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A Reader of Fictions: Guest Post: Bardaptation by Lev AC Rosen

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Guest Post: Bardaptation by Lev AC Rosen

Fellow readers of fictions, I am pleased to introduce you today to Lev AC Rosen, the author of All Men of Genius, which just came out in paperback, meaning that you can obtain a copy of this delightful novel for less money in my favorite format (trade paperback). You can also check out my review later today. I asked Lev to write about some of his favorite Shakespeare-inspired things, as his own book includes many wonderful nod's to Twelfth Night, and let him run with that rather broad topic. Without further ado, here's the incredibly stylish Lev, along with some GIFs which are my (scholarly) contribution.

Bardaptation: My Favorite Shakespeare Transformations 
by Lev AC Rosen

When Christina first shot me the idea of writing about my favorite Shakespeare adaptations I was immediately thrilled – no one had come up with that idea for me before, and it sounded like so much fun. But when I took a beat to consider it, I wondered what exactly she meant. What is an adaptation of Shakespeare? Is it something like Macbeth set word for word in a present day mafia, or Hamlet in NYC? Or is it something merely inspired by a Shakespeare plot, like The Lion King? What about making slight changes to play, like the most recent film of The Tempest, where Helen Mirren plays Prospero, now Prospera? Or how about the amazing production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream where the forest is all umbrellas and doorways?

I knew I was going to have to narrow this down or else write a book on the matter, so I turned to the book I’d already written. All Men of Genius is only inspired by Twelfth Night (and Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest). I throw in quotes now and then, but of the 462 pages, I’m guessing about 460 of them are all my own words. So that’s what I want to talk about; my top adaptations that were inspired by Shakespeare plays. Enough that they would actually say so on their packaging. Now I haven’t seen them all (I still haven’t seen Scotland, PA, though I very much want to) and there are some, like The Lion King, which I enjoyed but just weren’t amazing enough for me to include. So if you don’t see your favorite, don’t get mad; just make a case for it in the comments. If I haven’t seen it, I’ll be sure to put it in the Netflix queue.

So, counting down, my top 5 adaptations are…

5) The Boys from Syracuse, by Rodgers and Hart. This is a seldom performed and fairly unknown musical from the 30s, inspired by Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. It takes place in ancient Greece (though the music is swing-inspired), and involves multiple sets of twins separated at birth, singing ladies of the night, and one of those happy endings where it turns out everyone is related except the people who’ve fallen in love. It has some great musical numbers, including some of my go- tos in the shower, like “Sing for Your Supper,” and “Falling in Love with Love.” I’ve only seen one performance, but it was exceedingly funny, in the ridiculous cartoony way you’d expect a musical inspired by one of Shakespeare’s silliest comedies to be. It hovers fairly close to the source material at first, though it ends up veering somewhat wildly by the end. It’s also one of my mother’s favorite shows, and so has a special place in my heart.

4) Shakespeare ReTold: The Taming of the Shrew. The Shakespeare ReTold series was a BBC series from 2005. Essentially, they took 4 plays (The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth and Much Ado About Nothing) and used them as inspiration for modern day stories: Macbeth is a celebrity chef, Beatrice and Benedick (played by Homeland’s Damian Lewis) are warring news anchors, and the players of Midsummer are visiting a theme park. As a group, there are some lows (Midsummer is something of a disappointment) and highs. I think the best of them is their version of The Taming of the Shrew. In it, Kate (played by Shirley Henderson, Harry Potter’s Moaning Myrtle) is a British politician about to be nominated as The Leader of the Opposition (think of it as the leader of the party which the Prime Minister is not a member of), but she has a bit of a PR problem – she’s seen as a bitch, and as she’s unmarried, she’s seen as not being pro-family. So, to solve this problem, she decides to get married. She finds the broke, but titled Petruchio (Rufus Sewell) to be at first very charming, and leaps into matrimony with him, but soon finds he causes more problems than he solves. The Taming of the Shrew is an interesting one to adapt, because ideally Kate’s transformation isn’t from bitch to docile, but from closed off to loving, while remaining powerful, and ideally Petruchio’s change is from chauvinist schmuck to someone can genuinely respect this woman. I feel as though this adaptation just about manages this. It’s not perfect, but Shirley Henderson’s insane rage and constant screaming, though they should be awful and annoying, are somehow carried off in such a way that she’s both hilarious and human.

I approve of adaptations where Kate doesn't become docile.

3) 10 Things I Hate About You. I know, I know, some people will say this belongs on top. And I won’t deny that Heath Ledger singing “You’re Just to Good to be True” makes me swoon a bit. I love me a good high school Shakespeare movie, too. If you aren’t familiar with it, 10 Things is based on The Taming of the Shrew, and most 80s and 90s high school movies. In it, Kat (Julia Stiles) is an ultra-feminist man-hater, but her kid sister Bianca is both popular and boy-crazy, and forbidden to date until her elder sister does likewise. So, some of the boys who are into Bianca pay the new badboy in town (Ledger) to date Kat. Of course, he genuinely falls for her, but then she uncovers the plot, etc. etc. One might make the case that nearly all movies that take place in high school are inspired by Shakespeare. Stiles and Ledger are great together, and the silliness of high school and the people around them are played up delightfully. But really, it’s all about that scene where Heath Ledger sings to her.

It is about this. And so much more.

2) She’s the Man. And this is the one where everyone groans and tells me this shouldn’t be on the list at all. But let me make my case for my undying love for She’s the Man. First, it’s based on Twelfth Night, like my book, so it has a special place in my heart. Secondly, it is completely and totally ridiculous. Which I love. It’s not the usual sort of silly, it’s outright unbelievable. Amanda Bynes as Viola as Sebastian is completely unbelievable as a man, and the fact that everyone around her accepts her as a guy (and a guy the same age as Channing Tatum, at that), sort of sets the tone of complete and total absurdity. Plus the gender bending! It’s sort of unabashedly feminist and at one point, a gay man is instructing women (via earbud, which apparently these people just have lying around) on how to behave as though they’re in love with their friend Viola, who is dressed as Sebastian, so as to convince the other straight men around them that Viola-as-Sebastian is a ladies man. Yes, one could make the argument for chauvinism there, with men controlling women to appease men, but I see it as just a reiteration of the idea that gender is all about performance – to be a cool guy, you just have to be good with women, and you can do that by getting women to pretend… anyway. It’s ridiculous, this movie. Completely ridiculous. And I love every moment of it.

Crossdressing Amanda Bynes looks shockingly like AMoG's cover.

1) This has to be a tie. West Side Story has to be here, but Kiss Me Kate does too. It depends, really. If you’re watching the movies, West Side Story, the musical based on Romeo and Juliet (set in 1950s NYC, where warring families are replaced by warring gangs) is one of the greatest musical movies of all time, and one of the greatest musicals of all time, period. It’s Bernstein and Sondheim and Laurents, and the movie has Natalie Wood, and it’s amazing. Hands down. But… my heart says Kiss Me Kate. The movie isn’t as good, but Kiss Me Kate has some of Cole Porter’s best music: “Another Openin’, Another Show,” “Brush up Your Shakespeare,” “It’s Too Darn Hot,” and another of my shower go-tos, “Always True to You Darlin’ (In My Fashion)”. It’s also based on The Taming of the Shrew, and in this case goes meta, as it’s about a troupe of players putting on a musical adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, but the show’s two stars are exes who now hate each other. I saw the revival with Marin Mazzie and Brian Stokes Mitchell and it remains one of my top Broadway experiences of all time. And the show is twisted enough that it feels fun and original; the mob is involved (and sings!), and the actual Shakespeare inspiration goes beyond the show they’re performing and into their lives. It’s smart and funny in unexpected ways, and a big show, in the best possible way.

Snaps for this list. I approve.

So those are my top 5 (okay, 6). There are so many more great ones out there, though. And plenty of awful ones, too. What are some of your favorite and least favorite adaptations? Your favorite productions? Share in the comments; if I don’t know about one, I’d love to hear about it.

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Blogger Christina said...

Alright, I want to comment on this list for reals. I love She's the Man, as well, and love that it's one here. I also have a ton of love for the Trevor Nunn adaptation of Twelfth Night, but that's much closer to the original. Celia Rees wrote a bookish sequel to Twelfth Night called Fool's Girl, which I didn't one hundred percent agree with, but which was interesting.

I will also always adore Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing, because he and Emma Thompson are the perfect Benedick and Beatrice. Whenever it comes out, I will be comparing it to Joss Whedon's coming adaptation.

My favorite Hamlet is probably The Lion King. I can't take Hamlet's moaning indecision.

If you enjoy the absurd teenage ones, Get Over It (which is admittedly kind of terrible but totally hilarious) is worth a watch. It's a very loose adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Another interesting adaptation of that one is called Were the World Mine, which is a GLBT adaptation.

November 25, 2012 at 9:03 AM  
Blogger Jenni said...

Yes! 10 Things I Hate About You was so awesome! That is one movie that I will ALWAYS watch when I catch it on TV. And yes, She's The Man definitely did get a groan from me, but that's because I always get told I look like Amanda Bynes (I think it's the fat face) and now she's like a drunk or whatever. This was such a fun idea for a guest post you guys! Yay for being wonderfully thoughtful with your ideas Christina!

November 25, 2012 at 11:43 AM  
Blogger Lev Rosen said...

I am SO excited for the Joss Whedon Much Ado. There are no words for how excited I am. And I also love the Branagh Much Ado, but I think this one is going to be different enough - present day, young B&B - to keep away from comparison. Also I love Amy Acker and think she's insanely underappreciated.

I have seen Get Over It (which was terrible and funny, but not in a way that made me love it), and I have seen Were the World Mine. Lots of gyrating young men in very little clothing, as I recall (which isn't a bad thing). Also some AWFUL singing. Plus, anytime I meet a Timothy, I immediately start hearing "Timothy, Oh Timothy!" which is sort of creepy.

November 25, 2012 at 6:02 PM  
Blogger Nori said...

She's the man! I thought I was the only one...I break that movie out every now and then when I need a serious laugh. And 10 Things I hate About You is probably the second best teen movie of all time (second to The Breakfast Club)...Seriously, what a fantastic list!

Much Ado About Nothing, with Emma Thomspson is also amazing!

Can there just be more awesome Shakespeare-related movies/books now? Seriously, more please!

November 25, 2012 at 7:05 PM  
Blogger Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer said...

I liked She's the Man..so your list is fine!

November 26, 2012 at 2:29 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Oh, I don't think you look like Amanda Bynes. Anyway, I'd take that as a compliment, because I like her and I like you too!

November 26, 2012 at 4:43 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I pretty much enjoy all the Branagh adaptations to some degree, though Love's Labour's Lost was pretty pathetic. He made a hilarious Iago, though.

I admit that both of those are pretty bad, but I enjoyed them. I'm much pickier with books than films and television, I've noticed.

Julie Tamor's Titus is CRAZY. I did like Alan Cumming in his pleasure palace. That seemed fitting somehow.

Most awkward Shakespeare adaptations:
John Cleese as Petruchio
Anthony Hopkins as Othello

November 26, 2012 at 4:46 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Nope, I love it! And I made Heather watch it with me, and she loved it too.

Oh, Emma Thompson. I love her so much.

November 26, 2012 at 4:46 PM  
Blogger Lev Rosen said...

If you haven't seen the Shakespeare ReTold collection, you should check that out. Midsummer is meh, but the rest range from "excellent" to "enjoyable if not earth-shattering"

November 30, 2012 at 1:45 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I remember really not liking the Macbeth one - altogether too many dead pigs for me, but a couple of them were funny. I would need to see them again, because I hardly recall them.

December 3, 2012 at 10:08 AM  

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