Shakespeare Festival St. Louis opened this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park production Friday. In the spirit of let’s-get-this-out-of-the-way-as-soon-as-possible, I mean, let’s-go-enjoy-Shakespeare-as-soon-as-we-can, we made the trip to Forest Park on opening night.
I told The Wife to be ready to go when I got home from work, and boy, was she. The cooler was packed, the snacks were packed, I barely had enough time to change into my “God, I Hate Shakespeare” t-shirt — but I made the time. I wish I had taken the time to change into a pair of shorts. It was unseasonably warm that day.
I was tired from work, so I made Laurie drive. This quickly paid off as we soon wound up stalled in rush-hour traffic. But I did not curse, because I was not driving. Eventually things cleared out and we had an uneventful drive until we got on Skinker and Laurie missed the turn into Forest Park. I kept expecting her to turn into the nearest lot and turn around, but instead she kept driving until she saw her moment and MADE A U-TURN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET. Andrew’s having a good laugh.
“I’m not allowed to curse in front of our son but it’s OK for you to make an illegal traffic move in downtown St. Louis on a busy street?”
“Yes, it is.”
I blame Wonder Woman.
We find a spot in the free lot and haul our chairs and gear down the sidewalk past the art museum to Shakespeare Glen. We’re early so we find a good spot to set up camp at stage left. It’s 5:30 so we have 2.5 hours before showtime. The plan is to wear Andrew out before the show so that he will sit in a stupor throughout the show. Laurie takes him on his first walk while I sit in the hot sun and guard our possessions. They eventually come back and Laurie and I split a sandwich while Andrew eats grapes. Then I take him for a second walk and get him a jumbo hot dog at the concession stand and we find a picnic table where he quickly devours the dog. We go back and sit a spell then around 7 p.m. we take one final walk and visit the porta-potties. At one point a lady asks if she can take my picture.
“It’s because you were wearing that ‘God, I Hate Shakespeare’ t-shirt,” Laurie says.
“Are you sure it’s not because she was taken by my rugged good looks,” I says.
“Of course. What was I thinking?”
This year’s production was “The Winter’s Tale,” a Shakespeare play so obscure that even my wife had never read it or seen it performed. Needless to say, I had no idea what it was about. Luckily, I had plenty of time to read the plot synopsis in the program before the show started.
“Winter’s Tale” was one of the Bard’s latter and lesser plays — it’s part tragedy, part comedy and filled with your usual Shakespearean cliches.
King Leontes of Sicilia (Charles Pasternak) becomes convinced his pregnant wife Hermione (Cherie Corinne Rice) has had an affair with his best friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia (Chauncy Thomas). The queen is put on trial for treason while Polix gets the hell outta Dodge.
Hermione gives birth to a girl but the king wants nothing to do with her. The child is secreted away but her caretaker is eaten by a bear. The infant is found by a shepherd (Whit Reichert) who raises her as his own. Hermione dies and the king realizes his mistake and is very sorry for it.
The Son has held up pretty well by this point. The only real distraction in our area is a couple of people behind us who won’t stop talking. They’re speaking a foreign language so I can’t understand a word they say, but that’s OK because I can’t understand a word that’s being said on stage and they’re speaking English.
When we get back from intermission, 16 years have passed. The young castaway, Perdita (Cassia Thompson), is now a young woman who is in love with Florizel (Pete Winfrey), son of King Polixenes. Everyone is eventually reconciled and Hermione is revealed as never having died in the first place. Hooray.
I know all this in large part thanks to the synopsis, but also because we are told what happens by second-party characters in lieu of actually showing us what’s happening on stage. This is a fairly common failing of Shakespeare. After sitting for 2 hours in an uncomfortable lawn chair, I would like to see these characters interact, not be told about it from some court jester or other.
“The Winter’s Tale” is a decent show but there’s a reason it’s not one of The Bard’s better known plays. I don’t recall hearing any notable quotables in the show, and isn’t that how we all judge Shakespeare’s works? The cast is fine, the set and costumes are fine, the musicians are good. It’s a solid production.
The Son made it through without incident and that’s what I’m most concerned about. The Wife enjoyed it and that’s all that matters.