I have recently posted Michael Meigs's review of Measure for Measure, performed by the touring company of the American Shakespeare Center (based in Staunton, VA). Michael is the PlayShakespeare Austin, TX correspondent, and saw the show last week when it came to UT-Austin. His perceptive review contextualizes MM as one of Shakespeare's 'problem plays' and points out the text's many seemingly contradictory currents. In the review, Michael indicates his appreciation of the actors for their solid performances, but takes issue with the direction, feeling that it oversimplifies a complex text. The production's overly-humorous emphasis glosses over important themes.
It is a commonplace to say that every age, every generation, has its preferred Shakespearean plays. The 19th century was apparently enthralled by King John, but the history play is now rarely performed (the only review on PlayShakespeare is here). Other plays, however, are being 'rediscovered' as occasion demands--Troilus and Cressida with the beginning of the Iraq war and Timon of Athens with the start of the financial crisis. Even traditional standards of the repertoire have seen a darkening in tone, as witnessed by the Midsummer Night's Dream from director James Rutherford. Shakespeare's canon is large enough, and his writing insightful enough, to remain topical, it would seem, 'for all time'.
What Michael's review uncovers, however, is a production that resists (whether through deliberate choice or good-natured obliviousness is unclear) the 'problem' of this 'problem play'. His review brings up the question, 'Must we respond to the "problem plays" as "problems"'? Is an interpretation that ignores the more serious elements of the text a legitimate interpretation? In this day and age, can productions of MM (or T&C, WT, Tempest etc.) get away with a purely lighthearted tone?
Questions, questions, questions...