Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Death of Rabbi Wine

Following is my e-mail to Rev. Harry T. Cook in response to his oped column in today's Detroit Free Press (Tues., July 24, 2007) about the death of his colleague Rabbi Sherwin Wine, popular local speaker and internationally recognized creator and leader of Jewish humanism. Tom


Dear Rev. Cook:

I was frankly disappointed when I heard Rabbi Wine a year or two ago. Yes, the room was filled with an adoring audience. Yes, his personable, energetic presentation demonstrated why they adored him so. He was telling us about Shakespeare, and though he is an expert and knowledgeable in many areas, he was out of his element here. He was relying on a recent biography, which like so many recent Shakespeare biographies was written to capitalize on the unlimited interest in that playwright and poet even now, 403 years after his death. For reasons I won’t get into here, these biographies have not advanced our knowledge about Shakespeare one iota beyond what it was when Mark Twain wrote his brutally honest assessment of Shakespeare’s life in his 1909 essay, “Is Shakespeare Dead?”

The problem was that it was neither the time nor the place to get into it with Rabbi Wine, whose efforts and whose accomplishments I otherwise very much appreciated and still do appreciate. I did speak with him briefly afterward to thank him for his his dedication to learning and for his stirring interest in such topics among his followers, as the satisfied faces of the people in that packed room had attested.

I also told him that I was working on a paper which he might find interesting, that textual evidence in The Merchant of Venice shows that it is not anti-Semitic but entirely otherwise, directed against the human imperfections which set men against each other, especially Christians and Jews. He told me that he would be very interested to see that paper and asked me to e-mail it to him.

Now, before I was able to finish that paper, Rabbi Wine has died. I made a PowerPoint presentation of the paper to a conference in Ann Arbor last year, but the paper itself was delayed. I regret that I will never be able to have his reaction to it, and here is why. The paper was delayed for two reasons. The first was that I needed to confirm that the play referred to Jewish moral teaching rather than Christian values as has been presumed for 400+ years, suggesting that Shakespeare was familiar with Judaism. The second was that if you read the play closely, it becomes quite apparent that Shakespeare is harshly critical of the Christian church, that he is neither a Protestant nor a Catholic as the popular and misguided biographies are currently debating, but that he was a humanist.

Rabbi Wine could have told me about humanism.

So you see, Rev. Cook, the world will continue to love its Shakespeare, will continue to attend his plays in droves, attend his festivals, read his sonnets, and buy his biograhies, but the world will continue to wax uneasy about the apparent antiSemitism of Merchant, which will continue to be banned in some communities and reviled in others, continuing to miss the remarkable, humanistic message of that true Renaissance author. I needed to speak with Rabbi Wine about that message, especially since he was so very good at delivering messages. I regret that I never got the chance. I never knew Rabbi Wine, but as so many thousand others, I miss him dearly.


R. Thomas Hunter, Ph.D.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Oberon report from Jackson

Dear Oberon,

Another wonderful day at the Michigan Shakespeare Festival in Jackson yesterday (Saturday, July 21). We saw two excellently produced and acted plays (with some reservations from our ever perceptive group), Henry V and Macbeth. But then we knew that. The work by the Festival troupe has been reliable in the past and continues to be so.

We picnicked behind the Ruth Day Theatre Building, munching on Linda’s delicious VG fried chicken and watermelon, various treats from Rosey, and our picnic lunches. The theatre office was kind enough to send out a welcoming ant. The good news was that he was very small and that there was only one of him. Linda led a planning session for our Oct 25 meeting featuring Lonnie Morley, the Shakespeare herb lady, who describes how her research into Shakespeare’s use of herbs in his plays and poems leads us to Edward De Vere as the true author.

We dined together between plays at a local restaurant suggested by Mary Matthews, the festival’s managing director. What we didn’t know at the start of the day was that Mary would be our guest. She very generously, comfortably, and engagingly told the nine of us in attendance about the history of the festival, about some of the experiences she has encountered, and about her plans for next year in which Oberon could very well have a presence. She welcomed any support we could provide in terms of the substance and organization of the kickoff to the 2008 season which she wants to make a very special event for Festival supporters and the acting and production company. We very much look forward to taking a role in making Mary’s plans a success.

Sadly, our brief business meeting was without a treasurer’s report. Tom Townsend’s father passed away last week, so Tom and Joy were involved with the family and the funeral. The suggestion that Oberon do something to recognize Tom’s loss met with an immediate opening of our members’ hearts and wallets, the result of which Rosey and I will bring to Tom and Joy this afternoon at the funeral home for one of the family’s charities. The donation could never be enough considering the regard we hold for Tom and Joy.

Linda also put a plug in for the Oberon blog. To participate, you must sign up. Check with Linda for details. Richard reminded us that those attending the Carmel conference in October should be making preparations. Hotel rooms are going fast.

I had two brief announcements. The first was that Holly Ogburn-Martin, Charlton Ogburn’s daughter, is appearing on eBay to sell the remaining stock of the last printing of Ogbun’s landmark Oxfordian work, The Mysterious William Shakespeare. This is an opportunity to get a good copy of the book if you do not have it already and to contact Holly via eBay. She wrote to me: “I am the only family member continuing Charlton’s crusade at all...very small family. I am not writing about Shakespeare, though I find opportunities to involve the authorship question in my work as an educator.” The second was that a production of Hamlet in California has Ophelia as pregnant based on herbs she talks about which were used to induce abortion. A question for Lonnie Morley? A possible Oxford connection for our Hamlet project? Stay tuned. There is more to heaven and earth, dear Oberon, than is dreamt of in our philosophies.


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.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Complete works today, Fri., Sat. and Sun. in Ypsi

The Hats Off Players will perform “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Wingfield at 7:30 p.m. July 12, 13, 14 and at 2 p. July 15 at Riverside Arts Center, 76 N. Huron St. in Ypsilanti.

The two-hour production presents “. . . a rowdy romp through the entire Shakespearean canon of 37 plays, using 3 guys and over 100 wigs and props, in just less than two hours. You will witness Othello turned into a rap, Titus Andronicus as a cooking show and the history plays as a football game,” according to the promotional material. Tickets are $10-20. For information, call the arts center at 734-480-2787.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Master of Verona & MI Shake Fest '08

Last night at the Ann Arbor District Library actor/director David Blixt said he would be signing his new book, Master of Verona, (St. Martins, 2007) in the Ann Arbor downtown Borders at 7 p.m. July 25. Blixt directs the Scottish play and plays the lead in Michigan Shakespeare Festival's production previewing July 17 and running through August 4 at the Michael Baughman Theater on the campus of Jackson Community College.

Blixt's book is an historical novel that might be described as a sort of prequel to Romeo and Juliet. The reviewer in Publisher's Weekly said: "The precipitous ending, marked with dizzying revelations by the protagonists, do nothing to mar a novel of intricate plot, taut narrative, sharp period detail and beautifully realized characters."

St. Martins has bought a second book in the series; Blixt said the second book will follow the life of young Mercutio.

Also at the library event, Michigan Shakespeare Festival Director John Neville-Andrews said the festival commissioned orginal music for the Scottish play by Ann Arbor composer Stephen Eddins. The production will feature a small percussion orchestra composed of found objects such as a 50-gallon drum, graters and hub caps. Neville-Andrews said the work complements the percussive nature of the language in the play. The production is set in an undetermined past and emphasizes the supernatural aspects of the work. Neville-Andrews promised great swordplay choreographed by Blixt and fight coordinator Christina Traister.

This year's production of Henry V is set in 2007 as directed by Ed Simone.

Neville-Andrews said the festival will produce King John and As You Like It for the 2008 season.


Michigan Shakespeare Festival in Jackson

To all you are joining Oberon for our annual pilgrimage to the Michigan Shakespeare Festival in Jackson,

Most of us will be attending two plays, Henry V at 2 PM and Macbeth at 7:30 PM (note the time). As Tom has written above we plan to meet on the grounds of the Jackson Community College for a picnic lunch and then go for dinner. I have included directions at the end of this post.

We were planning to go to dinner at Azelea's (formerly Tom's Grill), but when I called their number it was disconnected. They are not listed under Yahoo Yellow Pages either. I can only conclude that they have gone out of business, maybebecause they hosted an Oberon gathering last year. So we need another place to go for dinner. There probably is a new restaurant where Tom's, then Azelia's was, but I have no way to find out about it now. There are other restaurants along Michigan Avenue (the same exit as Azelea's was, but west of US-127 instead of east) such as Bob Evans, Ponderosa, some pizza places. We can probably decide among the people who are there for Henry V where we will go and anyone who may be planning to just meet us for dinner and just go to Macbeth will have to try to call one of us.

If anyone IS planning just to go to dinner, please E-mail me back and tell me so we can maybe make reservations for enough people once we decide on a place.It might be a good idea if everyone going would E-mail me at rjoyrich at aol.com (or Tom H. at rthomhunt at aol.com) anyway so we know what to expect.

Directions to Michigan Shakespeare Festival (2111 Emmons Rd, Jackson at the Potter Center on the campus of Jackson Community College)From Ann Arbor and points east:
1. Get to I-94 going west out of Ann Arbor by your preferred method (note there is a lot of construction EVERYWHERE around here, so leave early. It's also the last day of the Art Festivals)
2. Take exit 142 to US-127 South (towards HUDSON)
3. Take the fourth exit off of US-127 (Hwy 50/McDevitt Road)
4. The ramp curves around. Turn LEFT onto McDevitt Road at the end of the ramp.
5. Go about a mile to the traffic light and turn LEFT onto Hague Road.
6. Go about two miles to Emmons Road and turn RIGHT (be careful, this road comes up suddenly after a lot of empty fields and farms. If you find yourself passing the Community College on your right you have gone too far)
7. Take Emmons Road to the stop sign and turn LEFT on Brown's Lake Road.
8. The parking lot for the Potter Center will be on your left after about 500 yards.

Note: If you get directions from Yahoo, Mapquest, Rand McNally or Google, the directions may be slightly different, but I think this is the easiest way to find.

From Lansing and other points along I-96 (including perhaps Howell, unless you want to brave the construction on US-23 to Ann Arbor):
1. Get to I-96 going east by your preferred method (or from Howell going west)
2. Take exit 106A to US-127 South (towards JACKSON)
3. When you get to I-94 you will have to temporarily go onto I-94 east to continue on US-127 south since they share the same road.
4. Take exit 142 from I-94 to continue onto US-127 south
5. Follow above directions from number 3.


Saturday, July 7, 2007

John Neville-Andrews at A2 Library

Anyone attending the Michigan Shakespeare Festival may be interested in the appearance of festival Director John Neville-Andrews and cast members at the Ann Arbor District Library (343 S. Fifth Ave.) from 7-8:30 p.m . on Monday, July 9. They will discuss and perform scenes from their upcoming production of the Scottish play. I'm not sure if I can go, but it sure looks worthwhile.


July Fourth in Utah

It is the 4th of July and the fireworks are over. We (Rosey, I, my brother Jerry, his wife Dianne and my other sister-in-law Margie) just had lunch with James Newcomb, who we saw last night at the Utah Shakespeare Festival as Coriolanus.

James Newcomb is the best.

We talked about Oxfordian connections to the play that are important to him, as well as much else about acting, both Shakespearean and non-Shakespearean.

He did an amazing Coriolanus, a really tough role in a really tough play, which is probably why it's not produced all that often.

We will see him tonight as Kent in King Lear.

I'm still pinching myself.

See you all soon. I hope that it will be at our own Michigan Shakespeare Festival in Jackson on July 21.
Happy 4th!