The last eight months have been very busy for Jason and Lauren Morgan, the married co-founders and artistic directors of Stolen Shakespeare Guild. Along with producing, co-directing, and co-starring in three shows for the Guild, Lauren gave birth to their second child. Unsurprisingly, the pair sounded a little tired during a recent interview but perked up while discussing their upcoming production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. One of the Guild’s primary missions is to stage less frequently produced work by the Elizabethan playwright, and this 1611 script, one of his later plays, certainly qualifies as that: It’s only occasionally revived by most classical companies and festivals.
“It’s a good example of an underrated Shakespeare play,” Jason said, noting that neither he nor Lauren had ever seen a live staging before tackling the play. “He mixes genres in a lot of plays, but here he takes that to the extreme. The first half is a tragedy, and the second half is a comedy. Each one is self-contained. I think that was the appeal, the challenge for us.”
Since most critics and scholars aren’t sure how to classify the show, they’ve variously dubbed it a romance and one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays.” The script revolves around two kings –– one who rules Sicily, the other Bohemia –– who’ve been friends since childhood. The Sicilian monarch suspects that the Bohemian king not only had an affair with his wife but fathered a child with her. That child is abandoned on the coast of Bohemia, raised by shepherds, and later reunited with members of the Sicilian royal family. The show is a combination revenge play, old-fashioned love triangle, and romantic comedy in which Shakespeare makes all kinds of references to themes and plot points from classical Greek theater, including the oracle of Delphi, a marble statue, a shipwreck, and a marauding bear. Indeed, if the relatively obscure Winter’s Tale is famous for anything, it’s for one of the funniest stage directions ever written for an English-language play: “Exit, pursued by bear.”
“We debated whether the audience should actually see the bear,” Lauren said with a chuckle. “If we had a million-dollar budget, we could’ve afforded a really nice bear costume for an actor. But as it is, we decided to just represent the bear symbolically onstage.”
As usual for a Guild show that doesn’t use guest directors, Jason and Lauren are credited as co-directors for The Winter’s Tale. (Jason also plays Camillo, a sidekick character.) Directing duties are typically divided this way: He handles movement and blocking; she works with character nuances and historical detail. Stolen Shakespeare Guild built its reputation in the North Texas theater scene for making Shakespeare accessible to contemporary audiences with diminished attention spans. Mercifully for ticketbuyers in 2013, Lauren cuts the Bard’s often massive, meandering scripts down to the dramatic essentials of plot and character. Sometimes the edits involve judgment calls, but sometimes they are relatively obvious: The Winter’s Tale contains a 15-minute sequence involving a party and ceremonial dance with large phallic symbols a la the Greek satyr plays. Some scholars have cited the play as making the first use of the word “dildo” in an English-language literary work. While actors waving big fake penises would no doubt have caught the attention of contemporary audiences, Lauren ultimately decided to leave it on the cutting-room floor.
“From a plot perspective, it had nothing to do with the actual story,” she said. Jason adds that some of the Guild’s more conservative audience members might have taken issue with a 17th-century version of a sausage party depicted at Fort Worth Community Arts Center.
Besides The Winter’s Tale, Jason and Lauren are working on Stolen Shakespeare Guild’s first out-of-town production. For Addison’s annual Out of the Loop Fringe Festival in March, they’ll stage Ariel Dorfman’s Purgatorio, a meditation on the famous tragedy of Medea. It will feature North Texas performer Joey Folsom, the Guild’s first Equity actor.
“We’ll be promoting the Guild, trying to get new audiences to come to Fort Worth,” Jason said. Referring to the Morgans’ hectic schedules as both theater artists and parents of an 8-month-old, he said, a little wearily, “We’ve hired a guest director for the show. It will be nice to have a rest.”
Stolen Shakespeare Guild’s The Winter’s Tale
Feb 15-24 at Fort Worth Community Arts Center, 1300 Gendy St, FW. $15-17. 817-988-2058.