Hamlet amidst the foothills of Boise

“To be, or not to be..”  That IS the question but if you want TO BE entertained and see some damn fine theater, get thee to the Idaho Shakespeare Festival in Boise. Pronto.  Wow!  The level of artistry was top-notch and having seen my fair share of NYC and London theater, I can tell you I am usually a tough critic but I was duly impressed.  In fact, the last Shakespeare play I attended was at The Globe in London for a Goth version of Romeo and Juliet this spring that I loved.  Hamlet, while sticking true to the story, did have an interesting casting twist.  Hamlet might be female or male, depending on the night you attend.  Hmmmm…..

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The night we attended we were treated to Laura Welsh Berg in the lead role, the only female in the US to be professionally acting the part of Hamlet right now.  How cool is that?  She alternates with Jonathan Dyrud and when they are not playing Hamlet, they are part of the supporting company.  Those actors work hard for their money.  And how on earth do they remember all those complex dialogues for multiple characters??  Throw in needing to know how to throw down some serious sword play and you have quite the acting challenge before they all die. Oops…spoiler alert.

The Elizabethan setting amongst the beautiful Boise foothills features a variety of seating arrangements including a new seating section on the stage so you can be part of the action as well as the standard options of tables, chairs or the hillside.  All good views.  We chose the blanket experience with lots of snacks, booze and fun.  They even provide little red carts to drag in all your picnic stuff from the parking lot.  Convenient.  You can also rent low chairs with backs for only $2 a piece for the hillside area.  After drinking a nice Merlot, it might be a challenge getting out of these low chairs but would provide additional entertainment for nearby patrons.  Beware.

Having been to lots of great outdoor venues and suffering through tough traffic and long lines to get into and out of concerts, we left for the performance fearful of the wait to get in and laughed our asses off when there was no traffic AT ALL and we easily parked in the main lot.  I love Boise!  This is a beautiful facility, moderately priced for such quality entertainment and definitely worth the road trip from Seattle to enjoy Shakespeare.  I can’t wait to go back and see A Midsummer Night’s Dream in August.  Having seen this play staged while we lived in Shanghai when Tim Robbins staged an updated version that I thoroughly enjoyed, I am looking forward to the Boise version.  From Shanghai to Boise, when Shakespeare’s words come to life, it’s a treat!  “Listen to many, speak to a few”  So wise and always relevant.

Theater, Scotch and Sailboats…Oh My!

 

Who on Earth would predict that a musical about 9/11 and how the town of Gander, Newfoundland welcomed 7,000 passengers on 38 planes diverted there that day would be so inspirational and wonderful?  NOT ME!  Boy, was I shocked.  We laughed and cried and didn’t want it to end.  I have to tell you, when Thom told me where we would be going this past Thursday night, I was wanting to do almost anything else!!  His dear childhood friend that has worked for 30+ years at American Airlines guiding flights around the world, Billy, and his wife were scheduled to come visit us for the opening of the play as he was personally involved with the main character in the story, Beverly the pilot of one of the flights diverted.  Billy guided Beverly and her flight to safety that horrific day and they have stayed in touch ever since, bonded for life by tragic circumstances beyond their control.

Unfortunately Billy recently had surgery and couldn’t travel but we went in his place.  Seated next to us were a nice couple who immediately told us that they were retired pilots who had been at the play for opening night and found it so amazing that they bought the extra tickets that Billy had purchased.  Also friends with Beverly, who was at the theater that night, they had a personal connection to this particular story, having flown during that crazy time.  Flying a few days after 9/11 for work, I remember thinking that air travel will never be the same and it certainly isn’t.  No more greeting family at the gate and please take off your shoes, no liquids over a certain size, etc.WP_20151119_21_21_19_Pro

But back to the play that brings it all to life.  With clever use of the actors playing several roles, the story is told of one particular flight flown by Beverly and diverted to Gander.  The citizens take in this mass influx of people with some trepidation but end up feeding and housing them all over town for a week or so.  Authors David Hein and Irene Sankoff nailed the snappy dialogue, plot line and wonderful songs.  I have seen many a Broadway play and this would win a Tony for sure.  Let’s hope they get publicity and make a run for Broadway.  I only hope that they keep the same cast and band because they were top-notch and I can’t imagine anyone else in those roles.  If you live in Seattle, GO SEE IT!  It’s playing at the Seattle Repertory Theatre until December 13th.  Seattle Times Review of “Come From Away”

Friday night, bearing beer and wine as boat-warming gifts, we visited our friend Brad’s newly acquired sailboat just north of Ballard.  Draped in festive holiday lights, the 3 br/2 head money pit (all boats are!) was warm and cozy below and brisk up top as the 20+ people drank and socialized.  Seeing the crowd drink scotch to warm up, I figured, “What the Hell!” and decided to join them and have my first taste of scotch.  Hmmm…it sure does warm up your whole throat for an extended period of time.  These scotch drinkers could be on to something.  My friend Kurt has offered to “school me” on the varieties of scotch as he has drank his way across Europe tasting and sipping.  Bring on Booze 101 classes!  Now, I’m not a boat person, having owned a lake cottage and boat at one point and didn’t really enjoy them, but these sailors seem to be very dedicated and borderline obsessed with this lifestyle.  Expensive, yes, but a social way to embrace the beauty of the water.  As long as it stays at the dock and the wine/scotch is flowing, count me in.  Ahoy mate!

A Shanghai Midsummer Night’s Dream

First question to Tim Robbins, “How tall are you?”. Answer:  6 foot 5. Yep, folks, he is one tall drank of water.  Even with white flowing hair, he reminds me of his character, “Meat”, from Bull Durham, one of my favorite movies.  These days, Tim has moved on to directing, though when questioned why he changed from being an actor to director, he replied that he first acted at 12 years of age and started directing at 14, so he has been at both for awhile.  These were not deep questions to probe the inner workings of the director but hey, it’s China.  I enjoyed hearing what was on the minds of the Chinese audience after seeing the play.

Magical
Magical

All the actors and their director gathered on the stage after their performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Shanghai. Opening night and it was not sold out. These were Actors’ Gang thespians and they rocked this surreal world of fairies, spells, lovers gone bewitched and crazily complicated language that stayed true to the original story with few exceptions.  To see it in China, the first time that The Actors’ Gang has brought a play to the China mainland was special.

Chinese audiences are still learning how to react to concerts/plays in my experience and true to that, it wasn’t until the end that the audience started responding with some laughter in appropriate places. Having gone to concerts where the audience doesn’t quite know where to clap or respond, the lack of a standing ovation for this wonderful performance didn’t surprise me. When the announcement came that the actors would speak to the audience who wanted to stay after, I was surprised to see how many people ran for the exits. Maybe they didn’t understand but here was a unique opportunity to ask the whole cast direct questions. From my seat in the front row, it felt very intimate and very interesting. Tim was questioned why he chose this Shakespeare play to direct. He said, in this time of turmoil in the world, that this play spoke to love and how fragile yet important it is to all.

I was super proud of myself for going by myself, though I wished Thom was there throughout. It’s always more fun with Thom. Since he is still in Boise setting up our new house, I decided I had to get out of the house and see this great play. After the taxi driver took me on the scenic, more expensive Laowai route, and then got misdirected to buy tickets, I hustled to my seat with minutes to spare. For about $40 US I got a front row seat on the side behind the one man band, which was interesting to watch. I don’t know his name but I’m betting he has done many different musical pursuits in his career. He played the guitar, drums, bells, tambourine, etc. to add drama and flair to the performances.

One Man Band
One Man Band

With Chinese subtitles broadcast on big reader boards, several of the predominantly Chinese audience craned their necks to read what was being said in English but most people just let the performance flow over them, actions taking precedence over words. Even if they could not understand everything that was going on, and really, who can with Shakespeare, everyone enjoyed the dramatic acting and ambience created with simple props.   There was no fancy sets-actually none.  The imagery for this production was created by the creativity of the characters, music, and costumes.  I love Broadway plays and saw many when we lived in NYC but the sets are usually very elaborate and can distract from the actors’ performances.  During this play, I was mesmerized by the ability of the twelve actors to create the mood with branches of trees, flowers and their bodies moving fluidly about the stage.

With dressing lockers on stage at either side, I thought it might detract as the actors raced to change between costumes and characters.  The article in the Shanghai Daily today explained that this set up was a decision by Tim to “strip away the artifice of theater” and it worked.  Tim even told us that he had to add a dream scene to the play because the actors needed to stall for more time to transition costumes.

Dressing rooms on either side of the stage facilitated quick changes for actors
Dressing rooms on either side of the stage facilitated quick changes for actors

Why is it that men in drag always draw a laugh, no matter what language they are speaking? That and crotch grabbing are universal and always appreciated by audience.  Crazy but very predictable.  Well, whatever, it was nice to hear everyone laughing and having a good time.  Many families were there, exposing their children to the great Shakespeare, probably for the first time.

All in all, even though I was Thom-less, I’m glad I ventured out to experience this wonderful production.  I am in awe of the troupe’s amazing ability to transform words into a magical world where love conquers all despite the chaos of the world around us.  Thank you, Tim Robbins.  Well done indeed.