Saturday, October 27, 2018

A Midsummer Night's Dream History Lesson

A lively production of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream last night at Monmouth College's Fusion Theatre has led me to dream a bit about past Midsummer productions.

I was reminded initially that A Midsummer Night's Dream  is the most frequently produced of all of Shakespeare's plays. Then a quick look at a Monmouth production list determined that the college has produced it at least five times over the years.  This, I believe, makes it the single most produced play in MC history as well.

I cannot vouch for the total accuracy of the list I have consulted, but it shows that A Midsummer Night's Dream was first produced by the college  in June of 1906 at the Pattee Opera house in downtown Monmouth. It was directed by Gertrude Henderson and was listed as in honor of a
"Semi-Centennial" celebration. The aforementioned Ms. Henderson was definitely a Shakespeare buff because she also directed a production of As You Like It as the Senior Class Play in 1905.

It took until June, 1932 for the second "Midsummer" production to appear.  It was directed by Professor Ruth Williams, the founder of Crimson Masque and the person who secured the "old gym" for use as a theatre after the Waid Gym was constructed. The show was listed as the senior class play and was performed outdoors in "Valley Beautiful."  This bucolic spot  down the hill from Wallace Hall has long since been  filled  the student center, and parking lots.

Time does fly when you are having fun so we have to jump another thirty years before MC audiences could see another production of  A Midsummer Night's Dream.  It was May, 1966 and Dr. Jim De Young directed that production  in  the so called Red Barn or Little Theatre.   It was given a generally classical interpretation as you can see from the picture below..

Dr. De Young returned for a directing encore in Production #4  that came along in 1991 in the then new Wells Theatre. This time the show was set in the roaring 20's .  It had flapper music and a  Great Gatsby flavor.  It also had live dogs and  (see picture) and a student playing one of the fairies whose mother played the same role in the  1966 production.

Which brings us to production number five in October of 2018.  Professor Todd Quick, the director,  put the production on a 3/4  Shakespearian style stage and cut the script to to be performed in one act by an energetic small group of actors doubling in several of the roles. It was fun filled, fast paced, and laced with plenty of belly laughs.  You can still catch it Sunday afternoon  Oct. 28, 2018 at the Fusion Theatre in downtown Monmouth.

I end with a final quirky observation.  Monmouth College has produced A Midsummer Night's Dream five times since 1906 and each time it was done in a different venue--The Pattee Opera House,  Outdoors in  Valley Beautiful,  The Little Theatre, The Wells Theatre, and finally the Fusion Theatre.  This show gets around--even in Monmouth.   


Monday, October 08, 2018

A Visit to the Windy City and the Goodman Theatre

We spent a pleasant and busy day in Chicago on Broderick Crawford Day. That’s  October 4th or 
10-4 for those old enough to remember the TV show Highway Patrol. Our train was spot on time and a brisk walk from Union Station took us to the Art Institute. After a cup of tea in the member's lounge, we walked through the classic sculpture gallery and admired the life size figure carrying a nicely detailed theatre mask.

Then it was off to the American Collection.  We had not been in these galleries for some time and  were pleased with their reorganization. The furniture, especially the Arts and Crafts material, is graciously displayed and interspersed with some nice paintings including some iconic Winslow Homers. the most.  Another  (new to us) room displayed several pieces of American Western  painting and sculpture including this old favorite  cowboy masterpiece by Frederic Remington.

We lunched with old friends (the Kirk’s) at the Walnut Room in Marshall Fields (now Macy’s of course). The Jagerschitzel and red cabbage hit the appetite spot perfectly while the view out of the seventh floor window captured an early fall cityscape with glowing  if somewhat incongruous charm.

After lunch it was  only a short walk to the Goodman Theatre for a performance of a solo performance piece titled We’re Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time. It was written and performed by David Cale.

The show, unfortunately was a bit like Chinese takeaway --enjoyable in the moment but not all that enduring in impact.  I had nothing but admiration for writer-actor-singer Cale, who managed to hold the stage and our attention for a full hour and a half without a break,  yet there was nothing in the sequence of autobiographical moments that seemed to require a performance without intermission. The positive side was that we were out by 3:30 and had ample time to dawdle over drinks before catching our train back to Galesburg. 

Mr. Cale is unquestionably an accomplished monologist and he narrates his often moving tale of growing up as a sensitive bird loving boy held down by his residence in a back water suburb of London with conviction.  A violent episode takes over and what had seemed like a  sad but generally  not out of the ordinary childhood veers off into  traumatic violence.  Cale shifts back and forth between his own persona and the members of his family while punctuating the stories with songs.  I must admit to being more  impressed with his vocal characterizations than his singing.  His movements were slow and appropriately subtle until he spread his arms and self-consciously tried to mirror  flying in an airplane. Early on some English  local color mentions  like Luton, the Kray Brothers,  and a reference to Joe Orton's plays appeared to be lost on the Chicago audience. Luckily they were kept to a minimum. 
Robert Falls proves again that he is as adept as a director of  one-handers as he is with large casts. He moves Cale around the capacious Goodman stage with subtlety and variety. All areas and  possible vertical positions were utilized. The lighting was subdued and followed the action with slow cross fades. Especially impressive was the way the musicians were pulled out of the coal black background like wispy apparitions.  The musical score mostly underscored the emotional tenor of the moment, though it did on occasion drown the actor out.     

All in all it was a worthy afternoon that reaffirmed the resilience of the human spirit and the ability of young people to survive and even prosper in spite of  enormous headwinds.  Yet I was not moved to leap to my feet and join some members of the audience in their standing ovation.      

Homeward bound in a newly refurbished car on the Illinois Zephyr. It was a smooth ride and we were back in Galesburg right on time.  We love our trips to Chicago. The city's  culture and ambiance overpowers at least some of the harsh underbelly of violence that also exists there.