Fall Festival at Shakespeare and Company
It could be a tough crowd, but it isn’t. It could be a dull crowd, but it isn’t. It could be an old crowd, but it isn’t. What it is is noisy, what it does is participate. What it feels is true. They carried King Lear out on a cot-like device, and she was dressed in white. She was sleeping…the sleep of the blessed, the first fruits of them that slept. At her side a diminutive girl made a piping Cordelia. There was an immediate hush, the wild beasts were stilled. We heard the words we have heard so many times coming out of adult mouths with adult ideas behind them: “We too will sing like birds in the cage…” This time it had enough simplicity. This time in spite of all the incongruities, it was real. There are a lot of swordfights. The text may be rearranged inelegantly, but as I heard Roger Rees say once, “Some of the best Shakespeare I have seen came from American high school kids.” Girls may be boys, boys may be girls. The young may be old and then young again. This is what Shakespeare did, isn’t it? This must be the way his houses were. Here I was sitting with kids who are supposed to be incapable of writing a good sentence, but they got the most complex Jacobian metaphors immediately thinking and feeling together. Swarthmore’s great critic Harold Goddard said it best, defending his unpopular belief that Lear saw the living spirit of Cordelia in the awakening scene and in the final scene of the play: “Why I believe I have at least done no violence to Shakespeare’s text, is that I have so often witnessed the effect on youth of this reading of the final scene of his tragic masterpiece. I have already quoted the words of one such young person on first coming under its spell. They are worth repeating. King Lear is a miracle. There is nothing in the whole world that is not in this play. It says everything. And if this is the last and final judgment on this world we live in, then it is a miraculous world. This is a miracle play.” Professor Goddard had daily the greatest of tasks, giving his enthusiasm for the great works he loved to the young. What they gave to him was of even greater value.
Sitting there, I could not get out of my mind’s eye two other actors, Elizabeth Aspenlieder and Jonathan Epstein, thinking about how they made themselves into Hermione and Leontes, in The Winter’s Tale on the same stage. Especially the eloquent silence of Ms. Aspenlieder, when the teenaged Cordelia’s few lines in the awakening scene, often only single syllables — “No cause, no cause,” had a natural softness, taught to her by the tenderness of her years, necessary and right. But the even greater miracle is that the imagination, dominant and free, gave Ms. Aspenlieder the same quietude, and that naturally. The young people made me admire the older actors because they showed me that the innocence of the artist is possible, that naturalness is possible, and with imagination, a superb imagination, they can be regained.
The Mad Woman of Cambridge, New York
At Hubbard Hall, Christine Decker was the most believable impersonator of the Madwoman of Chaillot I have seen. She didn’t come across as a crazy woman who was somehow right or a hopeless idealist. She seemed to me someone who believed that though it is often weak, the good will prevail. She had persistence, both as an acting technique and as the primary content of her characterization. It was the love that never fails that she was preaching. She did this without exaggeration. She spoke beautifully. She wore an elaborate costume that was just a little bit too much, naturally. She did not hog the stage, allowing her supporting actors particularly the excellent Doug Ryan, plenty of air to breathe. The play has a sweet intimacy that makes a bustling Parisian neighborhood fit Hubbard Hall somehow.
It’s Christmas now. I’m watching Kris Kringle on the tube, extolling the value of the imagination. For a few days it seems we are all willing to buy this, at Christmastime or maybe at the Fall Festival, or in the golden light of Hubbard Hall. The imagination is a strange thing. Though quiet it is rarely humble. Though said to be weak, it is full of power. Whatever can be imagined can be done, said Blake. Youth and age, darkness and light, winter and summer, are all one in the imagination. We must try to join and fly.