As you may know from my Facebook and Twitter posts, I recently was in Ashland, Oregon, for the closing weekend of the season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Crisp air, gorgeous autumn leaves, snow-capped mountains, lovely time with friends, and a glimpse of three of our own Leslie’s books prominently displayed in the Tudor Guild gift shop. And three wonderful plays, all of which I was seeing for the second (or in the case of Measure for Measure the fourth) time.
One thing I noticed is that all three plays dealt with theater in a variety of ways. Saturday I saw Ghost Light, a fabulous, wrenching world premiere developed by Jonathan Moscone and Tony Taccone, written by Taccone, and directed by Moscone, It’s a wonderfully theatrical play both in style (moving back and forth in time, combining elements of dream and reality) and in substance, as the central character struggles to come to terms with his father’s assassination while directing a production of Hamlet. The scenes of the production team discussing how to handle the Ghost of Hamlet’s father, and of Jon, the central character, working with his acting students and auditioning actors are spot-on and at moments hysterically funny.
Saturday I saw a matinee of Julius Caesar, a play, as the production notes pointed, filled with theatrical references, from the assassins meeting in the porch of Pompey’s theater to the political theater of Marc Antony’s funeral oration (not to mention the fact that Antony’s scene where he seemingly makes peace with the conspirators just after the assassination is a brilliant piece of acting). That evening I saw Measure for Measure, another play where the story is largely played out upon the public stage (particularly in the denouement) while a key plot element involves one woman playing the part of another in a secret tryst.
During breaks between plays I was working on a sequence in my current WIP, The Princess’s Secret, (I recently posted a teaser) which takes place backstage at the Comédie-Française. I love theatrical references in books and plays. Actual scenes backstage and onstage become metaphors for the roles we all play – with different people, in different aspects of our lives. For the fine line between illusion and reality, for the difficulty of discerning truth amid artifice and the way that theatrical artifice can sometimes ring with truth. Reading Isobel Carr’s great interview with Joanna Bourne on History Hoydens last week about her new book The Black Hawk which concerns Napoleonic spies, I was thinking that a large part of why I love writing about spies is that like actors they too play many parts, though on a rather more dangerous stage. The sequence I was working on set at the Comédie-Française gave me lots of opportunities to play with the parallel, as it involves the escape from Paris during the White Terror of an actress who is also an agent.
Do you have favorite books that deal with theater, whether on stage or backstage? Does theater become a metaphor for other elements in the story? Writers, do you like writing scenes set in the theater? Do you get inspiration from plays?
I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Aline to Gisèle, commenting on Charles/Malcolm and Mel/Suzette’s reactions to their wedding anniversary and her own changing feelings in light of her betrothal.