Revisiting Classics

It has been a great privilege of mine, as a theater reviewer, to really steep myself in the classic works of drama (particularly the Western canon, such as it is). I read (or read about) the biggies in my survey of theater course in college. But for nytheatre.com I got to experience them as they’re intended to be experienced, on stage, in performance. It’s an education that few outside of the profession ever get, and one to be savored.

Of course, some of the “classics” get done over and over. And over. And so I not only got to see these important plays, but sometimes twice, or three times. Or, in just a few cases, more than that.7hamlets

Looking back over the 3,032 reviews I wrote, I am quite pleased to note that I actually didn’t repeat plays that much. In fact, I saw nearly 2900 different plays during my career, which means only about 3% of my theatergoing was to work I’d already seen. This was very much by design; I don’t like seeing plays more than one time.

I was curious which ones I saw the most, though, and now I have the answer:

  1. Hamlet and Macbeth are tied for the top spot, at seven productions apiece.
  2. Twelfth Night is next; saw it 6 times.
  3. The Importance of Being Earnest had 5 separate visits.
  4. Tied with 3 productions each are several plays: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, Richard III, The Cherry Orchard, The Merchant of Venice, The Misanthrope, The Rivals, The Seagull, The Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest, Three Sisters, Waiting for Godot, and Woyzeck.

Mostly Shakespeare, with some Chekhov and a few others thrown in for good measure.

These productions were the work of the Pearl Theatre (6), Storm Theatre (5), Theater Ten Ten (5), and other great (mostly indie) companies. There are some Broadway reviews in here, too, but mostly unenthusiastic ones (e.g., Kelsey Grammer’s Macbeth, Al Pacino’s Shylock).

I’m planning to write more about these plays: seeing something many times offers some unique opportunities for exploration and discovery. So, yes, there will be a “7 Hamlets” post coming to this space soon.

For now, I am going to leave you with some links to reviews from this cohort of which I’m particularly proud. Because some productions are revelatory, in the sense of indeed revealing what the play IS. To wit,

  • Eve Adamson’s The Merchant of Venice at Jean Cocteau Repertory (2000), which let us experience this controversial work very much the way Shakespeare’s audience probably did;
  • Joshua Chase Gold’s Woyzeck (2008), a thrilling production that exemplified everything that a contemporary adaptation of a classic work should be; and
  • Arthur Adair’s Three Sisters at La MaMa (2005), one of my all-time top theater memories, as brilliantly considered an evocation of an author’s intention as I’ve ever seen.

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