Throughout Mad Men, books appear that are a direct reflection of characters or the period they live in. There are books characters are reading in which, in a real meta moment, characters feature that are the templates of themselves.
Mad Men is, in essence, a period piece, and props in any period piece are essential. Viewers will turn on a show if a character glances at a digital wristwatch, is leafing through a copy of Game of Thrones or a is wearing a pair of Jordan VIs.
There are two books in this episode, and I am starting with the one that comes second in the episode: Exodus.
Am I the only one that cares enough to mention that? Probably.
Exodus, by Leon Uris is the book that started the Mad Men reading project for me. The book was, as I’ve written before, sitting on my bookshelf when I was watching the episode (S01E06, Babylon) for the second time, and because it played such a prominent role in the episode, and I hadn’t read the book, I stopped watching, read it and continued on.
After delving and diving into D.H. Lawrence in episode three of the first season, we get a quaint bedtime story in episode four read by Betty Draper (January Jones) in her sultry and soothing voice I dare anyone not to drift off into a lovely dream after hearing.
We have, ladies and gents, our first fairy-tale in Mad Men.
“Church bells rang out and the air was full of flying birds.
What a joyous parade it was back at the palace.
No king could command anything finer.”
– Betty (S01E04, New Amsterdam)
Bobby is crashed out and Sally is wrapped in attention as Betty reads the final lines of a story in Nursery Friends From France (translated by Olive Beaupre) in S01E04 (New Amsterdam). One thing, I read the entire book and never found those lines. If anyone knows what nursery rhyme this comes from, I’d love to hear where it came from. I never found those specific lines in the version I read.
Before looking the book up at the library and taking it out, I had not heard of the author or title, and had never before thought of reading it.
So why am I reading it?
It is the final book on the Mad Men Reading list and appears in the final episode of the series (S07E14). I have not finished the episode or series because I have not finished the book.
The whole thing started when I was re-watching the series before the final season came out. In S01E06 (Babylon), the character Lily Meyer (Irene Roseen) hands Don Draper (John Hamm) a copy of Exodus, by Leon Uris, and told him he needed to read it. I looked at my bookshelf and noticed I had a copy of that book and I’d never read it.
I stopped the show, started reading and then finished the book. I went back to the episode and was blown away by what reading the book did for the episode and greater understanding of the particular story arc that was progressing.
Bard on the Beach‘s 2019 production is set in 1946/47 India and leading up to independence from English rule, which were indeed problematic times for the country. There are moments of comedy, but also tragedy and civil unrest.
Issues of colonization, privilege, identity, culture, race and gender are evident in the production, and sometimes uncomfortable to watch.
The production starts with a very British feel both in the sets and costumes, but moves into the colourful, warm and vibrant Indian culture as the play progresses.
The second half starts with beautiful colour, dance and music and thoroughly livens up the atmosphere.
Why Helena (Sarena Parmar) would love Bertram (Edmund Stapleton) when he is such a pompous British snob and doesn’t want to marry her because she is beneath his station is not quite believable. Then again, she wouldn’t be the first girl to fall for a dud if we’re being honest. That said, I was not fully convinced even at the end when Helena reveals herself to Bertram.
The use of a second language (Hindi and Urdu) without interpretations was tough to comprehend for those, like this reviewer, who didn’t understand. Props to BOB for acknowledging, however, the large southeast Asian population in Vancouver and giving those so often left out of Shakespearean productions a prominent space in the play. Some audience members were enjoying the dialogue, but it was lost on those who only understand English, and Shakespeare’s English at that!
Co-directors Rohit Chokhani and Johnna Wright have taken a bold approach in this adaptation of All’s Well that Ends Well.
The sword fight and dancing are highlights of the production and give life and energy to the stodgy British actors.
The subplot with Bertram’s companion Parolles (Jeff Gladstone) does not seem to fit with the rest of the play and reflects badly on Bertram’s lack of charisma. I just didn’t see where he fit in.
The play ends with Indian and Pakistani flags unfurled and the fighting continues with Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs brawling. Another mess left by the British Empire.
The play, for its complicated language and sometimes confusing subplots, is unique and still one worth seeing. I continue to commend BOB for always making the plays interesting and relevant. They never fail to take a chance, and should always be checked out.
Andrew McNee & Jennifer Lines, The Taming of the Shrew (2019) Photo & Image Design: Emily Cooper. (Courtesy Bard on the Beach)
“If I be waspish, best beware my sting.” – Katherine
My never-ending quest as a high school English teacher is to persuade other teachers, often much younger than myself, to read, teach, live Shakespeare with their students. My argument for doing so is always the same; he knew what it meant to be human, not only in his time but through all time. That is why the themes in his plays inspire everything from The Lion King to Game of Thrones (minus season 8. Don’t get me started.).
The Taming of the Shrew is no different even if the perceived controversy of the content raises the ire of some once again. The players at Bard on the Beach have done a masterful job of displaying a story not for controversy’s sake, but to contravene conventions that are prominent in many parts of 21st century society.
The sun is shining for the most part, and that must mean the thespians are out and about ready to put together the various productions of Bard on the Beach, Shakespeare in the Park, Willy in the Parking Lot or Bill under the stars. Okay, those last two I made up, and you might not want to go if someone invites you to them until you’ve checked that they are in fact productions of William Shakespeare, playwright (maybe?), actor and producer.
Here are a few that the Brawlers have either attended in the past, or ones we think you might like.
Bard on the Beach, Vancouver BC
Bard on the Beach is one of my favourites of them all. It’s the first festival I made a point of going to when I lived in Vancouver, and it’s one I’ve seen about 20 or so plays at. The crews out at Vanier Park always do a very good job with their productions and rarely have I left thinking it a bad idea I caught the play.
BOB is also putting on one of the Bard Brawl’s favourite Shakespeare-themed movies in theatre form in Shakespeare in Love, so double dang that I won’t be out west this year.
Look forward to Bard Brawl reviews of as many of these fine plays as we can get a reviewer to the beach for.
Repercussion Theatre, Montreal
Amanda Kellock is directing this year’s set of free Shakespeare in the Park productions of Measure for Measure this year, and the Bard Brawlers will for sure be in on this one.
Repercussion did a great job with gender-bending R&J last year pushing the quality of the play to feature a lesbian love affair between the titular characters, which worked perfectly and was thoroughly enjoyed, and I’m excited they picked M4M to do this year. It’s a great play, and I get all nerd pumped whenever a company does a less well-known play.
Plays start July 11, so find a park near you and go go go.
Canadian Stage, Shakespeare in High Park, Toronto
If Raptors fans ever come down from their collective high and decide they want to do something with their summer aside from sitting in Jurassic Park crying with joy, check out a couple of gems from the Shakespeare in High Park festival.
Like Montreal, TO, the Six, Drakeville or whatever you’re calling it these days, is putting on M4M and also doing one of the top comedies in the cannon: Much Ado About Nothing.
Plays start July 4
Shakespeare in the Ruff, Withrow Park, Toronto
This could be fun. Shakespeare in the Ruff is putting on a Winter’s Tale this year, which is a pretty awesome play, but also a very tricky one to pull off.
There’s a bear, there are sheep and there’s a pretty epic ending on this one, so you might want to bring a picnic and check it out.
Plays start August 14.
Public Theatre, Shakespeare in Central Park, NYC
Dang again. Public Theatre is putting on, yep, Coriolanus. This I may need to make a special trip down to Manhattan to check out.
That starts in July, and Much Ado About Nothing is entering its final week.
Central Park is a pretty awesome place to check out the bard, and this bard brawler loved the version of Cymbeline they put on a few years ago.
You can get tickets via lottery for these or book well in advance. It’s worth it either way.
Shakespeare Kelowna, Kelowna, BC
And just to ensure that one play is being put on in the completely wrong time of year, Shakespeare Kelowna decided to stage the Christmas production Twelfth Night this summer.
The idea that this play is a Christmas play has lost all relevance, so the purists can just settle down at this point.
Jokes aside, this can be one of the funniest plays of them all if done right, and will be a delight for those people in the Okanagan up for a night at the Spearhead Winery.
Locale on this one can’t be beat, so get a ticket and check it out.
Productions start July 17.
If there are any other Shakespeare productions you feel the brawlers would enjoy, send us an email or message us on Facebook anytime.
While there are no gripes here about modern interpretations, different takes and whimsically inspired remakes of Shakespeare plays, there is something entirely satisfying about straight up productions.
“Something wicked this way comes.”
Take the meandering path to the Bard on the Beach tents at Vanier Park, and enter the witches brew of all tragedies found deep in the bogs of Scotland: Macbeth is on, the Scottish play, and you should check it out.
Director Chris Abraham went straight up performance and passion for this take on the bloody and brooding play, and it’s pulled off to great effect.
Casting is on point with Ben Carlson (Macbeth) nicely balancing madness, ambition, regret and power alongside the equally ambitious, unstable and ultimately tragic Lady Macbeth, played with skill and style by Moya O’Connell.
I took my 12-year-old nephew to the play hoping he would get a kick out of some live theatre, while at the same time being a bit nervous he would find it scary or disturbing. I don’t have kids, so never really know what parents think about these things. Oh well. He came. He loved it.
Note: take your kids to Shakespeare plays. They will enjoy.
Things needed to make the Scottish play work well: quality lead couple, cool witches, good choreography, believable death scenes, and a severed head if you have it. This one had them all. Well done.
Though I’ve read and seen the play multiple times (including one unfortunate production in high school that left me feeling very sad for the actors, who my brat classmates kept mocking aloud), Abraham’s staging and the performances kept me on the edge of my seat hoping, hoping, hoping against what I knew that certain decisions were not made that way. It’s such a great play.
Of course no amount of stage style matters in this play if the two leads don’t have chemistry. O’Connell and Carlson embrace the challenge. They are ravenous for each other as they desperately cling to each other and their power with tragic passion.
BOB has extended this play through September. Don’t wait for tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow to see it or it shall be gone in a brief shadow.