Tight with Bay State writers — and the Bard

Steven Maler agrees that Shakespeare’s plays are better viewed on stage than read. Steven Maler agrees that Shakespeare’s plays are better viewed on stage than read. (Suzanne Kreiter/ Globe Staff/ File 2009)
By Amy Sutherland
Globe Correspondent / July 24, 2011

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Shakespeare has become as much a summer tradition in Boston as Red Sox games and Esplanade fireworks on the Fourth of July thanks to Steven Maler, founding artistic director of the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company. Maler hails from Memphis, where he lived behind the former home of another drama king - Elvis Presley. Free performances of Maler’s “All’s Well That End’s Well’’ will open on the Boston Common Wednesday.

BOOKS: In the heat of rehearsing, can you read for pleasure?

MALER: I do. The prep of putting a play together is a lot of reading, but the rehearsal is not. It’s a lot of talking. So shutting off all the noise and letting someone else tell the story is attractive to me. I do find when I’m working intensely that short stories or books that are short-story-like in structure are very compelling because you can take that journey in 20 to 30 minutes. The book I’m reading now is interlinked short stories, “The Imperfectionists’’ by Tom Rachman, which I’m liking.

BOOKS: What short-story writers are your favorites?

MALER: Adam Johnson is a short-story writer I love so much, especially his story “The Death-Dealing Cassini Satellite.’’

BOOKS: Do you just read fiction?

MALER: Pretty exclusively. In addition to the Rachman, I have a long-term reading project: “Andersonville’’ by MacKinlay Kantor, an 800-page historical novel. That’s not a category I’m usually in, but there was something about its epic-ness. I also try to keep up with Massachusetts writers. I’m friends with Anita Diamant, and Stephen McCauley is a friend, and I read their books.

BOOKS: Do you have favorites by them?

MALER: “The Red Tent’’ for Anita. I was working on a project with Stephen and Anita so I came to that book as something I needed to do. It’s nothing I might have picked up, but I’m glad I did. For Stephen, “Insignificant Others’’ and “Alternatives to Sex.’’ I love his sense of humor.

BOOKS: Do you read primarily contemporary fiction?

MALER: Pretty much. You always feel like when you retire you’d like to start back at Chaucer and work your way forward. There was an artistic director in Pittsburgh, and he was going to basically do that when he retired. Sadly, he had a heart attack right after he retired. That’s a warning to us all not to wait.

BOOKS: Are you a library user?

MALER: I love the BPL, particularly the Map Room café, but checking out books, I don’t do that much. Though I have a Kindle, I really like physical books. I’m always sad when I have to give them back to the library.

BOOKS: Have you always been a devoted reader?

MALER: I think so. At the University of North Carolina I majored in English literature and theater. So I spent some time in the classic canon though it still feels very superficial in terms of what I would like to do.

BOOKS: Can you read Shakespeare for pleasure?

MALER: I can, but I sympathize with the struggle people have reading Shakespeare. I too find it challenging, particularly if it’s a play I haven’t directed. But when I start thinking about what play I want to do next summer and start rereading them, that is a pleasure.

BOOKS: But he never meant his plays to be read, but performed, right?

MALER: Of course. What a theater writer is doing is opening the canvas for the director and the actors to complete. Reading a play is like reading a blueprint.

BOOKS: So all of us who don’t like reading Shakespeare are off the hook?

MALER: You’re totally off the hook as long as you come to the Boston Common this summer and see “All’s Well That Ends Well.’’

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