Monday, July 13, 2015

Summers with Shakespeare

(Most) Photos by Evan Brandt
Shakespeare's "The Tempest" being performed by the Commonwealth Classic Theatre Co. Saturday at the Green Lane Park Amphitheater

Like most high school students, I did not look forward to those days in freshman English when we read Shakespeare.

My dauntless teacher, Mrs. Speare (yes, that truly was her name) tried to make it more interesting by having different students read the various parts out loud, but the unfamiliarity of the language only made it more impenetrable this way.

Other events planned for the Green Lane amphitheater this summer.
And yes, after reading "Romeo and Juliet," we were shown the lavishly staged Franco Zefferelli film and that helped a bit.

(It also inspired my imaginative friend Tim to leap about the place exclaiming "banish-ed, banish-ed from my home Verona!")

Surprisingly, although I'm not much for poetry (sorry Dad) I did better with old Bill's love sonnets than with his plays.

My inability to connect with the Bard continued in college where, although I was excited to FINALLY take a class where I could "get it," I was too interested in beer to realize I should probably do a little research on the professors before signing up for a class.

I mean this was one of the top public universities in the country (at least according to those who compile such lists), they must all be good right?

The audience awaits the start of Saturday's performance.
The depth of my error came crashing down on the first day of class when the professor -- I've blocked out his name -- announced there would be a quiz on the first three scenes of "Julius Caesar."

No, this would not be a class of deep discussion where Shakespeare's imagery, the historical context of his plays and the agility of his language would be explained and admired.

Rather, I realized, this would be drudgery; a robotic regurgitation of 100 previous lectures issued on
the inevitable path to retirement and a small pension.

It was not until years later, after my wife and I moved to Cold Spring, NY, a quaint historic village in the Hudson River Valley across the river from West Point, that Shakespeare came alive for me -- almost literally.

Boscobel's view of the Hudson River.
It was the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Company's performance of "Romeo and Juliet," performed under a tent on the lawn of the historic Boscobel mansion, with a sweeping view of the river valley, that finally connected the dots for me.

Their production -- and we have seen many since and hope to make it there to see this year's production of "Mid-Summer Night's Dream" -- was irreverent in that it costumed the Montagues and the Capulets in 50s attire, with golf pants (and clubs) for one and leather jackets and pompadours for the other.

This allowed me to keep track of the two sides and to focus on the language as well as to see the
The tent under with Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival
performances occur each summer.
action that gave breath to the drama (and the cornucopia of low-brow jokes with which Shakespeare sprinkled his plays to keep the interest of those in the floor seats.)

Much to my bride's dismay, the walk back to the car and the drive home was punctuated with forsooths and methinks. Luckily for her, it was a short ride.

And thus, it became part of our summer routine that we would attend at least one of the performances at Boscobel (they've now grown to as many as four per season).

View from the seats at a performance of Hudson Valley
Shakespeare Festival.
And it was this way that I came also to know "MacBeth," "The Merry Wives of Windsor," "The Taming of the Shrew," "The Comedy of Errors," "Mid-Summer Night's Dream," "Twelfth Night," "Two Gentleman of Verona," "As You Like It."

To my delight, in 2012 we were able to bring my son there to a performance of "Love's Labors Lost," which he enjoyed immensely, contrary to his firmly held expectations.

We could not, however, convince him to come to see Saturday's performance of "The Tempest," staged by the Commonwealth Classic Theatre Company at the amphitheater at Green Lane Park.

Trinculo, seen here collecting donations,
was played by Arlen Hancock.
Unlike the performances in the Hudson Valley, which have become almost cost-prohibitive for a poor journalist and his long-suffering family, this performance was free.

The Tempest, a tale of magic, betrayal and forgiveness, was marked by redoubtable performances by veteran David Howey as Prospero; and by Josh Totora and Arlen Hancock who stole the show as the drunkards Stephano and Trinculo, respectively.

I confess to being partial to Shakespeare's comedies over the dramas and tragedies. Often identified as his last, The Tempest is also described as a "tragi-comedy" and I will admit to bias in favor of the comedic portion.

I would estimate nearly 200 people in lawn chairs and blankets in the grass at Green Lane, made particularly lush by the very wet spring we experienced this year here in Southeast PA.

It was the only performance in that location but you can still catch it at any of the traveling troupe's future performances at:

  • Tuesday, July 14 The Willows in Radnor
  • Wednesday, July 15 at The Morris Arboretum
  • Friday, July 17 at Earthworks, the West Pikeland Cultural Center
  • Saturday, July 18 at the West Goshen Community Amphitheater (rain date: July 19)
  • Wednesday, July 22 at the EAst Goshen Amphitheater
  • Thursday, July 23 at Whites Road Park in Lansdale

It's a great way to pass a summer evening and a great way to be reminded that above all, Shakespeare's plays are meant to be performed, not merely read.

And so, as Prospero nearly said: "and now our (revels) blog entry are ended."

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