Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Mad Men and Richard III

14 Sep

Our adult daughters introduced us to Mad Men (we never watched during its run), and we’ve been binge-watching it on Netflix in two-episode sprints. It’s a window on a brave new dysfunctional world (or a brave old one – it’s set in the 60s, after all.)

[ This next bit has spoilers, but let’s face it, they’re no longer making new ones. ]

Mad Men is a pithy title.  It’s an anagram for “Damn Me.”  Rearranging the letters again yields “Med Man”, a good title for a future doctor show. How about a gender-bending show?  “Mme Dan”, of course! After watching a few episodes, I thought the show should be called “People Who Smoke Too much, Drink Too much, Cheat on Their Spouses a Lot, and Generally Make Poor Choices.”  Or perhaps, “Men and Women (but Mostly Men) Behaving Badly.”  By virtue of its brevity, Mad Men is a much better title.  Lately I just call it by my own title: “Sick People.”

This is not to say I don’t like watching Mad Men.  It’s just that watching the show is sort of like watching a version of Shakespeare’s Richard III where more than one character is playing Richard.  This comparison admittedly falls short of the mark; no character seems “determined to prove a villain.” The characters are often villainous, but unlike Shakespeare’s Richard, they don’t see themselves as such. Jon Hamm’s Don Draper steals another man’s identity because it’s the easiest way out of a war.  Vincent Kartheiser’s Pete Campbell takes advantage of an au pair he has helped because he feels a sense of entitlement.  John Slattery’s Roger Sterling is essentially amoral (albeit not unlikeable.) He’s not trying to be a villain – he just is one.

mad_men_opening

During the opening credits, how come the woman’s leg doesn’t kick the guy back up in the air?  That’d be cool.

One can view the show through an anthropological lens, a diorama of life in America just after the midpoint of the last century.  I don’t know if the show’s depiction of working at an ad agency in the 60s is an accurate one, but if so, no one seems to work particularly hard (save for Elisabeth Moss’ character Peggy Olsen), smoking is ubiquitous, drinking on the job is OK, and policies to prevent sexual harassment don’t exist. Males rule; Mel Brooks’ adage “It’s good to be the King” definitely applies here.

Jon Hamm’s Don Draper is a bit of an antihero. His adulteries are casual, he cruelly rejects a younger sibling who seeks to reunite with him, and he commits the aforementioned identity theft.  Nevertheless, we never really stop sympathizing with him (in part due to the flashbacks to his lousy childhood.)

Hamm’s character seems at his best when he is not doing something.  When Duck Phillips (Mark Moses) stages a power play, Draper’s sparse, “Gentlemen, include me out” non-reaction allows him to carry the day and Phillips is the one frozen out.  In a later episode, Draper pretends to shoot an expensive TV commercial knowing that the ruse will spur a rival firm to shoot a TV spot and overspend their budget. It’s when he acts that he seems to stumble most; during a meeting with a cereal company, he blurts a slogan that a hapless job seeker (Danny Strong) had pitched to him earlier. When the client buys the slogan, he is forced to hire the candidate.

As usual, I don’t know where I’m going with this, except to say that watching Mad Men gives me pause. Sure, the acting is good and the writing is often good (except when they toss in dream sequences to fool the viewer – that’s a pet peeve of mine), but the world that the show depicts is often ugly.  I know, I know – you’re probably thinking, “It’s a fictional TV series, man – get a grip!” I hear ya.  But let’s face it, it’s not like watching, say, Gilmore Girls. Watching Mad Men is akin to eating potato chips  – ya know that you should stop, but they’re so darn addictive, ya just don’t.

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RSC stages Rick the Deuce

10 Dec
Richard II

Richard II – he’s more exciting than you think

We’ve always had a certain apprehension when it comes to seeing Shakespearean plays. Shakespearean language, though poetic, can be hard for us normal folks to figure out. What if we don’t understand what’s going on? What if we don’t like it? What if it’s boring? Such were the fears going through our heads as we went to  see a high-definition video of Richard II staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Keep calm, we told ourselves.  After all, David Tennant, plays the title role.  He was the 10th Doctor, so that had to count for something, right?  Still, it was was one of the Bard’s historical plays, and history is boooooring.  If worse came to worst, we could always discreetly nod off.  As long as we didn’t snore, who’d be the wiser?

What a surprise for us, then.  We always thought that life in medieval England was about as slow as molasses, but in the hands of the Bard, there’s always something hittin’ the fan.   And while we might have missed a few subtleties here and there, we had no trouble understanding what was going on, which was a big relief to us plebeians.  We need more screenplays like this one. The play is set in 1399, when the idea that a king’s power was bestowed by God was prevalent and this concept informs the action of the play.

The acting is of course, top notch.  Tennant plays Richard as an effete, opportunistic, dotty character who nevertheless captures our sympathies in the second act.  He’s not the only one shines – Jane Lapotaire as the Duchess of Gloucester kicks acting booty, as do Michael Pennington as John of Gaunt, and Nigel Lindsay as Henry Bolingbroke (we could go on – there’s not a bad performance in the whole production.)

As to the staging, the lighting, and the look of the thing, let’s just say that if you see it, you’re gonna love it.

So, if this production comes to your town,  go see it and don’t be as freaked out as we were before we saw it.

If Shakespeare had been a Java Programmer…

18 Oct

class shakespeare {

public static void main(String[] args) {

try {
String musicBeTheFoodOfLove = new String(args[0]);
if (Boolean.parseBoolean(musicBeTheFoodOfLove)) {
playOn();
}
}
catch (Exception e) {
System.out.println(“Usage: shakespeare <a string value>”);
} // end catch

finally {System.exit(0);}
} // end main;

static void playOn() {
for (int i=1; i < 4; i++) {
System.out.println("Play On!");
}
}
}

command line output