Posts Tagged ‘shakespeare’

SF Shakes’ “Macbeth” in the Presidio National Park, Sept. 8th, 2013

September 14, 2013

“And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;”

-Sonnet 18

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!



“Twelfth Night” at Town Hall Theatre

June 18, 2011

I just saw the cool Town Hall production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” I live in San Francisco and took BART out to the suburb of Lafayette; it was an easy walk from the train station to the theatre. I go all over the Bay Area to see Shakespeare plays and I have previously only been to Town Hall once before, and that was 8 or 9 years ago – the play then was also “Twelfth Night.” So I think you can see that I dig the Bard, and can recognize a good production (as this one was.) There were some very talented people in the cast, the set and costumes were creative, and there was live music played mostly on ukuleles. I’ve heard many different arrangements of the songs in this play, but never any for ukuleles! It’s actually a beautiful and versatile instrument, so that was a pleasant surprise. Kate Jopson (who I’ve seen many times performing with Woman’s Will) was a sweet and fun Viola. She definitely had some mojo working with Kendra Lee Oberhauser’s delightful Olivia and Dennis Markham’s snazzy Orsino. And Alexandra Creighton was an outstanding Maria, more clever and appealing than that character usually is,

Town Hall Theatre puts on a quality show, and I won’t be waiting till their next revival of “Twelfth Night” to return. I also enjoyed the road trip to Lafayette. It’s quiet and peaceful out there, and when the play was over and I walked outside the night sky was gorgeous!



March 27, 2010

Okay, now is a good time to get this blog up and running again. Last weekend was the Spring Equinox, when the days began getting longer than the nights. It’s a celebration of renewal, fertility and the plants and flowers coming back to life. With that in mind, here is my first blog post after a long, dark winter.

 On Friday night, March 19th, I saw the ACT Conservatory Class of 2010 do a new (to me) play called “Oh Lovely Glowworm; or Great Scenes of Beauty,“ written by Glen Berger. As usual for an ACT play at the Zeum Theater the set was quite spectacular. It was like the Borg home world (from “Star Trek: Next Generation”) or one of the “Matrix” movies. But this was a fantasy, not science fiction, that took place in Europe around the time of World War I. The characters included a talking stuffed goat, a mermaid, and Irish soldiers. It was a good play for the Equinox – the characters kept dying and coming back to life, there were overlapping stories that would end and then start over again later, and there was a general theme involving a major cultural shift happening.

 Of course most of that was not really apparent to me till a couple of days later, after I’d had time to think about it. While I was watching “Glowworm” I was just enjoying the story and the talented cast. It was three hours long but went by quickly.

(I’d also like to mention that last fall ACT Conservatory opened up a new studio theater at 77 Geary, on the sixth floor of an office building. The first show I saw there was Sam Shepard’s “Fool For Love,” and it instantly became my favorite new performance space in town. It’s intimate! That play is so tightly written and visceral, and the cast of four just ripped into it and made it happen. When it was over I felt exhilarated.)

On Saturday, March 20, the actual day of the Equinox, I went to SF State to see a version of “Romeo and Juliet,” which was just called “Juliet,” and had a cast of six women and one man – all of them playing Juliet. It was marvelous much, a character study exploring different aspects of her personality, thoughts and feelings. That was quite interesting. I have seen recent productions of “Romeo and Juliet” where Juliet herself seemed to have gotten lost somewhere in the rehearsal and directing process. And hey, it’s her story, right? It was nice to see her as the center of attention, presented as being complex and surprising. 

They also brought in other characters to tell the basic plot, using some of Shakespeare’s best dialogue and scenes and combining them with dance, improvisation, and newly written material. So it was both a performance of the play and something else at the same time. There was a great mix of movement with sound and/or music. It all worked really well.

I have featured two school performances in this blog. I don’t really make a distinction between professional, school and other types of productions – all that matters to me is if I enjoyed the show. Both ACT Conservatory and SF State School of Creative Arts have staged many excellent productions in the years that I have been an active Bay Area Theatre-goer. I would have written about State’s recent, and awesome, “Twelfth Night” if my blog hadn’t been in the Underworld with Persephone. But now it’s Spring; my blog has returned, and I am once again writing about the pleasures of theatre. Excelsior!



“The Comedy of Errors,” SF Shakes

September 17, 2009

I am happy to report that this year SF Shakes has a new sound system. Each person on stage now has their own microphone, which they wear throughout the show. I believe this is the first year they have done that. The sound was improved last year, but at this show it was even better. Shakespeare’s beautiful words can now be heard as they were meant to be heard, with depth, clarity and nuance.

And spoken by a great cast. These people know how to talk the talk. The show was “The Comedy of Errors,” and it was Burning Man Shakespeare, as if the town of Ephesus was actually Black Rock City and everyone was wearing wildly colored wigs and make-up. It actually helped make the play more believable, if that’s possible. You see, the plot is about (among other things) these two sets of twins who were each separated at a young age. Then they all end up in Ephesus, but neither twin knows his identical long, lost brother is town, so there is all this mistaken identify stuff and other confusion. And if it was taking place at Burning Man, and everyone was in some kind of altered state, and running around in the hot sun all day, then that might explain why none of the characters could figure out what is going on.

But we don’t really need this to be plausible, do we? It’s Shakespeare, and we got it performed in a most entertaining way, and when that happens the story becomes real. SF Shakes does it again!  As I said last year, they’re a  local treasure. After the show on the bus home I talked to a couple of tourists from Wales who had made the effort to see the play. Now that’s a vacation. It’s things like SF Shakes that make this City great. I love seeing the Main Post Parade Ground Lawn of the Presidio covered with blankets, and people sitting on them eating, drinking and digging the scene. Lots of them are families, and they bring their kids, and the kids sit there quietly for the whole show. Wow! That speaks volumes about what was happening. SF Shakes is showing the next generation of theatre-goers how wonderful a live play can be, and that is quite an accomplishment. (They also have a touring company which does abridged version of plays at schools and other places – last year I got to see a 50 minute version of “Romeo and Juliet” in the West Portal Library.  It was outstanding.)

I have been doing this blog for almost a year now. In that time the planet has taken a trip around the sun, the seasons have gone through their cycle, SF Shakes has done their annual play and I have gotten to write about it again. I am looking forward to experiencing all these things again in the future. And I have something else to say about the future: The Presidio is where the United Federation of Planets is going to build  Starfleet Academy. Hey,  I like “Star Trek” and Shakespeare! Two years ago I went to London and saw Patrick Stewart, who played the captain of the Starship Enterprise, playing Prospero in The RSC production of “The Tempest.” Anyway, as I looked around at the Presidio between acts of “The Comedy of Errors” I imagined what it would look like centuries from now. And I hoped that when Starfleet Academy is there, that SF Shakes will still be there too. Live long and prosper!

Outside the Novello Theater, London, 2007

Outside the Novello Theater, London, 2007

“Pericles” – San Francisco Shakespeare Festival

September 18, 2008

Last weekend I went to the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival production of “Pericles.” They have been performing it all summer in various locations, but there is only one more weekend of it left. I saw it in the Presidio, which is where they have been in San Francisco for the last few years. (Before that they had been in Golden Gate Park.) Just getting there was an adventure. Before SF Shakes started to use the Presidio I hadn’t visited there much – I had to learn to the bus routes to where they were doing the play. This year I was experienced enough to actually hike part of the way into the Presidio. I ended up on what turned out to be one of the oldest foot-paths in the City. According to a plaque I read it has been in use for hundreds of years, and it was really fun to think about how many generations of hikers had walked on it before me. It was called “Lovers Lane,” which seemed like the perfect path to take to go see the love story of “Pericles.” I arrived safely at the Parade Grounds, where SF Shakes set up their portable stage, sound system, lights, generator, etc. It’s quite a lot of equipment to haul around from city to city to put on a show, and they’ve been doing it for 26 years now. I think of SF Shakes as a real local treasure – I look forward to seeing them every year. When I talk to tourists who are visiting San Francisco, and they ask me what to do here, I tell them to go to the park and see a play! It’s a chance to see some of our local talent at their best, visit an historic site, and, on a night like I saw them, see a full moon rising up above in the fog. What could be better than that?

They do a Saturday evening performance, and then another on Sunday afternoon, and the contrast in the weather between them can be quite extreme. This year I caught an evening show and, as in years past, it was very cold and foggy – but I dressed appropriately. “Pericles” is not one of Shakespeare’s (or anyone else’s) classic plays. But the cast and crew of SF Shakes did a fine job of making it a fun evening of theatre. I’ve only seen it a few times prior to this (including once in June at CalShakes) and I was impressed with how they were able to make sense of the long, twisted plot. This is a story of a man on a journey. It’s a weird, improbable journey, but then so are most journeys – and in fact most lives. So I walked away from “Pericles” with something of a better understanding of what it means to be alive. This production was set somewhere in the American frontier in the 1800s. I can’t explain why or how, but it worked. Live music was a big part of the show. I don’t know much about the musical genres that were used – I guess you would call it “old timey” or maybe old gospel or folk. But the musicians were talented, and it was quite a change from last years SF Shakes show, when all the music was pre-recorded pop songs and classical music. The live sound mix, as well as the actor’s voices, came through clear and clean over the SF Shakes p.a. system (which they haven’t always done in years past.) The dancing and costumes were colorful. It was a pleasure watching the cast move around. The accents that most of them had were at first a bit strange, and maybe even annoying and confusing. But after a while I got used to it as I settled into the world that they were creating on stage.

I was happy to see some people from last years SF Shakes production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” returning. I loved that show, and went to see it every weekend it was in the Presidio. Emily Jordan and Michael C. Storm, who last year played Oberon and Titania, were back again in the lead roles. Wow! They are both so talented that it was worth seeing the play just to experience their acting. I barely recognized either of them when the play began – their characters are so different from “Midsummer.” I took the bus home and slept well after an evening in the park. When I woke up the next morning I continued to think about the play I had seen. It was one of those kind of performances that stayed with me, and left me feeling good in the days that followed. Go see it this weekend if you have the chance, and it might do the same for you.

Pax, Vox