Putting on a Shakespeare play? The language should be the boss.

Writing theater criticism always made me slightly uncomfortable; specifically, I hated to write negative reviews. I have no trouble writing negative reviews of books, but there's something about the vulnerability and teamwork of a play — a group of people coming together for little to no money in order to strut across a stage and mimic emotional states — that I hate to criticize.

There's not really a logical framework behind any of this. Writing negative reviews of plays always made me squirm in a way that negative restaurant reviews never did, even though a bad review of a restaurant could actually affect people's livelihoods, while a bad review of a play was often like insulting someone's model train set.

All of this is to say that I recently watched a Very Bad Play in Seattle, and it is more for my own comfort than the theater's that I am not going to name the production. The Very Bad Play was an interpretation of Shakespeare, and it was so Very Bad that I'm still thinking about everything it got wrong.

You could tell in the first five minutes that this show was going to be a Very Bad Play. The Badness was immediate and it was thorough, plaguing every aspect of the production from beginning to end. I could write a laundry list of its flaws, but I'm not out to attack anyone in particular, here. And I think all of my problems stem from one very specific failure of the production. That failure boils down to this: They didn't respect the language.

Shakespeare's language is the source code of everything we say or write even today. It is as close to sacred as this atheist can fathom. So if your production mangles the language by piling overacting on top of it, say, or by screwing up the delivery of it with musical interludes, or by — worst of all — adding to it, you are basically committing a crime against the English language.

You can't outdo Shakespeare. Don't even try. And if your production isn't interested in bringing the language to life — if you're treating the script as an obstacle to overcome, say, rather than something wondrous to extol, you're better off doing something else.

As a writer and a reader, I tend to put too much emphasis on the script in a production, at the expense of the acting and direction and design. But when you do Shakespeare, the script is the thing, and you are working in service of the script. I firmly believe this. And if you don't serve the script, and if I pay to see your play, I will always remember your production as a Very Bad Play.