Hey, remember how I said I was going to see Shakespeare?
Oh, friends. Did I ever.
After work Friday, I drove to Staunton, VA. I have family there—lots of family, actually—but this weekend I was there for other reasons than just visiting. My dear uni friend Jessica and I had purchased tickets to see Othello and Henry IV, Part I by the American Shakespeare Center at Blackfriars Playhouse.
The very first time I ever heard about the ASC and Blackfriars Playhouse, I read about it in my Literature textbook at my international high school in Kazakhstan. Reading Shakespeare was one of the things I looked forward to experiencing the most in high school. (Who cares about learning to drive or prom dresses when there is Shakespeare to be read?) I read and reread the Shakespeare sections of my textbooks, and each year there would be some mention of Blackfriars. The textbooks from which I later taught Shakespeare also mentioned Blackfriars.
Before this past weekend, I had seen just one performance years ago at Blackfriars: The Winter’s Tale. I always wanted to go back and see more, but circumstances seemed to get in the way.
Thus, my birthday this year—my golden birthday—and a desire to do something I wanted to do. I wanted something special for my birthday—something more than a party, something I would actually really enjoy. A lot of well-meaning friends suggested I go sky diving or do something crazy and out of the ordinary, but I wanted to do something that was more me.
Shakespeare, then. And the only person I could think of who I would want to spend a weekend fangirling over Shakespeare was Jessica. (I mean, this is the girl who visited me in NYC and instead of going out at night suggested we download and watch David Tennant and Catherine Tate’s Much Ado About Nothing at home.)
Jessica was on board as soon as I asked. But which play? She wanted to see Othello, but I was sold on Henry IV.
Why compromise when we could just go to both?
And why sit in the audience when we could sit on the stage on the gallant stools?
And what made it the best weekend I’ve had in a very long time was the fact that Jessica was with me. We’re both artists: she’s the actress and I’m the writer. I can talk to her about art without feeling the need to compete and one-up her, or to be insecure about my talent. Shakespeare aside, I enjoyed strolling through Staunton with her, discussing Feminism, Literature, Theatre, Faith, and of course, Doctor Who.
It was also terribly wonderful discussing the plays with her because she’s an actress (with Shakespeare experience, too). We could discuss staging, costumes, the text, and the various roles, and I could give my opinion as a spectator, and she hers as an actress.
Play #1: Othello
No, I will speak as liberal as the north:
Let heaven and men and devils, let them all,
All, all, cry shame against me, yet I’ll speak.
Emilia, Othello: Act V, Scene 2
I never did manage to read Othello before we saw it, but the performance was so good I think I will read it soon. (Although I’ve been saying that for years, haven’t I?) I especially enjoyed the portrayal of Emilia. Having only known the bare bones of the plot going in, characters like Emilia and a few others were a pleasant surprise, and I appreciated their contribution to the play. Bridget Rue–the actress playing Emilia–blew me away. Partly, I’m sure, because Jessica and I had stayed up very late into the night before discussing feminism and the role of women both in Art and in Real Life. And when Emilia said,
Why, we have galls, and though we have some grace,
Yet have we some revenge. Let husbands know
Their wives have sense like them: they see and smell
And have their palates both for sweet and sour,
As husbands have. What is it that they do
When they change us for others? Is it sport?
I think it is: and doth affection breed it?
I think it doth: is’t frailty that thus errs?
It is so too: and have not we affections,
Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have?
Then let them use us well: else let them know,
The ills we do, their ills instruct us so, (Act IV, Scene 3)
I got goosebumps.
Yes, I need to read Othello.
My one problem with Othello was, I think, more a problem with the text than with the performance. Since I only knew the outcome and not how the characters got there, I was expecting a few things to happen that… didn’t.
I mean, Othello has these epileptic fits, right? I sort of expected his epilepsy to pop up again. In fact, I thought it would be more just—and more interesting—if Othello had a fit after discovering Desdemona was innocent and died from it. Or perhaps he could have fallen into a fit and Iago could have somehow manipulated the others so that when they tried to help Othello, they killed him. One last evil act. If only Shakespeare had consulted me.
I would have also suggested that Emilia lived and perhaps gone all Krav Maga on Iago.
Play #2: Henry IV, Part I
I am so good a proficient in one quarter of an hour,
that I can drink with any tinker in his own language
during my life.
Hal, Henry IV Part I: Act II, Scene 4
After Othello was dinner and then Henry IV, Part I. I was so excited I could barely contain myself, especially since Othello had given me an idea of who was going to be playing whom and how.
Henry IV did not disappoint. It was funny and exciting and just all together lovely. My favorite characters were played beautifully, and I might have caught myself mouthing along the lines once. Okay, twice. (Which mortified me since I was sitting on the stage.)
An if we live, we live to tread on kings;
If die, brave death, when princes die with us!
Hotspur, Act V, Scene 2
I thought the actors playing Falstaff and Hotspur (Rick Blunt and Patrick Midgley) were fantastic, especially Hotspur, since he’s my favorite character in this play, and I had very high expectations. There was so much energy from the whole cast that I was exhausted when it was all over, and super happy, too.
In fact, there was such a great fun energy in everyone, cast and audience. When Jess and I took our seats before the show (again on stage), it was a bit like coming home because we knew our fellow audience members sitting with us, and the cast was friendly, too. And although it might not have been actual Shakespeare, I thoroughly enjoyed when the cast performed Fun’s “Some Nights” after intermission and the audience sang along. It was such an appropriate song for the tone of the performance. That was the kind of atmosphere we had, and it was amazing. I haven’t ever had an experience with a play quite like that before–I mean, I haven’t felt that relaxed and that much involved in even a Shakespeare in the Park performance.
It was such good fun.
Jess and I have already decided we’re coming back later this summer. I don’t know when–Jess has rehearsals and I am jetting off to Türkiye, but the ASC is doing the Scottish play, so we’re definitely going to try.