In the diverse fast-food town of Austin, Texas, you can even get tasty Bard bits in a quick drive-by. No carryouts, other than the program for Shakespeare's Husbands and Wives, but you're assured of comfortable seating and a varied menu at a session only 40 minutes in length, all for the modest contribution of $10.
Jill K. Swanson has appeared often on Austin stages over the past dozen years, and she is the guiding spirit at Austin Shakespeare's weekly Sunday afternoon Shakespeareklatches, more properly titled "Shakespeare Aloud." For two hours every Sunday, usually from 5-7PM, the doors open to anyone who wants to participate in reading and commenting on whichever of the Bard's works is on the table. Right now they're reading Henry V.
Swanson is co-editor of two books for actors: 60 Shakespeare Scenes and 111 Shakespeare Monologues. For this brief evening's entertainment, she assembles short scenes from seven of the plays and invites eleven actors to play them. Jill comments in the program notes, "Shakespeare dives right in and explores these issues [of matrimonial relations], weaving all kinds of marriages into his plays, while the plays themselves are often on another subject entirely… Each scene reflects a different dynamic, perhaps one you recognize from your own marriage.”
You can slice Shakespeare all sorts of ways, and unless you're doing it with malice aforethought, the text is, in the end, still Shakespeare. Swanson digs out some of the juicy bits and gives them to folks who know how to act them. Of the eleven, I’ve seen and enjoyed nine onstage in Austin or nearby.
If you have a passing fair knowledge of the major plays, you'll be entirely comfortable with these selections. It's not a completely random walk; of the sixteen passages, six are successive sequences from The Taming of the Shrew between Petruchio (Michael Amendola) and Kate (Bridget Farias). Two more are from Julius Caesar, with several cinema-style cross-fades from the august Garry Peters as Caesar and Kathy Center as the concerned Calpurnia, to D. Heath Thompson as Brutus and Laura Ray as his wife, Portia.
Entirely willing to be beguiled in this way, I fantasized that I was auditioning these folks for an entirely different production of Shakespeare. At a scant 40 minutes, Shakespeare's Husbands and Wives is all too short. With the talent on display, the directorial finesse, some time and concentration, and a venue and support, we could do something really extraordinary with these folks…
Shakespeare’s Husbands and Wives runs runs February 24-26 and March 3-5 at The Blue Theatre, 916 Springdale Road, Austin, TX 78702. Information can be found at http://www.bluetheatre.org/.