Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 2, No. 154. Wednesday, 5 Jun 1991.
Date: Wed, 5 Jun 1991 16:31:59 -0400
From: Hardy M. Cook <
Subject: Free Summer Shakespeare Returns to Washington, D.C.
Our recent discussion of *TC* reminds me of the first production of it I saw.
I was a young graduate assistant who had just been teaching World Lit. for the
past year. I had never read *TC* before, but I'll never forget the
exhilaration I felt after seeing Shakespeare's treatment of those worthy
heroes of Greece and Troy I had discussed with my students when we read *The
Iliad*. This all may sound rather cryptic after reading the subject heading
of this posting, but let me explain. I saw this production at the Sylvan
Theater on the grounds of the Washington Monument during the summer of 1973.
I attended many of these Shakespeare in the Park productions during the my
years in the Washington, D.C., area, and remember them fondly -- the *TC*,
however, remains most firmly planted in my rapidly aging mind. The problem is
that, aside from local two-night stands from the players from the University
of Maryland at Baltimore County, we have not had free summer Shakespeare in
the Washington area for ten years. Until last night. Michael Kahn decided to
give back to the people of the Washington area some of the great support they
have showed him since he became the artistic director of the Shakespeare
Theatre at the Folger. The original idea was to have Pat Carroll replay her
role of Falstaff from last season's production of *MWW*; unfortunately, Ms.
Carroll required knee surgery and with one month before the production was to
open Paul Winfield agreed to take on the part. What follows is an article
from today's, June 5, 1991, *Washington Post* describing the event.
Hardy M. Cook
"Shakespeare in the City, as You Like It: At Carter Barron, a Merry Crowd for
the Folger's Free for All" By Henry Allen
You read the paper, you watch the news, you forget how sweet life can
be in this city and then you catch a night like last night at Carter Barron
Amphitheater, Shakespeare Free for All, the Merry Wives of Windsor cavorting
around in the deep-dark woodsiness, the bossy dellitude, the sylvan gladerie
of Rock Creek Park.
"You see all the news, all that crazy stuff on the streets, you don't
want to go anywhere," said Cleland Davis, 32, a bricklayer from Hyattsville.
He wore jeans and a Boston Red Sox hat. He sat on a park bench by the ticket
office, and watched the juggler and the harp player and the woman dressed up
as Queen Elizabeth I, red wig and all, plus the crowd drifting through the
evening toward the show.
"I am fan of Shakespeare and of Paul Winfield -- you can't beat the
combination," he said. "When I was in high school I *hated* all those plays.
It's only in the last few years I got interested. I read 'Julius Caesar,' then
I went to see Mel Gibson in 'Hamlet' -- it was *good*. If I would have seen
that in high school I would have taken to it. But you read it and say it's old
people stuff. In Annapolis I saw 'Romeo and Juliet' in one of those playhouse
things, just saw it and went in. I thought, this is not as old -- it's kind of
*up to date*, here."
Does any other city do things as cool and easy as Washington when
Washington is being good old Washington?
Here was a picnic table with Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan,
former ambassador Sol Linowitz, his brother Robert Linowes (chairman of the
Board of Trustees at the Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger), director Michael
Kahn and assorted wives and friends eating salmon and drinking champagne at a
trustees celebration in a perfect June twilight, the sort of pleasant gloomy
clarity you associate with pastoral scenes in Renaissance painting.
Just down the path was Charles Cheatham senior counselor of the Dupont
One group home for adjudicated youth, shepherding 10 of them toward
Shakespeare. "They haven't seen any Shakespeare before, no," he said.
Picnicking on the grass by the theater, and still wearing their office
clothes, were four recent graduates of Duke University. "We're trying to live
up to our professors' expectations," said Grant Tolson, who is a research
associate at Hill & Knowlton, a public relations company.
In a Shell gasoline hat that said "Check the Prices," Michael White,
who is in landscaping and house painting, and lives nearby, said, "It's going
to be awesome!"
The Shakespeare Theatre and The Washington Post were the presenters of
"The Merry Wives," and Winfield was the star playing Sir John Falstaff, the
"gross, watery pumpkin" of a scoundrel knight.
"It was Shakespeare in a Washington park for the first time in 10 years
and it was a good choice -- the last act takes place in Windsor Park, and it
is a great pagan rumpus with people dressed as animals and fairies, everybody
confused as everybody else as they leap around under a stage moon and real
stars, last night, along with the glitter of moths in the spotlights. Like
outdoor lovemaking, outdoor Shakespeare has a certain jauntiness that carries
the play through the obscure puns and jokes about Welsh accents and 16th-
century wordplay. The obscurity adds to things in fact, sort of like Latin in
church, except that the profanity of Shakespeare keeps the crowd laughing as
Falstaff galumphs around -- most of the actors seem to have taken a course or
two at Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks, in fact.
"This is a wonderful experience," said Dorothy Perkins, a neighbor
whose daughter is with the theater. She was sitting with her husband, Norval,
and a group of other Gold Coast neighbors and lifelong Washington social
establishment who have that cool, easy grace down as a way of living, it
Once in a while you'd hear a helicopter, but somehow, there didn't seem
to be any sirens at all out on 16th Street, a sweet evening.
The play will continue, with free admission, through June 16.