Good morrow to ye!
I’m still feeling slightly Elizabethan-y after a pleasant rendezvous last weekend with a couple friends – and with my all time favorite playwright!
On a warm evening in Griffith Park, we took in the Independent Shakespeare Company’s charming outdoor production of Pericles, Prince of Tyre – and while there are questions surrounding authorship of this particular play, it was without doubt an eventful romp around the ancient world and a fun-filled night of theater!
The outing put me in mind of all the times that my travel adventures have included connecting with friends and loved ones while brushing up my Shakespeare!
Like on my first visit to England back in the 80’s when I absolutely had to make a pilgrimage to the Bard’s hometown!
In Stratford-upon-Avon, I got to pay homage at such landmarks as Shakespeare’s birthplace and at Holy Trinity Church where he was laid to rest. And on a second visit, I had the treat of watching a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Julius Caesar which happened to be the first Shakespearean work I studied as a kid!
It wasn’t the first play I saw live though. When I became intrigued by Shakespeare in high school, my dear Mummy – ever supportive of my youthful interests whether they were swimming, calligraphy or tap dancing – took me to a Berkeley Shakespeare production of Othello.
Before the California Shakespeare Theater set up shop in Orinda, it was known as the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival and occupied an oak-shrouded outdoor stage in the midst of a residential neighborhood.
Being first-timers there, Mum and I showed up having eaten dinner and rather expecting to be assigned, you know, chairs to sit in – turns out, we simply had a pair of designated pieces of ground on a terraced hillside which we’d been meant to embellish with our own comforts. Having also missed the cushion rental kiosk, we found ourselves sitting on our programs in the dirt while the more savvy patrons who’d brought comfy beach chairs, cushy blankets and delicious smelling picnic fare feasted all around us. That night, Othello’s green-eyed monster of jealousy definitely became the third in our party…
In the years that followed though, my family caught on quite nicely – and packing up for a night out with the Bard became a happy ritual. Given limitations posed by the park’s size and rules (which probably included no soliloquies after a 11), I get why the troupe moved on – but how I did love those Shakespearean summer nights in Berkeley!
Now that I’ve moved to Southern California, staking a claim with dear friends on a patch of grass in Griffith Park to get my Shakespeare fix is becoming a new summer ritual! I’m relieved the area’s former neighbors moved a couple miles away though since this section of the park used to be part of the LA Zoo. I’ve always loved that stage direction in The Winter’s Tale, “Exit, pursued by a bear” – but I don’t want to live it…
I’ve seen Shakespeare in a fair number of other outdoor settings in California such as Santa Cruz, Ojai, Malibu and San Marino. An indoor list would include Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco, Los Angeles – and San Diego where I had the privilege of seeing Hal Holbrook’s Lear at the Old Globe!
Alas (and alack too), I haven’t yet taken a place as a groundling in the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe in London – but it’s on my bucket list! I have been dazzled though by the Bard’s plays in some of the great number of other London theaters!
By far though, the place in which I’ve enjoyed the most Shakespeare – and the best of times – is at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland! During many a summer (which I’ve gushed about in a previous post, “The Great Ashland Migration Bit” ), I’d meet up with the folks for what grew from a quick weekend getaway to five full days of catching up, sight-seeing, hiking, dining out and enjoying brilliantly entertaining shows – a feast for every sense!
Our Ashland theater ritual always included strolls through nearby Lithia Park, dining beside Ashland Creek, girding for theatrical double-header days of a matinee and evening play, and ending every evening with deep post-show discussion over a requisite selection of sweets!
It might not be clear from the picture above that Mum actually favors modern playwrights like Edward Albee – but close inspection will definitely show she favors anything chocolate!
By now, I’ve seen multiple productions of some of Shakespeare’s more popular plays – but the experiences are always refreshing because each actor and director brings a different take! Wish I could remember every detail of the productions I’ve seen. It tends though to be little snippets that stay with me – moments where I wind up seeing some piece of text in a different way.
Like I recall in that production of Julius Caesar in Stratford being chilled by the way Nicholas Farrell as Mark Antony offered a conciliatory hand to the conspirators who just murdered his friend – he spoke of love and loyalty but with a tone that made it clear he was really pledging to exact revenge on each man.
Then there are things I’ve realized only as the years have gone by and I’ve traveled a bit more through life.
I remember being struck by the commanding performance of Ralph Fiennes as Prospero in The Tempest on the London stage in 2011 – and struck more than in previous viewings by Prospero’s giving up his magical abilities at the end. Being of an age where I grudgingly (not yet resignedly…) lose some bit of my youthful powers just about every day, how much more momentous a choice it now seems for a character willingly to let his powers go…
And having experienced the loss of some dear people who once sat beside me at these plays, it’s with a more empathetic (and invariably teary) eye that I watch King Lear’s exclaiming to his dead child: “Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life / And thou no breath at all?”
Anyway, it was (ahem…) quite a long time ago now that I snuggled up on the couch next to Dad as a very little girl while he introduced me to Shakespeare from a thick book of plays and poems which he then asked me to try and read. Not sure how well I handled the iambic pentameter back then – but I’d get another chance years later as a student at UC Berkeley:
I never became any kind of expert on Shakespeare. But I dearly love the synergy I’ve felt when my studies and life experiences sync up with great performances of the Bard! At the top of my list is a particular night under the oaks and stars at the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival – it was a production of Henry IV, Part I directed by Julian López-Morillas.
By this time, the family’s Berkeley Shakes experience was well honed! Mum, my brother Jack and I showed up with our own chairs, blankets, chicken salad sandwiches (always), desserts which Mum kept a surprise, and preferred libations.
During a play full of great action and humor, we were helped along in understanding some of the more obscure text by the direction and acting – plus we enjoyed the acknowledging wink when no amount of finesse could coax a particular pun into our era!
Yes, the language was of another age and some of the action unfamiliar. But as I sat with loved ones dining, drinking wine, and laughing like crazy at the tavern scenes and delightful performances of James Carpenter, Mike McShane and Douglas Sills as Prince Hal, Falstaff and Poins, any gaps of language or distance were perfectly bridged – and we sat right there with them in Eastcheap, enjoying one rollicking good time!
With Shakespeare, I find I can savor over and over again what’s true in a performance, what’s true for me, as well as what’s true for all. That’s a magical night of theater wherever it may be found – and I’d encourage anyone to venture indoors or out to see for themselves!
But maybe take a cushion – just to be safe! 😉