“You know the Scott Fitzgerald story “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz?” Her house is a slightly smaller version of my high school, and I realized why she was so happy all the time and she was so angry when she didn’t get what she wanted.”
(Arthur’s talking about his fiancee).
“All girls are like that,” Betty responds.
Arthur is sure, as all men are in these situations, he knows what Betty is thinking, and that Better must want him. Betty, Arthur “knows,” is not like that.
Two episodes into the second season of Mad Men and Peggy is visiting her mom and sister in Brooklyn. After an awkward meal full of undertones, nagging, guilt and jabs (you know mother-daughter-sister stuff), Peggy asks her mom (Katherine played by Myra Turley) if she has anything to drop off or pick up at the library.
“I have to renew the Agony and the Ecstasy. It’s taking forever,” says her mom.
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.