Friday, July 24, 2015

I Changed my Mind About: Shakespeare

I am happily surrounded by The Intelligentsia.

My husband Jeremy is extremely bright. So are all members of our extended family. My friends are also highly intelligent.

I always befriend people smarter than me.

When I say smart in this context, I mean book smart and IQ smart. I'm smart that way too. However, in a nutshell, I need more support than my friends do around learning stuff.

It may seem that I am putting myself down.  I am not.

There are multiple intelligences. What I may lack in numerical skills I make up for in the humanities. I have a little more street smarts. The common sense I possess is an endlessly applicable skill. I think I am off the charts for creativity. I have emotional intelligence. I am a deep thinker. I think well on my feet. If you have an emergency, you want me around.

I am self-aware. I don't imprint things as quickly as Jeremy and some of my peers. I use notes and organization and electronics to help myself so that my level of functioning is high. I call this scaffolding.

All of that said, I am often blown away by the sheer brain-power of those I spend time with.

It is no accident that I surround myself with smart people. Most of the time this is a good thing. But there are small things about it that present some issues.

If you have enough smart people in one place, it is inevitable that there will eventually be a movement afoot to go see some Shakespeare.

Oftentimes, extremely intelligent people like nothing better than going to see Shakespeare. If you are this smart, than chances are that Romeo and Juliet is not your favorite Shakespeare play. In fact, every extremely smart person I have met says that it is their least favorite and most problematic.

There are things that happen before the Shakespeare play. There are things that happen during the play.

Before the play, smart people like reading a synopsis. They are reading the synopsis either to refresh their memory because it's been quite some time since they’ve read A Midsummer Nights Dream, or because it is a rare, obscure work that no one has read.

If smart people are together before the Shakespeare play, they will often gather around while one person reads the synopsis aloud.

During the actual performance, smart people pay close attention and seem rapt. They will laugh uproariously at a witty turn of phrase or the bawdy women. They don't mind the difficult plot turns. They don't mind what looks like overacting. They don't mind the weird fake, shrill laughing the actors are doing.

The most intelligent among us quote from Shakespeare spontaneously from an enormous bank of memorized phrases to fit the real life situation. It can be a bit startling because one minute you're having a normal conversation about dinner and the next someone is speaking very fancifully.

I'm going to come clean. I am not a fan of Shakespeare. But there is one play of his that I really like. That play is Romeo and Juliet.

This was assigned reading in 10th grade English. When I read it at home, I couldn't make heads or tails of it. But when we read it in class, with discussion and livening up from the teacher Ms. Hughes, that really made a connection.

The English teacher was also the drama teacher. She'd get up on the desks and act out all the parts. We got to go on a field trip for a screening of Zefferelli’s screen adaptation. Since we were watching with a Catholic school class, the projectionist covered up Romeo's naked butt.

There is nothing like going to see 15 year old Olivia Hussey in Romeo and Juliet when you are in fact 15 years old. She is my age and she is having a relationship.

I have built up an extremely positive relationship with Romeo and Juliet because of school and other reasons.

On the same day as the field trip, my next-door neighbor who became our across-the-street-neighbor had a baby girl after having three boys. The dad was driving down the street a little recklessly with excitement and pulled over to tell me the news. He said that the doctor played a trick on him and initially told him the baby was a boy.

I knew my life was about to change because every time our next-door/across-the-street-neighbors had a baby, I'd spend as much time at their house as possible.

I think that more smart people probably love Romeo and Juliet but no one wants to admit it.

You will never see me more bored than before and during a Shakespeare play. It starts during the reading of the synopsis. Sitting in a chair while someone reads about the play already has my eyes glazing over and it hasn't even started yet. I know I'm in trouble because the synopsis will seem interminably long.

The mind crushing boredom continues as I watch the play and pretend I don't hate the wenches and wonder why everyone is laughing. All of this laughing until you cry and knee slapping  looks a little like Shakespeare play posturing.

If I want funny I'll watch something with Amy Schumer in it or, reruns of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

You'd think that with my abiding and somewhat confounding interest in British Royalty I'd have more connection with Shakespeare. Unfortunately, my interest begins with Queen Victoria and ends right after Princess Diana.

I am common.

Early in my relationship with Jeremy, I got roped into more Shakespeare than I do now. I wanted to impress him.

Some time after we were married, I admitted that I did not like it. Jeremy did not divorce me because of my other more irresistible qualities.

The one bright spot was when Jeremy and I went to see a Shakespeare play put on by Shakespeare & Company at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s home in the Berkshires. There I saw a young Keanu Reeves, flitting about and jumping on the lawn right in front of me. The whole thing sparkled. It was a beautiful day. My mother in law packed wine with a sweet effervescence and some really amazing cheese and crackers.

But all other times, no.

So recently some extremely smart friends of ours suggested going to see some Shakespeare at a nearby park. They were performing Henry IV, one of his lesser-known works.

I agreed to go. I agreed to go because I really wanted to see our friends. I agreed to go because my imagination was being used up on other matters and I didn't want to have to suggest alternatives. I agreed to go because it was a 10-minute walk from my home. I agreed to go because it was free. I agreed to go because afterwards we would go out for dinner and have actual fun.

I agreed to go because of something I do once in a while. It's an activity I call taking one for the team. I can take one for the team. Once I have identified that I am on fact taking one for the team, I feel better about it.

Also, a couple of times I took one for the team and it really worked out. I enjoyed the movie about Moses and the action film with Tom Cruise much more than I thought it would.

It was a lovely evening. Jeremy and I got a great spot. Rock music was playing on the sound system. The weather was beautiful. But I began to worry about the boredom factor.

I asked Jeremy to do something very specific. While we were waiting for our friends, I asked him to read the synopsis silently to himself. Then he was to give me a very brief overview, in layman's terms and lasting no more than a minute or two.

He began reading the synopsis aloud. I reminded him firmly that he was to read it silently to himself. Jeremy did, and then did a beautiful job of summing things up. He even modernized it a bit. I felt like it sounded okay.

As I leafed through the program I perked up when I realized that a neighbor of ours who we are acquainted with would be in the performance. This acquaintance already has British accent, which puts him ahead of the game. He has cut quite the figure as the MC of the nursery school live auction. He also showed that same bold presence, as his booming voice said be quiet to my then three-year-old son at the aforementioned nursery school that his better-behaved daughters also attended.

I then proceeded to cultivate a positive attitude toward the play or pretend to look forward to it depending on how you want to look at the situation.

A few minutes into it, I felt myself changing my mind about Shakespeare.

Some mind changing that I do is big and spectacular. This was not one of those times. I would call this mind changing the beginning of something, a slow burn or a slight spark.

I'd love to say that the power of the acting or the production took me to a new place. This was not the case.

The acting was uneven. Some was good. Some was labored.  It made me realize how difficult it is to act in a Shakespeare play. Even going off book is hard. The production was stripped down and could have used a bigger budget.

The bawdy women bothered me. Can't they just be natural? What's with the shrill Hahahahaha that's way too loud and mannered? Is this necessary?

The setting and the company were indeed lovely. But it wasn't that either.

Jeremy's brief synopsis helped me follow the story but I wasn't slavish about it. Since I was taking one for the team, I made myself as comfortable as I could. I did some subtle yoga moves to keep myself from getting too bored or too stiff sitting on my blanket.

Since I wasn't trying to follow too closely, I let the words and the language roll over me like I do when I read poetry. This seemed to be key.

I am a person who loves words. Words are my palette. When I look like I am searching for a word, that isn't so. What happens is that often five or more appropriate words will come up for something I am saying. I need a moment to sift through to find the best one.

The part of me that is like this, liked the language I heard. It was often aesthetically pleasing, and sometimes that was my sole focus. Other times, it would be like the sharp sound the bat makes when it hits the ball. It would make something clear and brilliant and meaningful the way regular English cannot.

I'll so offend to make offense a skill. Like light refracting through a prism, this phrase opened up another world for me. I also enjoyed the concept of the Bawdy House, a place referred to many times.

There was one passage so filthy dirty, so raunchy, so R-bordering-on-X-rated for language and sexual content that it left me both shocked and enamored. It was nasty. Good nasty.

So I found that I was mostly not bored.

Part one of the play was very long. There was an intermission. I geared myself up for more Shakespeare. I hoped I could keep boredom at bay. I hoped Shakespeare could.

Then a wonderful thing happened. The play was deemed too long by the three intelligent people! So we left and went out for dinner!

These smart people showed some remarkable common sense.

Leaving on a high note, a technique I use with my son Noah, works it's magic for me too. Two hours was enough Shakespeare. I liked what I heard. For the first time, my curiosity was piqued for more.

I see my future self on a picnic blanket with cheese and crackers. Instead of wine, perhaps it will be a cocktail, poured cold from a silver shaker, since Jeremy doesn't like wine. I am outdoors, not in Central Park, which sounds like its own set of problems, but maybe in the country. I'll skip the group synopsis, but have Jeremy do a quick, to the point overview just for me. A synopsis of a synopsis.

We will choose something preformed by a top theater company, with actors steeped in craft and near the top of their game. I'll let the words wash over me and see if anything sticks.

I'll try to ignore the wenches. I'll shift, stretch and accommodate. Hopefully those small moments will happen, when the cream rises to the top and washes all the ennui away.

This is the latest in a series about things I have changed my mind about.

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