Shedding Light on Shakespeare
With a role written for Martha Henry, Taking Shakespeare is a perfect complement to Othello
By Shira Ginsler
For many people, taking Shakespeare at school is an exercise in frustration: the lonely struggle to keep characters with foreign names straight in your head, the strain of following the footnotes, the doubt that these ancient lines of text are worth the effort in the end.
Murph, the student in John Murrell’s two-person play Taking Shakespeare, is a poster boy for that struggle. After signing up for a Shakespeare course because he enjoyed some of Hamlet in high school, he flounders as he has in all of his other subjects. His mother, the president of the university, secretly hoping that Shakespeare will be the key to parting her son from his beloved video games, asks a professor in the English department to tutor him privately. The professor is ready to give up before the end of their first session, until Murph asks for help with Othello – a play with special meaning for her.
Over a half-dozen sessions, “bit by bit, he understands the complexity,” says director Diana Leblanc. “He falls in love with the language in a way that he – or we – would never have suspected when he came to her for his first session.”
The audience becomes a student at the professor’s knee as well, Ms Leblanc says. “You get caught up in her deep and passionate understanding of the play.”
Luke Humphrey will play Murph, while the professor’s role will be taken by the actor for whom it was written, Martha Henry. “John wrote it knowing Martha’s strengths and quirks and the particular intelligence and wit that she brings to parts,” Ms Leblanc says. “It’s really a gift.”
While Murph and the professor are studying Othello in the Studio Theatre, Othello itself will be playing at the Avon Theatre – a programming flourish that Ms Leblanc praises. “When you watch a major Shakespearean play, there’s an awful lot going on; you have a lot to take in. Taking Shakespeare talks about why things unfold in Othello as they do. So if you’ve seen the play the day before, or you’re going to see it later, it gives you incredible insights into what you saw or what you’re going to see. I think that will be great fun.”
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