This is an exchange stolen from the script (such as it is) for The Reduced Shakespeare Company's first big hit, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [Abridged], and I quote it here to make a point. Oh yes, I'm venturing into new territory today -- an actual point. Here it is:
Lotsa people already made fun of Romeo & Juliet.
I mean: LOTS. If you just search for "romeo and juliet parody" on these here internets, you get a lot of results, in a full range from amateur to well-produced and well-known. Still more people have made fun of, made light of, and made all-comic of Shakespeare's entire canon, so that if you stacked the pages up from everything you'd have LOTSA pages. Probably they'd reach the moon and back. Maybe. Perhaps. I've no idea, really.
So Zuppa del Giorno is hardly venturing into undiscovered territory with its upcoming "wholly original" production, The Very Nearly Perfect Comedy of Romeo & Juliet. Heck: Stack Shakespeare in there as someone who made light of the story. Although the play is pirated from other adaptations of a couple of (very specifically) similar commedia dell'arte scenarios, and the biggest change he made was to make a few of the characters somewhat noble, and the story heavily tragic, he also had his fun. To put it succinctly: Shakespeare crammed just about every genitalia joke in there that he possibly could. Hamlet's "country matters" and lap-talk is minuscule in comparison. If you're reading the play, and you think he just made a reference to a particular bit of the male anatomy, odds are that he did. Even Juliet gets a swing at bat, if you will. Which is funny in more ways than one. It begs the question of whether or not ol' Will felt that a significant part of the story he was telling was simply two kids who were eager to shed trou' and bump uglies (answer: he did). I declared a theme of Odin's Aviary to be fart jokes, but I was being politic. "Richard" jokes are much more fun. (And I'm not talking "the Third," here.)
So, in a way, we're not doing something terribly original. I swear (though not by the inconstant moon) though that I'm smitten with David Zarko's concept of the story. As he's expressed it to me, TVNPCoR&J will be about people who are trying very hard indeed to keep life a comedy. In this way, we're not making fun of the play, but of people -- surely a good base for pleasing, accessible comedy, Shakespeare or no. I like this idea, the conflict, and the potential I see for this interpretation to inform the progress of the story. It's both funny and tragic, and could help us tap into a certain unpredictability that might make for a fresh experience for our audiences. It won't be a parody, or farce, or anything so self-conscious; rather, it will be a story of a community with something in common, in spite of all their violent or erotic differences. It feels, at the risk of gross generalization, very Italian to me. There's some talk of making it about a troupe of actors telling the story, but I'm not so in love with that. I'd rather represent people really living through it, trying to make their lives comedies that end well for each. But, yet again, heck: Nothing about these shows we make stays the same from start to finish. Best not to get too attached to any one idea yet.
So I'll fantasize a bit. Just to get it out of my system, you understand.
"Things get out of hand." This sums up pretty nicely for me what I'm imagining as a central action of our play. Much of the action of the basic story reminds me of children at play (and I refer to every character here, except possibly the prince) who get a little out of control with their fussing and fighting. Before you know it, someone's heart's broken, someone's eye's poked out, and everyone's pointing fingers in order to avoid more hurt. This meshes well with clown theory as I understand it, because clowns are very much like babies, or alien visitors, experiencing everything for the first time. They still have to learn concepts like "hot," much less "love." As it stands, our version will have only Romeo and Juliet as clowns, and the rest of the world populated by masked commedia dell'arte characters. This stands to drive the action right along, as commedia characters are largely appetite-driven and selfish. It's exciting to think of our first -- in five+ years of making dell'arte-inspired theatre, mind you -- masked show in general. I hope we can help our audiences see the masks as they were intended; more caricature than disguise, more revealing than deceitful.
Regardless of style choices, it will I hope retain the sense of contemporary fun that has been in every Zuppa show through the years. In our workshops, as we explored the seeming despair over Rosaline that Romeo exhibits on his introduction, we thought of having him accidentally pulling out moves borrowed from Hamlet, dressed in black, contemplating a skull wearing a red nose. I'd love to have movie posters up for other Shakespeare plays, borrowing from Silent Lives the notion of characters who learn their behavior from popular culture. The humor should come from the moment and character, not necessarily the indications of a joke in the script. Heather and I are already discussing the possible humor of feigned (or frustrated) exits, a running joke about people trying to leave stage and continually being called back. The balcony scene is a great one for this and comes to mind immediately, but also on the way to the party Romeo keeps trying to leave. The topper is the "morning after" scene, probably. Great place for a fart joke there, too, I can't help but notice. (Hopefully someone will shoot me down on this; "that may be a great idea for next year's show...") "It is the lark that sings so out of tune..."
It's at once thrilling and frightening to be so excited for another Zuppa show. After some five years' experience creating these shows in a variety of ways, I've come to learn that they can be the ultimate positive experience, or can be somewhat like Mercutio's famous monologue. Full of enthusiasm and wit to begin, but suddenly arduous and painful, too. Even Silent Lives, my favorite thus far, was something of a baptism by fire. You just never know how it's all going to turn out, and stand to save yourself a lot of pain by caring a little less. But of course, the whole point is in getting people to care a little bit more, to invest themselves in good laughter, and good tears. So there is no choice; not really. Like a good tragedy, caring this much about what I make is an inevitable progress through Heaven and Hell. Besides, the laughter is so much sweeter with a little suffering to weight it against.
It may not be an original idea, but it is a true one.