The Hudson Shakespeare Company, based in Jersey City, N.J., is launching a new play reading series that delves where few theater companies dare to tread, the “William Shakespeare Apocrypha.” This internal series is intended to choose one of these seldom-performed titles for the company's summer program next year and to whet the public's appetite on hidden Shakespeare.
The "Apocrypha" is a collection of plays that have, at one time or another, been attributed to Shakespeare. These plays appear across Shakespeare’s career from his earliest working days as an actor and writer in London to some printed or emerging well after his death. Some titles (Edward III, The Spanish Tragedy) have stronger connections to him and his theater company than others (The Merry Devil of Edmonton, Sir John Oldcastle). In the past 15 years, computer studies, known as Stylometrics, have shed new light on these works, providing evidence of Shakespeare's hand in some of these plays.
“In true Italian style, we’ll get together with our extended actor family, those who have worked with us on our summer tours, and, with some homemade pizza and wine, we’ll read and act out the shows and discuss the high and low points," Hudson Shakespeare Company Artistic Director Jon Ciccarelli said in a company release. "From these round table sessions, we’ll pick one of these shows to produce next July. Nothing beats the live collaboration between actors in dissecting plays and tossing around ideas on how to adapt them, especially these unknown works. I believe it's very much the way that Shakespeare and his fellow writers would collaborate in writing these plays. I think more plays were written over a pint in the local pub than over a desk.”
The first reading will be Sept. 20 with Arden of Faversham, a black comedy about a bored housewife and her clueless lover as they try one stupid scheme after another to kill her husband. On Oct. 20, the company will try out Sir Thomas More, a collaboration of six playwrights and, apparently, a scribe. One of those playwrights was Shakespeare, as the surviving manuscript includes the only known pages with Shakespeare’s handwriting. Mucedorus, Prince of Valencia will conclude the tryouts on Nov. 15. In this comedy, a disguised prince seeks love and adventure and finds it in the form of a princess who’s on the run, a cocky count, a monotone caveman, and a goofy servant who loves to make bad jokes.
“A good deal of recent scholarship has determined that a handful of these plays are partly by Shakespeare, and as a Shakespeare company that produces lesser-done Shakespeare plays, we want to explore them,” Ciccarelli said. “In 2012, we produced a version of Double Falsehood which supposedly contains the text of the acknowledged, but now lost, Shakespeare collaboration, Cardenio. Not only was it an interesting and fun script to adapt for our summer Shakespeare in the Parks festival, but it was also one of our better-attended shows, even more so than some known titles like Othello." The company also saw good attendance at its productions of such obscure Shakespeare titles as Timon of Athens and Henry VIII, demonstrating that audiences are as receptive, if not more so, to less popular Shakespeare plays than his greatest hits. Plus, Ciccarelli says, "You never know: Some of these titles may officially be added to the canon.”
September 8, 2014