Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Journey to Richard II: Part 17

Richard II
Shakespeare & Co.; Lenox, MA
July 2013
A series of posts about my journey through the works of Shakespeare--on the page, on the stage.

As I wrote the other day, I realized, oh, about a half-dozen years ago, that there were now only four plays by the Bard that Joyce and I had not seen in live production: A Winter's Tale, Titus Andronicus, The Two Noble Kinsmen, and Richard II. I wrote the other day, too, that The Two Gentlemen of Verona was on our list--but I was wrong (I checked my journal in the interim). In that journal I found an item from 8 August 2010, when we saw Two Gentlemen at the Stratford Festival in Canada (not the first time we'd seen it). Seated right across from us, directly in our sightline, was actor Christopher Plummer (who was performing at Stratford, a terrific turn as Prospero in The Tempest). Anyway, we watched him as much as Two Gentlemen that night, I guess, and then, leaving the small Studio Theatre there, we were right behind him. I could have reached out and torn his shirt from his back. But didn't. (Wish I had.)

I see in my little blue Yale Shakespeare edition of Winter's Tale that I first read it in August 1984, then again in August 1989 (not sure why). I didn't underline a lot--but some of my marks are, well, interesting to the Me of  Now. In 1.2, for example, I've underlined Leontes (who's spazzing at the moment--insanely jealous of his wife's behavior), who says: It is a bawdy planet ...  That sounds kind of like wishful thinking, if you ask me. Later (2.1) I've drawn a little box around Mamillius' line: A sad tale's best for winter. (Gee, wonder why I marked that one?) And in 3.3 the most famous stage direction ever published: Exit, pursued by a bear. The bear will dine shortly. And later yet--a line that puzzled me at the time: Paulina says, I an old turtle, / Will wing me to some wither'd bough ... (119). I didn't yet know that turtle meant turtle dove. At the time, picturing a winged turtle probably did give me some transient pleasure, though. Oh, that wacky Bard!

I loved The Winter's Tale (love it still)--but for some reason no one around here (or at Stratford) was producing it. But ... in 2008 I got a copy of the flyer you see pictured here. There was going to be a performance at nearby John Carroll University! We drove up to see it on 27 September.

Here's some of what I wrote in my journal afterwards ...

... after a few missed parking spots, [we] got inside and saw very minimalist but very affecting performance of The Winter’s Tale with 5 British actors, each, of course, playing multiple parts: virtually no scenery, few props, good handling of the language (what is it about the Brits? they can just say the words in ways that sound more authentic/real/natural?!?) ...

What I didn't say is that I, of course, wept when the statue of Leontes' wife appears to come to life. Earlier, jealous Leontes--grotesquely, unjustly--confined his wife to prison, where she died--or so he thought. Later, he realizes his error. Sees the statue erected in her honor. Witnesses its movement. Realizes his wife is alive. Prostrates himself. And ... she forgives him. (Promise: One of these days I will post about Shakespeare and forgiveness.)

Then, of course, we promptly saw two more productions of Winter's Tale. It seemed as if producers had forgotten about the play for a while, then remembered: Oh, yeah! There's that great one about jealousy and forgiveness!  In 2010 Stratford did a wonderful production that had me weeping once again. And then on 11 October of last year, we saw it again at the Great Lakes Theater Festival in Cleveland. The principals were okay; the minor characters, not so much. And the house was small--only about half full. And this, of course, is the problem producers face with Shakespeare. They're going to get good crowds for Romeo and Hamlet and some of the others. But it's more difficult for plays that many have not heard of--or didn't read in school.

And speaking of "reading in school": In the spring of 2011 (the year I retired--for the final time!), our English Department at Western Reserve Academy decided to read the play, then meet to discuss it. I read an act a day for five days in the middle of May (my journal records that I wept--what a sissy!--once again at the end). We met on Tuesday, 24 May, at a colleague's place, had a good discussion of the play, watched a video of the final scene. Then my colleagues surprised me with some retirement gifts and farewells. And there went my leaky old eyes again ...

Anyway, by the fall of 2008, having seen Winter's Tale at John Carroll, we were down to just three unseen plays.

Next time: Titus Andronicus

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