Saturday, March 14, 2020

"Love's" in the time of COVID-19

Thou art a boil, a plague-sore, an embossed carbuncle, in my corrupted blood.
- LEAR II.iv

In the midst of life we are in death, et cetera.
- The Smiths, Sweet & Tender Hooligan
Woke this morning to discover "King Lear” is trending on Twitter.

Scott Crim & Jane Plishka
"Love's Labour's Lost"
(Rubber City Theatre, 2020)
The theaters closed due to an outbreak very early in Shakespeare’s career, in 1592. That was very early in his career, when he was collaborating with Marlowe and writing his epic poems.

Outbreaks continued over the following years, and when the Globe Theatre was closed in 1603 Shakespeare was the height of his abilities. It is speculated that he wrote King Lear at that time.

The very idea that theaters would cease operation due to an outbreak of contagious infection (let alone, professional sports teams) was to my understanding a thing from the past, not something that could possibly happen in my lifetime.

And yet, here we are. Closer to home, the company that I work for, Great Lakes Theater, took the difficult and unprecedented step of cancelling an entire production. The company was hard at work on a production of my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies, Much Ado About Nothing, due to open the last weekend in March.

As Ohio Governor DeWine decreed, all public events with an audience of more than one hundred persons must be suspended, GLT and companies across the city joined theaters across the nation in closing.
Orders, thought meet by his Majesty, and his Privy Council, to be executed throughout the counties of this realm, in such towns, villages, and other places, as are, or may be hereafter infected with the plague, for the stay of further increase of the same.

Also, an advice set down by the best learned in physic within this realm, containing sundry good rules and easy medicines, without charge to the meaner sort of people, as well for the preservation of his good subjects from the plague before infection, as for the curing and ordering of them after they shall be infected.

- James I, “Order for Plague” (1603)
Theaters closed due to an outbreak of plague. - March 2020

As with all the rest, Akron’s Rubber City Theatre suspended performances for their production of Love’s Labour’s Lost after opening just last weekend. The show, directed by my dear friend Kelly Elliott (she who directed last summer’s Henry V for CSF) had already received an excellent notice from Cleveland Scene, which said it was “engaging” and “exuberant.”

As a farewell they decided in short order to stage one last, closed performance last night with an invitation-only audience of company members and a few friends who have a reputation for laughing loudly and in all the right places. My wife and I were glad to be part of that number.

Following the performance we learned over one hundred people were watching it live. As of this morning, the event shared by local media outlets, views have gone into the thousands. Even Terry Teachout, critic for the Wall Street Journal tuned in.

Sitting in the audience, I was reminded of Love’s Labour’s Lost as produced by Great Lakes Theater in early 2016. It was also an engaging and exuberant performance. Shakespeare's script is quite the farce; the first half can be quite dense and you have to keep up with a remarkably self-indulgent amount of word play on the playwright’s part, but when you stick with it the pay-off in the second half is so pleasurable.

The "Nine Worthies" scene in the Rubber City production rose to a joyfully riotous argument, the Great Lakes production four years ago to something like a wildly playful bacchanal. But as is the case in all productions, the fun, the games, the play within the play, are suddenly broken by the announcement that the King of France, father to the female romantic lead Katherine, has died.

A very real and heartbreaking moment in the midst of a very silly play. I found the sentiment quite timely.

The theaters have closed, as they have many times before. They will reopen, too.

Order for Plague, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
Boys Will Be Boys, But They Learn a Lesson Too in Rubber City Theatre's Joyful 'Love's Labour's Lost' by Elaine Cicora, Cleveland Scene (3/10/2020)

UPDATE: What We Miss When Broadway Goes Dark by Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal (3/18/2020)

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