“Thou know’st ‘tis common; all that lives must die.” –Hamlet
“Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste death but once.” –Julius Caesar
“Ay, but to die, and go we know not where; To lie in cold obstruction and to rot.” –Measure for Measure
“How oft, when men are at the point of death, Have they been merry!” –Romeo and Juliet
“Golden lads and girls all must, As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.” –Cymbeline
Shakespeare is full of references to the end of life. He speaks endlessly, and brilliantly poetically about this, the scariest of realities we face: death. What about the afterlife though? What happens when we enter that sleep? As Hamlet asks, “by sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to….” What then?
To answer that, we have to look no farther than pop culture’s current obsession, zombies. Duh! The zombie apocalypse, dreamed up and put into our consciousness by icon George A. Romero in his 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead, has come upon us. Current pop culture is rife with thoughts of what happens after death. The Walking Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Survival of the Dead, Dead Rising. If you look around, it doesn’t take much to find a reference to the living dead. There is even a zombie movie for kids, ParaNorman, and a cell phone commercial with a zombie in it.
It was only a matter of time before zombies ambled and shambled their way into the classics too. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was released in 2009 and brought about a wave of nightmarish mash-ups with monsters and classics. And then there’s Shakespeare.
Now, some people are purists and say that Shakespeare should not be blemished with such a trite concept. It’s a good thing that I’m not one of those people. And, if we’re going to do it, why not go all the way and tackle a comedy while we’re at it. Movies have given us great examples recently of how brilliantly this can be done. Shaun of the Dead, and Zomb
ieland for example are just following in the tradition that Romero himself tried to set up with his original Dawn of the Dead in 1978.
Comedy and zombies work.
Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: or What You Will is considered one of his greatest romantic comedies. It draws on the classic Shakespearean tropes of mistaken identity, love triangles, a saucy heroine in disguise, and a beleaguered clown who is wise beyond his station. At the heart of the story, though, rests the simple truth: nothing is ever truly dead.
Viola, our cross-dressing heroine, is separated from her brother in a ship wreck at the beginning and he is presumed dead, but he comes back in the end better than ever. The Lady Olivia has given up on love because of a dead brother. She has spurned the advances of the Duke Orsino, who has lost himself to love and has died to the world save for a pursuit of Olivia. Through Viola’s prowess in the affairs of the characters, and the risen-from-the-grave reappearance of Viola’s brother, Olivia’s dead heart is reanimated an
d Orsino is able to satiate his hunger for love.
It is a natural conclusion then that Shakespeare’s story would merge so perfectly with the zombified idea of an afterlife, right? I mean, what’s not to love about the idea of marrying Shakespeare’s storytelling with the epic genre that George Romero created. Zombies and Shakespeare? The only answer is “Bbbblllllaaarrrghhh!” Which in zombie is, “Of course, what’s better?”
So, last year, when Scott told me about the idea for this show, I could barely contain my excitement. Then, he asked if I wanted to direct –
Wait, what?!?! Direct? For B&B? I stuttered. I was flattered to be asked, but would I have the brains for it? Scott and the B&B company have been my family for the past several years; and, I have grown so much as an artist working for the company as an actor. To direct would be a new way to give back! I decided to sink my teeth in.
Twelfth Night of the Living Dead is a great adaptation of Shakespeare’s work. Brian McInnis Smallwood has done a great job boiling the multiple story lines of Shakespeare’
s work down into an easily digestible one-act and yet, still leaving the brains of Shakespeare’s poetry. The concept takes everything that audiences love: the speeches, the love, and it throws that aside for the sake of comedy. Brilliant! It is a genre-bending adventure into a Shakespearean comedy with brain-hungry undead. What more could you ask for at Halloween?
I am glad to be making my directing debut with Bag & Baggage with this show. Thank you Scotty, Ari, Anne, and all the B&B family for letting me do this!
Director and B&B Resident Acting Company Member