Sunday morning, at M's prompting, we hopped in the car, drove the short way down 16th to Carter Baron, and got in line for free tickets to the evening performance of Midsummer Night's Dream. We had to wait about half an hour for the tickets. I'd forgotten how popular the show is! The line snaked throughout the parking lot. People brought chairs, frisbees, books, etcetera. I brought my latest Incan-sploitation, Gold in the Shadow by Michael Marcotte. (Look at this opening acknowledgment: "Although this novel is entirely a work of fiction, I have drawn upon the actual research and expert knowledge of many friends and colleagues...." Or even better check out the atmosphere that is laid out in the prologue: "Some of the fiercest Indians that ever lived, including the Achuara and Auca headhunters, cannibals and poison dart tribes such as the Hivitos, Chuncas and Yagua, called the Amazon their home. Numerous tribes that still practice such customs, have yet to encounter modern man, or who remain hostile, are still known to exist deep within these jungles." And then there are flesh-eating piranas, monstrously large anacondas, spiders the size of tomatoes, lions and tigers--oh my!)

So having this in front of me made the time pass quickly enough, we got our tickets, came home, and I basically kept reading the rest of the afternoon, finishing Ripley's Game and starting on Jubilant Thicket. Buck always talks fondly of Jonathan Williams, but I had never seen formal connection between their work until I read the long poem "Meta-fours" that kicks off the new collection. Now I would not surprised to see any one of Williams's concise, irreverent barbs showing up on one of B's postcards. Perhaps the best way to appreciate the tone of this first poem at least is to look at the author photo of Williams. He is featured leaning forward in a rocking chair, spectacles at his side, field and forest in the background, and on his t-shirt is a crater-like screenprint of "Elvis' wart magnified 10,000 times."

By 6pm it was time to head back over for the show. Our picnic dinner from Lebanese Taverna was not nearly as elaborate as the spreads that we eyeballed walking through the park towards the ampitheater. Folks had shrimp cocktails, cheese and fruit platters, all kinds of other hors d'oeuvres, champagne, and so forth. I guess there are only a few degrees of separation between an outdoor play in northwest DC and an indoor performance at the Kennedy Center or the National Theater in downtown DC. But crowds there were! And understandably so because this might have been the best staging of Shakespeare that I can ever remember. I say this despite the fact that, going in, I was not enthused by the played they'd chosen. I was worried that I had had too much of Midsummer Night's Dream in the past, from performances in high school, college, and grad school, plus film versions, then rereading it for Zukofsky, and heck I'd even co-directed a severely edited version of the play starring my summer students (that would have been 1998).

The staging last night, thankfully, sustained my attention, largely through the engaging visuals and the comedic strength of the actor who played Bottom. It opened with a young boy in pajamas, the so-called changeling, dancing in front of a spotlight while his shadow was projected in great size on the back wall. His shadow began to merge with shadows coming from the other side of the wall, which had knights, flying creatures, and other shapes of the imagination. I gather the purpose for adding this scene was to invite the audience along on an imaginative journey that parallels the action of the play. Like the characters, the audience first departs the orderly (or perhaps disorderly) city and then goes into the forest where anything can happen. The difference between the city and the forest could especially be seen in the costumes. They started out circa 1920s (also there was a grammaphone on stage but it was employed only at the end during the play with in a play), though various outfits could have been late 19th century or even 1950s ivy league (or my sense at least of that). The costumes evoked a time of conformity or an "age of consensus." The four young lovers disrupt that stability when they flee into the woods. Once outside the next scene of Helena, Hermia, Lysander and Demetrius suddenly has their clothes covered with mud. They keep getting dirtier and grimier, and before they leave the forest they are basically stripped down to their undies and even soaking wet because of a wrestling match that lands all of them in a giant pool of water. Also worth noting, in terms of the magical atmosphere, was the first scene with Oberon and Titania when they came out in long flowing gowns that raised them up to a height of about 12ft. There is much more to be said about the performance, especially of Bottom, but I need to cut myself off. This is by the way the second Shakespeare that we have seen this year. In January M and I caught Titus Andronicus in a version that borrowed heavily from slasher flicks of the 1970s and early 80s. It involved lots of barbed wire, slit throats (and tongues), smeared blood, and there was even a roaring chainsaw!

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