John Reed Puts Shakespeare in a Blender and an Anti-War Statement Results


photo by Kirk Schenck


When mistakes are made in the wild, wacky world of journalism, it’s usually always the writer’s fault (sometimes, it’s an error by an editor; but we’re not supposed to talk about that). But in THIS case, it’s absolutely someone else’s fault: that of John Reed, whose play All The World’s a Grave: a New Play by William Shakespeare, closes this weekend at Stages Theatre. What is Reed’s fault? Well, he put “new play” in the title of his piece, leading one harried, unfocused dimwit of a writer for this august publication to write in this week’s print version that it is one of two new plays heavily inspired by William Shakespeare currently on the boards on local stages.

Except it isn’t a new play; it was published in 2008, has received several college and small theater productions, and can be found, unlike everything else on this planet, on Amazon.

Oops. (OF course, it isn’t Reed’s fault that someone made a mistake; but dammit, in Trump America, it’s always someone else’s fault!!!!)

But new or not, this is the first time that Southern California audiences can see Reed’s play, which is one of the more ambitious Shakespeare-oriented productions we can remember. Basically, Reed, a New York City-based writer and university professor, has created a new Shakespeare tragedy composed entirely of Shakespeare lines culled from the majority of his 37 plays, and using archetypical characters, such as Romeo, Juliet, King Lear, Hamlet, Iago, and Macbeth, in vastly different ways

Reed has reconstituted these characters, with Hamlet waging a reckless war for Juliet, who is King Lear’s daughter. Hamlet return home and finds his mother has killed his father and married Macbeth. Iago then convinces Hamlet that Juliet is banging Romeo. Hamlet goes ballistic with jealously as King Lear musters his forces. 

Hmm. Sounds like something Shakespeare did write. And he did, sort of, since nearly every word (minus a few verb conjugations that Reed altered to fit the meter a bit better) exists in the Shakespeare canon. But it was Reed’s 10-year task to choose the lines and passages from Shakespeare that would help him tell his story. Which, really, isn’t that different from what the Bard did himself.

“Remember, there was no such thing as copyright back in his days, and there were a lot of characters he used that were used in dozens and dozens of other plays,” says Reed, who came up with idea of writing a new tragedy using Shakespeare’s characters and words while in college. He wrote the first act and then stopped. He knew that the character of Macbeth would play a key role in that act, but Reed had no idea what do him and, more problematic, his wife, the wicked Lady Macbeth.

Then, some 10 years later, after he had kids, he  finally realized what evil truly is.

“When you have your kids your capacity to love increases, but so does your capacity to do evil,” he said. “Because you have to do stuff to provide for them, to take care of them, and there are things that you are willing to do for money that you would not have done before.”

When pressed to explain if his concept of parents doing evil because they have children sounds as horrifying as, well, as how it sounds, Reed reconsiders.

“Well, let’s just say you can get ethically eroded when you have children. For sure, you become tougher, maybe {mercenary is a better word for it}.”

Reed now had a way to understand Lady Macbeth and then rattled off the rest of the play, which he describes as an answer to Shakespeare’s “an anti-war statement, kind of an answer to Henry V being a recruitment play, a war play.”

And while he admits that non-Shakespeare aficionados will most likely experience this play as a quickly-paced 90-minute experience that feels a lot like Shakespeare, those who live, eat and shit the Bard will have a great “deal of fun trying to figure out the puzzle aspect, and also of looking at these characters that they know very well in an entirely different light.”

Stages Theatre, 400 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 525-4484. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. $20-$22.












Joel Beers has written about theater and other stuff for this infernal rag since its very first issue in, when was that again???

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