Wednesday night, we went to see King Lear. Performed outdoors in Shakespeare Glen, weather is always a factor. We tried to go last Saturday night, but the weather gods said no, all the while hurling hundreds of lightning bolts down. At least I think that the show was cancelled that night. The baseball game got called, so too I figure the play. Wednesday’s night weather was much nicer, if fact it was perfect, not too hot and not too cold and no rain. This year, because of Covid and like so many other places, I had to make a reservation. I actually liked this new system better than the old. I reserved a pod for up to six people. There were five of us, Anne and I, Dan and Britt, and Dan’s friend Vicki. Pat and Joanie were also at the play that night and they had their own pod on the other side of the glen. I guess that you call all of us the pod people. Lear is not one of my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays. It is too dark and brooding for my tastes, but I can see that it is an actor’s play, especially actors of a certain age. In this production the setting was moved to Africa, think Wakanda, and the characters all played by black actors. This venue change did add some novelty to the show.
Anne, Joanie and I returned to live theater for the first time in about a year-and-a-half, with the showing of Mlima’s Tale, at The Rep. We made a night of it, with dinner and a show. There were a lot of oddities about this performance, some of them Covid induced, some from the relative novelty of the experience. The venue was not at the Rep’s usual fare in Webster. We were in U-City at COCA (Center of Creative Arts). We dined in the Loop and having already sampled our two favorite restaurants there, last weekend, we tried something new, Salt + Smoke, STL style BBQ. It was good and not too WW budget busting. After dinner, we decamped to the theater. COCA has a beautiful new facility that I had visited once before as part of a bicycle ride no less. I was on one of Trailnet’s community-art rides. These rides are where various art related venues are strung together by two wheels. We did improv on that first visit to COCA. On this night, we were all seated in the audience, which was a very lonely place, what with seating available for only 10% of capacity. Masks were required and the play ran less than ninety minutes, but at least we got our toes in the water again.
Mlima’s Tale is a play narrated by an elephant, a dead elephant at that. It tells the tale of how African ivory goes from poacher in the bush to wealthy art buyers in China. It is a searing indictment of everyone involved. This play uses a story like approach, employing the La Ronde¹-inspired device of relating its story in short episodes in which one character from the preceding scene appears in the next. There are only four actors in this play. Three performers play the multitude of characters, including the poachers, a park warden, a police chief, an African government official, a Chinese collector, a Vietnamese smuggler, a boat captain, a master ivory carver and a wealthy art buyer. It is through these characters that three of the actors rotate through. The fourth actor, plays only one character that of the elephant Mlima, who is murdered in the first scene. As a ghost or more corporally as his disembodied tusks, Mlima guides us through the rest of the play. Unwillingly, he leads us from one hand to another, in the smuggling operation that is the illegal world ivory trade. A trade that has already seen the African elephant population fall from 1.5 million to 400K, since the outlawing of ivory trading and is on course towards African elephant extinction in the next twenty year or less. There are no good guys in this play. Only one victim and a multitude of perpetrators of his murder.
- La Ronde takes its name from an 1897 play of the same name.
Shakespeare in the Park has restarted this month, after last year’s hiatus and since this festival has been going on so many years now, they have already performed all of the “good” plays at least once. This leaves them with the need to add a new slant to each revisited production going forward. They chose King Lear for this year, but instead of setting it the way that it was written, in England, the scene has been moved to Africa and is performed by an all black cast. Think Wakanda, without any Vibranium, but with still plenty of the family politics. We are thinking of going, but because of Covid, you can’t just show up this year, you need a reservation and I have not quite figured out their reservation system yet. For those of you who are not familiar with this story, I offer the following 200 word synopsis of the play’s plot, which I found on the Internet:
Lear, the aging king of Britain, decides to step down from the throne and divide his kingdom evenly among his three daughters. First, however, he puts his daughters through a test, asking each to tell him how much she loves him. Goneril and Regan, Lear’s older daughters, give their father flattering answers. But Cordelia, Lear’s youngest and favorite daughter, remains silent, saying that she has no words to describe how much she loves her father. Lear flies into a rage and disowns Cordelia. The king of France, who has courted Cordelia, says that he still wants to marry her even without her land, and she accompanies him to France without her father’s blessing. Lear quickly learns that he made a bad decision. Goneril and Regan swiftly begin to undermine the little authority that Lear still holds. Unable to believe that his beloved daughters are betraying him, Lear slowly goes insane. He flees his daughters’ houses to wander on a heath during a great thunderstorm, accompanied by his Fool and by Kent, a loyal nobleman in disguise. — Kartik Pareek
In addition to the Forest Park production, I am also reminded of the King Lear story, because of what is occurring in Anne’s family. Harry has decided that he doesn’t want to continue living alone and has decided to sell his Ann Arbor home of some forty-five years and move into an assisted living center, where he can be around other people for a change. He and Jane have chosen a place and selected a realtor. Now don’t get me wrong. Harry is no King Lear. He is probably one of the sanest people I know, but he does have three daughters. They had a Zoom call last night, where they discussed the work ahead of all of us soon. Eavesdropping, it all sounded quite amicable and business like. One would expect no less from Harry’s daughters. I would not deign to cast Harry as Lear, but I am just enough of a big spoon to cast his three daughters. Jane is obviously Cordelia, because she is the youngest and the favorite. I’m placing Anne as Regan, because of the whole RegenAxe thing. That leaves Goneril for Jay, sorry Jay. Study your lines girls, we’ll have a first reading in a few weeks. Now if I have stepped in it with this post, I am sorry. Please allow me to lighten my tread some, with the following bit of Lear inspired humor:
Tonight is Twelfth Night or the Eve of Epiphany. The photos are from the past. Two pictures from two different productions of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The first was performed at the Rep and the second was Shakespeare in the Park. I’m really missing going out to the theater, but I don’t see any reopenings in the near future. We got a personal reminder of why this is, when we swung by the drive-by window at CVS. We had stopped at one of the two windows to pick up a prescription. Meanwhile, at the other window a guy was getting a Covid test.
Today was the pick day of the week weather-wise. So, we got out for a hike and returned to Don Robinson State Park. Last time, we hiked the red trail, so this time we hiked the blue trail, as in where in the blue blazes are the blue blazes. Last time when we were there, it had been dry. In-between then and now, we’ve had a lot of rain. The trails were very muddy today. Especially treacherous were the mixtures of mud and clay. Even with two hiking poles, I slipped twice, falling once. Don’t worry, I landed on my pride, which took all of the hit points. The mud probably explains why the parking-lot was not very full when we arrived at noon. On a more positive note, I got 11,780 steps on my pedometer.