Kahn Bravura!

The applause began when Michael Kahn joined the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Twenty-five years later, it's louder than ever.

Michael Kahn

Michael Kahn

(Photo by Todd Franson)

MW: Shakespeare also seems so open to infinite interpretation.

KAHN: And thank God. As I’ve said before, Shakespeare will survive all of this. He will survive us, whatever we do to him. He will continue.

MW: If you could have a day with Shakespeare, what would you hope for?

KAHN: Well, I would first of all hope that he didn’t scream at me for the things I’ve done with his plays. [Laughs.]

Secondly, I would ask him to write on a piece of paper that he wrote the goddamn plays and sign it. Then we could have our conversation – I’m very curious about how anybody knew as much as he did about what we now call psychology before there was psychology. How did he know it and how did he learn it? What opened his eyes to all of this unbelievable understanding of human motivation and feeling that he has and then he put it into poetry, which is hard. I just wonder, was he born with that? Was it from experiences in his life? Aside from the fact that I think he changed styles a great many times as a genius does, how did he know almost from the very beginning how so many different kinds of people felt? I don’t know how he did that. I guess you’re born with that, up here somewhere, genetically, but there’s nothing in his family that says that.

MW: Where do you fall on the ongoing controversy that he didn’t actually author his plays?

KAHN: Well, there’s always been a question forever and ever and ever and ever, partly because there is so little history about Shakespeare. Although I don’t know why everybody is not questioning Jesus, too.

I think it was a classist thing to start with – and this is just my version of it – but how could an aristocracy believe that a middle class guy from a small town be a genius? But he studied Greek and Latin, he read Ovid, he read all those things. Picasso was a genius and he came from humble origins. You tell me somebody who could be the most successful writer of plays in their time under another name who wouldn’t tell somebody. [Whispers.] Somebody.

There’s no proof. He said, ”Don’t disturb my bones,” so maybe there’s something down there that isn’t there.

MW: I guess it it doesn’t matter in the long run.

KAHN: It matters nothing. It matters not at all. If it’s not Shakespeare, whoever wrote it’s a genius. It definitely is not Christopher Marlowe, because they’d be gayer if Christopher Marlowe wrote it.

MW: If you could resurrect one past production for Shakespeare to see, which one would it be?

KAHN: Well, I could shock him with Love’s Labors and see if he actually understood why I did it in that sort of rock and roll Indian production. I actually changed almost no lines at all. Everybody thought I had done so much rewriting, and I had done maybe three words, period.

I could think of more plays I don’t want him see that I did. [Laughs.] I mean, I’m quite proud of a bunch of productions I did, but I’m not sure I’d want Shakespeare to have a long conversation after the production. I’d rather have had the conversation in the middle of rehearsal. I might have asked him to rewrite some things, too, by the way.

MW: You would have demanded rewrites of Shakespeare?

KAHN: Well, of course. I would say ”What the hell is that?” I would certainly say, “All right, on Richard II, you wrote a play in which you think that everybody knows the back story. And during the first three scenes of your Richard II, nobody knows what’s going on. I would like it if you would possibly write those scenes so we would know what the hell you’re talking about. They don’t make any sense in the theater unless you know the history because you don’t know who’s lying to whom.

MW: Where would you take Shakespeare out around here? Assuming that he came back today, of course.

KAHN: Well, if he’s really gay I would take him to Cobalt.

MW: Shakespeare in Cobalt.

KAHN: Yeah, Shakespeare in Cobalt. What the hell.

Strange Interlude runs through April 29 in Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW. Call 202-547-1122 or visit shakespearetheatre.org.

Randy Shulman is Metro Weekly's Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. He can be reached at rshulman@metroweekly.com.

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