“A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain;
But that’s all one, our play is done,
And we’ll strive to please you every day.” Exit
When I learned that Melissa Toomey, a talented young actress with a love of classical theatre, was launching the “Montclair Shakespeare Series,” — professionally acted staged readings — I couldn’t wait to see first show. What a delight! A simple stage, a talented theatrical troupe, a gifted musician, and an enthusiastic audience — all the ingredients for a joyful, spirited evening. And Twelfth Night — what an inspired choice!
To hear one of Shakespeare’s plays spoken “trippingly on the tongue” by a talented theatrical troupe is to appreciate not only how fresh and alive the Bard’s language is, but how truly witty and winsome a trickster he remains. A staged reading is a wonderful way to experience a play because it focuses the audience’s attention on language and rhythm. Add an evocative gesture here and a bit of slap stick there and you have a rich, satisfying theatrical experience. Costumes and a stage set almost seem unnecessary distractions.
As Melissa said in opening the show, in Shakespeare’s day, people said they were going to “hear” a play, not “see” it. Listening to gifted performers speak their lines from Twelfth Night and really hearing its songs made me realize what a melancholy counterpoint they are to the playful plot and the verbal pyrotechnics of the main characters.
A staged reading also highlights the lavish attention Shakespeare showered on his subplots and secondary characters, all of whom have lines that would make the angels laugh and other playwrights weep. There are no throwaway lines, no characters who receive short shrift. Every word crackles and sparks. Everyone has moments in the sun. Everyone has a chance to shine and strut their skill. No wonder minor roles in Shakespeare are so coveted — who wouldn’t want to play a character like Sir Toby Belch or Sir Andrew Aguecheek?
All this made me wonder whether the visual images we’re constantly bombarded with via TV and films have somehow muted our ability to grasp agile wordplay. And it made me marvel anew at the Bard’s timeless song of the soul. Bravo, Melissa — play on! And inspired and emboldened, let’s all write on!