Open Letter to Director Peter Sellars, Wherever You Are

Dear Peter Sellars,

You don’t know me, but one of your Harvard classmates contacted me through the comments function on this blog. Having read my account of the life changing experience of seeing Peter Brook’s Midsummer Night’s Dream (in %%AMAZON=0375503390 The Shakespeare Wars%%) she spoke eloquently of her life-changing experience of seeing the Dream you put on in Cambridge. her letter is a beautiful tribute to you, to the power of the play and a plea for you to return to it and do it again. A plea I second, and hope by re printing (with her permission) her letter to me, hope to encourage, facilitate. I know I want to see it. I want to write about it, I want to think some more about what it is about this strange mesmerizing play that gives it so much power in the right hands. Just what is it about “the secret play” some gifted directors are able to find within it.


So here’s the unedited letter. You can contact me (I won’t post your reply unless you specifically ask me to) through the comments function on the blog) if you felt any inclination. I’ve left the letter writer’s name out, although I think she won’t mind–to help you recognize her– if I say her first name is Lisa.

Dear Ron,

This is on a different subject entirely. I have been reading your
book–The Shakespeare Wars, and am finding it stunning, not only because
of what it says, but because of the narrative voice, which is so
immediate and authentic. But I felt I had to write to you about the idea of
the “secret plays”, because I am certain, so certain, that I saw
the nearest thing to the “secret play” of Midsummer Night’s Dream
ever produced on this planet, so I feel sure the secret plays
“exist,” or rather can be uncovered, or close to. And seeing one in
production was an utterly life changing experience.

I guess I need to credential myself I was an English major at
Harvard ’76-80, took Shakespeare with Harry Levin (who was aging, but
still lovely & inspiring), then was All-But-Dissertation in the U.C.
Berkeley English Ph.D. program where I survived massive doses of
postmodern lit crit theory, & took Renaissance Poetry with Stephen Greenblatt
(I think you pretty nail him in your book).


Anyway, my classmate from Harvard ’80 was a director named Peter
Sellars, who did some stunning Shakespeare there, including a Lear at the
Loeb which wasn’t perfect but was still totally earth shattering. (My
friend Wayne Koestenbaum said about Sellars’ mid 80s production of
Cosi Fan Tutte: “It was like an EEG of Mozart.” That’s the kind of
thing Sellars could do.)

In 1983-84 Sellars started a Boston Shakespeare Company which never
entirely took off but one of the productions was this Dream. And it was
as if Sellars, like a Puck, had let drops of a magic potion into the
waters of the play which turned them utterly clear, and you could see
clearly down, down, down…and you could see that, indeed, it had no
bottom. The sensation of watching this was like flying, or like reeling in

Sellars got to the secret play by cutting the play somewhat and
using only four players, two men and two women, speaking all the parts,
from the top all the way to the bottom, so to speak. As in a dream.
Oberon continually shifting into Theseus, Theseus into Demetrius,
Demetrius into Bottom. The play became not just a play but a flickering
dream made visible, one long, unified poetic text being woven into
theatrical action while all of Booth’s ˜ideational static” was
nonetheless glittering visibly for the audience to both hear and behold.


So when you mentioned the secret play, I felt I had to tell you about
Sellars’ Dream. I kept wondering as I was reading your book whether
you had seen it. And I would give almost anything to see that Dream of
Sellars again. Maybe I am writing to you because I imagine that
maybe you, of all people, might convince him to stage it again!


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