We're going to cheat this week, Constant Reader. I had a private table read of one of my plays yesterday, I've been preparing for a public reading of another at the end of the month, the new season of Tuesdays at Nine (of which I'm now co-Creative Director) starts tomorrow, and it's the busy time of year at my day job. With all of this, there wasn't much time for blogging. However, in prepping for the reading at the end of the month – The Tragedie of King John Falstaff, which will be heard out in Guild Hall in the Hamptons – I wrote some program notes which are conveniently the size of one of my usual blog posts. Ever wonder where I get my crazy ideas? Let's find out, shall we?
The Tragedie of King John Falstaff has its roots in Dead Playwrights Society, a monthly classics reading series created and organized by playwright/composer Erik Ransom. One evening in June of 2017 – about four and a half months into our current political reality – we were having drinks after that day’s reading, and Erik asked if I’d be available for the two readings after that. He wanted me to read Sir John Falstaff – the fat knight himself, that most iconic of Shakespeare’s comedic characters – in Henry IV, parts 1 and 2.
Now, as it happened, this June night in 2017 was also the night of the series premiere of The Leftovers. And as we discussed DPS’ upcoming plans, Erik, as hardcore a genre fan as ever conversed in High Valyrian, was also following along with the Twitter discussion about the show and interspersing our conversation with a running commentary. So when I got home, a born Justice Shallow trying to figure out how to handle Falstaff, I also watched clip after online clip from The Leftovers – that show hinging on the concept of alternate universes – to try and make sense of the discussion.
And somehow, all these fused together in my brain. And the thought occurred to me – what if Owen Glendower got his revenge on the Henries, by using his magic to send everybody into an alternate timeline? The most grotesque, impossible timeline there could be? A timeline in which, by some chance, it was Falstaff who wound up on the throne?
The idea stuck with me. It’s easy to use Shakespeare to criticize current events, by depicting figures you may disapprove of as iconic villains such as Richard III or Macbeth. It’s too easy, in fact – people who agree with you are simply amused, people who disagree with you are simply insulted, and at the end of the day you haven’t said very much of anything. But Falstaff? A character we’re conditioned to love? A character Orson Welles once called the most perfectly good character in all of literature – despite being a walking compendium of every vice known to man? Here was a far more interesting, potentially thought-provoking approach. What happens when a nation decides that such a personification of Vice is a truly authentic voice, and takes him for its leader?
I mean, if you've been paying attention to current events, you probably already have a good idea what happens. But as to my fictional, faux-Elizabethan version, you'll find out the answer to that question on September 30, if you happen to be spending Rosh Hashanah out in the Hamptons and are looking for something to do that evening. As always, more information is soon to come!