I shot this video footage and the closing photograph in the early hours of this morning. Editing, technical work, and choice of soundtrack for the final product were all carried out by the ever resourceful Ron.
I don’t recall snow ever falling on Passover before today.
“O, for a muse of fire that would ascend / The brightest heaven of invention!” – Henry V at the Folger Theatre
Little did I know , I was in for a unique experience….
The first half of the play proceeded nicely. Henry V was being forcefully portrayed, although the actor did not resemble Zach Appelman, as he appeared on the cover of the program. The stage set was impressive; it featured several large wooden beams (or beams that seemed to be of wood). These were alternately raised and lowered at different times during the play. One reviewer expressed some puzzlement concerning this use of the device. It did seem somewhat arbitrary; yet basically it worked, especially when shipboard experience was being evoked. The lighting and the sound effects were both artfully deployed. This is something you can depend on in a Folger production.
For me, the most resonant part of the play’s first half was the description of the death of Falstaff. Here are Bardolph, Pistol, and Mistress Quickly, all holdovers from the Henry IV plays. Mistress Quickly was a witness to Falstaff’s passing:
a finer end and went away an it had been any
christom child; a’ parted even just between twelve
and one, even at the turning o’ the tide: for after
I saw him fumble with the sheets and play with
flowers and smile upon his fingers’ ends, I knew
there was but one way; for his nose was as sharp as
a pen, and a’ babbled of green fields.
But I also love the prologue, delivered by the ‘Chorus’ – actually, a solitary individual on stage, whose office it is to set the stage. Longing for “a muse of fire,” he entreat the playgoers to use their imaginations and conjure the scenes in their own minds as the drama unfolds:
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass:
Intermission went by swiftly. I bolted through the long gallery where the special exhibitions are showcased. I barely had time to register the current one, which is entitled “Nobility and Newcomers in Renaissance Ireland.” But my friend and fellow playgoer Nancy made sure that I saw a newly authenticated painting of Queen Elizabeth I. It seems that this portrait had been hanging for some fifty years in the gatehouse of the Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island, North Carolina.
Thanks, Nancy – I might have missed that painting, intent as I was on gaining the gift shop!
So: we’re back in the theatre proper for the second half of the performance. I’m pumped – for now we’re going to hear King Henry deliver one of Shakespeare’s oratorical masterpieces: the great Saint Crispin’s Day speech. But hold – what’s this? Henry V doth stride upon the stage….CLUTCHING THE SCRIPT!! Yes – he has in his hand a spiral notebook from which he gleans his lines, one by one. For sure, he delivers them with conviction. But the constant need to consult the text in his hand certainly does away with the illusion of spontaneity. Also, it was just plain distracting.
All became clear at the play’s conclusion. It seems that Zach Appelman, the actor upon whom the Post reviewer had lavished such praise, had been taken ill during the previous evening’s performance. Andrew Schwartz, listed in the program as playing both the Dauphin and the Duke of Cambridge, had to take over. Thrust suddenly into the starring role, Schwartz had apparently not had time to memorize all his lines. Yet another actor took over Schwartz’s other roles. And the program gives the name of yet another actor – Louis Butelli – as the designated understudy of Zach Appelman. Rather confusing – a regular comedy of errors, if you will.
When the cast took their final bows, Andrew Schwartz made a gesture of wiping the sweat from his brow. ‘Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,’ as Henry’s own father observed
So, were we still able to enjoy the play? Yes, despite this odd turn up. (Debbie, my other play going companion, did mention rather wistfully that it would have been great if Andrew Schwartz could have delivered the Saint Crispin’s Day speech from memory. One could not help but agree. And yet he really did a fine job, under the circumstances.)
Life long theater goer that I am, this was a first for me. (The blogger at Italics Are Mine attended the same performance I did and records his observations here.)
The Modern Library’s site has a wonderful feature called 100+ of the Best Books on Shakespeare. Also PBS is currently running a splendid series called Shakespeare Uncovered. One of the episodes, hosted by Jeremy Irons, is about the history plays Henry IV and Henry V.
Here are two of the twentieth century’s most famous depictions of the Saint Crispin’s Day speech delivered by Henry V to his men. They have heard that they will be greatly outnumbered by the enemy, and Henry must use every power he can command to instill courage in their hearts.
This is Laurence Olivier in the 1944 film:
This is Kenneth Branagh in the 1989 film:
Both very stirring, I’m sure you’ll agree. For me, Olivier’s version is somewhat more nuanced, and thus has a slight edge over Branagh’s.
Plenty of gloom and doom but also gratitude, reasons to believe, and occasions to ponder the strange and wondrous vagaries of human nature
In the Review section of this past Sunday’s New York Times, there was a goodly helping of admonition and dire prediction, chiefly prompted by the destruction recently visited on the New York metropolitan area by Hurricane Sandy.
First, James Atlas warns of the coming submersion of New York City in Is This the End? An appropriately scary title, especially for those of us who know and love the place. (Venerating the city’s cultural riches, my mother could never understand why a person would want to live anywhere else.)
In Rising Seas, Vanishing Coastlines, Benjamin Strauss and Robert Kopp paint a disturbing picture of the effect that rising sea levels will have on this country’s coastal regions. To begin with, the authors offer up this astonishing statistic: “More than six million Americans live on land less than five feet above the local high tide.” Even granted that Strauss and Kopp are describing eventualities that may be several centuries down the road, their projections are extremely disturbing. Click on What Could Disappear for maps. I did, and it just about broke my heart. Among the places slated to become a latter day Atlantis is Miami Beach, Florida, where I attended junior high and high school. Alas, farewell to the land of bougainvillea, hibiscus, cocoanut palms, and rampant overdevelopment…. (For additional searchable maps, go to Surgingeas.org.)
Finally, Erwann Michel-Kerjan and and Howard Kunreuther tackle the subject of Paying for Future Catastrophes. They begin with this statement: “Hurricane Sandy could cost the nation a staggering $50 billion, about a third of the cost of Hurricane Katrina — to date the most costly disaster in United States history.”
In the November 26/ December 3 issue of Newsweek, David Cay Johnston tallies the dangers inherent in our aging and inadequate infrastructure. Johnston goes on to suggest “12 ways to Stop the Next Sandy;” however, his ambitious manifesto will require a colossal act of will on the part of the citizens of this country, not to mention an equally colossal outlay of funds. Can it be done? Will it be done? (As Newsweek prepares to go digital, I’d like to express a personal sense of loss. I’ve been a subscriber since my college days in the 1960s.)
All of this would seem to portray a nation in a heap of trouble. In his book Too Much Magic, published in June of this year, James Howard Kunstler writes the following:
The British Petroleum company’s 2010 Macondo well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico tempered the public’s zest for risky deepwater drilling projects. Oil is back in the $100 range. The Fukushima nuclear meltdown in the following year sobered up many nations about the prospects for the only well-developed alternative energy method capable of powering whole cities. Whether you believe in climate change or not, or contest that it’s man-made or is not, the weather is looking a little strange. In 2011 tornados of colossal scale tore through the American South, hurricane-induced five-hundred-year floods shredded Vermont, and Texas was so drought-stricken that Texans wondered if ranching there would even be possible in the years ahead. People have begun to notice a number of signals that reality is beaming out.
All this is enough to send a person running for the nearest bunker. But wait – there is hope, and it has been proffered by people with vigorous minds and open hearts. I’ve already written about the solace and encouragement to be derived from the works of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Rev. Timothy Keller. And now I’m cheered by the prospect of reading Anne Lamott’s new book: In a recent interview in the Washington Post, she explains its rather piquant title:
I think sometimes we don’t know that what we’re doing is a form of prayer. “Help” is the main prayer. “Help” is the prayer of surrender and having a real shot at things beginning to change because you’ve finally run out of good ideas. “Help” is the hardest prayer, and it’s the most poignant. It’s a person being humbled. People say “Thanks” all the time in so many ways. Even people who don’t believe in God or in any kind of higher power notice when their family catches a break: The diagnosis was much better than it could have been; it really isn’t a transmission, it’s a timing belt; it’s something manageable instead of huge and awful. “Wow” is the praise prayer. I think every time you see a night sky full of stars, you say, “Wow.” It was so cold here today, I had to get up really early, and I stepped outside, and I was like, “Whooooa!” which is a cousin of “Wow.” It was so crisp, so beautiful. It’s like getting spritzed with a plant mister. It kind of wakes you back up.
I love The Once Born and the Twice Born, an essay by Gertrude Himmelfarb that appeared in the September 28 issue of the Wall Street Journal. Reading her cogent and graceful explication of William James The Will To Believe, I felt as though I’d been given a very special gift. (This sense was amplified by the fact of my recent immersion in the life William’s brother Henry, courtesy of Michael Gorra’s magisterial work of criticism and biography, Portrait of a Novel.)
His 1896 lecture “The Will to Believe” was prompted, James said, by the “freethinking and indifference” he encountered at Harvard. He warned his audience that he would not offer either logical or theological arguments supporting the existence of God or any particular religion, ritual or dogma. His “justification of faith” derived instead entirely from the “will” or the “right” to believe, to “adopt a believing attitude in religious matters, despite the fact that our merely logical intellect may not have been coerced.” James knew this would not go down well with the students and philosophers in the eminent universities. To the obvious objection that the denial of the “logical intellect” is to give up any claim to truth, he replied that it is in defense of truth that faith is justified—the truth provided not by logic or science but by experience and reflection. Moral questions, he pointed out, cannot be resolved with the certitude that comes from objective logic or science. And so with religious faith….
Historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, an intellectual among intellectuals, turned ninety in August.
I never ceased to be moved by the trouble to which people will go to render aid to animals in distress. A particularly impressive instance of this compassionate response is recounted in a recent Washington Post article entitled Injured Owl Is Rescued in Mount Vernon.
I deeply appreciate the sentiments voiced with wit and warmth on the occasion of Thanksgiving by Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan. In Family, Friends, Health and Freedom, she asked a number of friends and family members what they were thankful for. At one point, she pressed a friend to be more specific; she received this response:
“Buddy the cat. He literally came out of nowhere one night, and has never left since. He sleeps in the window most of the time, and looks in as if to say: ‘I’m home.’ He always lets the others in the pack eat first. ‘Slow down,’ I say to myself. The world on my screen may be spinning and sizzling, but Buddy’s ends up being the preferred reality.”
Speaking of matters of a feline nature, there was recent post-election news in the Metro section of the Post concerning an illustrious member of that community:
Finally, from the November 26 issue of the New Yorker, the recent travails of General David Petraus and others elicited this wry observation from Adam Gopnik:
Petraeus, and his defenders and attackers alike, referred to his “poor judgment,” but if the affair had had anything to do with judgment it never would have happened. Desire is not subject to the language of judicious choice, or it would not be desire, with a language all its own. The point of lust, not to put too fine a point on it, is that it lures us to do dumb stuff, and the fact that the dumb stuff gets done is continuing proof of its power. As [Philip] Roth’s Alexander Portnoy tells us, “Ven der putz shteht, ligt der sechel in drerd”—a Yiddish saying that means, more or less, that when desire comes in the door judgment jumps out the window and cracks its skull on the pavement.
Roberta goes to the library to pick up a few items and, finding herself surrounded by riches (in several formats), avails herself of them liberally, then runs out of steam…
One sunny Saturday morning, Roberta decided to visit the library. Her intent was to pick up two books she had reserved, perhaps one or two additional mysteries, and a volume on art history.
Miller is Roberta’s local branch, a repository of more fabulous stuff than you can shake a stick at. (Please pardon the recourse to clichés – one is not up to much else, at present!) Roberta headed straight upstairs, where the new books for adults awaited her. I mean, why pass up a chance for some serendipity thereabouts? And lo: serendipity there was – in spades (those pesky clichés again). Her resistance held firm on the fiction side but broke down around the corner in nonfiction. Why here was Every Good Endeavor, a new work by Dr. Timothy Keller, Senior Pastor at New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church, whose wisdom, compassion, and eloquence had so impressed her in The Reason for God.
Okay – I am now officially switching to the first person. Writing about yourself in the third person is just too weird! (Who is that woman, anyway?)
I am also currently reading The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. For 21 years, Rabbi Sacks has been Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of Great Britain and the Commonwealth. In this book, he attempts to reconcile the claims of faith and science; indeed, he believes that the perception of a schism between the two is erroneous in the first place. Rabbi Sacks writes with wit and elegance. Me, I am happy to receive good counsel from wise men and women, whatever their affiliation!
Moving from the 200s (religion and spirituality) to the 500s (science), I found several items of interest. In recent years, we’ve seen a number of writers who are able to explain exciting new developments in physics and astronomy in ways that are accessible to what one might term the lay reader. For example:
Here I must confess to a tendency to take such books home with the best intentions, only to return them to the library unread. I did, however, finish – and greatly enjoy – those last two titles. (Before the Fallout is as much a history book as a science book and made for really riveting reading. Preston begins by describing what happened to one woman when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. I reads Before the Fallout when it came out in 2005 and that scene has remained vivid in mind, in Preston’s measured retelling, a true horror story. “Silver treasure” indeed….) Mirror Earth currently resides on my night table – or one of my several night tables. Wish me luck.
It’s the kind of book I love: you can just dip into it from time to time and get your fill of wonder. Isabel Kuhl begins her survey with the great pyramids of Egypt – that chapter is subtitled “The First Houses Built for Eternity” - and ends with some spectacular structures by Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Daniel Liebeskind, and others:
And in between these two astonishing extremes of time and place, one jaw dropper after another:
[Click here for panoramic views of Chambord.]
Whew! I’m just about done in. And I so wanted to explain about the mysteries and the DVD’s – almost exclusively British mysteries….Ah well, it will have to wait. But I do want to mention a CD that I picked up: This was true serendipity, aided by prominent placement on a display of audiovisual materials on Miller’s richly endowed first floor.
Among the musical selection on this disc is one I especially love, Handel’s coronation anthem “Zadok the Priest.” I plugged the title into the YouTube search box and got some marvelous results. Here are two of my favorites.
First, the 2004 wedding of Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik and Mary Elizabeth Donaldson of Australia (by way of Scotland, as can be seen by her father’s attire);
I was thrilled by this one. It’s an Anglophile’s dream – this Anglophile’s, at any rate:
I owe a debt of gratitude to the good people of the Miller Branch, a place that, in my retirement years, has become a home away from home!
As Governor O’Malley has observed, we here in Maryland were spared the worst of Hurricane Sandy’s destructive rampage. Not so the people of New York and New Jersey, as you no doubt know by now.
I spent six of my childhood summers in Deal, New Jersey, in a large and stately home that we rented for the season. I remember that the house was furnished with a large library that included a great many Nancy Drew mysteries; I naturally read each and every one of them.
(Stylistically, the house in Deal resembled this Tudor revival edifice featured on the borough’s website.)
Deal was a sleepy, albeit beautiful, little place. For livelier entertainment, my parents would take us to Asbury Park, where we would stroll the boardwalk, shoot skee ball, and much on peanuts purchased at the Planters store. I fear now that all of that is gone.
Click here for some ways in which you can contribute to the recovery effort.
In her new book Glittering Images, Camille Paglia pleads eloquently for the return to primacy of the visual arts. “We must relearn how to see,” she urges us. Paglia continues, her tone is almost imploring:
Children above all deserve rescue from the torrential stream of flickering images, which addict them to seductive distractions and make social reality, with its duties and ethical concerns, seem dull and futile. The only way to teach focus is to present the eye with opportunities for steady perception— best supplied by the contemplation of art. Looking at art requires stillness and receptivity, which realign our senses and produce a magical tranquillity.
Here are some images that may contribute toward that tranquility – or at least, toward a sense of mystery.
This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of attending a concert performance by pianist Brian Ganz. The program consisted entirely of works by Frederic Chopin. I’ve not been listening to this music of late, and I’m most grateful to Mr. Ganz for reminding me of its ineffable grace and beauty. (Brian Ganz’s appearance was the first in a chamber music series called Sundays at Three.)
I’ve spent some time combing through YouTube videos in search of some of the same, or at least similar, pieces played for us by Brian Ganz. I’ve been frustrated of late to find that a goodly number of the musical selections that I’ve embedded in blog posts have been subsequently deleted by the folks at YouTube. Nevertheless, I’m going to take a chance and place several of them here, in the hopes that they’ll remain available for viewing.
Murray Perahia plays Etude No.10, Opus 4:
This past March, I had the privilege of seeing Murray Perahia in concert in New York. Initially he seemed almost lost in the cavernous space of Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. But his playing was so rich and dynamic, he soon overcame the disadvantage of the venue. The formality of that occasion stands in marked contrast to Sunday’s concert, in which Brian Ganz spoke to the audience at frequent intervals and even held a question and answer session after the intermission. In addition, the setting – Christ Episcopal Church in Columbia, Maryland, allowed for a gratifying closeness to this fine performer, who was at pains to remind us that he is ‘a home town boy’ from Columbia.
Maurizio Pollini plays the Fantasie, Opus 49:
The amazing polymath Charles Rosen plays Nocturne in B Major, Opus 62, No.1:
Martha Argerich plays the haunting Prelude No.4 in e minor, Opus 28:
This exercise has afforded me a wonderful opportunity to see and hear some of the great pianists of the past century. Here is Artur Rubinstein playing a selection of Chopin’s Etudes. (Watching this and other videos featuring Rubinstein made me extremely nostalgic: my mother idolized this legendary performer.)
Vladimir Horowitz plays the Mazurka in b minor Opus 33 No.4:
Here, Sviatoslav Richter, one of my great favorites, tears into the Revolutionary Etude:
I can’t resist including here this clip of Richter playing Etude Opus 10 No.4.:
I’m sure you’ll agree: this is some kind of ferocious piano playing! A commenter on the Etude, on the YouTube site, relates an anecdote to the effect that when Richter was asked why he played the piece so fast, he replied, “Because I can.”
Born in Rumania in 1917, Dinu Lipatti displayed exceptional musical gifts early in life. This was fortunate, because that life was destined to be tragically short. Hodgkin’s Disease claimed him in 1950; he was 33 years old.
Here is Lipatti playing Chopin’s Nocturne Opus 27 No.2:
Dinu Lipatti performed in public for the last time in 1950. The occasion was a concert, in Besançon, in the Franche-Comté region of eastern France. That concert has attained legendary status in the annals of classical music. Click here to read Peter Gutmann’s beautiful piece on this brief but edifying life and its culmination at Besançon.
Chopin himself did not outlive Lipatti by much. He suffered from a variety of ailments throughout his life and was at one time diagnosed with tuberculosis. He died in 1849 at age 39.
“Cannon-fire and blossom: the two sides of Chopin,” a thoughtful article by Tom Service, appeared in The Guardian in 2010.
Concert pianist Yves Henry observes: “On the piano Chopin invented an orchestral universe that belonged only to him.” All the more reason to thank fine artists like Brian Ganz and his fellow pianists for providing us with a glimpse into that magical realm.
Brian Ganz concluded his program with one of Chopin’s best loved works, the Polonaise in A-flat Major, Opus 53, popularly known as ‘the Heroic.” here it is played by Martha Argerich:
Thursday night was opening night at the Kennedy Center for the Paris Opera Ballet. In their performance of Giselle, this renowned company combined grace, precision, and pathos to produce a thing of transcendent beauty.
The first act is festive and filled with light and color. (Isn’t that set marvelous – like something out of a Grimm’s fairy tale. It was designed in 1924 by the artist Alexandre Benois.)
Alas, all ends in tragedy. The beautiful young Giselle has fallen in love, but she has been wooed under false pretenses. She goes mad with grief, and dies.
The second act provided a stark contrast. It is night. All gaiety has fled. And sylph- like beings appear, clad all in white. They are the Wilis. As young girls, their hearts had been broken and death had overtaken them, putting an end to their dreams of love. Now they haunt the graveyard, seeking vengeance on the men who wronged them.
(At the beginning of this excerpt, the Wilis appear veiled. They then discard those veils, which seem literally to fly offstage into the wings. I saw this happen live Thursday night; I have no idea how it was done.)
What made this performance so moving, so riveting? In“Paris Opera Ballet’s Giselle Soars at the Kennedy Center,” veteran dance critic Sarah Kaufman, brings her deep love and knowledge of the ballet to bear on that question:
Bright, fresh energy coursed through the entire cast. It has been 19 years since the Paris Opera Ballet last performed here, and I have relished the memories of the dancers’ willowy physiques, beautifully shaped feet and musical sensitivity ever since. All that is present, but the dancers’ buoyancy surprised me. How uniformly light and airborne they were, from the corps dancers to the stars.
There was an extraordinary level of excellence in all ranks and a thorough familiarity with the romantic ballet style: the suppleness of the torso; the softened, modest proportions. The sheer human grandeur, expressed in the simplest ways, had this hardened critic near tears at several points. One of them was a choreographic feat I’ve seen a hundred times, yet never seen before: A pinwheel suddenly materialized out of interlacing rows of dancers like the wind lifting from a field.
I have sometimes felt that perfection is inimical to beauty. This was most emphatically not the case Thursday evening. Instead, Romeo’s exclamation upon first seeing Juliet came to mind: “…I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.”
Did I mention that this performance played to a packed house Thursday night? At the end, the applause was thunderous, the company called back for numerous curtain calls. I turned to my cousin Stephany, my companion for the evening, and said, “We’re incredibly lucky to have been here tonight!”
Here is the video trailer for the Paris Opera Ballet’s 2012 U.S. tour:
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines derecho as “…a widespread, long-lived wind storm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms.” The rest of us here in the mid-Atlantic region are calling it one heck of a storm. (I like to keep this blog family friendly.) Think of it as a thunderstorm on steroids.
There’s a photo on the NOAA site that speaks volumes. It was taken by Brittney Misialek, a former WGN weather intern. Here’s the caption:
Photo of the gust front “arcus” cloud on the leading edge of a derecho-producing storm system. The photo was taken on the evening of July 10, 2008 in Hampshire, Illinois as the derecho neared the Chicago metropolitan area. The derecho had formed around noon local time in southern Minnesota.
In an article in today’s print edition of the Washington Post, Jason Samenow states: “Only a meteorologist was likely to have made the right guess about the violent storm system that hit the Washington area Friday night.” With respect, I’d like to offer a small amendment to that statement. Readers familiar with Northwest Angle, a 2011 work of crime fiction by William Kent Krueger, will also have heard of derechos.
Although I very much admire the work of this writer, I have not yet read this recent entry in his Cork O’Connor series. I did, however, read the Author’s Note that precedes the text a couple of weeks ago. In it, Krueger offers the following as background to his novel:
On July 3, 1999, a cluster of thunderstorms developed in the Black Hills area of South Dakota and began to track to the northeast. On the morning of July 4, something phenomenal occurred with this storm system, something monstrous. At the edge of western Minnesota, the storm clouds gathered and exploded, creating what would become one of the most destructive derechos ever to sweep across this continent.
A derecho is a unique storm system, a bow-shaped formation of towering black clouds that generate straight-line winds of hurricane force. The derecho that formed on July 4 barreled across northern Minnesota.
Krueger goes on to describe the devastation wrought by the derecho on one of his favorite places, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, “…a land so beautiful it’s as near heaven as you’re likely to find anywhere in this earth.”
The Author’s Note concludes:
Click here for Jason Samenow’s account of Friday night’s storm.
There are plenty of people in this area who are still without power. Our local power company, BGE, has put a Storm Center on its website. In addition, the Washington Post has some useful information concerning numbers to call, if you need further assistance.
In a previous post, I alluded to a recent week in which I attended a Bach concert, two operas (broadcast in HD), and a play. I have yet to write about one of the operas or the play. Although I saw the play last, I’m going to write about it now, since it’s in the midst of its run at the Folger Theatre and is scheduled to close on Sunday March 4, one week from tomorrow.
Written by Susanna Centlivre in the tradition of the Restoration comedy, The Gaming Table is a frothy confection about a woman who runs a gambling parlor out of her own home. The aptly named Lady Reveller just wants to have fun, and she desires the same for her friends and fellow gamblers. (The Gaming Table was originally titled The Basset Table, Basset being the name of the card game around which the play’s action revolves. Click here to learn more about Basset.)
The Gaming Table features the fiendishly convoluted plot twists that usually characterize British comedy of the late 1600s and early 1700s. I for one never worry over much if I lose the thread. Usually the players are having such a mad cap good time of it that I find myself delighted and amused, even if I’m wondering, Now who exactly is she…?
So: Who exactly is Susanna Centlivre? (Lovely name, that: Susanna hundred pounds – or Susanna hundred books!) Here’s the opening of the Folger’s backgrounder:
Susanna Centlivre (1669?-1723) was the most popular female comedic playwright of the 18th century. Although not hailed by the critics of her day, a time when women writers were an unsettling novelty, she enjoyed a certain celebrity. Accounts of Centlivre’s early years are an intriguing array of rumors and hearsay, but once in London she became a well-known dramatist and respectable wife of a royal cook. A prolific author, she wrote at least 16 plays, in addition to many poems and several collections of humorous letters.
So, where has this gifted and prolific poet and playwright been all my life? Buried in obscurity, alas, like so many other artists of her sex. All praise is due, therefore, to the creative team at the Folger for gifting us with this felicitous (and lavishly mounted) production. In a recent piece in the Washington Post, the Folger’s artistic producer Janet Alexander Griffin said of the works of Susanna Centlivre: “Bringing her back is like a new discovery.”
The exact words spoken by Iago, as provided by M.I.T.’s Shakespeare site, are
O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on….
What a pleasure to hear once again Othello’s extravagant tale of his wooing of Desdemona, culminating in two of my favorite lines in all of Shakespeare:
She loved me for the dangers I had pass’d,
And I loved her that she did pity them.
All of this, to be systematically destroyed by one of the most coldly calculating characters in all of literature. In Shakespeare After All, Marjorie Garber says this of Iago:
Hate for hate’s sake. Motiveless malignity. Iago is successful precisely because he has no second dimension, no doubt, no compassion. From the start he is all action, and he is everywhere. Flattering Othello, and then Rodrigo. Shouting out of the darkness, and calling for light. Yet notice that in fact he does nothing himself.
Indeed not. He goads, he taunts, he mocks, he inflames passions, he poisons true feeling.
In the play’s final scene, after Othello has been made aware of Iago’s perfidy, he looks down to see if Iago has cloven hoofs instead of the feet of a human being.. It was a moment that cast me back to my college days and a Shakespeare class I took at Goucher College with the wonderful Brooke Peirce. He explained that according to legend, the Devil possesses cloven hoofs. But Iago displays no such blatant badge of infamy. He has the feet of a man – an unspeakably evil man.
The final scene in its entirety was so intense that my eyes were stinging. Emerging into the light afterward, I said to my companion, “I feel shattered.”
I want to say a word about the set. At the beginning of the play, the stage resembled a seraglio, with billowing fabrics shot through with color. Later this same material became the sails of a ship in peril. The mariners were pulling at lines that seemed anchored in the theater’s far upper reaches.
Oweso Odera and Ian Merrill Peakes were both terrific. Odera was born in Khartoum, Sudan, and began his acting career in Kenya. Peakes has several Folger triumphs to his credit. The review in the Washington Post hails him as “one of the finest Shakespearean actors regularly appearing in Washington.”
The run for this production has been extended through December 4. Here’s the trailer: