Thursday, July 18, 2013
The Journey to RICHARD II
As visitors to this site know, last week Joyce and I saw a production of Richard II, the only Shakespeare play we'd not seen in a live stage production. We'd been looking for Richard for a couple of years, waiting, waiting. But the play is (was?) sort of "out of the cycle" for some reason--the "cycle" being those plays that are commonly produced. There's a handful that you can see just about any old time: Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth, Hamlet ... you know. The usual suspects. The ones everyone's heard of. The ones that have a chance to earn back the production costs for the company. Which is going to draw the greater crowd? Romeo and Juliet or King John? Macbeth or Timon of Athens?
Last spring I got a note from my younger brother that Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass. (where my mother lives), was going to do Richard II, so I ordered tickets online asap. As close to the stage as I could get (we were in the second row, center left, on the aisle). And then we settled in to wait for a few months ... hoping some cruel-hearted virus would not visit our house that week--or a flat tire out on I-84--or whatever.
Well, none of the whatevers happened, and, as I posted the other day, we saw a marvelous production there, one that had us weeping--okay, sobbing--at the end, not just for poor Richard (who gets his) but for ourselves ... for our journey.
For me, my passion for Shakespeare was slow-growing. In fact, for years it showed no growth at all. (Is there such a thing as negative growth?) My earliest clear memory lies in Enid, Oklahoma, where we were living at the time (the early 1950s). My father, who taught at Phillips University (R.I.P.) in Enid, had somehow joined the university's production of As You Like It. He played Charles the Wrestler. (Oddly, my father's first name was Charles, but it was a name he didn't like; he used his middle name, Edward, instead. Charles had been his father's name, and I don't want to go all Freudian on you, but Dad's father had died when my father was a teenager--so was there some kind of primal fear about early death and the name? Dad needn't have worried: He lived to be near 90. Or was it just a show of respect? For Dad, there was just one Charles Dyer, a father whom he'd revered.)
Anyway, Charles the Wrestler. Those of you who know the play remember that Charles was sort of an Elizabethan cage fighter, going around the countryside, taking on and defeating all challengers. A usurping duke wants Charles to lure into the ring the son of the duke's brother--and kill him. (Got to keep future problems out of the way, you know? Nip 'em in the bud.) Charles snarls. Agrees.
But in the match, it's Charles who's defeated (not killed), and our hero (well, one of them) goes off to find love and other magic in the Forest of Arden.
Mom dyed some old tights red for my father, and I can see him right now, standing near our front door at 1706 E. Elm Ave., flexing his muscles, posing, laughing, heading off in the Oklahoma early evening light to be in a Shakespeare play. Dad had played football in high school and college (University of Oregon), a star in track (a sprinter), and even at age 40 (his age at the time of Charles the Wrestler), he could cut an imposing figure. I knew that I would never want to get in the ring with Dad. Only Death would dare that, and it took him more than a decade to finish off my father, who did not go gentle ...
I didn't see that production of As You Like It--I don't even recall an offer to go. (Was there one?) I was only 9 or 10, so maybe my folks figured it would be better to wait ... but the Charles scene is very early in As You Like It; couldn't I have gone for that? But I didn't. And so that omission joins far too many others on my list of Life's Regrets.
Throughout my boyhood there were times when my parents tried to get me interested in the Bard. There were those Maurice Evans TV productions that we all gathered 'round to watch--Hamlet (1953), Macbeth (1954), The Taming of the Shrew (1956). And--as I look at IMDB, I am surprised to see another one: Richard II (1954). Did I watch ... ?
Not likely. I never made it too far through any of those shows before I drifted away, upstairs to my room (shared with my younger brother), where I found my comic books, which had one great virtue: I could understand the stories, the words.
And that Shakespeare guy? Downstairs? Was that even English?
TO BE CONTINUED ...