l-r Watson, Cutler
A Lesson on Fixations
Shakespeare simply reveals the actor's lot
By Byron Toben
Keir Cutler, the author/performer of eight widely performed monologues, strikes again, this time with a duologue, “Teaching Hamlet”. This wildly amusing show - aided and abetted with the appearance of Brett Watson and the directoral hand of Paul Hopkins - makes a fine book end to Cutler's “Teaching” series.
It was first on my Fringe list last June and a pleasure to experience it again.
I remember the first, “Teaching Shakespeare” at the 1999 Montreal Fringe. Performed in the non-air-conditioned Geordie Space on a sweltering summer day, Keir's late mother, former Westmount mayor May Cutler, handed out little Japanese fans to the spectators, on which she had emblazoned “Shakespeare Fan”. Although she did not express an opinion on the authorship of the works attributed to William Shakespeare of Stratford, she did introduce Keir to the existence of such a debate. This triggered his 2002 piece, “Is Shakespeare Dead?” invoking doubts by Mark Twain and others.
Fast forward to 2011 and the topic is very au courant, what with the November New Yorker humorous article by Eric Idle (secretly written by fellow Monty Python actor Michael Palin) and the film “Anonymous” which brings the debate to a mass audience, Cutler timely creates this piece, “Teaching Hamlet”. It was first on my Fringe list last June and a pleasure to experience it again.
The Shakespeare vs. Shocks-peer confusion, reminiscent of Abbott and Costello's “Who's on First?” is a real hoot
Cutler plays Joe, a dedicated Oxfordian (one who believes that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford was the true author). In his struggle against the dark Stratfordians, he seeks to enlist the aid of Conner Hamilton, a Hamlet player of some renown. This engenders a lot of word play (the Shakespeare vs. Shocks-peer confusion, reminiscent of Abbott and Costello's “Who's on First?” is a real hoot). Joe's mother, a member of his Board, may be watching from above.
Despite the conceit, the play is not so much about who 'twas the real author, but the pride and insecurity of actors and their need for paying gigs. The insider jokes were particularly appreciated by the first night audience, heavy with theatre people. As to the true authorship, Conner, in a moment of pique, exclaims “Who cares!” which seems to be the most common view among aficionados, who agree with Mr. Hamlet that The Play's The Thing, not who wrote it.
For those who do care as to the authorship, Mr, Cutler advises us that there are some 77 claimants. Four dominate the list by a long shot...the aforesaid DeVere, Christopher Marlowe,William Stanley(6th earl of Derby) and Francis Bacon. Of the remaining 73, my own antennae favour John Florio of Italian descent (championed by McGill Professor Lamberto Tassinari at the 2010 Blue Metropolis conference) or a woman, Amelia Bassano Lanier of secret Jewish extraction. Shakespeare himself may well have been a secret Catholic, so why not?
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