“Oh, it’s the best!” she declares with utter finality. “I love to do musicals and operas, but that’s because they take you to another plane of existence. But for me Shakespeare is the most challenging. He’s the most far-out, the most wicked and spiritual, and demonic and philosophical. In one play!”
Of course Titus is not the only Shakespeare Taymor has done. She’s directed four versions of The Tempest, the last a brilliant film featuring Helen Mirren playing “Prospera,” the traditionally male Prospero role, in an extraordinarily revealing way. And now she’s doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream off Broadway.
She describes for me her primal experience with Shakespeare’s Dream.
“I remember being at Oberlin College and taking a bus 15 hours with my fellow schoolmates to New York to see Peter Brook’s Dream,” she says. It was a historic production, a production I also saw, that changed the way Shakespeare was done on both sides of the Atlantic.
“It had a powerful effect on me. And I don’t think I’ve seen a good one since, so I’ve pretty much avoided it for years. Partly because after The Lion King I did Titus and that’s the natural way to go—you do The Lion King and then you do Titus.” Circle of Life, Circle of Death.
“A bare stage—” I began to describe Brook’s set design, a kind of luminescent white box.
“Not a bare stage,” she counters. “The Globe [Shakespeare’s main venue] was a bare stage. It’s interesting because the Brook was revolutionary for our time, but not really for Shakespeare’s day, because in Shakespeare’s day it was just an empty stage and empty space—and you used your imagination.”
She tells me she’s devised a different kind of box for her Dream stage.
“The audience is on three sides and it’s basically a magic black box, like a Japanese lacquered black box, that has holes and windows and traps. But we’re using the idea there’s a prologue which is a bed.”
A bed as a prologue?