“And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;”
It does seem that way sometimes. But in my home of San Francisco, the summer weather doesn’t usually start till September, and a week after Labor Day the outdoor Shakespeare festival season is still in full swing. And so it was that I found myself last Sunday afternoon, September 8th, in the Presidio watching Free Shakespeare in the Park. SF Shakes has been doing this for 31 years, and this is the first time they’ve done “Macbeth.” I went with some friends and really loved it. The San Francisco Shakespeare Festival neatly sums things up in their program:
“We believe that Shakespeare experienced in a communal setting elates the soul, inspires the mind and unifies those who sit beside each other. Just as theatres in Shakespeare’s time were open to the sky, being outdoors in the park connects us all with the natural world around us even as we focus on a shared piece of art. Performing in a pubic park allows all to feel welcome and reminds us that art is a part of our everyday lives.”
The Presidio is the only National Park that is within the borders of a city. It’s got a lot of history, trails, groves and stories. It was a military base for many years – until the army moved out during the Clinton administration. The old military buildings are now being used for peaceful purposes, and the land is being restored to it’s natural vegetation and flowing water.
We arrived early at the former Parade Grounds, where the soldiers used to march around, and where the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival had their stage set up. We put a blanket on the ground and got comfortable. It was Elizabeth, Ted, Alisa and myself. Everyone took their shoes off except me. It was a beautiful, lazy sunny day. Ted took out a deck of tarot cards and the rest of us began to explore what else was happening.
We walked to the Disney Family Museum café to get lattes. And we went into the Museum basement and checked out their giant murals of Alice falling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland.
We walked back up the stairs and re-emerged into the Presidio. It was exquisite. We could see the Bay, boats, the Golden Gate Bridge wrapped in fog, and the re-born wetlands of Chrissy Field. We meandered around the Parade Grounds, which were filled with people for an “Off the Grid” gathering. Off the grid – indeed. And in this case that meant food-trucks, a farmers’ market, birthdays, babies, picnicking and in general celebrating the weekend and life.
We returned to our blanket. Food and drink were shared. Before we knew it, 2PM had arrived. Time for the Scottish Play. That was the catalyst for all of this, wasn’t it? Not just for the four of us – by that point a large audience was gathered on the ground to sit in the sun and hear the words that were about to be spoken and see the acting that was about to happen on stage. We all settled back as the story began. And we all watched together. Whatever else may happen in my life, when I go to Free Shakespeare in the Park I am not alone.
A while later I looked over at Alisa, Elizabeth and Ted. They were all blissfully enjoying themselves. I looked at their feet. And their toes. I looked at my shoes. I took them off. I took my socks off. I put my toes in the grass. And it felt like a brave new world. This was big, thick voluptuous grass. This was Mother Earth, ancient and alive.
There haven’t been blades of grass between my toes in decades, not since I laced up my first pair of leather boots in the early punk days. And now I live in downtown San Francisco, and when I go on vacation I go to downtown somewhere else. These aren’t places where one walks around barefoot.
But you can expand your consciousness, your understanding of the world, your love of existence, just by taking off your sox. Or going to a play. Or both.
And the play itself? It was amazing. This was a modern, streamlined “Macbeth.” No intermission. Everyone in the cast was awesome, but Emily Jordan’s performance as Lady Macbeth was, for this particular interpretation of the story, the heart of things. She played the part as some kind of dramatic representation of Kali, or perhaps the Morrigan. They’re Dark Goddesses, like the one the three Witches invoke: Hecate. This Lady Macbeth is Hecate, one could even say - she’s the one who is controlling what is going on, until she loses control that is. She goes mad; but then madness is also an aspect of Dark Goddesses. “Macbeth” is about power and greed and much more. As with any of the great plays by Shakespeare, there are many different ways of interpreting it. I’ve seen this production three times in three different cities, and each time my reaction changed. If you go, you can decide for yourself what it means.
It’s also very entertaining, with lots of memorable characters, bloody murders and, of course, those words. 100 minutes went by quickly, and during that time we were also entertained by romantic butterflies who joined us on our blanket and mythic, primal birds flying overhead. I didn’t want the afternoon to end. But there will be other afternoons, and evenings, awaiting, thanks to SF Shakes. As I’ve said before: They’re one of San Francisco’s great cultural treasures. They’ll be in the Presidio for another weekend and then they’ll be moving “Macbeth” to the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater in McLaren Park on Saturday September 21st and Sunday September 22nd. And they’ve already announced next summer’s play: “The Taming of the Shrew.” Go barefoot!