I saw the Elevator Repair Service doing their work-in-progress adaptation of Shakespeare's *Measure For Measure* on 7/15. I don't know the play at all, but it was the company that I was there to see. Karen Miller and I saw *Gatz* a few years ago, their eight-hour staging of *The Great Gatsby*, the whole novel, and it remains (and will probably always be) one of the most brilliant things I've ever seen. Imaginative, revelatory, exciting, everything you could want in a cultural event. We next saw their staging of the first chapter of *The Sound and the Fury*, which I didn't like as much, but was still worth seeing. I was curious to see what they'd do with Shakespeare.
The performance ended with a Q and A with artistic director John Collins, and he explained why he chose to do a play, when they've made their reputation doing oddball literary adaptations. He said it was a new challenge, to see what they could do with a play, how they could do their thing with something that was written to be performed onstage. So here's how they did it: the actors memorized their roles, but their performances were guided by teleprompters at the foot of the stage and in the back of the auditorium. The pace of the performance was dictated by the pace of the teleprompter. We saw them doing all of Act One, and it only took 25 minutes. They were talking VERY fast. It was often unintelligible, but the energy was delightful. It made me think of *His Girl Friday*.
The actors were still giving performances, even in this context. It won't be a surprise that Scott Shepherd was one of the lead actors, he was the star of *Gatz* and is a frequent lead actor in Wooster Group productions. I adore him and love what he does. The female lead was someone I hadn't seen before (sorry, I don't know her name and the program was no help), and her performance, even with the speed, had a warm sincerity, none of the amusing staginess that many of the other actors put across. The final soliloquy was the highlight - - the director projected the text onto the stage, so we could all read it as the actor was saying it. You saw just how fast the text spins by, and it was breathtaking.
Collins explained how he came up with the idea of having it be performed so fast. He said they were experimenting with Shakespeare and decided to work on famous scenes in Shakespeare, to see what they could do with them. They were doing the prison scene from *Measure For Measure* and tried doing it with the dialogue delivered very slowly, with long pauses. That was effective, but he knew they couldn't sustain a whole show like that. So they tried the opposite extreme, doing it very fast, and they liked it.
This was one of their first performances in front of an audience. The full work will have its premiere at the Public Theater sometime in the 2017-18 season, and I will be there!