Sunday, July 22, 2007

Michigan Shakespeare Festival

Nine of us spent a glorious day at Jackson Community College yesterday for our excursion to the Michigan Shakespeare Festival. Richard called the festival a gem and I agree with all my heart. This venue never fails to stimulate. Although I am not nearly so well traveled and experienced as Richard and Tom and others, among us we have seen dozens of companies all over the U.S. including world-beaters like the Stratford, the Royal Shakespeare and the Guthrie and we always agree that the Michigan festival can hold its own with any of them. (In fact, we often like it best – and that’s not jingoism talkin’.)

The day started a noon with an impromptu book festival in the parking lot. Richard – helping a friend divest herself of her Oxfordian library – generously loaded the books in the back of Tom’s teleportation van and invited us to help ourselves.

I came away with Ruth Lloyd Miller’s 1975 edition of A Hundred Sundrie Flowres: From the Original Edition of 1573 and Gertrude Ford’s A Rose by Any Name – treasures, both! The Ford has an autograph: “To the Honorable John Styshen (sic) Monagan, in memory of our mutual friend Francis T. Carmody and with the hope that you will find this work of interest. Gertrude C. Ford, 3834 Eastover Drive, Jackson, Mississippi” The inside front cover is stamped with the notice: “From the office of John S. Monagan Member of Congress 5th District Connecticut”. Francis Carmody wrote the foreword in 1964. On the flyleaf, above the autograph is another stamp, crossed out in pencil: WESTMINSTER SCHOOL LIBRARY. And above that in pencil a price of $15. (I guess I’m provenance obsessed – wonder if that has anything to do with being an Oxfordian?)

After this delightful initial milling period, it did not take long for cries of “I’m hungry!” to emerge from the cacophony and we all trouped across the lawn to find a picnic table. A kind gentleman from the college led us through some construction barriers to the bell tower lawn where several unbrella’d tables awaited our pleasure. We trooped from table to table trying to find the one that not only had all its seats, but also had a working umbrella. We must have looked like an expedition from Mars trying to find the secret of the universe written on the interior of picnic umbrellas.

We finally came to 'light at a table with only three benches, but possessing the advantage of a location near a great patch of shade from the bell tower. Thank goodness! The strange thing about this vantage was that the group on the blanket in the shade kept shifting with the sun until we were a good fifteen feet from the table-sitters who complained loudly that we were having a meeting without them. Which we were – a meeting of the pizzelles with the chocolate fudge drops.

First play! Henry V! Very good! Paul Molnar was Henry in modern dress. We like Molnar. Very much. He is almost supernaturally beautiful. (Oh, yes, and he’s a great actor.) Richard and Tom were perplexed by the directoral decision to add a little Henry IV to the beginning of the play. I, of course, did not recognize this juggle, but wasn’t buying the explanation that today’s audiences need clarification about who Falstaff is. Which is neither here nor there because I loved getting the bonus renunciation scene – it is so deliciously painful.

One of the best things about the Michael Baughman Theater at JCC – besides the wonderfully comfortable seats and the stadium style seating – is the raised platforms on either side of the stage. The company uses these balconies to extraordinary effect – mounting scenelets that expand the theatrical space.

Dinner at Knight’s Steak House, five minutes from the theater, where we added a happy tenth to our group, brilliant festival Managing Director Mary Matthews, who is so gracious. It was a treat to have her join us.

On to Macbeth – very, very fine with good looking David Blixt bare-chested throughout. When asked afterward why that choice was made, Blixt said since all the costumes were black, the blood wouldn’t show up well, so he had to be nekkid. I wasn’t the only one who thought that was pretty funny. That black costuming by Corey Globke was quite magnificent – thigh high leather boots and quilted breastplates with compelling geometric markings – sort of Issey Miyaki meets Star Trek in Camelot. Loved it, baby.

But the very best, most fabulously wonderful thing about the Macbeth was the found-object symphony by Stephen Eddins. I never again want to see a fight scene without 50-gallon drum and water xylophone accompaniment. The musical space was set up left of the stage and the musicians (actors when not otherwise engaged) played throughout the production – turning the play into an operatic ballet, or a balletic opera. I drove home so happy I didn’t even mind that I missed the I-96 east turnoff and headed west toward the lake instead. Come to think of it, the stars on the water – what a perfect ending to a perfect day.

The festival continues for two more extended weekends through August 5. Check it out at Michigan Shakespeare Festival.

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