Tag Archives: Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

On Stage: The Winter’s Tale

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?”

poster-winter-tale-2017This 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.





On Stage: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

So, The Wife is sitting on her big, comfy chair in the living room and she’s looking exhausted and stressed over recent events so I come to her and I says,

“What would you like to do this weekend?”

“Ugh. What do you have in mind?”

“Would you like to go to the Shakespeare Festival?”

Eyes perk up. “Are you asking me if I want to go see Shakespeare?”

“Well, the show starts this weekend and the weather is supposed to be decent and we’re going to go at some point and usually we put it off and then the weather gets bad and other stuff comes up and we have to struggle to fit it in. Let’s just go Saturday and get it over with.”

“That’s the most impassioned soliloquy in support of going to a Shakespeare play that I’ve ever heard. Well, from you.”

And so it was that Saturday afternoon we put on our Shakespeare T-shirts and tossed three lawn chairs, a cooler, a picnic basket and my Spider-Man bag (filled with time-killers) into the trunk of the car and made our way to Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park. We got there around 5:30 p.m. even though the show wasn’t scheduled to start until 8 p.m. because — you know — people. It turned out it wasn’t very crowded at all and we were able to set up in a pretty good spot.

Once we’re settled in I decide I better take The Son for a walk to kill some of that 2.5 hours before showtime. We make our way to Art Hill and I figure we’ll go down and do a circle around the basin. I thought there was a walking path to the basin. Nope. Had to walk through the tall grass (Yo, City of St. Louis, mow the grass) to get to the basin. Or rather, I had to walk — Andrew ran down the hill.

No biggie. I figure he’ll wait for me when he gets to the bottom. Nope. He just keeps on walking at his usual 5-times-my-own pace. What should’ve been a peaceful walk along the water to admire the fountains turned into a forced march as I tried to catch up with him. It was no use — he’d already got a major lead on me and wasn’t stopping or looking back. ANDREW! ANDREW! Nothing is worse than yelling out to someone in public. He either doesn’t hear me or isn’t listening, so now I have to do that terrible thing where I try to run — get 10 steps and think I’m having a heart attack — go back to walking — try to run — grab my chest in pain — go back to walking — ANDREW! ANDREW! — wedding parties and joggers stare — try to run — walk — ANDREW!

He finally hears me and turns around and runs back to me. We complete our circle of the basin and now have to climb back up the hill. Thankfully, he waited for me when he got to the top. I get him a jumbo hot dog and we eventually get back to our seats.

“Next time you’re walking with him.”

We commence eating and Laurie leaves to check out the gift shop. She comes back with an “Anthony and Cleopatra” T-shirt (If you wait you can get last year’s T-shirt for half off).

So we’re sitting there and Laurie is happier than she’s been in a while so I’m feeling pretty good about myself, at which point we hear Andrew making the ‘ack, ack’ sound and his head is twitching.

Oh Lord. Not a seizure. Not now.

Laurie springs into action, holding his head and neck and I’m holding the chair and keeping him from falling to the ground. After a few seconds, though, he’s stopped and appears fine. A couple of nice people nearby offer to help but we tell them we’re used to it. Laurie of course immediately wants to go home, but I’m not letting something like a micro-seizure ruin this night.

Normally seizures are followed by throwing up and falling asleep, but this time Andrew just kinda looked at us and sat there. He didn’t pass out and his eyes weren’t glassy. Laurie still wanted to go home but I said let’s give him a few minutes. After a few minutes he was back to normal, laughing and drinking water and smiling. Crisis averted.

poster-midsummer-2016Eight o’clock finally came and the show got underway. This year Shakespeare Festival St. Louis is performing The Bard’s romantic comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I gave up reading the synopsis halfway through and figured I would just fake my way appreciating it like usual.

Turned out it was one of the easier Shakespeare plays to follow. I’d seen the movie version a few times so I had some inkling of what it was about. It’s an odd story, revolving around two couples, a bumbling acting troupe, and some fairy folk who live in the forest.

Like all SFSL shows it’s a solid production. The actors were all good, the set design was clever, the first act moved quickly but I felt the second act ran a little long. I felt the play scene was dragged out a bit. A couple of nice musical numbers.

The weather was perfect and for a change no loud bands started up in the distance as the show was wrapping up. Andrew made it through the whole thing and we made it home without incident.

And now I don’t have to think about Shakespeare for another year.

“Uh, we are going to see ‘Macbeth’ next week as part of the Opera Theatre Saint Louis series.”

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’ production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ runs nightly (except Tuesdays) through June 26 in Forest Park. Free.   





Antony, Cleopatra And The Polar Bear

One of the nice things about the Saint Louis Zoo — besides it being free — was the polar bear exhibit.

While all the other bears were usually sleeping in their caves — not unlike all the other animals at the zoo — the polar bears were usually romping, swimming, playing with a giant ball. They were the stars of the zoo.

Then they died.

So the zoo has spent the past several months building a whole new polar bear habitat. Its one resident moved in recently. The exhibit opened this weekend.

A&C poster jpegFriday there was a sneak preview event for Zoo Friends. The Wife and Son were both off yesterday so Laurie decided they would go down to see the polar bear. The annual St. Louis Shakespeare Festival was also going on next door in Forest Park, so in true kill-two-birds-with-one-stone fashion, we decided that I would meet them after work at the park.

I picked up some chicken strips and fries and met wife and child around 5 p.m. in Shakespeare Glen. Laurie had us camped out in a pretty sweet spot. Not too many people line up for free Shakespeare at 5 p.m. when the show starts at 8 p.m.

“Oh, Ronnie. It was horrible. You would’ve hated it. When we got here at 1 there was nowhere to park. Both zoo lots were full. I wound up parking by the basin. The line to see the polar bear was sooo long.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” I said out loud while happy feelings ran up and down my insides at the thought that I didn’t have to go through that.

By 5:30 we were finished eating and still had 2.5 hours to sit. So I decided to walk over to the zoo and check out the bear. After all, it probably won’t be crowded now and God knows I’m never coming back to the zoo to see him during daytime visiting hours. At least not for two years or so until the excitement wears off.

I walked over and sure enough, there was no line. But then I had to go through the Penguin and Puffin building to get to the polar bear.

What? Why? Bad move, Zoo. Making people have to walk through the stinking arctic bird house to get to the polar bear. We never go to any of the inside animal buildings at the zoo because, frankly, they stink. I held my breath and quickly moved past the penguins and puffins to the exit. Wait. What? Where’s the bear?

Turns out the bear is in his own enclosure outside the penguin/puffin house. Why they made me walk through it, I do not know.

When you first encounter the bear enclosure there’s a large glass window through which you can see the bear frolicking in the water. If the bear were frolicking in the water, which he wasn’t. Then you go around to another large area with a large window where you can watch the bear frolicking. If the bear were frolicking there, which he wasn’t. Right. Now I remember why I find the zoo so frustrating.

Andrew at the zoo.  More charming than a sleeping polar bear.

Andrew at the zoo.
More charming than a sleeping polar bear.

After walking around a very large, very nice, very impressive enclosure I finally encountered a mob of people standing around a large window in the far corner. Ah, this must be where the bear is. I push my way through the crowd to discover that, you guessed it, the bear was sleeping. Nice. At least he was sleeping in the open next to the glass, as opposed to up in the caves like the grizzlies would’ve done.

To be fair to the bear, it was after 6 p.m. and he’d probably been up all day entertaining the crowd, so he was probably pooped.

So, kudos to the Saint Louis Zoo. Another impressive new habitat. Now just get some more polar bears. It’s really too much for one animal. If I were one of the other zoo residents I’d be pretty pissed.

Made it back in plenty of time for this year’s production of “Antony and
Cleopatra.” It was a good production. Not too hard to follow for Shakespeare. They kiss, they fight, they kiss, they fight, they kiss, he threatens to kill her, she fakes her death, he tries to kill himself, he fails but then dies anyway, she kills herself. The Bard at his not-quite best. It seemed like a shorter show, which is always good.

The set design was — I believe the term is minimalist. Five large monoliths on an uneven stage. Still, it worked for me. The costumes were nice; it’s always good to see people walking around in capes and not looking ridiculous. The actors were very good.

The Wife really enjoyed it and that’s the only reason I go through all this every year anyway. The Son remained quiet for the most part which is always a major accomplishment.

I’m always amused when we get close to the dramatic finale and you can hear music playing from off in the distance. Nothing sucks the venom out of a death scene like watching Cleopatra dying to the sound of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” blaring in the background.

Antony and Cleopatra plays nightly (except Tuesdays) through June 14 in Forest Park. https://www.sfstl.com/ Kali the Polar Bear will be frolicking and sleeping at the Saint Louis Zoo probably until he dies. http://www.stlzoo.org/

On Stage: Henry V

Yadda Yadda Yadda the Wife comes to me and says

“Bring the cooler in from the back porch. We’re going to Shakespeare in the Park.”

“Uh, I’m pretty sure we did that last week.”

“That was Henry IV. This week is Henry V.”

“I’m pretty sure our marriage contract only specifies one Shakespeare outing per year.”

“I’m pretty sure you’re wrong. Anyway, you can’t go see Henry IV and not see Henry V. That would be like seeing The Avengers and not seeing The Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

“Curse your brilliant logic. Very well, I’ll get the cooler.”

“And fill it with soda and ice. And get some water bottles. And two bottles of wine. And make some sandwiches. And cut up some fruit and veggies. And don’t forget we need to leave early to find a parking spot and a decent spot on the lawn.”

“There’s not a Henry VI is there?”

And so it was that the RRoy family once again made the trek to Forest Park for the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis production of “Henry V.” The original plan was to go on Thursday night when it wouldn’t be so crowded but in typical St. Louis fashion it rained all afternoon so we punted. That left us with two options: Saturday or Sunday. There was once again rain in the forecast for Sunday leaving Saturday as our only dry option.

poster-henry-iv-v-webBut Saturday they were doing a double-feature of both Henrys, which meant the one we needed to see would take the stage later than usual which meant we would be out later than usual. Add in the usual every-idiot-in-St.-Louis-goes-to-Forest-Park-on-Saturdays and parking is going to be a nightmare. Fortunately, the Art Museum recently opened a new parking garage and parking there would be a mere $5 if you were an art museum member, which of course we are because, well, we’re classy.

We spent the afternoon at the pool thinking that if we wore The Son out swimming he would sit in a post-pool coma during three hours of Shakespeare. We arrived at Shakespeare Glen just as Henry’s dad was on his deathbed. The place was packed as we feared it would be so we set up camp in back and waited. There was an hour intermission between shows and once VI ended and people started leaving we were able to move down to spot with a clear view.

I’m sitting in my lawn chair and I start to read the synopsis in the program and for once it’s kind of making sense to me.

“This seems familiar. I’ve seen this before, haven’t I? There’s a movie version with Kenneth Branagh, right?”

“Yes. We own it. You’ve seen it many times.”

“Yeah, I remember it. He makes a big speech that’s famous, right? I like Kenneth Branagh. He directed Thor, you know.”

“Yes, I know.”

“Stan Lee and William Shakespeare have a lot in common, you know.”

“Don’t you need to take Andrew to the concession stand and get him a hot dog?”

So The Son and I went to the concession stand where they were sadly out of kettle corn but they did have frozen Strawberry daiquiris in a commemorative glass and I figured the commemorative glass would score me some points and the liquor would make the evening more tolerable.

The show started and everyone did a fine job although I missed Falstaff. The story was much easier to follow but still, you know, Shakespeare. When it was over we joined to mob trying to get into the art museum parking garage. I made the mistake of thinking the stairs would be quicker than waiting for the elevator but did not factor in the difficulty/weight of a cooler-with-wheels when going down four flights of stairs. Wheels aren’t much good on grass but they’re even more useless on stairs.

If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.




On Stage: Henry IV

So I’m sitting on the couch watching “24: In 12 Hours” when The Wife comes to me and she says

“I have wonderful, wonderful news!”

“We won the lottery?”


“We won two lotteries?”

“No, silly. The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival is performing not one, but two plays this season! ‘Henry IV’ and ‘Henry V!’ Isn’t it exciting?”

“You and I have very different ideas of what exciting means.”

poster-henry-iv-v-webYes, it’s true. The Shakespeare Festival St. Louis took three of The Bard’s works — Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V — and smooshed them into two shows performed on alternate nights for three weeks.

Now, figuring out a way to attend one Shakespeare play in Forest Park in early May-mid June is challenge enough — the first issue is the weather and the fact that it’s an outdoor production; second, there’s the child-care issue; third, those first two issues are all the complication you need.

Still, we usually manage to find a free night and it usually turns out rain-free. The festival is doing both shows back-to-back on the next two Saturdays and while personally I would love nothing better than to sit in a lawn chair for 8 hours enjoying Shakespeare, there is no way The Son could last that long and no one would be willing to adult-sit with him for that long a stretch. (Having to find a sitter for you 23-year=old son: Reason 235 Why I Don’t Recommend Having A Child With Autism).

So it looks like we’re going to have to find a way to make two trips to Forest Park. We decided to make the first trip Sunday night despite weather forecasts of intermittent showers. We decided to rely on the lousy track record of St. Louis meteorologists and went anyway. They did not let us down. It was a beautiful night and since it was Sunday, not nearly as crowded as a Friday or Saturday night, when we usually go.

Since our going was a last-minute decision we did not have our usual selection of snacks and suitable dinner fare ready to go. We tossed what we had — soda, cheese, tortilla shells, a bottle of wine — into the cooler. We also didn’t have time to find a sitter so we took The Son along. I figured if he got bored I would sacrifice my Shakespeare time to walk with him. It’s not like I’d get lost in the plot if I was gone for 30 minutes — I get lost in the plot of Shakespeare plays from minute one.

Since it was a nice day, and in Forest Park, and free, we knew we’d have to arrive at least 90 minutes early to find a parking space and a decent place to set up our lawn chairs. To our surprise, parking was plentiful and we found a good spot on the lawn. Sunday night is the time to hit Shakespeare in the Park. I guess everyone is in church. It was still plenty crowded but not insanely crowded.

The Wife goes to check out the gift shop. I peruse the program. I start to read the synopsis and my eyes glaze over. I can’t even make sense of the synopsis, what am I going to do when the real thing starts? The Wife returns with a T-shirt and The Son and I go for our first walk of the night — back to the car to get the cooler. An hour before showtime we take a second walk, make our second visit to a porta-potty (the first was at Bark in the Park a few weeks ago) and then grab a hot dog and turkey sandwich at the concession stand. We eat at a park bench and by the time we’re done it’s almost showtime so we return to our chairs.

“Henry IV” is about…oh hell, how should I know? A king of England? Most likely. The show opens with several men standing on stage shouting. One is wearing a crown — I assume it’s Henry. I have no idea what they’re talking about. Cut to what I assume is a bar and there’s an amiable fat guy and he’s buddies with someone named Hal whom I later learn in the prince. I can kind of follow the scenes with Falstaff in them, which is good because he’s in most of the play. By the end I was wondering why it was called “Henry IV” and not “Falstaff.”

One Coke and several cups of kettle corn later and we’ve successfully survived Act 1. The Son and I make our third walk to the car to put a few things away and make another restroom break. Act 2 starts without us. I’m not too disappointed. Although it sounded like we missed some good fight scenes.

The show ended and I’m pleased to report that The Son made it through the whole show without incident. And he probably got as much out of it as I did. The actors were very good and the costumes were proper for the era (this wasn’t one of those shows where they turn Shakespeare into a Western or some such odd thing). The set was spartan but I guess if you’re doing two plays at once you don’t want to have to deal with complicated set pieces.

The Wife enjoyed it immensely and that, after all, is why we endure these things. Now we have to figure out how to fit “Henry V” into the next two weeks.

to be continued… 



On Stage: Twelfth Night

So I’m sitting on the couch contemplating the mysteries of the universe when The Wife comes to me and she says,

“I’ve got good news and bad news.”

“Oh. OK, what’s the bad news?”

“There’s no opera tonight.”

“No opera tonight?! My, that is bad news. What’s the good news?”

“We’re going to Shakespeare in the Park instead!”

“Uh, I don’t think you fully comprehend how good news/bad news works.”

And so it was that Friday night we made our way to Forest Park in St. Louis for the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis production of “Twelfth Night,” or “What You Will.”

The plan was that I would pick up junior after work and drive him down to the Mother-in-Law’s place, then pick up The Wife at her office downtown, go next door to the grocery store and pick up some sandwiches, then drive to the park. We would arrive there around 5:30, 2.5 hours before showtime, which would give us plenty of time to park in our usual lot and find a good spot to set down.

I was at 270 and Manchester when I realized that while I had remembered to pack the cooler, snacks, blanket, hat, iPad (to read my free comics while waiting) and insect repellant — I FORGOT THE LAWN CHAIRS. Dammit. I am not going to sit on the lawn for 6 hours. I am too old for that and even when I was young I was too old for that.

Too late to go back home now, plus traffic was at a standstill at 270 and Manchester (as usual). I drop the boy off, and stop at a conveniently placed Target that was on my route to downtown. Bought a couple of lawn chairs (purple for me, red for her) and didn’t end up too far behind schedule. Until I missed my exit into downtown and wound up heading west on I-70 and had to call The Wife for directions on how to get back. Surprisingly, I still made it to her office by 5 p.m.

2013-Twelfth-NightBy this time I was pretty frazzled so I let The Wife drive to Forest Park. When we got there already there were lines of cars on the street. What the hell? We inch our way through traffic to our lot — STAFF PARKING ONLY. What the hell? We’ve been parking here for years. This is the only lot relatively close to Shakespeare Glenn that isn’t closed to the public. The Wife is infuriated. I’m glad I’m not driving. It’s 5:30 p.m. and there’s nowhere to park. The Wife is so angry she’s threatening to go home. Now when my wife is threatening to leave a Shakespeare Festival without seeing the show — and it’s her favorite of Will’s plays at that — then you know this is serious business.

We eventually find a spot near the Grand Basin and start pulling our cooler and carrying our chairs down a gravel path and then up a large hill. We get to the glen and the place is packed. At 5.30 p.m. Two-and-a-half hours before showtime. For Shakespeare. Why?

I’ll tell you why. It’s the RRoy St. Louis Freebie Festival Imperative. I’ve been living with this for 20+ years so it’s no longer a theory, it’s fact. Whenever I want to do anything in St. Louis, EVERYONE IN ST. LOUIS HAS TO DO IT AT THE SAME TIME. This show has been running every night since Memorial Day weekend and I assure you it wasn’t as crowded any night before or since. But tonight was the night I was going, so EVERYBODY had to go.

Now granted, it has been raining or threatening-to-rain every weekend since the festival started and this was pretty much the first really decent weekend night the show has had, and it’s the final weekend so it’s now or never, but still…

We did manage to find a decent spot in an aisle that was just wide enough for two lawn chairs. We parked close enough to the people in front of us that no latecomers could barge in front. It was probably the nicest setup we’d had at the fest, although sitting on the aisle means have to deal with people constantly walking back and forth during the show. Sit down people and watch the show.

The 2.5 hours went by pretty quickly. I read a few comics, went for a walk, Lar found some of her old Nun friends to chat with. As for the show itself, meh, it’s Shakespeare. It was a good production, nice stage and fine actors. I really liked the musicians that played throughout. I’m pretty sure I’ve written about “Twelfth Night” a dozen times before as I think I’ve seen a dozen other productions. Check the archives. I still think Malvolio gets a bad rap. The actor who portrayed him — Anderson Matthews– was excellent.

“Twelfth Night” ends Sunday, so move quickly if you want to see it. I’m sure it won’t be as crowded these last performances since I won’t be there. https://www.sfstl.com/

On Stage: Othello

So, I’m sitting on the couch watching part 2 of “Hatfields & McCoys” when The Wife comes to me and says,

“Guess what we’re doing tonight.”

“Watching part 3 of “Hatfields and McCoys?”

“No. We’re going to the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis production of Othello!”

“Oh. Is it that time of year again? You know, ‘Hatfields and McCoys’ is an epic, tragic tale of two families torn apart by misunderstandings and petty feuding — it’s like Shakespeare with hillbillies.”

“Hillbillies don’t speak in  iambic pentameter.”

“Exactly. And that’s why no one understands Shakespeare. Everyone understands hillbillies.”

“We’re done here. Be ready to leave at 4:30.”

And so it was that yesterday afternoon we packed up a cooler and a picnic basket and headed to Forest Park. We stopped along the way to pick up some Chick-fil-A (the official chicken sandwich of The Bard) and dropped The Son off at The Mother-In-Law’s.

It was a beautiful night for theater in the park. The sky was clear, it wasn’t too hot or humid. So naturally, every man, woman and child in St. Louis was there. Did I mention the show is free? We somehow managed to snag a parking spot in our usual lot after circling only once. Did I mention we got there three hours before show time?

We found a decent spot to set up our lawn chairs and the wait began. The Wife checked out the souvenir stand and came back with a couple of belated Mother’s Day presents (there’s a reason I don’t buy her gifts a few weeks before Shakespeare Festival St. Louis). When she got back I made the long trek back to the car and found four issues of the Riverfront Times in the trunk that I hadn’t read and hauled them back. Before you knew it, it was time to raise the curtain — if there had been a curtain.

For the Shakespeare-impaired, “Othello” is the story of Othello the Moor (Billy Eugene Jones), a general in the Venetian army, recently wed to Desdemona (Heather Wood), daughter of a Venetian senator. Their fairy tale marriage falls apart due to the machinations of Iago (Justin Blanchard), Othello’s trusted ensign who turns out to be anything but trustworthy.

Iago is upset that Othello passed him up for a promotion in favor of Michael Cassio (Joshua Thomas). Rather than just live with the disappointment or quit — like most people would — Iago decides to destroy everyone’s lives by leading Othello to believe that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. It all ends in murder and tragedy.  That’s not a spoiler because pretty much all Shakespeare ends in murder and tragedy.

There’s more to the story, of course, but I’ve learned that the best way to deal with Shakespeare is to just let if flow over you and try to understand what bits and pieces  you can. I have no idea who Roderigo is or what his role in all this was.

I enjoyed “Othello” more than I was expecting. It’s not overloaded with characters and subplots and I got the gist of it, which is all I ask of Shakespeare. The actors were good as usual and the stage design was, well, it’s the same basic set design they always use but it looked nice. They added a bunch of large gears to the backdrop, for symbolism I guess. Symbolism — like time travel — gives me a headache.

The one issue I had with the staging involved the big climactic scenes in the bedroom. For one thing, the scene between Desdemona and Emilia (Kim Stauffer) really dragged and brought the second act to a screeching halt (the show had been moving at a pretty brisk pace to that point). It might have helped if Desde hadn’t been wearing such a frumpy nightgown.

But the big problem was that the bed was lower center stage where you couldn’t see what was going on over the heads of the people sitting in front of you (at least I couldn’t). Violent death scenes lose their impact if you can’t see them.

According to the director’s notes, the story takes place in 1912, which I’m pretty sure is after Shakespeare wrote it, but I didn’t notice that they had updated it in any significant way. At least not significant enough to annoy The Wife. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a belly-dancing scene in the original (given that women weren’t on stage in The Bard’s day) but that’s the kind of update I can get behind.

Overall, a good night of theater. The Wife enjoyed it a great deal, which is the main reason I put up with this every year. The weather was perfect and the music from the nearby bars didn’t drown out the closing monologues, as sometimes happens.

Othello runs through June 17. https://www.sfstl.com/