Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rounding third, as you like it

I had to throw in a baseball metaphor there because our house, which is frequently All About Shakespeare is now also All About the Cincinnati Reds, my husband's favorite baseball team, along with whoever else beats the Yankees.

Anyhoo, we're almost finished with this semester's Shakespeare Workshop and I'm a little sad. I have really loved this play, in spite of the two DVD versions we've had to watch. There to the right, you can see the text copy of the play we're using from SparkNotes No Fear Shakespeare collection, along with the Cliff notes, which I am teaching the students to use in the proper manner, which means using them as a supplement to clarify what you're reading, not declining to read the actual assigned work, but rather doing the quick skim with the help of your good buddy, Cliff, the night before the quiz and then cringing in embarrassment when the professor hands back your paper with a scowl.

You can also see my little sprawl of DVDs and the huge pile of handouts I prepared for the class. My students just LOVE those. LOVE them.

We watched the BBC version (released in the United States by Ambrose Video) first and I'm sorry say that the whole class has finally reached the point where we all sit and openly mock this production. Poor Helen Mirren. She was just wasted in this piece of poo, and by "wasted" I do not mean that the poor girl was out of her senses with drink, although WHO COULD HAVE BLAMED HER? I myself thought I was going to have to fill an innocent water bottle with gin to drag my protesting senses through that last forty minutes, and all I had to do was watch the thing, not participate in it. It was rough, my friends.

The lowest point came when the actor playing Hymen came out to bless the happy couples, leading Celia and Rosalind by the hands, all three of them dressed in white. The two girls, of course, were arrayed in their wedding finery, complete with wreaths of flowers and gauzy trailing hippie peasant outfits and the only three things kept it from looking like that summer rock-n-roll party out on Mr. Yasgur's farm in 1969: 1) the lack of mud; 2) the lack of Jimi Hendrix; and 3) the lack of hallucinogens.

Hymen was wearing a bare-chested ensemble and was just....oh, help me. He just looked so weird, weird enough that some of the younger members of the class burst into laughter, covering their mouths with their hands and looking at each other in horrified delight. I tried to tell myself that he probably looked just fine back in 1978, but then I gave it up and called myself a liar. Off to confession with me! It was weird.

Shortly after that, the entire cast joined hands and began to do a festive little country dance, around and around in a shady glen. I began to think differently about the hallucinogens. The dance was shot straight-on from one camera angle so that the audience was treated to the visual of everyone's back and bottoms dancing by, dancing, dancing. Several members of the class laid their heads down on the table and howled. It was ludicrous.

The high point, though, was the two little boys singing "It was a lover and his lass" to Touchstone in the wide open field. The melody was so sweet and their soprano voices were so pure, it brought tears to my eyes, and honestly, watching that whole hot mess was worth it, just hearing that song. I tried to find it on YouTube for you all to hear, but either it's not there or I'm not searching correctly, but here, at least, are the lyrics.

It was a lover and his lass
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey-nonny-no,
That o'er the green cornfield did pass
In springtime, in springtime, the only pretty ring time
When birds do sing hey ding-a-ding-a-ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring

Between the acres of the rye
With a hey and a ho and a hey-nonny-no,
These pretty country folks would lie
In springtime, in springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing hey ding-a-ding-a-ding,
Sweet lovers love the spring.

This carol they began that hour,
With a hey and a ho and a hey-nonny-no,
How that a life was but a flower
In springtime, in springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing hey ding-a-ding-a-ding
Sweet lovers love the spring

And therefore take the present time
With a hey and a ho and a hey-nonny-no
For love is crownéd with the prime
In springtime, in springtime, the only pretty ring time
When birds do sing hey ding-a-ding-a-ding
Sweet lovers love the spring

The Twentieth Century Fox production with Elisabeth Bergner and Laurence Olivier had actually pulled ahead of the BBC version, but we all marked them down severely for truncating the script to such an extent, the movie was wrapped up and running credits a mere fifteen minutes after the climax scene of Rosalind receiving the bloody handkerchief from Oliver. Honestly, the pace galloped on at such a breakneck speed, we all felt slightly stunned. At one moment, Rosalind-as-Ganymede was fainting dead away on the floor of the Forest of Arden and the next moment, she was apparently giving herself a brisk brushing-off so that she could put on a white gown and come in with Celia, leading a diaper-dressed infant Hymen with fake wings attached to his chubby back. Huh? Whose kid was that? Some cast or crew member's, maybe?

That production ended with the entire cast waving maniacally along with a crowd of extras and it swept us along so quickly, I can't remember if anything was ever said about Duke Frederick's conversion and Jaques' decision to go join him or not. Elisabeth Bergner did her Epilogue in a coy, squeaky manner that made me want to pinch her, and since she kept shifting, courtesy of the Magic of the Cinema, back and forth between Ganymede and Rosalind, it seemed kind of schizophrenic. Or maybe it indicated that Orlando and Phoebe were both in for a treat, because Rosalind had decided to start batting for both teams, if you know what I mean. Whatever.

I'm glad to be done with both of them, and very shortly here, I'm going to retire to my living room and watch Kenneth Branagh's version from start to finish. Hopefully, I will be so wowed that I'll run right back in here and post a raving review. So keep your good eye on this if you're interested, my dears.

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