Something Wicked This Way Comes: “Macbeth” Hits Stages from Coast to Coast

Could Macbeth be to Halloween what A Christmas Carol is to Noël? Based on the number performances starring the Thane of Cawdor this month, all signs seem to point to yes. Among the various renditions, Shakespeare’s tragedy exploring the darkest and bloodiest elements of human nature appears in wildly different venues on either ends of the country this month.

 

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Starting October 20 and running through November 3, the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles opens its “immersive” production of Macbeth. Directed by former Royal Shakespeare Company member Kenn Sabberton, The Tragedie of Macbeth is set in a haunted house where audience members walk through the play as it is happening. The show starts in the Shakespeare Center’s parking garage, which stands in for the mysterious witches’ heath, then winds its way through the castle. Pared down to seventy minutes with nine actors playing everyone from Macbeth to Banquo, the intimate nature of the show limits fifty spectators per performance.
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, catch a glimpse of Macbeth through the fog art installation currently set up at Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum. Fog x Macbeth takes place on Sunday, October 21 at 5 pm, and like the Shakespeare Center’s adaptation, it is an abridged portrayal. This show is part of a larger exhibition by Japanese fog artist Fujito Nakaya, whose five fog sculptures situated in and around Boston are helping celebrate the twenty-year anniversary of the Emerald Lake Conservancy, a group dedicated to conserving the area’s century-old park system created by Frederick Law Olmstead.

 

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The Actor’s Shakespeare Project  (ASP), a Boston-based theater company whose mission is to share Shakespeare’s immortal words with contemporary audiences, uses an adaptation by playwright Migdalia Cruz, whose full play is on stage now through November 11 at Brookline’s United Parish.

 

Meanwhile, with jets of gray mist pulsing at various intervals as the backdrop, Sunday’s free presentation will take place on the lawn next to the arboretum’s Hunnewell building. Audience members are welcome to bring lawn chairs or blankets and are encouraged to dress for the elements.

 

And finally, Macbeth was recently staged at a place where both actors and audience members deeply related to the characters they portrayed: Twin Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla, Oregon. One of the actors portraying Macbeth is currently serving life in prison for murder. (Reporter Noelle Crombie at the Oregonian goes into great detail about the performance and the organizations that bring acting programs to inmates.)

 

“I have done the deed” takes on new meaning, doesn’t it?

 

Photo credit: Nile Scott Shots

Kids Books Quick Picks

Fall always heralds the arrival of great children’s books, and this year’s crop doesn’t disappoint. Behold a few of our favorites of the season:

Fall always heralds the arrival of great children’s books, and this year’s crop doesn’t disappoint. Behold a few of our favorites of the season:

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Stanley’s School, by William Bee, (Peachtree; $14.95, 32 pages, ages 2-5) is the latest in a series starring a charming hamster. As the title suggests, Stanley is running things at school and leads his furry charges through a typical day: from arrival to read-aloud, lunch, and dismissal, these pint-size creatures demonstrate the inner workings of pre-k and elementary school. Bee’s large, cheerful illustrations invite young readers to revel in heading to class. The padded covers invite little hands to fully explore while also signaling the transition from board books to picture books.

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In another rodent-driven narrative, Martin Jenkins’s The Squirrels’ Busy Year (illustrated by Richard Jones, Candlewick; $16.99, 32 pages, ages 3-6), introduces changing seasons and weather patterns by following a year in the lives of two inquisitive squirrels. Foraging for acorns and dodging owls are a few of the daily adventures these busy critters face, depending on the season. Straightforward and uncomplicated prose is accompanied by front matter offering specifics in case adults get peppered with a few “why” questions after a read-through. An index with follow-up questions meand to encourage further inquiry roud out this smart volume, while Richard Jones’s mixed-media renderings of the natural world are textured and comforting.

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National Book Award Finalist Sy Montgomery’s How to Be A Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals (illustrated by Rebecca Green, HMH; $20.00, 208 pages, ages 7-up), examines a life spent in the company of animals and how those relationships taught her compassion, love, and forgiveness. From a family pig named Christopher Hogwood to a giant Pacific octopus named Octavia, each vignette imparts life lessons that only a non-human can provide. “Other species, when we are allowed to know and care about them, give us a chance expand our moral universe,” says the author. “We learn to embrace the Other. We have a lot in common with our fellow animals–we share about 90% of our DNA with fellow mammals, and animals from clams to elephants share our same neurotransmitters, responsible for perceptions and emotions.” Montgomery’s poetic text proves her ability to write for readers of all ages. Accompanied by author photos and Rebecca Green’s whimsical, folk-art inspired sketches, How to Be a Good Creature affirms what many of us already know: that human-animal bonds are not just real, they are powerful agents of change, acceptance, renewal. Consider reading this in tandem with your child–there’s plenty here to encourage a robust dialogue on many of life’s big questions.

Cover image: “Compulsory Education,” by Charles Burton Barber. 1890. Public Domain.

Lessons in Bad Behavior from Ancient Greece: A New Translation of “Characters” by Theophrastus

If there’s anything new to learn from Characters, a series of personality portraits written by the ancient Greek Theophrastus (c. 371 – c. 287 BC), it is that gluttons, chatterboxes, drunks, idiots, and others are not unique to any time or place in human history. A new translation offers a fresh look.

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If there’s anything new to learn from Characters, a series of personality portraits written by the ancient Greek Theophrastus (c. 371 – c. 287 BC), it is that gluttons, chatterboxes, drunks, idiots, and others are not unique to any time or place in human history.  This robust little volume of character sketches has been widely published and translated since its first appearance twenty-three centuries ago–Jean de la Bruyère’s Les Caractères (1688), Character Writings of the Seventeenth Century (1891) and the Loeb Classical Library’s edition are a few that come to mind–but each translation is an interpretative undertaking, meaning there is always a renewed need for fresh viewpoints.

On October 1, Characters will be once again published in English, this time by Callaway Arts & Entertainment. Translated by Pamela Mensch with vibrant pen-and-ink illustrations by acclaimed caricature artist André Carrillo, this edition includes insightful annotations by Bard College classics professor and Guggenheim recipient James Romm.

Part the enduring appeal of Characters is that bad behavior, however caustic, is, whether we like it or not, universal; who doesn’t know a busybody who “stands up and promises what he can’t deliver,” a slovenly fellow “afflicted with dull-white eczema and black fingernails, go[ing] about saying that these illnesses are hereditary,” and the friend of scoundrels who “fraternizes with men who have been defeated in court and convicted in public trials; he assumes that if he’s friendly with them, he’ll become more worldly and formidable.”

 

“These are flesh-and-blood people, with very familiar flaws and foibles,” Romm explained. “They remind us that ancient Greeks were actual human beings, not marble busts. The past no longer feels like a foreign country. It’s a true gift to be able to ‘feel’ the reality of the classical world.” As Romm points out in his introduction, some previous translators could not square with the lack of judgement in Theophrastus’s sketches and inserted their own. This edition strips away those addendums, allowing the original descriptions to be read on their own merit.

 

And yet, English-speakers don’t suffer for lack options: Penguin released a paperback version as recently as 2015, so why a new translation now? “There’s a very practical reason,” Romm said. “The Greek text of Characters is rather messy, with lots of sentences in dispute (or simply unintelligible) due to copyists’ errors in the transmission process. Only a few years ago, a new edition of the Greek text by James Diggle sorted out many of these problems. This new English version by Pamela Mensch takes advantage of that cleaned-up Greek text.”

 

Contemporary readers may be familiar with Theophrastus’s exhaustive Inquiry into Plantsand Causes of Plants. However, Characters reveals more of the author’s natural verve and wit, which has led some scholars to dispute whether Theophrastus deserves the attribution. “The contrast between Characters and the botanical works is indeed sharp,” Romm said. “Assuming Theophrastus wrote both, he seems to have wanted to take an occasional break from science to compose light satire, and perhaps, like all good teachers, sought a way to bring some levity to his ‘classroom’ — in his case, the Lyceum, founded by Aristotle.”

 

We may see a bit of ourselves, our friends, and our political leaders in these portraits, but how might have an ancient Athenian reacted? After all, these were sketches based on actual people Theophrastus encountered on a daily basis. Romm believes the Greeks would have taken it in stride– “With a laugh and a nod of recognition, and probably a bit of embarrassment!”

Society needs writers who document human behavior, even if that behavior never seems to change. But those records needn’t always be gloomy. “Thucydides famously wrote that human nature is constant over time, so that the deeds he recorded in the Peloponnesian War would be seen again,” Romm said. “In his case, that’s a tragic message, since he mostly records atrocities. Theophrastus supplies the comic side of the same equation.”

Theophrastus’ Characters: An Ancient Take on Bad Behavior, by James Romm, André Carrilho, and Pamela Mensch. Callaway Arts and Entertainment; $24.95, 119 pages.

 

This story first appeared on the Fine Books Blog on September 28, 2018.

Roald Dahl’s “Matilda” Turns 30

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“So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea.” That quote and many others extolling the virtues of reading great books comes from Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Originally published on October 1, 1988, Dahl’s now-classic tale of a gifted girl cursed with horrible parents and a tyrannical headmistresses was an immediate success. Receiving the Children’s Book Award in 1989, becoming a major motion picture in 1996, and inspiring the 2010 musical adaptation, Matilda is perhaps Dahl’s best-selling book, with over 17 million copies in print.
Collectors should head to British rare bookseller Peter Harrington who is offering six first editions of Matilda. “In recent years, Matilda has become our top-selling book,” explained Peter Harrington’s son and current owner, Pom. “Matilda is a fabulous spirited girl and the book is loved by adults and children alike.”
Among the six copies offered for sale are two inscribed first editions, one being a presentation copy with, “To all the Briggs, with love, Roald. 9/4/88” at the front. Michael Briggs had operated on Dahl’s spine in 1978, after which the men became good friends. This copy is available for £4,000 ($5,300). The second inscribed copy, available for for £3,500 ($4,630) reads: “Camilla, love Roald Dahl.”

 

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Additionally, Penguin Random House will be releasing special editions of the book on October 4 with new cover images by the book’s original illustrator, Quentin Blake. Each of the three covers features a grown-up Matilda as an astrophysicist, a world traveler, and Chief Executive of the British Library. These 30th anniversary editions are available for pre-order starting at $17.99.

 

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Images: (Top and Middle) Courtesy of Peter Harrington; (Bottom) Courtesy of the British Library Shop.

Winnie-the-Pooh Wanders into the MFA Boston

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A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh has never suffered for lack of exposure–far from it. Since the publication of Milne’s first children’s book starring a loveable, honey-hungry bear in 1926, Winnie-the-Pooh has been translated into fifty languages and been the subject of numerous films and exhibitions. Here’s one more to add to the list: on September 22nd, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston will present nearly 200 drawings, letters, photographs, and ephemera in a show entitled, “Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic.”
The exhibition originated in 2017 at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London where most of the items on display are part of that institution’s permanent collections. The show then made its way to the High Museum in Atlanta before setting up in Boston.

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The goal of the show is to explore various relationships between a bear and a boy, the interplay between Milne’s text and the art of E.H. Shepard, and how classic children’s literature remains relevant in the 21st century.
Highlights include Shephard’s first character portraits of Winnie, Eeyore, Kanga, and other creatures of the Hundred Acre Wood, a 1926 handwritten letter from Milne to Shephard, and photos of Milne’s family.
The show is definitely geared towards children, and the MFA curators have installed various interactive elements, such as recreations of Pooh’s home and the childhood bedroom of Christopher Milne, the inspiration for Christopher Robin. Cuddle-worthy corners throughout the gallery invite children to read, draw, and even listen to a 1929 recording of Milne reading Winnie-the-Pooh aloud. Co-sponsored by Hood Milk, visitors who attend on opening day can enjoy games like a round of ring toss on the MFA’s Huntington Avenue lawn along with generous servings of cookies, milk, and Hoodsie  cups.
To paraphrase Pooh himself, you can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for this show. Check it out before it heads back to London.

“Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic,” runs from September 22nd through January 6th, 2019 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. More information at www.mfa.org.

Images, from top: Winnie-the-Pooh first edition, 1924, published in London by Methuen & Co. Ltd; printed by Jarrold & Sons Ltd.

“Pooh sitting on his branch … beside him, ten pots of honey,” 1970, Ernest Howard Shepard.

 “For the first time he learned to think before he spoke.” Johnny Tremain: A Classic Revisited

Esther Forbes’s 1944 Newbery Medal-winning story set on the eve of the Revolutionary War turns seventy-five this year. To commemorate the milestone, publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt recently released an updated edition with new jacket art and includes an illustrated forward by author-illustrator Nathan Hale (not the American spy executed by the British in 1776).

As riveting as ever, Johnny Tremain should be required reading for everyone, adults included. The book has never been out of print and Walt Disney turned it into a movie in 1957. Let’s not forget that Forbes also won a Pulitzer in 1942 for Paul Revere and the World He Lived In, a vivid biography of the patriot’s life based largely on his correspondence.

Forbes, for her part, was a dyed-in-the-wool New Englander and a trailblazer in her own time: born the fifth of six children to William and Harriette Forbes in Westboro, Massachusetts in 1891, she moved with her family to the county seat of Worcester, where her father practiced law. Forbes and her sisters were among the first girls to attend the private Bancroft School where, dyslexic and nearsighted, the young Forbes was once accused of plagiarism after sharing a story she had written to amuse her siblings. Undeterred, she continued to write, and at her death in 1967 was working on a book about witchcraft. The first woman to become a member of the American Antiquarian Society, Forbes left the Worcester institution the rights to her books as well as material for her unfinished final volume.

Johnny Tremain 75th Anniversary Edition, by Esther Hoskins Forbes, illustrated by Nathan Hale; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $14.99, 320 pages. ages 9-12. 

Bank on Booksellers Auction Funds Disaster Relief

It’s no secret that being a bookseller is hard work, but thankfully they have the book industry charitable foundation known as Binc to lean on when times are tough.  Billed as “the saftey net for booksellers,” Binc has provided more than $6 million in financial assistance and scholarships to bookseller employees since its inception in 1996. The foundation has helped with everything from paying for serious medical expenses, utilities, and even funeral costs.

As the only nonprofit dedicated to providing aid to bookstore employees, Binc is fully funded by generous supporters and is currently hosting an online auction called Bank on Booksellers.  One hundred authors, illustrators, and celebrities like Judy Blume, Katherine Applegate, Kate DiCamillo, Jeff Kinney, and Marc Brown decorated piggy banks to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. (Check out the selection here.) Ten thousand dollars have been raised so far, but the auction ends Saturday. Help Binc bring home the bacon by placing a bid at the foundation’s secure website.

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To all the booksellers and everyone else in the path of Hurricane Florence, please be safe. We are all thinking of you.