I knew it would only be a matter of time before I would have to turn my attention to this subject.
Let’s talk Shakespeare.
Or more specifically, let’s talk about the Shakespearean twist.
It seems that any production of Shakespeare in today’s day and age needs to have a twist. Henry V as the 1969 Stanley cup playoffs. Othello in the deep South. MacBeth as a godfather style gangster fantasy- Shakespeare continues to be set in alternate places and timelines on a daily basis. (All these shows were REAL and brought to life by my former teacher Rod Carley who has become notorious for his Shakespearean twists.)
I myself am guilty of writing and directing a Shakespearean twist (as a jukebox musical no less!)
They’ve become ubiquitous, so that anytime someone says they’re putting on a Shakespeare show, I must fight the reaction to ask “as what.” But Scott Moyle has done something beyond a simple tweak of the setting. As the able director of “All’s Well That Ends Well” he has made a fiercely feminist production that incorporates modern queer with antiquated text to make something fiercely interesting and layered.
First off, to direct in the round is hard enough- this is staging in a living, vibrant park. The whole play has a sense of life and levity because the audience is remaining in perpetual motion which makes the production more engaging. The audience moves and folds effortlessly into the show as the actors can appear from anywhere at any given time. With so much unpredictability constantly erupting around the stage, the actors need to be commended for their ability to perform in such an open and public space. The nature of the beast of course demands them fight the very forces of nature so it’s impossible to catch every line, but they still manage to convey the narrative well. They are working so hard to be seen and heard, and have risen marvelously to the challenge.
There is so much here to praise. The creativity of the staging. The simple yet effective costumes. The entire park as venue is raising the bar on all other outdoor Shakespeare that it will make it hard to go back to other, lesser forms.
Now, there are definitely challenges with the text that cannot be understated. Every Shakespearean production faces challenges with being able to get the audience to understand what is being said and this is no exception. It is a wall of understanding that can make it hard to get behind any production- even the most popular ones. This being a lesser known script; doubly so. On top of that, Scott is taking a script and bending it to make it more closely fit into a modern day context to strip back some of the more, shall we say, outdated moments?
Now, adapting text with such a clear motive to alter a story is unbelievably difficult. Adaptation is tricky. Take out the wrong thing and the entire message is lost. Include too much, and you can damage what you are trying to say. Going into this production with a very clear agenda means that they must bend and shape the text to get it to mean things that it wasn’t originally meant to. Such a feat is not to be understated as it is incredibly difficult and skillfully done. As someone who had always skipped past this play to more popular pastures, I can reflect back on the script and realize that what Scott has done is nothing short of witchcraft. He has taken the script and made it new. It should be impossible, but he has done it.
Which brings me back to my thoughts of the world of Shakespeare adaptations. Does the world really need a queer retelling of Alls Well That Ends Well? The production isn’t flawless. I feel like many jokes could have benefited from a more earnest telling of the story. There are a few characters who especially suffer in service to the script and, despite their able portrayal by the actor, are continually shortchanged.
But this production shows just how far you can push the text and still have something thoroughly enjoyable, coherent and exceptional. As fine as everything is in this show, the fact that he hasn’t just uprooted a script and plopped it into the setting of the week- he has taken the script, bent it to his will and revealed layers that no one else has uncovered before. He is doing Shakespeare in a way that is actually groundbreaking and subversive, and the titanic feat is not to be understated.
I hope that next time Scott tells someone he is working on this script, and they ask him ‘as what’, he’ll respond with “a masterclass of textual adaptation” before he drops the mic and sashay’s away.