Slings and Arrows: Right to the Heart of Good Writing

I had for a couple years now been hearing about a Canadian series about a Shakespeare Festival that had been shown on the Sundance Channel and had a mad cult following. The series was called Slings and Arrows, and people talked about it as if it were the best thing to come out of Canada since Anne Murray. So, obviously, I had to check it out.

All three seasons are available as a boxed DVD set, which I obtained under guise of an anniversary present, and my better half and I have been having a fine old time watching all the episodes. It has been such a joy to watch that it’s one of those times when you’re sad when you’ve reached the end.

In a nutshell, Slings and Arrows follows the misadventures of the New Burbage Theatre troupe of actors and administrators during three seasons of plays. Its main characters are Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross, one of the handsomest men ever, second only to Ewan McGregor – and my better half. . . – dodged THAT bullet!), the new artistic director of the New Burbage who sees ghosts and may or may not be completely crazy; Richard Smith-Jones (Mark McKinney, formerly of Kids in the Hall), hapless manager who loves musicals more than the Bard; and Ellen Fanshaw (Martha Burns), the reigning diva actress whose diva-ness masks deep insecurities. In each season, the subplots of the cast resonate with some of the same themes of the Shakespearean play being produced. The series, created and penned by Susan Coyne, Tecca Crosby, Bob Martin, and Mark McKinney, expertly weaves the stories in and around Shakespeare‘s plays, and manages in the interim, to bring the Shakespeare itself to life as well. The final season’s performance of King Lear is about the most gut-wrenchingly good acting I’ve ever seen.

And lest you think that a show about Shakespearean actors would be serious and dull, consider some of these random dialogue moments:

Guard: Are you a suicide risk? Geoffrey Tennant: Isn’t everybody?

Richard Smith-Jones: What the hell are we going to do? I mean, I know what I’m going to have to do. I’m going to have to go to the Minister of Culture and beg for money like some kind of blind hurdler.

Richard Smith-Jones: Darren, everybody cries when they get stabbed. There’s no shame in that.

Mull that over for a few, then run, don’t walk, to rent or buy this wonderful series. It will be time well spent.

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