Saturday, August 04, 2007

Bottom's Up

There are Shakespeare plays you read in high school and then again in college and then again in graduate school and then -- free at last! free at last! -- on your own, which can be scary but there's always Harold Bloom if you get in over your head.

These are the same plays that you *see* more than once, done by amateurs, done by professionals, done on the movie screen by what often seems a mixture of amateurs and professionals. And what happens is that these observed performances acquire a dual nature: the particular performance of the play, to be judged on its own; but also as part of a tapestry of memory encompassing each and every exposure to the play, read or seen. And this means that some strange new interpretation or beautiful new insight irradiates a production, even if it is otherwise a clunker, in a way that would not be true if one had not seen/read the play so many times before and had not -- we blush to admit -- become somewhat bored with its wonders, somewhat blase.

Thus with the 1999 movie version of Midsummer Night's Dream we stayed up late last night watching. I had read it was a curiosity and chose it from the Comcast On Demand menu just to taste its opening as Eydie groomed her cuticles. But it kept us watching -- which is perhaps no great feat on a Friday night.

But still. What new pleasure sticks in the mind this morning? Kevin Kline as Bottom, as foolish a Bottom as you might like but also a poignant Bottom, intermittently aware of the fact some think him a fool (though his loyal but dim-witted friends do not think him a fool, which reminds us of the value of loyal but dim-witted friends and how we should not despise the role if it is sometimes ours). He has a sweetness. He has an inner life. He has a shrewish wife who has apparently way way gotten over him.

Though his bewitched aspect is that of an ass, he is apparently hung like a horse. This was certainly an intimation-by-glance I had not seen in any previous performance or imagined in any earlier reading.

So it liked us well, as WS might have said, and it reminded us of seeing Mark Rylance, artistic director of the new Globe theater, play Bottom at that very theater, carrying a copy of the play to prompt himself, since he had stepped into the role that very day because of illness among the cast. Any excuse to recollect that happy evening is welcome.

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