What New York Really Needs is More Shakespeare?
In this Sunday's New York Times "Week in Review" section, Charles Isherwood laments the city's paucity of Shakespeare offerings. I usually agree with Mr. Isherwood wholeheartedly and appreciate his championing of underdog (by which I mean non-revival, non-Disney) Manhattan productions. So it pains me to say this: boo freaking hoo, dude.
A critic who complains about the lack of Shakespeare in the city that's supposed to be "America's theatrical epicenter" is either depressed by the lack of worthwhile new productions or needs to spend a week or two of quiet contemplation in the hinterlands. Or both. I won't presume to know which state of mind applies here, but I will say that someone needs to agitate for progress on the Broadway stage, not for Shakespeare.
I mean, I understand the satisfaction that comes with good Shakespeare. I've even blogged about it. Here in Philly we have an on-season Shakespeare festival as well as an off-season one. We've got a free Shakespeare in the park, a couple of houses that have been throwing in roughly a Shakespeare-a-year, and a few smaller outfits that produce offbeat versions of the classics. Surely, not all are created equal, but if it's Shakespeare you're looking for, you can reliably find him at any point during the season.
And yes, Chicago and D.C. have Shakespeare companies, but even though Chicago's gaining steadily on New York's theatrical dominaton, it has neither the resources nor the cachet of Broadway. At least not yet. But if Broadway continues to nurture the same old safe retreads and turn its back on work that actually bolsters this country's theatrical tradition, well, finding a decent Merry Wives of Windsor will be the least of Mr. Isherwood's worries.
Let the provinces whet their appetites on Shakespeare; it can only benefit New York. When you dine regularly on Kobe beef at home, you're less likely to accept a McDonald's patty when you go out. But you're probably not going to order Kobe again, either. You want something new and mouthwatering, and if you're served the same old Kobe filet, even if it's really good, you'll end up wondering why you didn't just stay home and make it yourself... It's sure a lot cheaper.
I don't mean to pick on Isherwood. A dedicated Shakespeare company in New York City is not the worst idea ever, it's just misguided. Maybe it wouldn't be such a big deal if he suggested placing it in Brooklyn, or somewhere it had a chance to be more than an exercise in showing off one's Elizabethan chops. And perhaps also, I'm naive. I figure New York is what regional theater aspires to be; but maybe we've already caught up, and the ideal of New York's vanguard status is just vestigial at this point.