It's ironic that, on the eve of the arrival on the Duke campus of a young theater company and its acclaimed Cymbeline, the Duke Performances blog The Thread has published two frank, learned eviscerations of modern Shakespeare productions. Earlier this month, Adam Sobsey, who also hangs his hat at the Indy, threw down a gauntlet: "Shakespeare is bad for theater. Is there another art form so totally dominated by one figure? How can this be good for the art form?"
Kudos then, to Thread editor Brian Howe, who also contributes to the Indy, for publishing not only Sobsey's essay, but also a companion "amen with qualifications" from Akiva Fox of Durham's Haymaker performance company, who once labored in "the belly of the Shakespeare-Industrial complex." Look 'em up at thethread.dukeperformances.duke.edu.
Meanwhile, the young, recently minted MFAs from Brown University's acting conservatory who are Fiasco Theater have drawn glowing press in New York for their stripped-down, humorous, brisk and comprehensible renderings of Shakespeare's less-loved plays. Indeed, I had to click through three different admiring articles in The New York Times to find the Ben Brantley rave I was looking for: "A labyrinthine, continents-spanning, battle-packed, credulity-taking romance, set in the time of the Roman Empire, Cymbeline would seem to call for the scale and accoutrements of a Cecil B. DeMille epic," and yet, this version is "the clearest and most truly enchanting that I've seen."
After you read the Thread essays that rail against bad Shakespeare—or any Shakespeare—allow Fiasco to show you how it still can be done. The company kicks off a two-week residency in Durham with three performances this weekend before buckling down to work on a new version of another red-headed Shakespeare play, Measure for Measure, of which they'll give two workshop readings. —David Fellerath