In For a Penny: What’s in a Name?

IamShakespeare3a.indd
“Well, that was bloody Shakespearean! D’ya know who Shakespeare is? He wrote the King James Bible!”
Gangs of New York, screenplay by Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan

It’s a bit empty ‘round the ‘Pub offices these days. Yes, there are Theater Pub offices. They’re located within a classified, heavily-guarded location that may or may not resemble the ThunderCats’ Lair. Within the great hall – which bears a strong resemblance to the Childlike Empress’ throne room in The NeverEnding Story – we ‘Pubbers gather to feast on divine ambrosia, sip unicorn tears from The Holy Grail, and plot world domination. We also occasionally write plays.

But yes, these days our hallowed halls aren’t as occupied as they once were: no more dispatches from the rainbow over Cowan Palace; the Working Title now reads “Happily Ever After”; Everything has moved on to Something greater; The Five are too busy making every moment count; and I sincerely hope no one else has been Hit by a Bus – to name but a few written columns. There’s a genuine last-day-of-school feeling to it all. So as I pack up my monogrammed silken robes, my golden quill, and the two-headed axe given to me by Xangô himself, I decided my penultimate entry should cover something near and dear to we ‘Pub folk, so as to distract from its pending conclusion.

No, it’s not the incredibly thorough spreadsheet I’ve nearly completed (that’s not a joke: as I type these words I’ve got Excel open in another window as I try to finish the definitive ‘Pub factsheet titled “SF Theater Pub – By the Numbers”. It has every ‘Pub writer, actor, director, location, and guest musician cross-referenced by each and every show. Every. Single. One.), but rather our dear 452-year-old friend William Shakespeare. As some of you may have heard, the fine minds at Oxford have concluded that Shakespeare co-wrote his Henry VI trilogy with fellow playwright Christopher “Kit” Marlowe. As such, Marlowe and Shakespeare will now share credit in all future Oxford editions.

A shocking development to be sure – “scandalous,” some might say – but I’m not here to debate the evidence or credentials of some of the finest scholars in the western world. Having said that, I’d be remiss not to mention how this brings up the mosquito in the ear of every Shakespeare-lover (myself included): The Authorship Question.

What, you may ask, is “The Authorship Question”? Well, if you have 24 minutes to kill, you can watch a thorough (and hilarious) breakdown of it in this video. If you don’t have 24 minutes, here’s the TL;DR version: there are people who believe Shakespeare’s plays – with their magnificent turns-of-phrase and adventures in foreign lands – couldn’t possibly have been written by a poor kid from Stratford-upon-Avon with no higher education. These people, quite simply, are wrong. There is conclusive empirical evidence to show that they are wrong. This hasn’t stopped these folks (known as “non-Stratfordians” or “anti-Stratfordians”) from pushing this conspiracy theory since the 1800s.

Because everyone should have Rummy's worldview.

Because everyone should have Rummy’s worldview.

Still, the folks at Oxford say The Henry Trilogy was co-authored by Marlowe. Putting aside whatever fuel this adds to the non-/anti-Stratfordian fire, why is the idea of such a collaboration a bad thing? Shakespeare still likely wrote all of his other plays alone, so what’s wrong with him seeking help for his epic three-play cycle? Probably because most people don’t really know how art is created.

The public often knows of artists two ways: through the art they create and they mythology of that creation. Many a tale’s been told of how The Great Artist was one day struck with the lightning bolt of inspiration which lead him or her to immediately run back to the studio and create THE greatest thing the world has ever seen in merely a single draft. Right… Even more tales are told of aspiring artists who give up early because their first drafts are shit. They hear artists throw around phrases like “write what you know” and think all their work must be autobiographical and pristine from the get-go. Anyone who’s ever dared to take art seriously knows the terrible secret these folks don’t: all first drafts are shit.

Yet the legend of The Perfect First Draft is perpetuated, paradoxically enough, by other forms of art. If there’s one thing I hate about films, plays, or books about artists it’s how they oversimplify the artistic process. I know that for dramatizations they’re doing it for the sake of running time, but would it have hurt the film Frida to explain how Kahlo created her paintings rather than having them seem to appear by osmosis? One of my favorite films about the artistic process is Hustle & Flow because it shows that making art is a messy, exhausting process that has to be done over and over again. Hell, my favorite album of 2016, Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, was more or less created in the public eye. West remixed songs, dropped some entirely, rewrote lyrics, constantly tweaked the tracklist, changed collaborators, and changed the title multiple times… all on his Twitter account. Sure, everyone thought he was crazy(-er than usual), but he showed the world what it’s like to tear up a drafts you hate and start over from scratch. And the result was fantastic.

And yes, he had collaborators. Just as the legend of The Perfect First Draft has little basis in reality, so too does that of The Lonely Artist. After all, if you can’t create art all by your lonesome, why even try, right? Quentin Tarantino tried to take sole credit for his screenplays Reservoir Dogs, True Romance, Pulp Fiction, and the infamous Top Gun speech from the film Sleep with Me. Turns out those were all co-written (or, in the case of the latter speech, entirely written) by Tarantino’s collaborator Roger Avary. Avary successfully sued his former friend for proper credit and they both won Oscars for the Pulp Fiction screenplay. That’s just one of many stories about silent collaborators (trying looking up the making of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill sometime).
On the other hand, several great artists are open about how their greatest works were collaborations. Francis Ford Coppola – who’d already won an Oscar for the screenplay of Patton – credits Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne for writing one of the most important scenes of Coppola’s The Godfather. Steven Spielberg credits his friend John Milius with writing the USS Indianapolis scene from the film Jaws. And I’ve written before about my affinity for great artistic groups like The Inklings, The Algonquin Round Table, and Lorraine Hansberry’s group of fellow authors.

Art is not created in a vacuum, it’s the result of tireless destruction and recreation in the attempt to make an esoteric idea into something tangible. Even someone as skilled as Shakespeare would need someone as talented as Marlowe to be real with him and say “Will, this is shit.” (To which Shakespeare would likely respond “Yeah, well fuck you and your ‘thousand ships,’ Kit!” before calming down and asking Marlowe to elaborate.) These two became the greatest authors in the English language by bouncing their ideas off one another.

Unabashed Shakespeare fanboy Tom Stoppard imagined such a scene in his Oscar-winning screenplay for Shakespeare in Love. In one scene Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) runs into Marlowe (Rupert Everett) in a pub as the latter basks in the glow of his successful Doctor Faustus. Shakespeare mentions that he’s working on the unfortunately titled “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter”. Marlowe suggests setting the play in Italy because “Romeo” sounds Italian, and to have a scene where Romeo avenges the murder of his best friend Mercutio. And that’s it. That’s Marlowe’s only contribution. Shakespeare writes the rest of the retitled Romeo and Juliet on his own, and it’s great.

Huh. It’s almost as if Shakespeare was as human as the rest of us and needed help from time to time.

I've actually had this facial hair quite often. For I am Shakespeare.

I’ve actually had this facial hair quite often. For I am Shakespeare.

As you probably know, this month’s ‘Pub show will be King Lear as directed by Sam Bertken. He’s rounded up a helluva cast for what will be the ‘Pub’s sixth and final Shakespeare adaptation (the seventh Shakespeare-related when you include Molly Benson & Karen Offereins’ “Hamlet and Cheese on Post”). Shakespeare has often been invited to the ‘Pub because he means something to the ‘Pub, both to those who stage his plays and the audiences that see them. Hundreds of years after his death, the words he wrote – and yes, he did write them – resonate all over the world in a way few other works can. That’s why everyone takes The Authorship Question so seriously: they want to know by what process God created an artist so masterfully adept at writing the words to which so many can relate. Even if it was some poor kid from Stratford.

Shakespeare means a lot to the ‘Pub and it goes without saying that the ‘Pub means a lot to all of us. What does it mean to me exactly? Hmm… Maybe I’ve got one last thing to write from this golden quill.

Charles Lewis III’s favorite Shakespeare-related ‘Pub memory is when he witnessed first-hand how the amazing Neil Higgins took a potential disaster and flawlessly turn it into a live theatre triumph.

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Theater Around The Bay: Adaptors Are Artists Too

Stuart Bousel talks about how adaptation is an often undervalued skill in the theater industry.

For almost a year now I have been working on a stage adaptation of Kristin Hersh’s memoir, Rat Girl, which is a project that began when I read the book and knew I wanted to turn it into a stage play. There were a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is my own love for the music of Kristin Hersh, but it fundamentally came down to believing that Kristin’s story was one that could be serviced greatly by live performance, centered as it was on a live performance art, and that the things which I connected to were the kind of things other audience members would connect to. I found her portrayal of herself and the people in her life charming and believable, and I liked that she openly stated at numerous points throughout the book that while everything “had happened”, she was not an entirely reliable narrator, especially considering she was suffering from undiagnosed bi-polarity for about half of the book, and undergoing treatment for said mental condition for the remainder.

reason #7,000 to love Kristin: you have got to have a sense of humor about yourself to choose this image for the cover of your book about how you went insane.

reason #7,000 to love Kristin: you have got to have a sense of humor about yourself to choose this image for the cover of your book about how you went insane.

As a playwright rather notoriously known for plays that employ a lot of first-person, direct-address narrative from somewhat questionable narrators, and a penchant for alt-culture music and lifestyles, the book and I just seemed like a natural fit. Luckily, I was able to convince Kristin and her management to give me a chance to prove myself, even if only for a single production. Equitably lucky, the Exit Theatre, where I have been putting up work since 2005, was willing to take on producing the show and before I had so much as typed out a title page I had an opening date, a production schedule, a budget, half my cast, and a little less than a year to write a show. Now, most people would probably consider this a win and it was, but it also meant I now had to put my money where my mouth was, in a situation where people I greatly admired were watching and would be holding me accountable for the results, and a clock was ticking the whole time.

“Piece of cake,” a friend tells me when I express joy at the commission, and fear at being able to pull it off in time, “I mean, it’s basically already written for you anyway, right?”

“Well, actually…”

“Oh, you know what I mean,” he brushes me off, and the troubling thing is, I do know what he means.

Cut to many months later, I’ve finished a first draft of the script and we’ve had a reading and everything, and I’m sitting down with the producer and the director and we’re tossing around billing for the press releases and posters which are now only a month away from coming out. Obviously we want Kristin’s name as prominent as possible, because the show is being produced as part of a women-centric performance festival, and oh yeah- she’s famous, and a new play needs all the cachet it can get. Still, I’m a little alarmed (and kind of hurt) when the proposed title is, “Rat Girl, by Kristin Hersh, adapted for the stage by Stuart Bousel.” I mean, sure she wrote the book (and lived the life the book is based on), but I’m the guy who spent the last six months of his life reading it three times and trying to turn a charming, smart, but at times barely coherent, kind of rambling diary, into a dramatically paced story with a beginning, middle, and end, not to mention playable characters and discernible themes. In other words, I’m the guy who wrote the play, which is what we’re talking about here- not the book- and while of course the play wouldn’t exist without the book, it’s important to point out that the play (at least in this form) wouldn’t exist without me.

Because Kristin is both alive and in communication with me, the billing debate is easily ended by sending her an email with a couple of options and, to my relief, she goes for my proposed “Kristin Hersh’s Rat Girl, adapted for the stage by Stuart Bousel”, but before we get there, my producer, bless her, says in passing, “Well, it seems that all we’re doing is adapting the book anyway,” which, I know, isn’t meant to come off as, “you’re not doing all that much here anyway,” but it kind of does. With no disrespect to my producer (who is lovely), it often seems to me that in the minds of most people who don’t write plays (or films), there is a real big difference between an adaptation and an original work, and of course there is, but that difference is often construed to be that original work reflects a greater, more substantial, more creative, and thus more worthy effort on the part of the writer than an adaptation does. I’m here to tell you, as an author with an accomplished resume of both original works and adaptations, that this is simply not true.

Fact: Turns out the Oscar for Best Screenplay and the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, are BOTH mostly made out of tin.

Fact: Turns out the Oscar for Best Screenplay and the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, are BOTH mostly made out of tin.

Rat Girl is my sixth straight up adaptation, though you could argue at least three of my other plays are adaptations of famous myth cycles (the Trojan War, the Epic of Gilgamesh, Jason and the Argonauts), and I technically adapted an HP Lovecraft story (“The Thing on the Doorstep”) into a screenplay in college, though the less we talk about that the better. I’ve adapted a collection of short stories by Peter S. Beagle (“Giant Bones”), a play by Jean Genet (“The Balcony”), a novella by H.P. Lovecraft (“The Dunwich Horror”), three plays by Shakespeare (“Henry IV part 1 and 2, Henry V”), and two more works I kind of can’t talk about because I signed contracts saying I’d never admit to the work (ghost writing is a probably a blog worthy of itself). I’ve written in the past about my adaptation process (you can read about it, in regards to my Shakespeare adaptation, “The Boar’s Head”, on this very blog), but the adaptation process for RAT GIRL has been especially interesting since it’s technically based not only on previously written work, but actual historical events and people.

Don’t be fooled by the hats; Dave, Kristin, Tea, and Leslie are all real people

Don’t be fooled by the hats; Dave, Kristin, Tea, and Leslie are all real people

That said, Kristin’s book is not a straight-forward historical account of what happened, but a collage of 1) her diary from the time, 2) song lyrics spanning her entire career up to the present and 3) memories and anectdotes of events that occur both before and after the principal time line of the book, not to mention 4) told from the perspective of someone who is admittedly (and diagnostically) even more unreliable than the average human being (and most human beings, unless gifted with photographic memories and impeccable honesty, are at least somewhat unreliable narrators). Needless to say, this makes an adaptation a daunting task in and of itself as one attempts to create a story an audience can follow, but Rat Girl is further complicated by two more things, neither of which are a given in every adaptation, but further illustrate my general point that adaptors (particularly of memoirs) have their work cut out for them.

The first complication is that the book is written first-person, entirely from Kristin’s perspective, which means NONE OF THE CHARACTERS EXCEPT HER ARE GIVEN A FIRST PERSON PERSPECTIVE, and while we get more than 300 pages of Kristin’s thoughts and views and ideas, all we get about the other people is what she tells us about them, and what hints we can glean from their dialogue (which to Kristin’s credit, she has an excellent ear for dialogue). When you’re reading the book, this isn’t something that really bothers you, but transferred to a dramatic form, you become quickly aware (as we all did in the first reading) that everyone in the story but Kristin has very little in regards to internal reflection or interior monologue, and thus, despite some fun details or moments, comes across flatter than we tend to prefer characters to be in modern American theater. Especially since a massive chunk of Kristin’s internal monologue, describing these folks to us, hits the cutting room floor because this isn’t a one woman show, even if Kristin is the leading role, and having her talk about the other people completely defeats the point of including them as actual characters in the play. Bottom line, solving this problem required me to dramatize relayed situations where characters could actively demonstrate who they were rather than passively be described, and that in turn often entailed expanding or adjusting their dialogue from the book, or in some cases collapsing the actions and traits of several smaller characters into more prominent, important ones in an effort to provide more dimensionality.

Do you think Kristin’s saying, “If I’m ever turned into a character in a play, I will have just as many monologues as Hamlet”? Because that’s kind of how it fell out.

Do you think Kristin’s saying, “If I’m ever turned into a character in a play, I will have just as many monologues as Hamlet”? Because that’s kind of how it fell out.

The second complication to Rat Girl’s adaptation process was that while many things happen over the course of Kristin’s story, and there are many dramatic moments (including the decision, at one point, to attempt suicide by slitting her wrists), the book, being based on life, mimics life’s amazing ability to evade dramatic structure because of that whole thing where dramas have an arc and a point, while life is essentially a series of vaguely connected events that frequently only have relevancy to one another because we retrospectively see them that way. This is perhaps even more apparent in Rat Girl because the central conflict in the book is really Kristin vs. herself, engaged as she is in a battle to keep her fragmenting mind and personality together as she first becomes a rock star, and then a young mother. Though her band’s almost-too-easy-to-be-true rise to prominence in the indie rock scene and the course of her pregnancy provide a throughline to the events of the book, the “two steps forward, one to three steps back” nature of coping with a mental health crisis results in a series of twists and turns that are interesting to read about, but dramatically feel like a series of confusing anti-climaxes, particularly post suicide attempt. The major aspect of Kristin’s story that appealed to me and I wanted to bring to the stage was her struggle to learn to live with a mental health condition that can never be truly cured, but that struggle is fundamentally internal, and dramatic structure requires progress and action. Or to coin a cliché: in the book Kristin tells us what she goes through, but in the play we have to show, not tell, the story, and this meant cutting and re-arranging a long, meandering road of small but distinct events into a shorter sequence of more impactful events that moved in a definitive and climactic direction. Which also meant, once again, generating some material of my own, including crafting whole scenes based on a handful of lines in the book, or sometimes just an implication. This made me nervous as all get out, but the alternative would have been either a story full of holes, or an actor playing Kristin, standing center stage, telling us everything, and thus essentially just reading the book to us.

I imagine that would look like this, only the band is being way more forgiving than I suspect the audience would be.

I imagine that would look like this, only the band is being way more forgiving than I suspect the audience would be.

It all this comes down to this: it is hard to adapt a story from one medium to another, and as much as I get why people might think it’s easy because “you’re not telling a story from scratch”, the truth is, you still kind of are, because the way we tell a story in prose is vastly different from the way we tell one on the stage and you, as the adaptor, have to come up with your approach and make it work- even if you do opt to include a bunch of direct address monologues (which, by the way, only really work outside of Greek theatre when a character is describing their feelings and thoughts- not the events and people of the play). It’s arguably even harder to adapt something because it’s often exactly what works or appeals about the pre-existing material that complicates your attempts to turn a narrative form into a performative one. This will be exceptionally irritating if, like me, you really love the material because of the way it was written, because style is almost impossible to preserve from one medium to another. Also, if you’re really into the subplots, or little details of characters, it’s going to be a heartbreaking process as early and late drafts will both be about cutting, cutting, and more cutting, usually of the stuff you loved the most. Sadly, the backstory and exposition that give great books scope frequently become overwhelming when brought to the stage in all but the most subtextual fashion, and every book ever written is going to contain more details than you can put on stage within the confines of a running time that audiences can actually endure.

You think this is long?

You think this is long?

Try this.

Try this.

A good adaptor has to be so much more than just a good writer. They have to be an editor and a conceptualist, a researcher and a puzzle solver, a plot and character surgeon- and assassin. They are tasked with having to capture the spirit and substance of the original material while simultaneously boiling it away down to the bones, picking it apart even as they are putting it together. It’s a juggling act, very different from the pure generation process of creating original work, but in no way inferior, for in that conversion of one voice by another there is the potential to strike a chord otherwise impossible. If adaptation and original work have anything in common, it’s the potential to fail is equitably present, but when the adaptor fails they fail not only themselves but also the source material and that material’s generator. Then again, greater stakes often make for better drama, both on and off the stage… and the page.

Stuart Bousel is a co-Founding Artistic Director of the San Francisco Theater Pub, and a prolific writer, director, producer and actor in the Bay Area. His website, http://www.horrorunspeakable.com will tell you all about it. His adaptation of Kristin Hersh’s RAT GIRL opens at the Exit Theatre on May 3rd. You can find out more about Kristin’s music at http://www.throwingmuses.com

Creating The Boar’s Head

Stuart Bousel talks about boiling down and weaving together three plays by Shakespeare.

When one is taking three very long, epic Shakespeare plays and has to cut them down to a seventy-five minute drama, one goes through a real struggle to decide what to keep and what to cut. This is particularly true when one is working with Henry IV and Henry V, which when combined is roughly nine hours of material, at least six of which is really, really good, and feels like it’s thoroughly indispensable.

What has always drawn me to these plays is the broad view they offer of English life in the early 15th century. Because the central figure, Hal, is the Crown Prince of Wales, he offers a window into the courtly world of politics, arranged marriages, military campaigns and espionage, but unlike many of Shakespeare’s other royals, Hal moves amongst the common people, passing his time at the Boar’s Head Tavern in Eastcheap, an outer district of medieval London, consorting with all levels of the citizenry of his kingdom. Through Hal we get the rankless aristocrat Ned Poins, whose second brother status has reduced him to a workingman’s prospects, as well as the business-class Mistress Quickly, who may be one of the first examples in English literature of an unmarried, independent businesswoman. More unsavory types also abound- the petty thieves Bardolph and Pistol, the prostitute Doll Tearsheet. Hal, without ever disguising his true rank, mixes amongst these lesser folk with great familiarity: joking with them, drinking with them, and essentially becoming one of the family.

Most important, of course, is his relationship with John Falstaff, the jovial drunkard and penniless knight who acts not only as friend to Hal, but teacher, antagonist, tempter and surrogate father. Not that Hal lacks a father: Henry IV is a formidable presence in the play, looming in the background, always, symbolic of the heavy responsibilities that are an inevitable, inescapable part of Hal’s future. The tension between these two oppositional paternal forces, and the lifestyles they represent, is the source of much of the dramatic conflict in the Henry IV plays and, to me, was the principal arc to preserve when setting about an adaptation.

Because I was adapting these plays for a bar, I knew I wanted to keep the world of the bar as foregrounded as possible and hence the biggest cuts came with the court scenes and by proxy, those episodes which occurred on the battlefields, i.e. the bulk of Henry IV part 2 and Henry V‘s action. Not only did these scenes go, but some of the wars did too. There are three major military conflicts depicted over the course of the three plays, but in ours there is only one: Hal now goes to France as Prince Hal, not King Henry V, and he is crowned after he returns, victorious, to England. My reasons for this were entirely practical: 1) it made for a more easily identifiable enemy- France- and took the threat of war overseas; 2) it allowed me to appropriate the Chorus speeches from Henry V to better covey leaps of time and other narrative gaps. One unforseen bi-product was that it also allowed me to essentially create a new character: Alice.

Alice exists in Henry V as the handmaiden of Princess Katherine, Hal’s nominal love interest. I knew I wanted to keep the scenes involving Kate not just because it would provide us another female role (the women in these plays, though deftly drawn, are not particularly prominent or plentiful), but also because they contain some of the funniest and most charming material in this trilogy. When the decision came to make Kate a Frenchwoman living in England at the time of the war (and thus trapped there), along with it came the fashioning of Alice, first as Kate’s friend, then as a staff member of the Boar’s Head (“Alice!” has the same cadence as “Francis!”, the name of a waiter from the original text with whom Alice was combined), and finally as the narrator who would allow us to bring in the battles that make Prince Hal into King Henry, without having to bring in confusing sub-plots or numerous other characters like Hotspur, Douglas and the King of France. If along the way we suddenly had a female lead to boot, that didn’t hurt matters. A story about men, fathers and sons, kings and commoners, is perhaps even more interesting when told from a woman’s perspective.

With the reduction of the battles another interesting thing happened: Henry IV became, though a smaller role, a more approachable one, if you ask me. His significance as king, while still present, is now better balanced by his significance as a father. From the beginning I knew I wanted to bring him into the bar, at the very least at the end of the famous scene where Falstaff and Hal each take their turn at playing King. I’ve always thought it would be delicious to have Henry see not just what his subjects thought of him, but his son, while also witnessing the antics of the man who is, essentially, competing with him for his place as father. Having the King show up in the bar, unaccompanied, to confront his truant child is chilling in a way that wasn’t possible in the original play because there’s always been a distance between us and the King, and him and every other character in the play. Now, for this instant, in this version, he’s most or less just a man, standing in the room with us, reacting to what he’s seen, not just had reported to him, beyond the safety of his usual stomping ground, unguarded, in the thick of the moment.

The shaping of the text has gone fairly smoothly from there, with lines coming and going in rehearsal, a speech added or a scene moved here and there so that the story could focus and build around Hal’s journey from slumming rich boy to reluctant military hero to dutiful son and finally, responsible grown up able to shoulder the burdens of being king. Along the way I tried to give a moment to each of the supporting characters that flesh out Hal’s world, whether it was the bombast of Pistol, the alienation of Ned Poins, the vulgarity of Doll Tearsheet, or the charm and elegance of Katherine.

The result is something that feels quite modern, though the language still be Shakespeare’s, and though the story is an old one, the play almost feels new. Or perhaps not new, so much as freshly relevant. When Bennett Fisher, who plays Hal, and I first tossed around the idea of doing this I remember him saying, “In the end, it’s about how you can party all you want, but eventually the lights come on and you know you’re going to have to deal with tomorrow, hangover or no hangover” and I think that reading is essentially true, and an essential human experience as well.

We all, at some point or another, seek to escape our lot in life, evade our responsibilities, or just try to have fun without worrying about the repercussions. You don’t have to be a king to understand the weariness of Henry IV as he sits up nights wondering what his son is up to, just as you don’t have to be an errant prince to know what it’s like to disappoint your parents, indluge people you secretly think aren’t worth your time, or take on tasks you’d rather not be bothered with. The same is true of the supporting characters. Each is dealing with something all of us have dealt with: growing past a friend, or being the friend grown past; struggling with an attraction to someone we know we shouldn’t like; looking to get ahead, or get away with something, or just get our job done so we can go home at the end of the day. This is the stuff of life.

Thus, though many particulars of these familiar characters have changed to suit our Boar’s Head (the one exception being Falstaff, whose titanic presence is pretty unreducable even if you do cut half his lines) the spirit of the play remains quintessentially Shakespearean in its panoramic depiction of the humaness of all people regardless of their position in life or destiny. Which is why, as cliche as it is to say it, The Boar’s Head isn’t Henry’s story, or Falstaff’s, or even Hal’s, so much as everybody’s story.

It’s really just another night at the bar.

-Stuart Bousel

THE BOAR’S HEAD performs on May 16, 17, 23, 30 and 31 at 8pm each night in the Cafe Royale Bar (800 Post, at Leavenworth). Admission is free, but arrive early to ensure a seat.