Days 13 and 14
Thursday morning I attended the last of Kate Moncrief’s seminars, which focused on Othello and The Merchant of Venice. Receptions of Lisa’s Shylock were extremely positive, although reactions to the fifth act were mixed. People complained that the reappearance of Shylock ruined the happy ending and made them uncomfortable, but I don’t think they realized that that was probably the exact point the director was trying to make.
I had made plans to get coffee with Kate after the seminar and to get lunch with Lisa Wolpe that afternoon. I had a great time talking with Kate at the coffee shop around the corner from the theatre, even though the coffee itself tasted like hotdog water filtered through an old sock. We talked about Measure for Measure and I mentioned that I had directed a 40min short film of the play a few years ago with a couple friends, and it turns out that my assistant director on that project was one of her students. Small world.
I also ran into the busy and elusive Brian Vaughn at the coffee shop, right as I was beginning to despair that I’d leave Utah without being able to say hello to him. Unfortunately Lisa had some scheduling issues and wasn’t able to meet up for lunch so I had to leave town without getting to hang out with her and congratulate her on her amazing Shylock.
In the afternoon I set off in the direction of Lake Tahoe. The next show wasn’t until Friday night so I took every opportunity to pull off the road and explore some of the gorgeous desert landscapes that I had flown past at 90mph on my way into Cedar City trying to make it in time for the matinee Monday. I was barely on the interstate at all, most of the route from Cedar City to Lake Tahoe is on state highways and backroads, so it was easy to pull off onto the shoulder and wander for a bit whenever a particularly beautiful vista presented itself. As an east coaster, the really remarkable thing about standing in the middle of the desert is how quiet it is. I’ve never experienced anything like it. There were times when the wind wasn’t blowing that it was so quiet that it actually made me a little anxious. I’ve never actually thought anything was “too quiet” before, but the silence in the Nevada desert almost feels post-apocalyptic, like you’re the sole survivor of a nuclear war.
Shortly after leaving Cedar City I passed through the corner of Arizona for a moment before entering Nevada, crossing two more states I’d never been to off the list. Based on the limited amount of the country I’ve seen on my trip, racing from show to show, I would say that Nevada is the most beautiful state in the union. After wasting hours gazing at various mountains and endless plains, I eventually had to draw the line and say that I wasn’t allowed to stop for anymore picturesque vistas.
I slept in the car overnight at a Nevada rest area and made some coffee in the French press before setting off again for Lake Tahoe.
As circumspect as I had become about keeping my eye on the speed limit after my experience in Ohio, I still managed to get caught in another speed trap. In some small town in southern Nevada, the speed limit on the road I was on dropped from 65 to 25 in less than a mile, and there was a trooper parked right after the sign. So of course I got pulled over, again.
I should digress for a moment to say that while I have been pulled over twice on this trip for speeding, I am not generally a reckless driver. If anything, I’m known for being the scolding grandmother in the car who won’t let people text behind the wheel or drive too fast.
Anyway, I sit in the car for an eternity while the trooper goes back to his car to write my speeding ticket, Eventually he returns with my license and registration but no ticket.
“It’s your lucky day. My printer is broken. Slow down and get to Tahoe safely.”
“My lucky day,” I thought to myself, grinning. As much as I wanted to, I didn’t want to push that luck by pointing out that it was Friday the 13th.
When I got to the Lake Tahoe area, I made one last digression to go to the desert outside Gardenerville and look at a herd of wild horses. I parked the car just outside of the small town and hiked for a mile. I passed by one small family, two parents and one baby, and then stopped at a good point for observing two other larger families. Seeing wild horses is an amazing experience, and one that future generations may never experience. If you’ve only ever seen the quiet, gentle, somewhat bland behavior of domestic horses, seeing them run free in the plains and playing, it doesn’t feel real. It’s like a dream. And I say this as someone who isn’t particularly fond of horses.
On my hike back to the car, the smaller family I had passed on my way back had come down off of the hill to the trail. The mother and baby were to my right on the slope of another hill and the father was on my left on the flat plain on the other side of the trail. Growing up in a city, I know approximately jack nothing about the behavior of wild animals and didn’t think twice about walking down the trail between the father and his mate and child. But I immediately realized the error of my ways when the angry stallion charged at me, crossing a hundred yards or so in a a few seconds. To say I was terrified would be an understatement. I know that with some animals like cougars, you shouldn’t run when they threaten you because it shows that you’re prey, but with a herbivorous prey animal like a horse, what should you do? I decided to run, hoping that angry horse dad would give up the chase once I was far enough away from his family and before he caught up to me and trampled me to death. Luckily I was right, after chasing me for a few seconds, he stopped. I continued running for a bit longer, however. After a few minutes, the mother and child continued up the hill on my right and the father followed them at a distance, keeping his eyes on me the entire time. Once he was far enough up that hill I finally felt safe hiking back up the trail to the car and getting back to civilization, away from the murderous grip of nature, red in tooth and hoof.
Lake Tahoe Shakespeare’s Macbeth
I was particularly excited about seeing Macbeth in Lake Tahoe because the show happened to fall on Friday the 13th. Seeing a cursed play on a cursed day is the kind of thematic consistency that I strive for in all aspects of my life.
Lake Tahoe, for those who’ve never been there, is an enormous lake in the mountains between California and Nevada. It’s surrounded by parkland and forests and might be the single most beautiful place in the United States. Lake Tahoe Shakespeare builds their stage on the shore of the lake, so that the set is surrounded on all sides by the most gorgeous scenery. It requires extraordinarily good theatre to keep you from getting distracted by the natural beauty of the place. Luckily, their Macbeth delivered in a big way. And the evening I saw the show was actually a preview night, so the show might have gotten even better since then.
It’s a bit of a cliche to say that a good production of Macbeth hinges on the Weird Sisters, but as the first characters on the stage, and as creatures of unspecified origin, they are both an audience’s first impression and the primary place for a director or designer to stamp their particular aesthetic on the show. This production didn’t take any big risks with regard to their design, but what they did, they did well. The Weird Sisters were definitely the highlight. Dressed like huge bats, they wore huge flowing black cloaks with long sleeves that were attached to ski pole like props in their hands that allowed them to wave and flap them around like wings.
What was most striking about the show, was the strong emphasis on movement. As someone who loves dance — especially ballet — it was impressive to watch the levels of coordination. The Weird Sisters in particular had a tight synchronicity, creeping around the stage, whipping their wings and twisting themselves up into their cloaks. While the movements of the Weird Sisters were the most noticeable, they weren’t alone in being choreographed brilliantly. Down to the most mundane scenes, it was obvious that the director has a strong affinity for stylized movements. From the thanes celebrating Duncan’s announcement of Malcolm as his heir, to the climactic battle scene, there was a visible level of coordination among the actors that just felt “right.”
Macbeth might be the play that I know the best, and so it takes some serious tinkering to surprise me. This Macbeth played a little bit with the delivery of a few of the famous speeches, strategically placing a period or a comma into an unexpected place, changing the meaning just enough to make my ears perk up. In the famous fifth act soliloquy, Macbeth ran through to just past the first “tomorrow,” and then paused and continued the other “tomorrows” in exasperation as though he had only just realized that there might be more tomorrows after the first.
I also loved the chemistry between Macbeth and his wife. The production played up their sexuality, having the two of them end up on the floor together when he returns from battle, her legs wrapped around him as they kiss. It’s important to establish the strong sexual connection between those two in order to understand why her estimation of his manhood is so important to him.
It’s been said that Lake Tahoe Shakespeare has the most period-accurate audience: large, tipsy, rowdy. It was a fun respite from quiet, polite theatres to be surrounded by an audience a little less concerned with decorum, something more akin to what an Elizabethan crowd would’ve been like.
The only downside to the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare is they only run two shows per summer, and this summer there’s only one Shakespeare. If I were a musical person, I’d have also made plans to see their production of Beehive just to see another show in their amazing space.
After one lucky experience with the speed traps in Nevada, I drove away from Lake Tahoe very cautiously and drove northwest until I was too tired, parked at the highway rest area next to Honey Lake and slept in the car.
In the morning I set off for that mythic destination of American Shakespeare, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon.