Monthly Archives: September 2016

MICHAEL FEINGOLD: VACANCIES FOR THEATRE VISIONARIES (PART II) ·

Michael_feingold_2013_obie_awards

(Feingold’s article appeared on Theatermania, 9/16.)

Once upon a time, a young actor met an older playwright. That story might have many possible outcomes, but on this particular occasion, its results were extraordinary. The young actor's name was James Houghton, and he was cast in a play by Romulus Linney, at a grungy off-off-Broadway theater. Like many before him, he found Linney's playwriting of great interest, and wondered why this distinguished writer, with productions on Broadway and in other notable venues to his credit, had so little public recognition that he was still working in a do-it-yourself showcase mode, focusing his own lights and folding his own programs.

But unlike those who had previously pondered that cultural question, Jim Houghton decided to do something about it. He scraped up some money — his actress wife had just done a dishwashing-detergent commercial, which helped — and put on, not a single production, but a season of plays by Romulus Linney, in, improbably, a Japanese calligraphy center on Bond Street. Some critics came, who knew the value of Linney's plays from previous encounters; I was one. A small public came. A reputation was launched. And suddenly there was a company, named Signature Theatre, which had a newly established tradition: to celebrate a different American playwright each year, by presenting a full season of his or her works, old and new. Traditions can be born very quickly, especially if everyone thinks they're a great idea.

http://www.theatermania.com/new-york-city-theater/news/michael-feingold-on-james-houghton-legacy_78391.html

Photo: Michael Feingold/Village Voice

‘VOICES THAT DESERVE TO BE HEARD’: WHEN THEATRE ART MEETS ACTIVISM ·

 

(Lyn Gardner’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/30.)

Political plays about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are repeatedly failing to reach American theatres. The US playwright Naomi Wallace is doing something about it – by setting sail for Gaza

It’s seldom, if ever, that a piece of theatre changes the world. But it can challenge the way we think about it and provide a forum to do so. As Simon Stephens observed in his Working Diary: “I don’t think that theatre has ever been more important. In a world dislocated and disengaged by technology, it is the one forum in which we are encouraged to sit next to people we have never met before and look in one direction and share a live experience that exercises our brains and our sense of aesthetic. It is necessarily a mirror to ourselves. The responsibility of the artist is to decide what that mirror will show and how it will allow the light to fall.”

Naomi-wallace

That’s true, but it’s rare to come across a piece of theatre, such as Chris Thorpe’s Confirmation, which really makes you question what you think. Or a show that so enrages you that it sends you back out into the world determined to actually do something. The urge to feel “useful and not just decorative” – as someone put itduring the 2008-09 Gaza war – is a strong one for increasing numbers of theatre-makers, for whom art and activism are entwined. Their lives, politics and practice are one and the same, feeding into each other. Unlike previous generations of political playwrights who saw their plays as a means of excavating the state of the nation and the world, these are artists for whom making theatre and being involved in politics are intrinsically related and for whom direct action can be part of their artistic practice.

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/theatreblog/2016/sep/30/theatre-art-activism-freedom-flotilla

Photo: Naomi Wallace/American Theatre

ISHINHA SET FOR STUNNING FINAL SHOW (JAPAN) ·

(Andrew Eglinton’s and Mika Eglinton’s article appeared in the Japan Times, 9/27.)

Performing on deserted beaches and in villages, temples, dockland warehouses and urban railyards, few theater companies can have traversed the range of landscapes and settings that have inspired Osaka-based Ishinha.

Yet though journeys real and imagined have been key themes in Ishinha’s recent works, with the death of its founder and artistic director, Yukichi Matsumoto, in June at age 69, its members have decided the company, too, has sadly run its course.

Next month, however, with Matsumoto presiding in spirit, Ishinha (meaning “revolutionary or radical change”) will perform its final piece, titled “Amahara” (“Heaven Field”), in the grounds of the eighth-century Heijo Palace in Nara.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/stage/

AGNES NIXON, CREATOR OF ‘ALL MY CHILDREN’ AND ‘ONE LIFE TO LIVE,’ DIES AT 93 ·

 

(Cynthia Littleton’s article appeared in Variety, 9/28; via Pam Green.)

Agnes Nixon, known as the grande dame of daytime drama for creating, writing, and producing soap operas including “All My Children,” “One Life to Live” and “Search for Tomorrow,” died Wednesday in Rosemont, Pa. She was 93.

Nixon had been suffering complications from Parkinson’s disease, the New York Times reported.

The prolific producer was highly regarded as a pioneer for women in television who transformed the traditional soap opera by weaving real-world issues into her shows. Nixon famously modeled the fictional Pine Valley setting of “All My Children” on the suburban region where she lived outside Philadelphia. She kept her home base there even as the TV production company she ran with her husband, Robert Nixon, expanded.

http://variety.com/2016/tv/news/agnes-nixon-dead-dies-all-my-children-one-life-to-live-1201873095/

‘A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM’ AT BORD GAIS ENERGY THEATRE, DUBLIN ·

(Peter Crawley’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 9/29.) 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream ★★★★ Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin

Where are we now? Shakespeare’s comedy of escape, transformation and radically fickle desire always whisks its misaligned young lovers away from the suffocating court into a moonlit forest of meddling fairies, where anything seems possible.

desire always whisks its misaligned young lovers away from the suffocating court into a moonlit forest of meddling fairies, where anything seems possible.

In this fantastically raucous treatment from Lyric Hammersmith and Filter Theatre – veering between freewheeling improv, original verse and blistering live music – we find a more contemporary playground.

The enfolding white walls of Hyemi Shin’s set may make playful allusions to Peter Brook, but directors Sean Holmes and Stef O’Driscoll are far more likely to charge through them. As beer cans and pop-up tents jostle with spandex costumes and suggestively sprayed arcs of enchanting “love juice”, the libidinous celebration of the play looks giddily familiar. We’re at a music festival.

http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/stage/a-midsummer-night-s-dream-review-the-rude-mechanicals-run-the-show-1.2810377

JENNIFER KIDWELL AND SCOTT SHEPPARD: ‘UNDERGROUND RAILROAD GAME’ (SV PICK, NY) ·

(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York Time, 9/26; via Pam Green.)

Our “safe word” for today is “Sojourner.”

Those three syllables are the gift of Teacher Stuart and Teacher Caroline to their fifth-grade students in Hanover, Pa., to be used in moments of distress during an especially adventurous history project. “Sojourner,” boys and girls, is what you say when you find yourself way outside your comfort zone and need to take a break.

It’s a fairly, uh, safe bet that you will find yourself tempted to cry “Sojourner” on many occasions before the end of “Underground Railroad Game,” the in-all-ways sensational play that opened on Monday night at Ars Nova. Just don’t expect anyone to have mercy on you.

As you may have gathered from its title and its safe word (which refers to the 19th-century African-American abolitionist Sojourner Truth), “Underground Railroad Game” is about slavery. More specifically, this lacerating comedy from the Lightning Rod Special troupe in Philadelphia is about finding ways to speak to one another about an unspeakable American institution a century and a half after its official end.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/27/theater/underground-railroad-game-review.html?em_pos=large&emc=edit_cu_20160928&nl=theater-update&nlid=68469194&ref=headline&te=1&_r=0

‘THE NEW YORKER’ THEATRE LISTINGS, 10/3 ·

OPENINGS AND PREVIEWS

 BATTLEFIELD

BAM's Harvey Theatre

Three decades after his epic version of “The Mahabharata,” Peter Brook stages this hour-long piece (co-directed with Marie-Hélène Estienne) drawn from the Sanskrit poem. Through Oct. 9.

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THE CHERRY ORCHARD

American Airlines Theatre

The Roundabout presents a new adaptation of the Chekhov play by Stephen Karam (“The Humans”), directed by Simon Godwin and starring Diane Lane, Tavi Gevinson, Joel Grey, Chuck Cooper, and John Glover. In previews.

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THE ENCOUNTER

Golden

Simon McBurney conceived, directs, and performs this theatrical event, in which the audience members wear headphones as three-dimensional soundscapes re-create a 1969 journey into the Brazilian rain forest. In previews. Opens Sept. 29.

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FALSETTOS

Walter Kerr

James Lapine directs a revival of the 1992 musical, with a score by William Finn, in which an unconventional family navigates gay life, AIDS, and bar mitzvahs in Koch-era Manhattan. With Christian Borle, Andrew Rannells, and Stephanie J. Block. Previews begin Sept. 29.

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FIT FOR A QUEEN

3LD Art & Technology Center

The Classical Theatre of Harlem stages a new play by Betty Shamieh (“The Black Eyed”), inspired by the life of Hatshepsut, a woman who ruled as pharaoh in ancient Egypt. In previews. Opens Oct. 7.

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THE FRONT PAGE

Broadhurst

Nathan Lane, John Slattery, John Goodman, Jefferson Mays, Sherie Rene Scott, Holland Taylor, and Robert Morse star in Jack O’Brien’s revival of the 1928 comedy, about Chicago newspapermen on the crime beat. In previews.

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HEISENBERG

Samuel J. Friedman

Mary-Louise Parker and Denis Arndt reprise their roles in Simon Stephens’s drama, about two strangers who cross paths at a London train station. Mark Brokaw directs the Manhattan Theatre Club production. In previews.

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HOLIDAY INN

Studio 54

A new musical from the Roundabout, featuring the songs of Irving Berlin and based on the classic 1942 film; Bryce Pinkham and Corbin Bleu fill in, respectively, for Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. In previews. Opens Oct. 6.

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A LIFE

Playwrights Horizons

In Adam Bock’s play, directed by Anne Kauffman, David Hyde Pierce plays a man who recovers from a breakup by looking for answers in astrological charts. In previews.

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LOVE, LOVE, LOVE

Laura Pels

The Roundabout stages a new play by Mike Bartlett (“King Charles III”), in which a London couple (Amy Ryan and Richard Armitage) meet in the sixties and weather the next four decades together. Michael Mayer directs. In previews.

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OH, HELLO ON BROADWAY

Lyceum

An evening with Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland, two Alan Alda-obsessed Upper West Side geezers played by the comedians Nick Kroll and John Mulaney. Alex Timbers directs. In previews. Opens Oct. 10.

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PLENTY

Public

In David Leveaux’s revival of the David Hare drama, last seen at the Public in 1982, Rachel Weisz plays a British secret agent adjusting to everyday life after working in Nazi-occupied France. In previews.

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PUBLIC ENEMY

Pearl

Hal Brooks directs David Harrower’s adaptation of Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People,” in which a doctor discovers that his town’s main tourist attraction is toxic. In previews. Opens Oct. 9.

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THE ROADS TO HOME

Cherry Lane

Primary Stages presents Horton Foote’s 1982 play about three women in Houston in the nineteen-twenties, directed by Michael Wilson and featuring the playwright’s daughter Hallie Foote. Opens Oct. 5.

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SELL / BUY / DATE

City Center Stage II

Sarah Jones (“Bridge & Tunnel”) performs a new multicharacter solo show exploring the commercial sex industry, directed by Carolyn Cantor for Manhattan Theatre Club. In previews.

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SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER

Clurman

The Actors Company Theatre revives the eighteenth-century comedy by Oliver Goldsmith, in which a young lady poses as a barmaid to appeal to a shy suitor. Scott Alan Evans directs. In previews.

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SONGS OF LEAR

BAM Fisher

At the Next Wave Festival, Poland’s Song of the Goat Theatre performs this song cycle, derived from “King Lear” and polyphonic Corsican chanting. Sept. 28-Oct. 1.

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STUFFED

McGinn/Cazale

The comedian Lisa Lampanelli wrote and stars in a play that braids together the stories of four women with food issues. Jackson Gay directs WP Theatre’s production. In previews. Opens Oct. 7.

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THAT GOLDEN GIRLS SHOW!

DR2

A parody of the beloved Miami-set sitcom, with puppets re-creating the adventures of Sophia, Dorothy, Blanche, and Rose. In previews. Opens Oct. 3.

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TICK, TICK . . . BOOM!

Acorn

Keen Company revives this autobiographical musical by Jonathan Larson (“Rent”), about a composer on the verge of turning thirty. Jonathan Silverstein directs. In previews.

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VIETGONE

City Center Stage I

Manhattan Theatre Club stages a play by Qui Nguyen, directed by May Adrales, about two Vietnam War refugees (based on the playwright’s parents) in a relocation camp in Arkansas. In previews.

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http://www.newyorker.com/goings-on-about-town/theatre

PARIS FINALLY BOWS TO THE IMPORTANCE OF OSCAR WILDE ·

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(Fiachra Gibbon’s article appeared on Yahoo, 9/28; via the Drudge Report.)

Paris (AFP) – It has taken more than a century, but France is finally paying fulsome tribute to Oscar Wilde, the writer who died penniless in a fleapit Paris hotel saying, "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go."

The first major exhibition in the French capital on the Irish wit and playwright opens on Wednesday.

Its "hugely touching" final rooms chart his tragic end in the city, exiled and disgraced aged only 46.

Wilde fled to Paris in 1897 after being hounded out of England having served two years in jail with hard labour for his doomed love for Lord Alfred Douglas.

His grandson Merlin Holland, who has helped put the show together, said it is "still very hard to read" some of his letters written on blue prison paper "where Oscar is on his knees" begging for clemency.

https://www.yahoo.com/news/paris-finally-bows-importance-oscar-wilde-090507496.html

SHELAGH DELANEY: ‘A TASTE OF HONEY’ (EXTENDED TO OCT. 30–REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

When Shelagh Delaney was 18, in 1958, she wrote A Taste Honey, now running at the Pearl Theatre, extended until October 30.  The play, an act of adolescent rebellion, integrates disparate issues and themes, from mothers to race; men to sex and motherhood to gays and abortion; from Shakespeare (“he said everything, didn’t he?) to theatre and movies (“mauling and muttering, can’t hear what they’re saying half the time. . . . ”). She had failed her 11-plus exams four times and spent her Saturdays at the movies, where she may have seen films like the ones mentioned or referred to in her play:  I was a Teenage WerewolfThe Ten Commandments, The Wizard of Oz, and Desire Under the Elms.  When the legendary director Joan Littlewood, who championed English working-class plays and Brechtian technique, read this “slice of life” (in a positive review, Harold Clurman used that descriptor), she said, “Delaney knows what she is angry about”—which was probably everything. But she is also comparing the author to John Osborne and the angry young men of British theatre.  Graham Green weighed in on this count, too, saying that A Taste of Honey has “all the freshness of Mr. Osborne’s Look Back in Anger and a greater maturity.”

“A northern [English] sense of humor, lack of sentimentality, and robust approach” is how actress Lesley Sharp, who starred in the play in 2014, extemporizes on A Taste of Honey.  Professor Nadine Holdsworth, from the University of Warwick, calls the language: “quick, sharp, witty banter.”  When looking at footage or photos of Delaney, during this period, she seems knowing and well-mannered but slightly mischievous, too, impatient, or “restless,” as she would probably describe herself. She’s a large-eyed, soft-voiced perfect storm for a director like Austin Pendleton, who leads the current New York production of A Taste of Honey, because, on the page, she’s all sass and spunk and her lines move so fast. She forces Pendleton to keep up with her in his staging, the opinionated eighteen-year-old whose memory is like the NSA, and the actor’s director, with a penchant for British theatre.  They both win.

Delaney did not often allow her first play to be produced (she died in 2011) and her daughter had never seen a staged version until she was an adult. This may have helped the unsentimental drama become sentimentalized over the years, after having been a play in the UK and the U.S., a movie, and fodder for a musical standard:  Tony Richardson directed the New York production, as well as the classic, Bafta-winning film (for the movie, its screenplay, and the actresses), and he co-wrote the hit song, from which he never recouped royalties (he did not share credit; Bobby Scot and Ric Marlow did).  Many artists have recorded A Taste of Honey, including The Beatles, Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, and Herb Alpert (who uses a quick tempo similar to the one heard at the Pearl, where the tune is played onstage by a Beat Trilby-wearing jazz trio who remain on stage (they are guitarist Phil Faconti, trumpeter Max Boiko, with mute, and bassist Walter Stinson.  The lyrics to the song probably do not allude to Jo’s point of view, in ways that other popular songs, based on British dramatic material, did during the sixties and seventies, such as “Somewhere My Love” (Dr. Zhivago), “It Was a Good Time” (Ryan’s Daughter), or Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Too Beautiful to Last” (Nicholas and Alexandra).  The repeated line in the song, “I will return,” comes from and refers to the sailor who leaves Jo, the eighteen-year-old girl, and the young man on the boat is an enduring image from the film. The misty longing is momentary, though, and there is no serious consideration of his coming back—or for Jo to run after him.

The Brechtian impulse was lost as the play transitioned to New York and the screen, too. Richardson felt that Littlewood’s “policy of mixing working-class drama with pub vitality and vaudeville songs” did not integrate well in A Taste of Honey—he thought they made the play seem “coarse and forcedly jolly.”  He also believed that film could only be a realistic medium. The black-and-white film that emerged, despite its lower-class milieu, is an example of Free Style Cinema, and is expertly photographed by its founder, Walter Lassally, with “a minimum of equipment, real locations, and a natural, unmade-up look.” Casting became immediately critical.  Rita Tushingham won the part of Jo, playing against the formidable Dora Bryan, and she was the right age; Joan Plowright, who starred in the role on Broadway, and won a Tony Award for it, was a world-renowned actress—but was thirty-one years old.  No need to feel bad for Plowright, though. Interestingly, Austin Pendleton, would write a comedy about her, Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, Kenneth Tynan, and Vivian Leigh, set while A Taste of Honey was entering popular culture.  The play is Orson’s Shadow (2003). Welcome to the 1960s.

Delaney had written about what would matter to Americans during that decade, even though there wasn’t much chance to salvage Jo’s life in Manchester (Harry Feiner’s scenic design, at the Pearl, shows the roofs of the tenements in the city, as well as the dirty interior the two women inhabit).  Some might compare A Taste of Honey to another Broadway show, which premiered in 1959, also set along the fringes of show business, with a domineering mother and her new boyfriend, as well as a daughter who runs off with a young man. A Taste of Honey, however, is no Gypsy, even though it prefigures the Kander and Ebb musical (such as Cabaret), because Jo will never be able to beat the English social system. In fact, Delaney barely could get out herself and remained a Marxist.  Not that one producer didn’t try to fix the play’s structure, which actually is a problem with the work.  According to Tony Richardson, in his autobiography The Long-Distance Runner, Darryl Zanuck “was interested in me directing it . . . on one condition: ‘a happy ending’.  It has a happy ending—Jo is happy waiting for her baby to be born.” Zanuck: “That’s the point—the baby’s gotta die, and Mother and girl go off to a better life.”  Richardson said no, thank you.

Jo is encased in her class, and her happy ending would be a dubious one in The United States.  She does realize that there might be more elsewhere, but she makes fun of the book about her namesake when she says that her guide on having a baby sounds like Little Women.   Delaney also may be making a reference to A Member of the Wedding when she talks about going on her mother’s honeymoon: “Can’t I come with you?” Delaney regains her senses against the pipe dream of becoming an artist, like Louisa May Alcott or Carson McCullers.  She doesn’t allow the flower bulbs she has kept to blossom, and she won’t let Jo go to school to become an artist.  The audience sees the similarities between the mother, a “semi-whore” and daughter, and both are cynical (a quality of those who live in Salford, according to Delaney) and fatalistic: “Don’t think.  It doesn’t do you any good.”

  Taste

At the Pearl, Rachel Botchan, as Helen, is ready to dance, and Delaney provides her with asides, direct addresses to the audience, and songs.  When she retakes her rooms at the end of the play, however, she has become a destroyer and, we see how her daughter deserves to hate her.  Botchan deploys dainty savagery–and, even for those who know the play, this can seem unexpected. Impressive also is Rebekah Brockman, who gives us Jo’s poignant side, which would be expected.  However, despite the weight of the milieu, she allows Delaney’s wicked humor to come through in a way that lets theatregoers laugh out loud.  Brockman plays a scene with her gay roommate, Geoffrey (John Evans Reese, who does not rely on stereotypes), which centers on the idea that Jo’s father may have been unintelligent.  This is funny, suddenly, and it also shows how Delaney looks at issues from many angles, typically working from many tentative points of view. Bradford Cover plays Helen’s younger lover, a small-time Romeo ready to fly at a moment’s notice, a thin man starting a pot belly.  Jimmy, the sailor, is played by Ade Otukoya, who, at one point, is placed downstage center and seated, the action spinning around him.  He allows us to see what young love is—he may not be faithful, or truthful, but no one can say that Jo should not have become involved with him.

Both

Alan Brien, writing in The Spectator, in the ‘50s, saw in A Taste of Honey “an adolescent contempt for logic or form or practicability upon a stage.” What he didn’t see was the challenge of putting a young woman’s gritty aesthetic on the stage, one that can make a very good contemporary play like Bachelorette, by Leslye Headland, recently seen at Walkerspace, in a good production, seem much more degenerate than A Taste of Honey (which is actually something Headland might agree with). Of course, the plays present two different worlds—postwar Britain and present-day, corporatized America, but many of the issues are the same, if not universal, and the feminism that Jo needed, seems to have been let down or erroneously redirected, if it is judged by Headland’s work. The screwed up, narcissistic young wedding-party crashers in Bachelorette are takers; Jo is a giver: “Blessings light upon you. If I had half a crown a day, I’d gladly give it to you.” This does not mean that Jo is naïve, which is how the women in Bachelorette might size her up. Actually, she is clear about her own mind. Delaney wrote A Taste of Honey in two weeks, in 1958, because she was angered by the insidious lives of those portrayed in drawing room comedies, specifically one by Terence Rattigan. She felt she could do better. May contemporary theatre find a Shelagh Delaney to do better for us and may her kind of anger continue to force the issue.

Highly Recommended.

Visit the Pearl Theatre at: http://www.pearltheatre.org/

© 2016 by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.

Photos from the Pearl Theatre production.

Press: John Wyszniewski and Rachael Shearer at Blake Zidell & Associates.

MARGARET ATWOOD ON REWRITING SHAKESPEARE’S ‘TEMPEST’ ·

(Atwood’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/24.)

Whenever people ask me that inevitable question, “Who’s your favourite author?” I always say “Shakespeare”. There are some good reasons for that. First, so much of what we know about plots, characters, the stage, fairies and inventive swearwords comes from Shakespeare. Second, if you name a living author the other living authors will be mad at you because it isn’t them, but Shakespeare is conveniently dead.

Third, Shakespeare refuses to be boxed in. Not only do we know very little about what he really thought, felt and believed, but the plays themselves are elusive. Just when you think you’ve got a meaning nailed down, your interpretation melts like jelly and you’re left scratching your head. Maybe he’s deep, very deep. Or maybe he didn’t have a continuity editor. And Shakespeare will never turn up on a talkshow and be asked to explain himself, the lucky devil.

Shakespeare is infinitely interpretable. We’ve had a fascist Richard III, we’ve had a Canadian First Nations Macbeth, we’ve had a Tempest with a female Prospero called Prospera, starring Helen Mirren. In the 18th century they had a Tempestopera, which used only a third of Shakespeare’s original text. Caliban had a sister called Sycorax, Miranda had a sister called Dorinda, and there was an extra young man so Dorinda would have someone to marry.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/sep/24/margaret-atwood-rewriting-shakespeare-tempest-hagseed