- Much Ado about Nothing, and: The Tragedie of King Richard II
In a recent issue of Shakespeare Quarterly, Sarah Werner offered excerpts from an online discussion of academic reviewing of Shakespeare performance and film which addressed several questions: For whom is the academic review of Shakespeare performance intended? For what purposes is it written and published? What, if any, function is served by reviewing undistinguished productions or performances—not to mention the problem of ascertaining the standpoint from which that epithet derives? Should reviews be documentary "memoranda" or something closer to the literary appreciation or, in a different vein, the critical essay? As someone who has regularly reviewed Joe Dowling's Shakespeare productions at the Guthrie Theater for the decade of his tenure as artistic director, these are live and troubling questions. In light of Shakespeare Quarterly's discussion and Shakespeare Bulletin's own ongoing exploration of the functions and [End Page 155]forms of reviewing performance, I suggest that one purpose of reviewing may be to identify and delineate a "house style," especially in the case of regional theatres and repertory companies. So I am taking the occasion of Dowling's Much Ado about Nothingas an opportunity to characterize the general approach to Shakespeare by the Guthrie, one of the largest and most influential theatrical institutions in the Upper Midwest, and contrasting it with the approach to Richard IIby a small, new Twin Cities company, dedicated to producing Shakespearean and other Renaissance works—the Classical Actors Ensemble.
The Guthrie's Much Adowas very definitely in the mode that Dowling has developed—varied only slightly by the occasional guest director of Shakespeare: it affected transparency in the interest of accessibility. In Dowling's better productions (for instance, Twelfth Nightin 2002, as well as Midsummer Night's Dreamin 2008 and Macbethin 2010 in the Guthrie's new home, designed by Jean Nouvel), the style has tended toward atmospheric visual conceptualization. The plays have been well acted and the audiences pleased. But striking interpretation has not been a hallmark of Dowling's Shakespeare: if his Twelfth Nightwas metatheatrical, it was no more so than the text from which it derived. The Macbethwas aptly dark and the Dreamsuitably sprightly. With the notable exception of its quirky casting of Beatrice and Benedick, his Much Adofit into this vein— and paid similar dividends, at least in audience satisfaction.
Much Adotypifies the Guthrie house style for Shakespeare production under Dowling. It was visually sumptuous. It appealed to the general audience's desire for easy entertainment. At its best, it gave some new insight into, or at least clarification of, the significance and meaning...