Sigh

So it’s -20C and snowing in Toronto on a Monday morning as I come out of the shower, and as if that weren’t enough a report comes on National Public Radio from WNYC in New York (yes, I’ve lived in Canada for four and a half years, I’m a Canadian citizen now, and I still listen to NPR from New York) about the adventurous theater season at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. BAM is putting on “John Gabriel Borkman” with Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, and Lindsay Duncan; an adaptation of Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman” with Geoffrey Rush; and “King Lear” with Derek Jacobi.

 

I lived in New York for almost 25 years; I spent the last 15 or so in Park Slope, Brooklyn, derided by some as the land of double-wide strollers and John Hodgman (Hodgman only started hanging out at the Tea Lounge, which was around the corner from me and the home of a fascinating little community of writers and artists, after I left), but truly one of the most amazing neighborhoods in the United States, if not the world, not least because it was a 15-minute walk from BAM.

 

I long ago lost count of the number of amazing theater, concert, and opera productions I saw at BAM, so I’m not in the least surprised to learn about what they’ve got coming up. Nor should you be surprised that I’m tearing my hair out at missing these productions. However, the reason for this post is the attempt by the reporter, Jeff Lunden, to end with a cute little twist. You can listen to the report, look at the transcript, or just keep reading:

 

Not all of BAM’s classical theater season deals with madness and delusion. A production of Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” is coming, as well.

 

If you do look at the transcript you’ll see the comment I posted:

 

Sigh. Is everybody at NPR so illiterate as not to realize that “The Comedy of Errors” is ALL ABOUT madness and delusion? Is the title “The Comedy of ERRORS” really not a tipoff? Sure. it’s under the comic guise of mistaken identity, but the last time I checked that was a form of delusion, and the last time I read the play I noticed characters wondering whether they or other characters were mad.

 

Shakespeare knew how to end with a cute comic twist. Maybe Jeff Lunden should read him sometime.

 

Am I being too hard on poor little Jeff Lunden? Am I the Ricky Gervais of NPR reporters? (I didn’t see the Golden Globes, but it was to laugh, reading tweets about how awful Gervais was: “Somebody was MEAN to a CELEBRITY! WAAAAH!”) It’s obvious where this is coming from. Lunden noticed, or was told by his editor, that the plays he had discussed were all about “madness” and “delusion” (though the jury is still out on whether “John Gabriel Borkman” is about either)–but look, here’s a comedy! Let’s end with this as a cute contrast! Which would not have been so objectionable in itself, except that all you have to do is experience “The Comedy of Errors” to know that it is also all about madness and delusion. So it’s plain that Lunden has never read or seen “The Comedy of Errors” but doesn’t feel disqualified from referring to it on that basis. I have no compunctions about calling him out on that. Humor, especially snark, based on ignorance, becomes more loathsome to me the older I get and the more I read Shakespeare.


There’s much more to say about all this, of course. Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and weekends I think “The Comedy of Errors” is just a farce, one of Shakespeare’s early, lesser attempts at comic relief. The rest of the week I wonder whether there might be something to Marjorie Garber’s attempt to find a darker strain in it. But you’ll have to wait for the full discussion in My Year with Shakespeare to find out what I decide.


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