Thursday, May 22, 2008

Random memory: Brooklyn Shakespeare

All images for this piece are from the Internet unless indicated

I spent my later teen years in Brooklyn, attending Lafayette High School. Good things were rare and far in-between back then (such as meeting my friend Bernie Kugel). In the past few years, it has been referred in local papers as "The School From Hell." In fact, it is so bad, the city has decided to close it down shortly.

Back then we were always told that the school was known for high academics, and yet I was surrounded by…well, it was best said by Dan Aykroyd in a spoof on Saturday Night Live called “Samurai Night Fever”: “Isn’t it great to be young, stupid, and have no future?! I love Brooklyn!”

Here are a couple of true examples of living in Bensonhurst in the ‘70s, the first being a digression, the second getting back to Lafayette:

I was coming off the train station, and there were two teen girls who looked like they stepped out of “Grease” mixed with “Saturday Night Fever” (as both movies were released around this time). As I came down the el steps, Girl #1 says to me, “She likes you,” and both start to giggle in a way to indicate a “Let’s embarrass you and see how you react” thing going on. I looked at Girl #2, who supposedly “liked me”, and said to her, “What’s Tony gonna say?” Both girls turned white. “Ohm'gawd, he knows Tony; if he find out, he’s gonna kill me!” With that, both girls ran off, near tears.

[FFoto by RBF]
No, I’m not Kreskin. It’s just that Girl #2 was wearing a high school football jacket that had the name “Tony” sewn into the front, so all I needed to do was read.

See, that’s the thing about where and when I grew up. If one saw a group of people standing on a corner, and walked over to them and asked anything from “Define Sartre’s philosophy of existentialism” to “Where is the corner”, you’d pretty much get the same answer: “Hunh?”

With that as a foundation, the main story I want to tell has to do with Lafayette High School and Shakespeare.

We had an imaginative teacher, who tried to be hip and find new ways to get her students to learn. Her idea was to try an experiment where the boys read the female parts, and the girls read the male parts, hoping it would shed some light on the way characters lived in the time.

At first, it went well. The girls in the class did a bang-up job reading the opening. But the trouble came when it was the guys' turn, who (a) were NOT interested in the play, and (b) resented reading a female piece of dialog and risk having their friends see them as anything less than macho.

So, the scene where we first meet the titular female lead, as the Nurse is calling to Juliet. As this piece is read, hear it in thick Brooklynese (if you have problems with that, try it as one of the Sopranos, which would not be far off).

Nurse says (and the Guy #1 shouts) “WHAT!!!! Juliet, ya called.”

Guy #2 as Juliet responds, “Who calls?”

To which the Nurse Guy #1 yells back “Ya MUTHA!”

That was the point where the teacher realized the error of her ways and stops the experiment. She gave up, and ended up taking us to see the Franco Zeffirelli version of the film at the local theater.

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