Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing, starring his friends, opens in select cities today. Whedon's Sunday afternoon Shakespeare readings have been going on since the days of Buffy. Various actors gathered at the Whedon home to read various Shakespeare plays, which must've been delightful. Now that Joss has adapted a play with his friends for the cinema, what's stopping him, besides an insanely busy schedule that includes a TV series, comics, keeping an eye on various Marvel projects, and that little Avengers sequel, from directing stage productions of Shakespeare twice a year? He can get his friends together, find a quaint theater in Los Angeles, run for a week or two, film it, and sell it. He and his friends could work under the name "The Whedon players" to bring more of Shakespeare's works to life.
Since he's busy, we thought we'd give him seven suggestions for, at least, his next adaptation. There will be another, right?
Macbeth is dark and unsettling because it digs into the core of the worst aspect of man; it reveals what lurks inside every person. Whedon's commencement speech touched on duality in man and how to reconcile two contradictory of one self, which sort of connects to Macbeth the character. The play is nihilistic, with Macbeth's 'tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow' soliloquy at its most nihilistic. There's an element of the supernatural in the play, too, in the form of the witches, who aren't much different devices than the ghost of Hamlet's father in Hamlet. Joss Whedon owns the supernatural in fiction. The play's an exceptional drama, though, and great fun to watch on the stage. I'd like to see Fran Kranz and Amy Acker as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, respectively, because they were amazing together in Dollhouse
The Winter's Tale
The Winter's Tale is one of Shakespeare's Romances. The first three acts of the play are Othello-lite, and the final two resolves the drama of the initial three. The Winter's Tale doesn't possess the festivity of the comedies, though. Tragic stuff happens in nearly every comedy. The middle of Much Ado gets dark, but things get better. There's a sadness and a weariness to this play. An apology doesn't make everything better, the 'resurrection' of a character doesn't disappear the past; however, forgiveness and atonement are major themes of the play. Whedon's show had a healthy dose of forgiveness and atonement. Plus, the language of the play is breathtaking. I'd like to see Alexis Denisof as Leonates, Sarah Michelle Gellar as Hermoine, J. August Richards as Polixenes, Kristine Sutherland as Paulina, Nicholas Brendan as Autolycus, and maybe Tom Lenk as the clown. Use your own imagination to fill out the rest of the cast. I know one thing: Joss would direct the greatest sheep-shearing festival.
Twelfth Night or What You Will
Twelfth Night is a funny, romantic story involving gender-swapping and same-sex coupling. Antonio in Twelfth Night isn't the only Antonio in love with another male (see The Merchant of Venice for the other Antonio). The subplot involving Malvolio and the drunks is a lot of fun to watch and the A stuff with Viola/Orsino/Olivia is absurdly well-written and full of feeling. I'd like to see David Boreanaz as Orsino, Amber Benson as Viola, Alyson Hanigan as Olivia. I think Alexis Denisof would be amazing as Malvolio.
A Midsummer Night's Dream
A Midsummer Night's Dream is my second or third favorite Shakespeare comedy. Shakespeare captures the lunacy/dreamlike quality of 'love at first sight' as the play figures out why people go so nutty when they like someone. We'll get an A-lister for Puck (Robert Downey Jr.) Nathan Fillion as Bottom would be a brilliant choice. The stuff with the players is among the funniest material Shakespeare wrote. Bottom's the best character in the play. The play's sort of similar the more fantastical episodes of Buffy and ANGEL, e.g. "Spin The Bottle," "Something Blue," Tabula Rasa."
As You Like It
Joss Whedon likes his women strong, and Rosalind is among Shakespeare's strongest female characters. She drives the action. As You Like It also continues the trend of off-screen transformations for previously bad characters. Characters transformed in the forest of Arden somehow transform those who wish they harm. The character Jacques delivers the famous 'Seven Ages of Men' soliloquy. Summer Glau would be a wonderful Rosalind. Glau can be tough and vulnerable in her roles. Rosalind puts up a strong, tough front, but she's vulnerable when she learns someone loves her; but, really, she's all this--that is Rosalind. James Marsters as Jacques would be very good.
King Lear is Shakespeare's bleakest tragedy. The other tragedies aren't as nihilistic, despairing, depressing or empty as King Lear. Whedon's reputation as a merciless storyteller sets him up well to direct King Lear. I mean, the dude killed all of our favorite characters in every story he's told, has he not? King Lear's absent of any spiritual/religious/spherical predominance, so there's nothing to lean on to feel better. Gloucster uses the moon and the stars to explain his son's bothersome behavior and then Edmond laughs at Gloucster's reliance of the moon and the stars, which removes that essential element of human existence. There's just a sense of emptiness at the end, perhaps equivalent to Joss and the cast and crew of Firefly after its cancellation. It's just like, "What?" Buffy, ANGEL, Firefly and Dollhouse never had an episode as bleak and desparing as King Lear, but there are scenes in these series that feel inspired by King Lear: Tara's death; Fred's death; Wesley kidnapping Connor, etc.
Shakespeare's farewell to the theater has been read as, well, his farewell to the theater. Roland Barthes has no place in Shakespearean criticism but especially not in criticism about The Tempest. Critics have read the character of Prospero as a stand-in for Shakespeare. The Tempest continues Shakespeare's interest in the necessity for forgiveness and atonement, which is Angel's central issue in Buffy and ANGEL. Every of Joss' character needed forgiveness and needed to forgive at one time or another. The Tempest, as a dramatic play, is terrific and fascinating and spell-binding, as if the reader's been touched by Ariel during the reading. Caliban's one of the greatest characters in western literature. And Joss would have to play Prospero.
Which plays would you like to see receive the Whedon touch? Which actor would work as which character? Also, one last casting suggestion: Vincent Kartheiser would be a damn-near perfect Hamlet.