Play 6: Merry Wives of Windsor (Heart of America SF, Kansas City, MO)

2009 June 20

I woke up sort of whiny and slightly damp from the air conditioner. Because of the late night (or early morning) arrival, I had already decided to skip a morning run and do some stuff in the city. So I disrobed and stepped into the shower that didn’t have any shampoo, and turned on the water to “Hot.” Or at least that’s how I read the dial on the shower water control-thing. No hot water, so I figured that I was faucet illiteratre and perhaps there was some trick to summoning the hot water from the “Good Morning Traveler” gods, but no such luck or intervention. Then I thought I should just let the water pipes warm up (it seemed to have worked in my house and perhaps there were lots of showers this morning and perhaps all the hot water ran out.) So continued to stand there in my weary nakedness turning the dial back and forth, back and forth trying to feel with my fingers any degree of temperature change. None. So I called the front desk, or better yet, picked up the phone to dial the front desk, but no dial tone. Dead the phone was. I got dressed, walked down to the front desk and asked the question.

I suppose at this point I was wondering if this was payback for checking in late. I suppose I also wondered if the price of the room included warm water for the shower. I stopped and decided to try the bathroom sink. Cold. How about the kitchen sink? Cold. I was at the end of possibilities so I decided one more thing before I went to the front desk: I used my reading for information skills on a non-fiction text and scanned the “Guest Services” brochure for any mention of hot water included along with the working TV, microwave oven and alarm clock. I didn’t find “hot water” anywhere so I was seeing how I could pay for an amenity that I thought came standard at any hotel.

“Oh,” front desk woman said. “They’ve shut the hot water off to work on it.”

“Oh,” I replied, waiting for some type indication of what I ought to do. So I asked/confirmed “Cold shower?”

“I guess so,” she smiled.

Fortunately I was prepared for the stark reality of a cold shower. Usually my body and lips spaz out and it’s reminds me of when someone shocks you with static electricity. I suppose, for me, I look like some guy (some sober guy like that CNN reporter) getting tazed. The shower wasn’t that dramatic and because our pool water has slowly uncolded from +68 f to a balmy +76f, I actually soaped and rinsed without any blubbering complaints of it being too cold.

I like Kansas City, Missouri and on my way to stop for coffee and a place to type, I kept wondering if this was really the Midwest (if Missouri claims to be a part of the states between the coast). I suppose I’ve been used to a town such as Cleveland or South Bend that are attempting to redefine their respective downtowns but the economy keeps getting in the way. In Kansas City there were all the trappings of a town that seems to know itself and seems to be thriving. Sure there were the parts that seemed uncomfortable at night, but the overwhelming tone was that there’s stuff to do here.

I need to pause for a moment and come out of the closet about something and perhaps, this is my greatest obsticle: I don’t get out much. When I do get out, it’s to the same places over and over again. It’s not so much a phobia as much as a reliance on consistency. Some call this tendency “boring” or “homebody” or “unadventureous.” I admit it, but sometimes think that the oppositte is just plain overrated. But recently, since a trip with some teachers to a conference in Atlanta, I’ve started to order different things besides chicken. I’ve also delved into the world of sushi and I think Lori is happy that we can share some of that seaweed wrapped morsels that once, just the mention of sushi, would turn my stomach. And that’s how it is, isn’t, most of the times? We have heard that something isn’t interesting or doesn’t taste good, or, possibly more accurate: we don’t have a frame of reference to experience the thing in a positive manner.

And that’s what I knew I would be facing during this summer: traveling to different, newer places with no real frame of reference and allowing the experience to be a positive one. The plays I knew would be the easy part. My experience with that art we call literature or classical plays is that if you are patient, all the stuff from the first half will make sense and will make for an interesting ending. The traveling, the new rooms and the possibility now of no hot water, was the thing that I knew would stretch me in a different direction.

That doesn’t keep me from eating at Panera (that haven for free wifi) or typing at Barnes & Noble. I simply don’t have the extra money to make this a cultural reflection of each new city I drive into. I’m not Anthony Bordain nor am I Bill Bryson. I am Chris and I’m seeing what happens when you see all of William Shakespeare’s plays in one summer in the States. In short, I’m still trying to figure out what to do besides see plays and write about them. All I know now is that I’ve seen five different plays in five different places and no venue has been a repeated experience. I guess then, my idea was to create many frames of reference for myself.

I took a long, warmer shower at my newer hotel. This room cost $10 more that the previous night and I honestly almost cried when I opened my 1411 room door and saw the King size bed and the little towel bunny-thing on the sitting chair to the right. I like saving money and I like being frugal, but every once in awhile, it is just nice to have a decent room and people asking you–in all sincerity–“Is there anything we can do to make your stay more comfortable?” I stopped by a Jimmy Johns for my carry-in dinner and found parking on one of the back streets near Southmoreland Park.

As I walked to the south gate, I got to over hear a preshow speaker addressing 50 seated people about the historical context of the play. I was going to give a “yeah, right” smirk as I walked by, thinking the speaker man was going to start talking about the authorship of the play, but I refrained from being a know-it-all and I don’t really think he was going in that direction. The south gate entryway had English-speaking, Shakespearean-time folk asking so politely if we’d like to lighten out wallets as we walked into the grounds. “And you young man?” referring to me on fellow asked. “Of course, sir” and I gave my donation and he slapped a “I Gave of My Own Free Will” sticker my shirt and gave me a retangle pin bearing the same message. I think this was the first time thus far that I was given something besides a “Thank you very much” for donating to one of these free performances. It’s a good idea, you know. I still have the tangable reminder of my time and my donation and if I lived in the area, I would probably stick these reminders on my refrigerator. Mine goes on my program and I’ll probably keep the pin or give it to one of my sons.

And then it’s more Renassainse Faire-like with more tents and more signs bearing some play upon Shakespeare and people in full costume. I didn’t get to see the puppet show, but the whole area felt festive and the seating area on the hill ahead was filling up fast. I found a place toward the back, but in an aisle and by the time the performance began, there were people in chairs five or eight rows behind me. I got the guy who talks during movies sitting next to me (a doctor from the local university I guessed) who gave commentary to his friends over sliced meats, beer and wine. I didn’t think you can drink alcohol in public areas such as these venues, but you certainly can in Kansas City, Missouri. I think the people to my front left went through many a bottle of various white wines and were taking “kissing pictures” by the end of intermission. I suppose since it was Friday, it was a nice way to unwind. And perhaps that is the better way to see Shakespeare live (especially a comedy such as “The Merry Wives of Windsor” with its much drinking on stage): a little disinhibitor takes the edge off reality and allows for the illusion of art to work its way into your soul. Or, if anything, you’ll laugh a lot.

This stage was a little tighter than last night’s production in Omaha and the hill that we sat on sloped a little more steeply that reminded me of the seating for “Cymbeline” in Harrisburg, PA. The effect is a little more intimate and there really isn’t a bad place to sit in the area.

I laughed a lot during this production as I should since it is a comedy. If you remember the story, Jack Falstaff (possibly reused from the history plays because he was such a popular character) is running out of money and he decides to woo two women, who are both married, for the cold cash. Falstaff is overconfident in his “loving” ways and is sure that both women, Mistress Page and Mistress Ford, will fall for his inspiring words and fat looks and thus give him all that he wants. Not to belabor the story, but no one can keep a secret in the play and every one is ready to play Jack Falstaff the fool. What we’re left with is a wonderful set up for a completely ridiculous ending with fake fairies, spirits and a Jack Falstaff with antlers on his head.

The play really seems to hinge on how well Jack Falstaff is played and equally how well the Mistresses are played. What suprises me about this production is how well all the main and minor characters play. Even from the opening scene, where we have the problem that will be worked out in the end, the comedy begins…right away. We have a running gag introduced (Slender raising his hat with both hands quite frequently) and characters who have defined mannerisms (such as Shallow sort of skip/hopping with his cane much like that of a monkey). The costumes were vivid, funny colors on the Misstresses, Anne Page, Slender and the Doctor Caius. The stage portrayed a time in Shakespeare’s day, as each of the plays that I’ve seen have been classical in nature (that is, trying to reflect an interpretation of the age as opposed to the popular changing of the setting: time and place).

Jack Falstaff (Phil Fiorini) played the audience and so did most of the characters when they would do their asides. But it was really Fiorini that worked the crowd through his lines. And I suppose that’s what make a comedy a comedy. It’s not so much in the funny situations or lines; it’s in the saying and in the delivery that makes the situation or lines funny. I don’t think I’ve realized this before, but the same stand up/improv ideas that I wrote about “The Complete Works” production, also could apply to performing a Shakespearean comedy: perform for and with the crowd. At one point, Fiorini says a line that has a completely body part reference and he pauses for the audience and sort of gestures “know get it?” And there was that interplay with the audience with other cast members. I like that idea. How can you do comedy when the actors don’t acknowledge the audience? I think there is some debate over this and that “breaking down the 5th wall” thing. I don’t think it was overdone in any respect, but this comedy with and for the audience–I think–honors the text and allows us the audience to catch up with the puns before they get away.

It was a good crowd, like the others I’ve seen so far. There were the many families, the new and older couples, the cross-dressed guy and his girl friend in front of me, and there was the teenager who told her also teenage friend over the cell phone “I’m suffering here because of Shakespeare” (an obvious reference to the mom-figure “dragging” the kids to see free Shakespeare in the park). This was also a smart crowd who got the more obscure puns enveloped in late 16th century English references.

I haven’t realized this before, but aside from last weekend’s trip to Greenwood, Indiana and Richmond, Virginia, each of the other four plays (along with tomorrow night’s in Iowa City, Iowa) were in university towns or a city with a major branch of a state university. I don’t know how that impacts a Shakespearean Festival, but it sure helps having an audience of higher education in giving donations even if the venue is labeled “free.” I also wonder if it is in those university towns that the arts are held in higher esteem that, say, a sports team (not that the two can’t co-exist). Either way, university or non-university audience, it will be an interesting question to unravel over the rest of this summer: how accessible is Shakespeare to the average audience in the States?

For now, though, I was looking forward to a comfortable place of reference in a bed that had a choice between “firm” or “soft” pillows back in my hotel room. And, I was going to sleep in tomorrow.

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