Dawn Reader

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

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Stratford Sundries 6

image from program cover
1. Last night it was Oedipus Rex, a play I first read back in college in the 1960s, then taught a couple of times at Western Reserve Academy in the late 1970s. I'd seen it only a time or two--and not recently--so I was looking forward to the Stratford production.
  • We weren't too crazy about Oedipus himself last night. His vocal range struck me as somewhat ... I don't want to say "limited," but he seemed to have a volume control but not much else in the way of vocal coloring.
  • They did the play in contemporary dress--with a standing microphone (at times) for members of the Chorus.
  • We loved the seer Teiresias, who was sort of an androgynous character: a tall man (not the bent and withered figure you might have figured). He wore women's high heels--but also traditionally men's clothing. Mixed-gender adornment. Rather, representing all sorts of folks.along the gender continuum.
  • And then there was the nudity ...
    • At the end of the play--when Oedipus has learned the worst (unwittingly, he's killed his own father, married his own mother--had children with her), he, as we know gouges out his eyes so that he cannot see such a world where such things can happen.
    • He re-entered the stage area last night, bloodstains on his entirely naked body, and he held forth for, oh, ten minutes or so in his Adamic costume.
    • Okay--I perfectly well understand the artistic point: Oedipus has been stripped of all. Might as well dispense with the clothing, as well. 
    • Butt ... (I mean, But ...) ...
    • When actors disrobe in a public theater, I'm guessing that the attention of the audience members ... drifts ... a bit from the spoken word and begins to consider other ... things. Things of a more carnal nature?
    • I mean, the words of Sophocles are nice and all, but, isn't that a package only a few feet away from me?
    • Somewhere, Freud smiles as the war between the Id and the Superego rages on stages where nudity parades.
2. This morning (Saturday) we had the great good fortune to attend a talk and Q&A with writer Margaret Atwood, who for decades (and forty-some books) has been delighting both the literary world and readers of all stripes. She spoke at the Avon Theatre here, and there was a packed house. We had reserved seats, fortunately, and (also fortunately) were very close to the stage (fourth or fifth row). 
  • She spoke about her use of Shakespeare in her writing, from the beginning to now. She is very witty and razor-tongued (which I loved) and brooked no foolishness. She said that a former boyfriend had tried to teach her to drive but had given up: You have no fear, he told her. She does not drive to this day.
  • She told me something I didn't know--that there is a publishing venture for 2016: A publisher (can't remember which one?) has contracted with a number of writers to re-write some Shakespeare plays as novels. Jo NesbΓΈ is doing Macbeth; Jeanette Winterson, The Winter's Tale; Howard Jacobson, Merchant of Venice; Anne Tyler, The Taming of the Shrew. And Atwood is doing The Tempest. Can't wait.
  • There was a Q&A afterward, and I stayed for a few (she said that Shakespeare was her favorite writer), but then slipped out early (leaving Joyce behind) because ...
  • There was a book signing in the Festival bookshop that adjoins the Avon, and I wanted to get a good position.
  • I did.
  • I was Number One! (I told the clerk I was a gross American--what did she expect?)
  • There was about a 20-minute wait, and then in she came. I had two 1st printings with me (an older title, a newer).
    • Dyer: Thank you so much for that presentation.
    • Atwood: Hmmmmm.
    • Dyer: I taught Shakespeare for many years to middle-school students.
    • Atwood: Oh, how did they receive it?
    • Dyer [lying]: We had a great time.
    • Atwood: Which plays did you use?
    • Dyer: The Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing.
    • Atwood: Yes ... comedies ...
    • Dyer: Well--the war between the sexes; it still rages in middle school.
    • Atwood smiles.
    • Dyer leaves, wishing he'd mentioned Hamlet, which he'd taught for ten years at Western Reserve Academy. 
    • Dyer has many other regrets about things he wished he'd said.
    • Dyer remains happy with his two signed first printings.
3. And--later this afternoon--we're off to the Festival Theatre to see Hamlet, the last of the Bard plays we'll see this summer. Sadness reigns.

4. Speaking of which: We were in Watson's this morning, a store nearby that specializes in china and kitchenware. Downstairs, they have sale items. Walking by some piles of plates, I stopped, felt tears leaping into my eyes. For I saw a pattern that my grandmother Osborn had once had when I was a boy back in the 1950s in Enid, Okla., a plate with green ivy looping around the circumference. When we went to Grandma's for a meal (which was often--we lived a block away), we got to pick which plate we wanted (she had several pieces of mismatch that she used with family, never "company"), and I always picked the green-ivy plate. I'd not thought of that for decades, not until this morning ...

5. And then came Hamlet ... our matinee on Saturday.
  • The show was at the Festival Theatre, the largest and principal venue up here. And the cast, again, was an A Team (didn't yet see a B or C Team this season). Some of our Festival favorites--Jonathan Goad (Hamlet), Seanna McKenna (Gertrude), Geraint Wynn-Davies (Claudius), Mike Shara (Laertes), etc. All were excellent. Except ...
    • I thought Goad was a little flat in the first scene or so (I know: The Dane's depressed--but this was a bit much). But as the production went on, he became more and more energetic (feasting on the crowd's affection) and ended very, very strong.
      • Bizarrely, during "To be or not to be" a cell phone buzzed not ten feet from his face. Not a full ring. That muted buzz. He went on, unfazed. I say "bizarrely" because a few years ago when Ben Carlson was playing the Dane, a full phone sang during "To be"--again, right from one of the very front rows. He stopped, waited, then continued.
    • I like the Horatio but thought he lacked warmth. Somewhat too formal for my blood. He is Hamlet's best friend (about the only trustworthy soul in the whole damn story), and I just felt he was a little ... stiff.
    • The touring players were great--lots of fun before there's lots of not-fun.
    • I liked, too, that they played Polonius (Tom Rooney) not as a complete buffoon. I hate it when they do that--make a clown out of him. Yes, he's verbose, pompous ... but he has a heart, too. And Rooney helped us hear and feel its beat.
  • They did the production in early 20th (or late 19th) century dress. (The soldiers had rifles.) Okay. Don't mind that. (The dress, in fact, seemed to advance as the story did.)
  • They cut some famous lines (waited in vain for "hoist with his own petard") and moved some others around a bit. Okay. The Hamlet script is a hodgepodge from three known sources. No one knows what Shakespeare would have done/wanted with all of it. He surely would not have mounted a four-hour production in the Globe.
6. How did this Shakespeare guy do it?!?! I think he was an alien from the planet Genius.

7. Just had our last light supper at the York Street Kitchen (we were there for all five suppers!), and tonight we go see She Stoops to Conquer down at the Avon Theatre, where we began our day with Margaret Atwood. Then ... tomorrow ... we check out ... see The Alchemist at 2, then ... head for Hudson ...

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