Shakespeare on the Small Screen

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 - 12:45 PM

This week, the Royal Shakespeare Company announced that it will come to New York for a five-play residency during the summer of 2011, as part of the Lincoln Center Festival.  And the company will perform the plays in a full-scale replica of its Stratford-upon-Avon theater reconstructed inside the Park Avenue Armory.

But the beauty of Shakespeare is that you don't need a big production for the work to ring true: The Canadian TV series 'Slings and Arrows' (which aired from 2003 to 2006) is set in New Burbage, a fictional Canadian town that’s only highlight is a celebrated Shakespeare theater festival.  The show's protagonist is the festival’s new artistic director, Geoffrey Tenant (the fantastic Paul Gross, better known in the US for 'Due South').  Geoffrey sees (and even consults with) his dead mentor, Oliver Welles (Stephen Ouimette), a once-promising director but ultimate sell-out.  Plus, he has to deal with the requisite assortment of crazy actors.

(Don't worry, this Ophelia is eventually replaced by her understudy: a superb pre-'Mean Girls' Rachel McAdams.)

Each season focuses on a different production -- first 'Hamlet,' 'Macbeth,' and finally 'King Lear.'   The brilliance of the show lies in how deeply it mines the dark humor and tension between the festival’s financial and artistic struggles.  And the Shakespeare references are dropped in in a way that doesn't seem trite.  The Season One theme song captures all of this, and the original meaning of comedy -- from the Greek komos, meaning festival and oide, meaning song:

- Jess Jiang

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