The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0130 Monday, 25 January 1999.
From: Hardy M. Cook <
Date: Monday, January 25, 1999
Subject: The Knight of the Burning Pestle and SSE News
Saturday evening I had the distinct pleasure of attending a Special
Preview Performance by the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express (SSE) of
Francis Beaumont's The Knight of the Burning Pestle at the Elizabethan
Theatre of the Folger Library.
Every year that I see my first performance by the new season's company
of SSE, I say to myself "I cannot believe it. This group is even better
than last year's." This statement was true again. This year's company
(Wyckham Avery, Kila Burton, Chann Cross, Gwendolyn Drnyor, Clint
Brandhagen, Walter Elder, Mike Glenn, Roger Lentz, Jay Pringle, David
Schiller, and Jason Stiles) is the best ensemble Ralph Cohen and Jim
Warren have ever assembled.
And The Knight of the Burning Pestle was one of my most enjoyable
evenings in the theatre. Director Ralph Cohen, used Beaumont's text but
instead of the songs and tune sung by Old Master Merrythought that
"would have been familiar to Beaumont's audience; in trying to capture
the spirit of that music, we [the SSE] have interpolated songs with
which our audiences will be familiar." The results "rock," especially
"Hit the Road Jack."
In the program notes, Ralph Cohen writes, "If we are tempted to think
that the human race gets more intelligent or sophisticated, The Knight
of the Burning Pestle, written four centuries ago, can increase our
humility. Francis Beaumont's play about plays is as "modern" as
Shakespeare in Love. Indeed, if Luigi Pirandello, the Marx Brothers, and
William Shakespeare had collaborated on a play, they might have written
The Knight of the Burning Pestle."
This year, the Elizabethan Troupe performs The Merchant of Venice
(directed by Jim Warren), The Knight of the Burning Pestle (directed by
Ralph Cohen), and Macbeth (directed by David Johnson) as the 1999
Vaulting Ambition Tour. The company will return to the Folger Library
May 19 though June 6. For booking information and other dates, contact
Bill Gordon, Booking Coordinator, at The Shenandoah Shakespeare Express,
11 East Beverley Street, Staunton, Virginia 24401, (540) 885-5588
(voice), (540) 885-4886), or
www.ishakespeare.com. Astute followers of the SSE will note that the
company is now located at a new address, and therein lies my next tale.
The Shenandoah Shakespeare Express has moved.
In the Winter 1998, SSE Shakespeare Carrier (The official propaganda
sheet of the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express), Ralph Cohen, Executive
Director wrote the following.
WE'RE GOING TO STAUNTON
In the summer of 1995, while the SSE was running the Center for
Renaissance and Shakespearean Staging, Joe Harman, who with his wife Evy
operates Frederick House, one of the city's many charming B&B's, saw a
newspaper picture of the SSE putting on scenes at the Harrisonburg
Auction House. He phoned me and said, "We want you to bring Shakespeare
So, we're going to Staunton. That's Staunton pronounced "Stanton"
without the 'u.' Staunton, just 30 miles south of Harrisonburg.
Staunton, where Mary Baldwin College has been bringing the SSE since our
first production in 1988. Staunton, a town of 20,000 people with over
1000 listed buildings, many of them by the 19th Century master architect
T. J. Collins. Staunton, home of the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace and the
Museum of American Frontier Culture. That's Staunton, which boasts an
arts tradition that includes the Statler Brothers; Robin and Linda
Williams; the Oak Grove Theatre; and ShenanArts, the host of the world
renowned Playwright's Retreat.
That's Staunton, where the SSE plans to build a national Shakespeare
center, beginning with an indoor Elizabethan playhouse set to open in
the year 2000 (how's that for starting the new millennium?). We've
already rented office space on Beverley Street, Staunton's main street,
(our new Luxury Top-Floor Penthouse-see photo) and, of course, we're
already asking for your help in furnishing those offices (read on).
What about our Harrisonburg? We're maintaining our offices on Main
Street, and this summer the new Court Square Theatre in downtown
Harrisonburg will host our eighth home season. We will continue to do
our shows in Harrisonburg, and we'll never forget what we owe to the
"friendly city" and to our friends there. Friends like Helen Poindexter
and the members of Trinity Presbyterian Church, who gave us our first
stage; Jim Orndoff, who gave us a place for our first home season;
Charity Showalter, our first board member; James McHone, who first
helped us financially; and Rev. Schiemann and St. Stephen's Church, who
have so generously provided our rehearsal space.
Besides, we'll always be the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express, and the
distance between Staunton and Harrisonburg is a mere 30 miles of the 200
miles of the Shenandoah Valley (a shorter drive than for someone living
in Fairfax or Springfield to get to the Shakespeare Theatre in D.C.).
If our dreams continue to come true-and with your help they will-then
someday theatre-lovers all over America who want to see great
Shakespeare in buildings like the one he used, people who want to spend
some time exploring a beautiful and historic town perfect for walking,
families who want a vacation spot in easy striking distance of some of
Virginia's richest natural and historical attractions, will say with the
SSE "we're going to Staunton."
And they'll pronounce it without the 'u.'
BUT the tale does end there. At Saturday's performance, Ralph Cohen
handout a Special News Bulletin that speaks for itself.
Shenandoah Shakespeare Express
** SPECIAL NEWS BULLETIN **
The Shenandoah Shakespeare Express is proud to announce that on 14
January 1999 the City Council of Staunton, Virginia, funded the
construction of an authentic indoor Elizabethan playhouse, due to open
in 2000, as the first phase in the formation of The Shenandoah
Shakespeare Center. The groundbreaking for the indoor playhouse will
launch a fundraising campaign to construct a replica of London's 1613
Globe Theatre in Staunton as the second phase of the project. In keeping
with the ten-year-old mission of the SSE, the Center will be dedicated
to the production and study of renaissance plays and the staging
conventions used by Shakespeare and his contemporaries.
As a long-time SSE groupie, I applaud Ralph, Jim, and everyone
associated with the SSE on their continuing successes and exciting