William Shakespeare is without doubt the most popular playwright in the United States. His plays are performed in theaters, schools, parks and many other venues all year round. Shakespeare festivals have mushroomed, especially in the past decade, so that there is hardly a major city or region without its own Bard event. VOA's Zlatica Hoke takes us to the second oldest Shakespeare festival in this country, in Boulder, Colorado.
"Alas poor Yorick, I knew him. He was a fellow of infinite jest…"
A well-known grave scene from Shakespeare's tragedy, "Hamlet." The young Danish prince holds the skull of his father's court jester Yorick and reminisces about his happy childhood. But in the current comedy titled "Shakespeare in Briefs," that famous graveyard scene gets a new interpretation.
"…of……ah…of most excellent fancy and …..fun! He hath born me on his back a thousand times and……. I enjoyed riding on his back. Here are those lips, which I have kissed a thousand times…."
"I would not kiss those lips…"
And as the scene evolves, a coffin opens to reveal Count Dracula, or rather - Shakespeare, who like the fictional vampire gets up at midnight to feed on human blood. "Shakespeare is just like Dracula. "You just can't kill him. He's been around for 500 years and he won't die, says Anthony Marble, one of four actors performing in this summer's world premiere of "Shakespeare in Briefs" in Boulder, Colorado. "So many horrible concepts and festivals and ridiculous things that have been done to him, ridiculous movie versions and you can't kill the guy. He is timeless," he says.
Many things indeed have been done to Shakespeare in this play. In "Shakespeare in Briefs," characters from his plays share the stage with those from recent history: actress Marilyn Monroe and president John Kennedy, Hitler and his companion Eva Braun, Archie and Edith Bunker from the TV series "All in the Family," rock and pop musicians Sonny and Cher, and the Osbornes. A fighting scene from "The Taming of the Shrew," for example, ends with Katherine and Petruccio being taken off the stage on stretchers, in a setting reminiscent of the "M.A.S.H" television series.
The Colorado Shakespeare Festival is in its 45th season. It is located on the University of Colorado campus in Boulder. The festival's director Richard Devin says the company of 200 includes recently graduated actors, technicians and designers, some of them from other countries. "One of the things I love about that is that we get a large number of recently trained, very enthusiastic, high energy talent, who are anxious to do anything you give them to do and they enjoy playing large roles, small roles medium-size roles," he says.
The four actors in "Shakespeare in Briefs" exhibit that kind of energy and enthusiasm. They were able to add their own ideas to the script and they often change them from performance to performance. Anthony Marble and James Esely, who usually play classical Shakespearean roles, say they really enjoy this slapstick comedy.
Marble: "The four idiots that we are, and we are complete idiots, [we thought] wouldn't it be funny if you just gave us broad swards, rapiers and daggers and let us hack each other to bits."
Esely:"Especially, Dracula who's just come into the troupe, just now, and Vlad the Impaler [Dracula], known for his destructive sort with all kinds of weapons, we put him on a stage with three other actors and let's see what happens."
Marble:"We take the safety issue very seriously. And then it all just, kind of, disintegrates with each fight. We do a scene of Shakespeare and the ensuing fight, and basically limbs get hacked off and really basic slapstick stuff [happens] - knee to the groin, [someone] hacked in the head….."
The Colorado Shakespeare Festival offers three classical Shakespeare plays each summer. They are performed in a 1,000 seat open-air theater built in the 1930s. In the past decade, the company has been showing an additional parallel play, usually a comedy, in a smaller indoor theater. This year, it's "Shakespeare in Briefs." Boulder's Debbie Taylor has been coming to see all of them for almost thirty years. "This one, I think, Shakespeare would have enjoyed because it takes a lot of the current and interesting things going on. It takes a lot of spoof from what the audience would enjoy and would spoof, and turns it into an interesting play or an interesting time," she says.
"In Shakespeare's plays you can find drunks, ghosts, teenagers running away from home, boy who gets girl pregnant, boy who loses girl, king who loses everything, woman caressing her lover's body minus its head, woman caressing her lover's head minus its body, weddings and celebrations, murder by stabbing, decapitation and suffocation and drowning. He wrote of all the world, for all of us. And he knew his audience: mean!"
At the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in Boulder, this is the world premiere of "Shakespeare in Briefs," a new comedy by John Dennis.