February 21, 1998
We're in western Europe. The year is 1606; we have the day off. How about taking in a matinee?
William Shakespeare is the most prolific playwright on the scene. His drama about noble Roman Marc Antony and his affair with the young Egyptian queen Cleopatra has just been completed. But we'll have to wait until next year for the opening. It's been quite a while since the prequel, Julius Caesar, was produced, seven years to be exact, but we've waited this long, what's another year. Most of us know how it ends, anyway. If we wait until the end of the year and we have the right connections, we can attend a performance of last year's King Lear, on December 26th. There are no videos to take out yet, so King James has called up a Command Performance. Meanwhile there's that grand old melodrama about that Scottish king.
You'll excuse me if I don't mention his name. You see, early in August, Hal Berridge, one of the young boys in the cast, playing a woman of course, the wife of the title role, drops down dead during a performance of the play. Theater people being a superstitious bunch, they soon decide that it's an ill omen. From now on many British actors and managers will only speak of the play as 'The Scottish Play".
Not in the mood for Shakespeare? Something a little racier, perhaps? There's Thomas Dekker's The Whore of Babylon. Something more diabolical, perhaps Thomas Middleton's A Trick to Catch the Old One? How about Chapman-Jonson and Marston's Eastward Ho!? Jonson's solo effort Volpone is another possibility. Also about now another playwriting team is forming, as Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher begin "doing lunch", and discussing a possible partnership, over a pint or two. Their first effort, The Woman Hater, will premiere late in the season.
If we look to the Continent for our entertainment we won't find much of interest this year. Some Off-Boulevard performances in Paris maybe, but few playwrights of great interest. There is someone entering from the wings. On June 6th, the city of Rouen adds to its population as the household of magistrate Corneille welcomes its first son, soon to be baptized Pierre, after his father. He will grow up to be a member of Rouen's parliament and one of France's finest classical playwrights, only rivaled by contemporary Jean Racine. His tragedies will include Le Cid, Medae, Horace, and Cinna. But back at the beginning of his career he turns out eight comedies, including Melite, La Place Royale and an extravaganza called L'Illusione comique.
Back here in Rochester at the end of the twentieth century we can still see the latter, much changed, I'm sure. It opens tonight [2/98] at GeVa, as The Illusion.
OUTRO: For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor.
© 1998 David Minor / Eagles Byte
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