I will begin by apologizing for how infrequent my blog entries are and will likely continue to be while on this trip. It is harder than I anticipated to find the time to sit down and write anything substantive. Between driving, seeing shows, dutifully updating my social media accounts, planning out my destinations, and begging for places to stay on CouchSurfing.com, finding a couple of hours in the day and a place with WiFi to sit down and write a few words is more difficult than I imagined it would be.
The drive from Staunton to Cincinnati was probably the worst part of the trip so far. There was roadwork and standstill traffic, a freak thunderstorm that so reduced my visibility that I almost pulled off the road to wait it out, and then I got caught in a speed trap and ended up with a $160 ticket because I didn’t realize the speed limit had dropped from 70 to 60. So a week’s food budget disappeared into the coffers of some hick town in Ohio that couldn’t be bothered to create any industry or tourism to support its municipal budget.
The seven hour drive from Staunton to Cincy ballooned into an almost nine hour drive so that my patient and wonderful friend Tess was waiting around for me for a couple hours to get back into town. I crashed with her overnight and got up the next morning to revisit some of my favorite spots from my previous visits. I’ve developed a funny affection for Cincy: after living for 32 years without ever visiting, I’ve been there three times in the last six months. It really is a cooler place than I ever imagined, and everyone I’ve met there has been so wonderful, not the least of which is Tess.
I went for coffee at Collective Espresso and got coffee from the same barista as my previous visits, who remembered me from January and April, and got lunch at the Sleepy Bee Cafe.
Cincinnati Shakepseare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
That evening I went to see the Cincy Shakes’ free Shakespeare in the park production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In my previous visits I’d not been down to the waterfront and I was amazed at how beautiful it was. Long paths through gardens of flowers, punctuated with fountains and swings and oversized chess sets. Cincy really does a great job with its public spaces, other cities really should take a lesson from them.
The Midsummer was a small touring school production of six actors, including my friend AJ that I had met at the Shakespeare Theatre Association conference back in January. School tour Shakespeare is never going to be an artistic revelation; it’s designed to be quick and fun and accessible so I don’t go into a production like that expecting Ian McKellen levels of gravitas. The show was hilarious and engaging start to finish.
Usually, watching Shakespeare I get so engrossed in the action that I lose myself in the story and the character and forget entirely that I’m watching a play. But watching school tour productions, I tend to be a bit more aware of staging choices, perhaps because I spent a year working on a touring production of R&J. So I was equally entertained by the ingenious ways that they managed to buy time for quick changes and how they paired up roles that the actors doubled, the ways that they made the most out of limited scenery and props, &c &c &c. I was impressed the whole way through with how they managed to keep the show moving quickly while doing so much backstage work.
Their Puck was especially fun, and the pop and lock-esque movements they worked into the fairy magic was fantastic. And I loved that at the end of the show, where Theseus and Hippolyta watch the Pyramus and Thisbe play performed by the rude mechanicals (thus requiring more actors than they had in the six actor cast), they solved the problem of doubling by having the actors bring out the Duke and Duchess’ crowns and put them on members of the audience so they could play Theseus and Hippolyta watching the show. I also enjoyed that they played Demetrius as having some hesitant, conflicted attraction toward Helena, rather than totally despising her as in most productions.
Overall it was a fantastic show and fit Midsummer perfectly. It’s irreverence and satire of theatre within the show makes it perfect for the level of playfulness the cast ran the show with.
After the show, I hung out with Tess for a bit at the bar where she was working and then went back to her house to sleep and get up the next morning to head to Louisville.
Kentucky Shakespeare’s Othello
I was excited for my first visit to Louisville; I’d never before and I was looking forward to exploring the city for a bit before the show that evening. Unfortunately, most businesses were closed for Independence Day and it was far too hot to just wander around sightseeing. I honestly don’t mind extreme heat; I’m a hot weather person by nature. But when one is wearing the same clothes for days on end with limited access to showers while traveling, one has to be more careful with regard to one’s smell. So after ten minutes of walking around the Bardstown area, I gave up and googled “Louisville public pools.” I spent the afternoon at a pretty nice pool working on my dives and trying not to work on my tan.
I headed over to Central Park early to get a good seat, since I knew that Kentucky Shakespeare generally drew large crowds. I didn’t think about the fact that since it was a holiday and oppressively hot, the crowd might actually be somewhat modest, as it turned out to be.
I spent some time hanging out with a few of the actors before the show, some of which were mutual friends with people I knew in Cincinnati.
Because there were fireworks going off consistently throughout the entire show, it was one of the few occasions when I was happy that the actors had mics.
The show was great, a pretty straightforward modern dress Othello with a couple of small tweaks that tied things together in a satisfying way. I particularly enjoyed that both Bianca and Emilia were played as part of Othello’s military unit.
It’s interesting how much a change in wardrobe can change the tone of a character. I’ve always admired Emilia for her bravery, but putting her in camo gear changes the nature of that bravery slightly. I was especially happy for Bianca to be a part of Othello’s army, for a couple of reasons.
I have always liked Bianca as a character, and think she deserves almost as much attention as Emilia for narrative and thematic reasons. But often she’s dismissed as a weak and gullible prostitute, vacillating between doting and nagging. Between the army uniform and the stainless steel backbone with which the actor played her, Bianca emerged as the highlight of the show for me personally. She went from being an object of derision, to a sexually-liberated professional, unwilling to be insulted or shamed by anyone, including the object of her affection, Cassio.
Putting Bianca in the army also remedies a plot hole that has always bothered me.
As a pathological nitpicker and someone familiar with the play, I’ve always bristled at the moment when Bianca chides Cassio for not visiting her for a week, when it’s clear from the action of the play that Cassio has only been on Cyprus for a couple of days at that point. If Bianca lives on Cyprus — as most productions tacitly state — then it would be impossible for Cassio to have visited her a week prior. However, if Bianca is part of Othello’s unit, then it would be possible for Cassio to have had a tryst with Bianca a week prior. It’s a negligible issue, on par with the famous “sea coast of Bohemia,” but one that has always bothered me.
Although I was only in town for a day — and a day when I was unable to properly experience the city — and only saw one show, I fell in love with Louisville and KY Shakespeare. They have an amazing festival there and I was sad that I couldn’t stay in town longer to explore and see all their shows.
After Othello, I crashed with an extraordinarily kind host from CouchSurfing.com and got up early to get on the road to St. Louis for a brief visit before heading on a digression — both in terms of geography and literature — to Hannibal and Florida to pay my respects to another of my favorite writers, Mark Twain. More on that later.