Although there’s always a good crowd at the Atwater Library’s regular Lunchtime Series events, it’s always a special day when Margaret Atwood drops by to offer up her own opinion about what Shakespeare was thinking when he wrote ‘The Tempest’: his play about a play that talks about what a grind it is to put on a play.
“Shakespeare’s Ariel wasn’t a magician,” said Atwood. “He’s a director and the (play’s) director is always the man who makes things happen!”
After thanking Cinémagique’s Peter Pearson, an old college chum, for his suggestion that she include the library as part of her new book’s promotion schedule, Atwood also thanked the Atwater library after which she praised its mission and what it has done over the past 188 years since it first opened its doors to the city’s reading public. As one of the eight writers who were chosen to ‘re-work’ some of Shakespeare’s plays into new (and modern) books, Atwood said that she chose ‘The Tempest’ – the play that had so much to say about what it was like to write, produce and direct a play in his time – “...because it has so much to say about what it takes to write, produce and direct a play in ours.”
Compared to the original play’s Prospero, the talented civic leader who must contend with Antonio – his scheming brother who knows how to play the street in the back-alley brawl that used to defines Shakespeare’s medieval Milan, Atwood’s Felix has to deal with Tony – his scheming brother who knows how to play the street in the back-alley brawl that presently defines the modern Toronto theatre establishment. Alas, Felix loses the brawl and consequently loses his job, his status and his position within the city’s theater arts community. Following years of professional exile, he ends up teaching a theater course in a ‘Literacy through Literature’ program that’s being taught to long-term inmates in the Fletcher County Correctional Institute located in the deep woods that define North Ontario.
While teaching theatre in a prison has its own challenges, Atwood’s singular dry wit combined with her sometimes tart social commentary produced a book within which Shakespeare’s play is transformed into a ‘Rap’ session similar to the ‘Hamilton’ – the new play that’s dominated the American theatre scene for the past two years. Of course, it’s theater, it’s sometimes a miracle, and in the end, everything works out well for everybody except for the villain who, as in all of Shakespeare’s plays, is meant to carry the weight of his own sins forever.
True to her word, Atwood reminded her audience to leave something for the library, and within minutes, the library’s big Plexiglas box was full of mostly green bills that were as much a credit to the author’s generosity as they were to the people who came out to see her.