2013 was a year of wide extremes for Shakespeare in the land o’ the Metroplex. There were delightful highs from sources we have come to rely upon (Trinity Shakespeare Festival), a brilliant production from a surprising group of wunderkinds and wonderful kids (Fun House Theatre and Film), and a quasi-hit and a woeful miss from a theater with an erratic nature (Shakespeare Dallas).
Here follows my short list of noble, notable, and ignoble Shakespeare from the year. Apologies to the notable productions I missed, including The Taming of the Shrew at Stage West (which made many other year-end lists), A Tempest at Hip Pocket Theatre, Romeo and Juliet at Artes de la Rosa and the Shakes shows at Stolen Shakespeare Guild. And let’s not even mention the severely off King Lear at Dallas Theater Center.
Trinity Shakespeare Festival’s yearly summer duo of plays in repertory is so consistently good that one almost takes them for granted. However, just a quick reflection brings to mind their patented perfect marriage of inspired directors (T.J. Walsh and Stephen Fried), a fantastic cast of professionals, near-professionals and students, and an artistic staff of designers and technicians with an emphasis on the word “artistic.” 2013’s excellent The Taming of the Shrew and Julius Caesar continued TSF’s undisputed reputation as the “best Bard in North Texas,” and is generating a lot of anticipation for next summer’s The Comedy of Errors and The Tempest, directed by Joel Ferrell and T.J. Walsh.
Jeff Swearingen and Bren Rapp’s little-venture-that-could in Plano, Fun House Theatre and Film garnered considerable critical acclaim in 2013 (nods and awards from the Dallas-Fort Worth Theater Critics Forum, TheaterJones, D Magazine and the Dallas Observer) for its witty and inspired takes on classic musicals, holiday offerings and Girl Scouts channeling Mamet; however, it was their all-youth, yet in no way childish take on Hamlet that won my heart. Swearingen directed a full fathom five-act rendition of the tragedy that puts to shame most professional theaters, and Chris Rodenbaugh’s portrayal of the Danish prince is one of the best I have ever seen in any production. This April, Fun House will use much of the same cast for a production of Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.
Cara Mía Theatre Company had never attempted Shakespeare in their 18 year history before deciding to produce Romeo and Julieta. There was some worry that such a conventional choice might compromise their mission to “broaden the understanding of Mexican-American and Latino culture.” Director David Lozano forged ahead after discovering the play's rich universality and decided to share his insights through his interpretation of the play. Weaving contemporary Spanish into the original language, music by S-Ankh Rasa, unique dance and artistic elements, and some seriously sexy performances by the actors offered a fresh and much-needed voice in the Bard conversation.
As hard as I have been on Shakespeare Dallas in the past, and I have been, it takes little away from how much I have always wanted them to succeed and how I continue to root for them in the future. Attending Bard under the stars should have much more going for it than just tradition and an opportunity to chat and nap amongst the wine bottles and picnic plates. Why not provide the hungry masses with good quality theater too? 2012’s fantastic Coriolanus, Twelfth Night and Macbeth gave many of us false hope that SD was finally on the upswing. That was until their A Midsummer Night’s Dream fouled the stage—but its final performance did set an attendance record for SD. The confusing candy-colored wrapper of a production left a bitter taste and was a Dream better left forgotten. On the other hand, their adequate-in-retrospect Pericles benefitted by comparison, by its novelty, and by having outstanding music by Home by Hovercraft’s Seth and Shawn Magill. I missed the fall production of The Winter’s Tale, but finally attended one of SD’s staged readings, The Merchant of Venice, and even holding it up to a much lower standard than a full-blown and rehearsed production would receive, it still disappointed. My goal is to see more of these readings in the new year for a better assessment of what this ambitious project has to offer.
Finally, allow me to submit to the Shakespeare wildcard category Max Reinhardt’s 1935 black and white film version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This big, beautiful mess of a movie is directed by the theater giant Reinhardt, has Mendelssohn’s music arranged by Erich Korngold, enormous ballet sequences choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska, and boasts performances by Mickey Rooney as Puck, James Cagney as Bottom and Olivia de Havilland’s screen debut as Hermia. It was a colossal flop at the box office, yet it still holds up today as a charming feast for the eyes and ears.
Here’s to another Bardful year.