has the baby girl (whom he thinks to be Polixenes’ progeny) taken away by another servant to be abandoned in some wild place.

Because of his unfounded, jealous rage, Leontes’ son dies, Hermione dies of grief, and the baby, Perdita, is abandoned by the servant who is then eaten by a bear. Luckily, Perdita is discovered by a shepherd who raises her as his own and then years later she falls in love with the Prince of Bohemia and the two have to escape to Sicilia out of fear of the king’s wrath. In Sicilia, she meets her long lost father Leontes, all things are laid bear and a happy ending is achieved in fulfillment of some prophecy or other.

Of the 35 plays of Shakespeare that I’ve read so far, this is the only one which actually brought tears to my eyes while I was reading it. In the end there is a perfect revelation, which I probably should have seen coming a mile away.

Leontes’ queen, Hermione, who died of grief when her daughter was stolen and her son died is honored in the final moments of the play when they bring out a statue of her. The moment the statue comes out, you know that it’s the real, living Hermione, who has been in hiding these 15 years and not dead at all, but she steps down from the pedestal, upon which she has been cast. The amazed Leontes touches the statue’s arm and exclaims:


O, she’s warm! (5:3)


            Despite his massive vocabulary, Shakespeare can land on a perfect moment and capture it in 3 monosyllables. Leontes' queen returns to him. After his earlier buffoonery, it's more forgiveness than he ever dreamed was possible.

            How many men have cast off love when they had it? Driven away a good woman with accusations of inadequacy, and then, seeing them go… misunderstood themselves.

The girl who loved The Winter’s Tale moved from Minnesota to California to be with me, and she was constant in her love even though I was not. When she left California to return to Minnesota she had convinced herself that I never loved her. I refuted that accusation, but not passionately. The relationship had to end, and it was easier to allow it to end if I didn’t own up to the affections I had squandered. 

Even though it was right and I was relieved when we split up… in the moment when she walked out of the door, my heart broke. Somehow I hadn’t seen that coming.

For weeks, months afterward,  you imagine that she might come back. You might be forgiven, and the small moments of bliss that were once ours would confederate, like matter drawn into a black hole, until we became a burning hot singularity whose only motion can be to explode into a new universe.

            When the King is looking on what he thinks is the statue of Hermione, he feels pain, but wants it to continue:


For this affliction has a taste as sweet

As any cordial comfort. (5:3)


            These are the delicious regrets of failed lovers. The lost queen, was literally put on a pedestal.


Whilst I remember

Her and her virtues, I cannot forget

My blemishes in them, and so still think of

The wrong I did myself, which…

Destroyed the sweet’st companion that e’er man

Bred his hopes out of. (5:1)


I am guilty of the same postamorous worship of every single girl who has come and gone. You can’t reconstitute lost love. The only hope is in new love. And a new love with an old lover demands reformation beyond reasonable expectation. 

But maybe not beyond Shakespearean expectation.

            The Winter’s Tale also has a troublemaking rogue named Autolycus, who steals and cons, and finds himself elevated in the robes of a gentleman. He learns of the plot of the lovers to escape to Sicilia and here is how he reasons what course of action is best suited:


If I thought it were a piece of honesty

To acquaint the king withal, I would not do’t. I hold it

the more knavery to conceal it, and therein am I

constant to my profession. (4:4)


            But his knavish actions play a key role in the reunions and prophetic fulfillment that ornament Act V. The Shepherd who found and raised Perdita is able to disclose her true parentage to her father, Leontes, and the Shepherd and his son are rewarded with gentlemanhood. Upon seeing this, Autolycus promises to amend his life. Does he? I don’t know. I like to believe that he did. There’s hope for the rogue, that in his treachery -- being constant to his profession -- he might stumble into redemption, and forever after find himself in the employ of a more honorable nature.

            Taking stock, I think I’m still who I was, despite efforts to improve, but there’s hope for we -- the men of wandering nature -- that from our errors and the mishmash of broken romances past, we will emerge clean. And come to life like a cold statue, touched, and found to be warm.

Scraping away some winter

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Stop Bullying: The Secret Theme of Cymbeline

I’ve never really been bullied in my life.

I think this means that I am a bully.

There was my roommate my first year at boarding school. That whole year I was so afraid of being hazed that I treated him terribly in an effort to feel strong and not completely vulnerable in every aspect of my life. Even though he was a good guy and became one of my best friends, I was horrible to him. I physically bullied him, pushed him around, and at 14 I was foolish enough to think that exercising dominance over this small corner of my high school life was important enough to warrant such wretched action.

His name was Tito and he was from Chicago. Tito wasn’t his real name, it was the name that the seniors gave him and it stuck because we all preferred to conform to norms established by upper classmen rather than stand up for our own. He didn’t just take all of my behaviors lying down. He and Mike Osecky put icy hot in all my underwear one night, they read my journal (which promptly led me to stop using a journal forever), and then when he walked in on me… well, you know… I was so sure he was going to tell everyone about it to get back at me for being an asshole. But he didn’t tell anyone. Not until a year later, and by that time, we were good friends and nobody cared because you’ve got to be some kind of auto-erotic ninja to make it through four years of living in a dorm with high school boys to not get caught squeezing one off.

So, I guess I sort of understand bullying a little bit. And in the way that we all feel a little sympathy for the villains I have a tiny amount of sympathy when I suspect bullies are battling their own lack of self-confidence, when they’re fighting for a little control over a small section of the world. There’s nothing worse in life than feeling that circumstances are entirely beyond your control. Which is why I was so stunned in Cymbeline when Cloten, the bullying son of the wicked stepmother/evil queen was killed off-stage in a fight with one of the disguised, kidnapped sons of King Cymbeline and his head was brought back on stage.

As if he were Macbeth, or a traitor from one of the histories -- as if he were a villain of such profound historical consequence that the audience was going to cheer -- he was abruptly beheaded. Cloten was an idiot and his evil mother made him feel like he was entitled to marry princess Imogen and become king. He wasn’t clever enough to create these ambitions for himself and it was this entitlement that escalated his quarrel with Guiderius to bloodlust:


Have not I

An arm as big as thine? A heart as big?

Thy words I grant are bigger: for I wear not

My dagger in my mouth. Say what thou art:

Why I should yield to thee.


Thou villain base,

Know’st me not by my clothes?


No, nor thy tailor, rascal…


…I am son to th’ queen.


I am sorry for’t: not seeming

So worthy as thy birth. (4:2)

Cloten goes on to threaten to cut off Guiderius’s head and stick it on the gates of Lud town, so it’s not like Guiderius isn’t justified in his action. And of course, Imogen needs to find Cloten's body and mistake it for her lover, Postumous's body -- sending her into a downward spiral, so that she winds up serving the Italian general in battle against her father. Eventually she is unmasked as is her still-living lover Posthumous, and her long-missing princely brothers, and the sinister plot that made her seem like a slut. So the beheading of Cloten is necessary for the intricate house of cards that makes up the plot of Cymbeline. Still, I feel a little sad for poor, stupid, bullying Cloten.

Now that I think about it, I suppose even though I didn’t get hazed badly back in high school, the mere threat of it was a form of bullying… and then I got punched another time in my life and that’s got to count as an incident of bullying.

That was at Space Camp. You have to be some kind of geek to get bullied at Space Camp.

It went down like this. We had a simulated mission and the kid on our team who was the pilot forgot to follow the script and lower the landing gear of the shuttle as it was coming in for the landing. Our totally hot counselor, Frances, told us it was the only thing that went wrong with the whole mission, and that it probably would have resulted in the shuttle crashing and everyone dying. Not the most tactful thing to say to a 12 year-old kid, I suppose. The kid started crying and then later in the day we went to the Imax to see “Destiny in Space” and I was about to sit next to him when his big, fat roommate grabbed me and punched me in the stomach and said: “I’m sitting there!” I said, “God, fine!” and moved a couple seats down to sit next to my roommates.

It wasn’t like it was a terrible or scarring incident. These days I use it mostly as a self-deprecating anecdote to amass geek cred. People always think it’s cool that you went to Space Camp as a kid, but it’s actually really lame, and this is the most exciting thing that happened while I was there. But I guess it proves I have been bullied, and I’ve committed bullying. So like all stupid things in life, there’s no black and white here, just a bunch of grey.

It’s like that line in “A Night at the Opera,” Lassparri is beating up Harpo, who works as his costumer, and Groucho walks in, “Hey, you big bully, stop picking on that little bully.”

That’s me. The little bully. Darting in and out of the operatic incidents around me, pulling the strings and wisecracking in the wings, but never demonstrating any brash heroism or fierce pride. For those are qualities that land one’s head on the end of a pike.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pericles + Oliver < Fagin + Thenardier

When I was eight I played Oliver Twist in the Lakeside Players summer production of Oliver Twist. I was cast in the role of the boy to whom things happen, who stumbles into a world of rich character, and through fortune of birth and the sacrifices of the Artful Dodger, Nancy and Fagin, I undo their world of romantic villainy and am awarded for my inaction with a life of comfort to which I’m entitled because of my utterly saccharine goodness.

It’s a testament to the anti-magnitude of the role that my only memory of it is the scene where I ate a hot dog that the Artful Dodger shared with me and I bit off more than I could chew and had to hold up my finger indicating that she (Dodger was played by a girl) should wait for a second so I didn’t choke before I said my line. That moment is a pretty decent microcosm of my entire acting career.

Oliver is such a boring character. In the way that Cosette diminishes in the tragedy of Eponine’s unrequited love in Les Miserables, he vanishes in the shadow of personages of theatrical merit. Executors of large, emotional lives, tragic inner lives, and impossible wants.

This might seem an odd parallel to draw with Pericles, who is a hero, a man of consequence and valor. But for all his activity, he’s not a complex character… or even much of a character at all. He’s smart and brave and he goes on adventures that demonstrate how smart and brave he is. He solves riddles, runs from an incestuous king who wants to kill him, gets shipwrecked, wins a tournament of knights and marries a princess, gets separated from his wife and daughter, thinks they’re dead, finds them again and lives happily ever after as king.

            He sums himself up in the first scene when he is presented with a riddle that he must solve or die:


Like a bold champion I assume the lists,

Nor ask advice of any other thought

But faithfulness and courage. (1:1)


            My Riverside Shakespeare says that “lists” means “tournament grounds.” Pericles is a guy who needs only these two tools to tackle all of the problems he faces: faithfulness and courage.

            There’s something to be said for a nice, simple, heroic story about a man being brave in the face of hardship. I like a simple story on occasion. There’s that movie The Rock, where Nicolas Cage plays an FBI chemist who has to help Sean Connery and Michael Beihn break into Alcatraz and stop Ed Harris from launching chemical weapons at San Francisco. Nicolas Cage has to be brave in the face of hardship and save the day and his pregnant fiancé. It's simple AND it kicks ass.

            Pericles is the Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer Shakespearean play. But it is only partially Shakespeare’s. It’s thought that he outlined it, and gave it to George Wilkins to write. Unhappy with the product, Shakes re-wrote the final three acts.

            Of course it’s in these final three acts that we see some awesome verbal acrobatics as Pericles’s daughter, Marina, somersaults her way out of being raped by the Thénardier-like: Bawd, Boult and Pander who buy her off of some pirates thinking that they’re going to make a mint by selling her body. Here’s what she tells Boult to turn him off:


Thou hold’st a place for which the pained’st fiend

Of hell would not in reputation change.

Thou art damned door-keeper to every

Custrel that comes inquiring for his Tib.

To the choleric fisting of every rogue

Thy ear is liable; thy food is such

As hath been belch’d on by infected lungs. (4:6)



             These are the lives around Pericles. The riddle he has to solve at the beginning is presented to him by a king, and the reward for solving the riddle is the princess’s hand in marriage, but the answer to the riddle is that the king is sleeping with his daughter, so if you solve it, he will kill you. And if you don’t solve it, you will be killed too. When Pericles figured it out I was super-excited, I thought he was going to then find a way to rescue the girl and we were going to have this evil king as the monumental villain and we would meet the girl and the whole play would be a fascinating exploration of how he marries and saves this abused princess… WRONG. Pericles RUNS away and the king tries to have him killed. It’s like he wanders into potentially interesting situations, flirting with dangerous lives, rife with dramatic fodder, and then he gets shipwrecked and we never get to any of the fascinating villains aside from the three who try to pimp his daughter.

            But it’s a bigger sea that just his own play in which Pericles finds himself shipwrecked. If there were a panel discussion of Shakesperean title characters who would have a question for Pericles? When he’s sitting beside Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, Henry V… He’s Shakespeare’s proverbial one-legged stepchild. Cousin Oliver from the Brady Bunch has more cultural gravitas than Pericles.

            Still, the play is apparently very effective in performance. In much the same way that The Rock is effective in performance. Personally I doubt there was anything effective about my performance of Oliver Twist. I remembered all of my lines which is good. At that age most of us aren’t capable of much acting, so they cast you based on the outstanding qualities of your personality. In my case, I think those qualities were large brown eyes and a decent, boyish smile that indicated an inherent innocence, optimism, and blandness onto which the audience could paste whatever absent qualities were dramatically prescribed.

            I guess I don’t mind that I was that person at age eight, but it wasn’t long before I wanted to be fiercely independent and clever, with the self-assurance to live beyond the realm of Christian morality.

It’s interesting to note that in the novels Oliver Twist and Les Miserables the villains come to much grimmer ends. Fagin is hanged, and although Thénardier gets money from Marius and goes to America… he becomes a slave trader there and well, no one wants to cheer for that.

We all want a chance to flirt with villainy, to waltz off the stage like Thénardier and his wife with the audience’s affections pickpocketed away from even the monumental Jean Valjean. Or to dance into the Sunset arm in arm with Fagin like Dodger at the end of Oliver… “Once a villain, you’re a villain to the end!

            But what if you’re Oliver? Then what are you to the end? A guy in a coffee shop reading Shakespeare?

Beats the gallows I guess.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Hakuna Matata: It Means Screw Everyone Who Took Timon's Gold

First off, I have to own up to the fact that I missed my year deadline on reading all the complete works. I was supposed to be done on Halloween, but as you can see, it is past Halloween and I've still got a number of plays to go. I got really busy. And I got distracted by a couple of other pieces of reading material. One of which was Freedom, which I wasn’t going to read because I HATED the Corrections, but I was enticed by the fact that several of the main characters went to Macalester. It’s not bad (I say with a grumble). Anyway.

Speaking of St. Paul, I used to work at the Minnesota Children’s Museum, and my absolute, all-time favorite thing to do there was Storytime. 10:30 and 2:30 everyday, we’d swing open a giant wooden book on the second floor atrium, set up a little easel, and yoink 4 or 5 awesome children’s books from our library to read aloud to a group of rapt youngsters. The point of the activity was to provide a model for reading aloud for families, but I didn’t see it that way. I liked to put on a show.

I liked to channel Bill Irwin for an interpretation of The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Or fall over in fear at the revelation of the monster in Go Away, Big Green Monster, by Ed Emberley, or stomp my feet and shake my fist along with the children to re-enact the mocking monkeys in Caps For Sale. These books have physical actions and building rhythms, they have call and response, and opportunities to ask the kids questions to which they can yell out “NOOOOO!”

I love kid’s books, but there’s one to which I wouldn’t ever dare expose those impressionable young minds: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. It is a story of absolute and utter abuse where the boy takes and takes and takes from the tree, even physically assaulting her -- and the tree is happy to be assaulted! Happy to be taken from and chopped down and abused, so long as the boy comes back!

I think it’s a dangerous book and it demonstrates the perils of one-sided, unconditional love. But even though I hate it I found myself wishing that Timon of Athens could have been a little more like that maligned tree.

Timon of Athens is one of the plays Shakespeare wrote that may never have been performed in his lifetime. It has no love story to distract us from the main plot. The only female characters are prostitutes. It’s about a rich guy who spends all his money throwing parties for and bailing out his friends. Then he runs out of money and none of them help him out. He gets banished from Athens and becomes a hermit and a misanthrope, but he happens to discover gold buried in the ground and thieves and artists come back to try to take it from him. He gives most of it to Alcibiades, who is marching on Athens to conquer it for his own vengeful purposes. Timon never forgives anyone. He’s pissed off and complains and then he dies. The end.

There’s something Gatsby-esque about the giant parties Timon throws and the way he is completely abandoned by everyone when the parties stop. Nobody loves you when you’re down and out and all that jazz. If Shakespeare had given Timon a Daisy to long for, then this might rank among his stronger plays. But there’s no Daisy. Timon can’t even relate to Apemantus, the churlish philosopher, who shares his disdain for humanity:

TIMON: What wouldst thou do with the world, Apemantus, if it lay in thy power?

APEMANTUS: Give it to the beasts, to be rid of men… the commonwealth of Athens is become a forest of beasts. (4:3)

These guys should be bros, but Timon just wants to get rid of him too:

Mend my company, take away thyself. (4:3)

When he is visited by the only character comparable to the boy from The Giving Tree -- his honest steward Flavius -- Timon recognizes him as the only honest man in the world and gives him gold and this directive:

Go, live rich and happy.

But thus condition’d: thou shalt build from men;

Hate all, curse all, show charity to none,

But let the famish’d flesh slide from the bone

Ere thou relieve the beggar. Give to dogs

What thou deniest to men. Let prisons swallow’ em,

Debts wither ‘em to nothing; be men like blasted woods,

And may diseases lick up their false bloods! (4:3)

Timon seems so generous and happy early, and when he’s betrayed he does not have the capacity to forgive. Even when Athens is in direst need, he wishes them all to hang themselves from his own giving tree before he’ll lift a finger to Athens’ defense:

I have a tree which grows here in my close

That mine own use invites me to to cut down...

Tell Athens, in the sequence of degree,

From high to low throughout, that whoso please

To stop affliction, let him take his haste,

Come hither, ere my tree hath felt the axe,

And hang himself. (5:1)

The bitterness and misanthropy of Timon is so tyrannical that it’s impossible to care about him in the end. He has no dead Cordelia to mourn with wild howling. There is no moment where we recognize goodness in him, he’s just filled with hate. He was generous with his fortune, but it was not because he was a generous person, it was because he was a fool with money.

Timon the misanthrope is an old story, and Shakespeare maybe knew better than to ever allow it to be performed. Like The Giving Tree, he might have known it was a character who could be interpreted to unfortunate ends. Why present the world with a model of dangerous behavior and attitudes when there is no redemption for them in the end? The Tree may have been an idiot for allowing herself to be so used by the boy, but at least the boy did come back and love her in the end and they were happy.

I was raised Catholic and so my model for unconditional love was Jesus. The bloody, crucified Jesus whose 6-foot-tall statue haunted the hallways of St. Mark’s Catholic school. His magically-roaming, forlorn eyes made me hurry uneasily past that statue even when I returned to the school as an adult to substitute teach for a few weeks. We were raised to believe that life without sacrifice and suffering isn’t heavenly. This lesson was mixed in with the better lessons about being good to everyone, forgiving, and living a life of service and compassion, but still. Bloody Jesus… He’s just as bad as that dang tree.

It’s no wonder that the first time I fell in love I thought I could just hope and be good and sacrifice and that would win out. There are more important things to fall in love with than devotion. Love is a biological tool, and the science of it deems that strength overshadow alacrity for forgiveness.

But compassion still has its place. What good are the great abuses we commit against each other if they don’t give us a chance to find redemption? In television writing we joke that the theme of every single story of every single television show is redemption. Redemption is the cleanest. It’s a word that implies an entire story: fall, fight and forgiveness. Timon is never redeemed.

Instead of finding gold or an abusive Boy in the wilderness, what Timon really needed was to find a hippie-ish warthog sidekick to show him the delights of impoverished exile. Hakuna Matata, motherf-----s.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Coriolanus 2: Judgment Day

                 Coriolanus is a great soldier who is pressured to become a politician, the politicians think this is a bad idea, and slander him to the point of turning the mob of Rome violent against him. Coriolanus leaves and joins his former enemies, the Volscans. They march on Rome, and just before he marches in and destroys Rome, his mother pleads with him to make peace. He does, but then he is betrayed by the Volscans who incite the people of Coriolone – a city which he conquered and for which he was named – to rise up against him and murder him.

            Coriolanus’s fate was to die in order to make peace. Kind of like the Terminator at the end of T2. Arnold lowers himself into the molten steel in order to destroy the last chip and prevent the rise of Skynet. “I know now why you cry…” And he melts with a thumbs-up. I know now why I cry too, Arnold.

            I love the character of Coriolanus’s mom. She’s a classic stage mom. After he returns from war, she encourages him to run for consul, the highest office in Rome:


I have lived

To see inherited my very wishes

And the buildings of my fancy; only

There’s one thing wanting, which I doubt not but

Our Rome will cast upon thee. (2:1)           


            Coriolanus is a soldier and a snob; he disdains the common people and doesn’t want to be consul:


I had rather be their servant in my way

Than sway with them in theirs. (2:1)


            Then, when the other politicians turn the public against him by pointing out that he doesn’t like them (true) and is a danger to them (false), his mother encourages him to keep trying by lying and apologizing, she compares it to taking a town in warfare with false and gentle promises in order to prevent bloodshed:


             now it lies you on to speak

To th’ people; not by your own instruction,

Nor by the matter which your heart prompts you,

But with such words that are but roted in

Your tongue, though but bastards, and syllables

Of no allowance, to your bosom’s truth.

Now, this no more dishonors you at all

Than to take in a town with gentle words,

Which else would put you to your fortunate and

The hazard of much blood.

I would dissemble with my nature where

My fortunes and my friends at stake requir’d

I should do so in honor. (3:2)


            Coriolanus agrees. He goes to the people, and they quickly accuse him and rouse his constant temper. His angry, defensive outburst leads to his banishment and then the quest for revenge by joining with the enemies.

            And of course his mother confronts him at the last second and pleads with him not to destroy Rome, but to make peace. A good decision, but it does result in his murder:


Our suit

Is that you reconcile them: while the Volsces

May say, “This mercy we have show’d,” the Romans,

“This we receiv’d”; and each in either side

Give the all-hail to thee and cry, “Be blest

For making up this peace!” (5:3)


            Coriolanus listens to his mommy:


O my mother, mother! O!

You have won a happy victory to Rome;

But, for your son, believe it – O, believe it—

Most dangerously you have with him prevail’d,

If not most mortal to him. (5:3)


            Moms want the best for their sons. I guess sometimes they’re overbearing and try to control their children’s lives. I have no experience whatsoever with this. My mom and dad were both much younger than I am now when they first became parents and even though they fumbled their way through parts of it, I would say they did a pretty decent job. As 3 of 5, I got space my other siblings might not have had.

            I moved out of our house at 14 to go to a boarding school (by my own choice), and their influence in my life decisions declined even further. 

            As a kid we used to drive our station wagon to Chicago once or twice a year to go shopping at Water Tower Place, or visit the Museum of Science and Industry, and when we drove home we would drive through Evanston, Winnetka, Lake Forest, turning an hour drive on the expressway into a three-hour tour of the mansions and large homes of the North Shore. My parents ingrained in me a middle class fascination with wealth and the opulence it affords. Then when I was 14 we drove the wood-paneled station wagon into Lake Forest (where my boarding school was) and they left me there, to mingle with and wonder at the BMW-driving, international-traveling, blue-blazered classmates of mine.

One weekend I came home from school and told them about how we helped our Geometry teacher get her car unstuck from the snow and she drove us to Ben and Jerry’s to get a Vermonster. It was the description of the giant ice cream dish that got them. The treat’s structural integrity dissolved as Wager, Tito, Reiser, Leo Kim and I soldiered our way to the elusive glass bottom that we glimpsed only momentarily every time we scraped our spoons against it and swallowed another flavor-miasma that nature never intended. They laughed and laughed and when someone else came over to visit – Uncle Dito or Aunt Sylvia – they’d say: “Gabe, tell that story again, about the car stuck in the snow.” And I’d tell it again, and every time I told it, it became more elaborate and ridiculous and I dropped in more ten dollar P-SAT words to show off.

            It became clear soon after that storytelling was in my nature. 

Sarah Conner wanted the best for John Conner, so she trained him to be a soldier and stuff and he defeated the army of the robots. Coriolanus was a soldier and his mom wanted him to be a politician and he achieved greatness, but it cost him his life. My parents wanted me to be whatever I wanted to be, so I do this and call it work. It ain’t exactly bringing in the harvest, but it's all I got to try to make a difference. I don't think there are any Volscians left in the world to get betrayed by and I'm no damn good at fighting robots either.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hos Before Bros: The Cautionary Tale of Antony and Cleopatra

            Occasionally some damn fool decides to test the infallible wisdom of ages and for a moment puts his ho before a bro. The result is always tragic.

            Just this weekend I saw The Town. Affleck has a perfectly good bank-robbing thing going with his best friends, but he puts it all at risk for a hot bank manager whom he took hostage and falls in love with.

Then there’s Romeo and Mercutio, we all know what happened there once Romeo started making the sweet love to Juliet, in Merchant of Venice, Bassanio makes Antonio put his life on the line for him, which is ultimate bro-ness, just so that he can court Portia – lucky for these bros, Portia is a litigious ho, and saves Antonio from his pound-less fate.

            But really, all these fools should have learned from the original cautionary tale: Antony and Cleopatra.

            Antony is ridiculously in love with Cleopatra. Who can blame him? She’s hotter than hot and queen of Egypt. Then he hears that his wife has died and his friend Caeser is in trouble because Pompey wants to kick his ass. Antony runs to Caesar’s aid, and like a true bro, marries Caesar’s sister, Octavia, to demonstrate that he’s down. But Cleopatra is way too smokin’ and Antony is on the next ferry back up that Nile. Like he tells her:


You did know

How much you were my conqueror, and that

My sword, made weak by my affection, would

Obey it on all cause.  (3:11)


            Of course, you can’t do Caeser’s sister thus, so Caesar brings a load of hurt to Antony’s front door. For a quick minute, Antony thinks he was betrayed by Cleopatra, and he has a lucid moment, free from her spell where he realizes he’s so whipped, he can’t even recognize himself anymore:


Sometime we see a cloud that’s dragonish,

A vapor sometime like a bear or lion,

A tower’d citadel, a pendant rock,

A forked mountain, or blue promontory

With trees upon’t that nod unto the world,

And mock our eyes with air. Thou hast seen these signs,

They are black vesper’s pageants…

That which is now a horse, even with a thought

The rack dislimns, and makes it indistinct

As water in water…

My good knave, Eros, now thy captain is

Even such a body. Here I am Antony,

Yet cannot hold this visible shape. (4:14)


            Antony stabs himself out of shame, learns that he wasn’t betrayed, apologizes to Cleopatra, and then dies. Then Cleopatra kills herself by getting bitten by a snake.           

            I don’t really have a good personal anecdote to bring this whole thing together. Once I waited to date a girl until she had clearly rejected my buddy who was interested in her, but then she got mad at me for moving to Minnesota and slept with some other guy at a Halloween party. The bro code is so ingrained in my sensibilities that I would never, ever allow a lady to undo my male friendships. Although, truth be told, I sort of avoid that whole thing by having lots of female friends. And hos before hos... that doesn’t even make any sense.

            But I mean, maybe… maybe for Cleopatra. Maybe for the sexiest woman in the history of the galaxy. Maybe I would think about it. There’s only one way to find out. Sexy ladies, you know where to find me… same place I find you. Here, on the internet.

            I’m sure I could pass the test though. You see, unlike these other idiots (Romeo, Antony, Affleck) I listen to the wisdom of the ages. And I’m going to know better. Thanks to my boys Lennon and McCartney.


I should have known better with a girl like you.

That I would love everything that you do,

And I do. Hey, hey, hey. And I do.


            Too bad they didn’t stick to the bro code themselves, although Oh, Yoko! is a pretty awesome tune.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Years ago, No Refunds Theater Co. was having a fundraiser called The Great Moments of Kung Fu Theater History. I wrote a little animated piece for it and my brother was working on it, but it was never completed because it was way too complicated for one person to animate. That piece was called Animecbeth. Here is the script for it as well as the promo video I made back then for our website.

Great Moments was the last piece of live theater I had a hand in before I moved to California. I stayed up the entire night before the show and got sick drinking Starbucks Frappuccinos while editing a video yearbook retrospective of our past work. I completely lost my voice and felt like I was going to die by the time we finished the show. It's one of my favorite memories, and one of the things I was most proud of being a part of. I always used to complain that there was too much work and so little money in live theater (especially back in MN), but I miss it, and I miss all my friends from that time of my life. Working hard with good people. You can't beat that.

I may write some more on Macbeth if the mood takes me, but I'm feeling pressed to make it through all the plays by Halloween, so this entry may have to suffice. FYI I wrote this before I had any schooling on screenplay formatting, so excuse the crudity.


(Open on Intro Montage.)

Last time on Animécbeth. The weird sisters gave Macbeth a stunning prophecy...

Hail Macbeth, Thane of Cawdor!

(The witches perform some fancy some fancy magic looking thing ala Power Rangers)


Then the prophecy came true!

Macbeth, I make you Thane of Cawdor…


(Macbeth powers up. Super Mario-ification sound effect)

Lady Macbeth put on the pants of the family:

Come, you spirits, unsex me here!

(Lightning strikes, she becomes more masculine and powered up.)

Macbeth, you must kill the king so you can be king, or else you’re a wimp, I wanna be queen! AHHHHHH!

Kill the King, oh my gosh! (Close up on Macbeth) Oh, no!

Macbeth went along with the plan…

Is this a dagger I see before me?

(Duncan is sleeping, but he wakes up.)


(Macbeth looks surprised, pan down, we see the dagger)

Uh, ha ha…

Huh? Uh, ha ha…

(slightly more jovially)
Ha ha ha.

Ha ha ha.

HA ha ha!

Ha ha ha!

(They continue laughing. Until suddenly the door bursts open and Lady Macbeth comes in looking all CRAZY like Medusa!)




(They all stop screaming. And look, Macbeth has stabbed the king. He dies)

Oh no!

And then Macbeth became King.

Huh? Okay!

(Macbeth give the okay sign)

What troubles lie ahead for our Scotsman? We shall see…

(Macbeth walks with Lady Macbeth to dinner. Macbeth goes through increasing states of stress and worry throughout this short.)

I’m so glad you’re King now.

I’m happy and sad too. I’m two different things at the same time… Oh no!

And did you ever see such a fine royal feast?

(Macbeth looks at the table and its feast. There is BANQUO’s GHOST sitting in his chair.)

Oh no! Look a ghost, Ah! Everyone run! It’s the end of the world!

(Mumbling from guests increases.)

He he he, what a funny joke! That’s my husband, quite the actor. He’s always making jokes of one kind or another!

Oh, quit my sight! Ah! Run!

Oh, don’t worry everyone, he’ll stop in a minute.

Ah, everyone run! Ahh! Ghosts! Oh, the fright and horror, Ahh!

(Gets enraged)
All right! Everyone out! Out! OUT!

(The room clears out, LADY MACBETH looks at her hands, there seems to be blood on them)


(Insert some sort of action visual transition ALA the bat symbol flying out and back.)

(Macbeth is in the woods to meet the Weird Sisters.)

Double, double toil and trouble
Fire burn and cauldron bubble!
Fillet of a fenny snake
In the cauldron boil and bake.
Eye of newt and toe of frog
Wool of bat and tongue of dog
For a charm of powerful trouble.
Like a hell broth boil and bubble!
Aha ha ha ha!

Hey you!

By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes!

Ha ha ha!

Oh, you secret, black and midnight hags. What is it you do? Oh, no!

Adder’s fork and blindworm’s sting!

Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing!

Double Double toil and trouble! Ha Ha Ha!

Oh, you’re so weird! What is that Evil Magic? Oh, no!

(An apparition appears from their cauldron. First a severed head with a helmet on, then it poofs and it is a scary baby, and then it poofs again and it is a cute little furry ANIMAL like jigglypuff with a branch in its hand.)


Oh, it’s cute! ...And horrible!


Ha ha ha—Huh?

(Insert some sort of action visual transition.)

(Back at the castle.)

No one born of a woman can beat me until Birnham wood comes to Dunsinane, and that’s impossible. I’m like invincible! OKAY!

(Enter DOCTOR.)

Your highness, you might want to see the queen, she’s been acting funny!

(Enter Lady Macbeth, she looks crazy and is washing her hands.)

Out, Out damn spot! Out I say! Oh, there’s blood on my hands, get it off, get it off!

Huh? Oh no!

If she washes her hands for much longer, she could DIE!

(Enter Servant.)

My lord, there’s a woods out there!

(Pause. Macbeth thinks.)

Is it… Birnham Wood?


Oh no!

My lord, the queen is dead. She killed herself of insanity and oversanitation, I’m calling it: INSANITARICIDE!

Huh? Oh, out out brief candle, life is but a poor player, a walking shadow who struts and frets his hour upon the stage, it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing…(pause. Blinks) Oh NO!


(Macbeth powers up and leaps through the roof of the castle. There are trees moving toward the castle.)


(MACDUFF jumps from the trees.)

Ah! Macbeth, you deserve my fury! You killed the king! And my family!

You may be right, but you may also be dead soon!

(They power up, their shirts fly off, we pan up over their rippling 18,000 pack stomach muscles. They collide in a fury of quick punching.)

Ha! You may as well know, Macduff, that no man born of a woman can defeat me, so deal with that!

You should know that I was cut prematurely from the womb! Ha ha ha.

You should also know that I can’t be defeated until Birnham word comes from Dunsinane!

(Macbeth is surrounded by the men hiding in the trees. He stops smiling. Blinks. And then looks around, he looks dejected)

Oh NO!

(Macduff smiles, laughs and punches off Macbeth’s head, Macduff lands on the ground and Macbeth’s head lands in the grass. Soldiers in the trees cheer. Close up on Macduff.)

Who’s the meanest?


Who’s the prettiest?


Who’s the baddest mo-fo, low-down around this town?


The shogun… of Scotland.

(A rainbow crosses the sky and flowers bloom. Roll Credits.)

Ian talks about his single person animation effort on the short.
A few days later, he found he had actual work to do that paid him money, so he had to throw in the towel.

Here is the trailer for the remounting of Great Moments.
It features footage from the original one-night production.
I cut this after I'd moved to California.