The Heat-Oppressed Brain. Charlottesville, Staunton, and Philadelphia. Days 5-17

The Heat-Oppressed Brain

 

I apologize for my radio silence, folks. As you may have seen on social media, I’ve been ill. Honestly, it’s been a rough ten days.

I’ll try to catch you up on what’s happened since I left Charlottesville.

One of my Couch Surfing hosts accidentally misplaced one of my pairs of bike shorts, so I had to buy a new pair at a bike shop before I hit the road. I think most people would be surprised at how much cycling shorts cost — I certainly was.

About a half hour outside of Charlottesville, my right pedal felt kinda wobbly and weird, then completely fell off. Frustrated, I walked my bike across 250 to the eastbound side and stuck my thumb out. After standing for twenty minutes, a car with a bike rack pulled over, which turned out to be an old acquaintance I hadn’t seen in a few years who coincidentally was a bike mechanic at a shop in Charlottesville. He took me to his shop and replaced my crank for me and I set off again a couple hours later for Staunton.

My ride to Staunton was surprisingly pleasant. The middle section of it was painfully steep, but overall it was roomy on 250, and a pretty, scenic route. Once I got over the mountains and started downward into the Waynesboro area it was downright leisurely.

I got into Staunton around dinnertime, ate a big meal with Matt and Tina, took a shower and went to bed in Matt’s basement guest room.

I woke Wednesday morning with a headache like I’ve never felt in my life. It was relentless, pounding, agonizing. I couldn’t properly stand because it was so painful that it made me dizzy and I felt close to blacking out. Looking at any source of light was miserable; looking around in my periphery was miserable. And then I started throwing up. I begged Matt to drive me to the walk-in clinic in Staunton, where they were confused by my symptoms but said their best guess was a severe migraine. I went back to Matt’s and went back to sleep for the afternoon.

Over the next three days I started to feel progressively worse, but Wednesday and Thursday nights I still dragged myself out to see the ASC’s productions of The Taming of the Shrew and Macbeth. But both nights I started to regret that decision around the middle of Act 3. I barely made it back to Matt’s after the shows before I succumbed to the headache and constant nausea. With brief intervals of blessed peace, I vomited about once an hour for three days. My sleep schedule got flipped upside down; I basically lived on my sleeping pad on the floor of Matt’s guest bathroom because I was worried I couldn’t make it to the bathroom from the bed in time.

I went back to the clinic later in the week and I had lost seven pounds and was so dehydrated from vomiting that I had to be put on IV fluids. As agonizing as the decision was, I stayed in Friday night instead of dragging myself to see Equivocation, although that was the show I had been most excited to see.

At that point I was beginning to worry about my ability to continue on my trip. I was frustrated because I didn’t know what was wrong with me, when I would get better, and if I were able to continue the trip if I would have a recurrence of this issue later down the road, perhaps at a much less convenient time. I was lucky to be staying with a good friend in a house with a bathroom to myself so my constant retching didn’t inconvenience anyone else. If I fell ill camping, or staying on a stranger’s couch, it might be much more serious, and possibly very awkward.

My plan had been to leave early Saturday morning to bike 75 miles to Lexington, and then cross another 100 miles the next day into West Virginia, some of the most difficult riding of the first half. But Saturday afternoon I was still vomiting and unable to stand for long periods. So I decided to throw in the towel. I was way over budget, behind schedule, and I was days out from being able to get back on the bike and unsure if whatever I was sick with would return. The doctors were unsure if they thought it was safe for me to go farther. I didn’t feel comfortable imposing on Matt for any longer. Unable to go farther or stay put, I felt like I had to go home.

This was a heartbreaking choice to have to make.

I’ve been planning this trip for over two years now, saving money, fundraising, networking with folks from theatres all over the country, training, buying equipment. To have it all fall apart so early was awful. I feel as though I’ve disappointed everyone, and I know that everyone is going to say that I simply didn’t train hard enough or that I am too weak to do the riding. But I trained hard, biking, lifting, running to make sure I was in good shape for this. All told I only put about 110 miles on the bike so far, with some rest days between the two long rides. Granted a lot of it was in the mountains, but I was doing 100 mile rides on a single speed bike with no cycling gear when I was training. It seems absurd that it is simply exhaustion or weakness that knocked me out flat.

My wife rented a U-Haul and came and spent several hours nursing me to a point where I could even get out of bed and into the truck. We drove back to Richmond and dropped our stuff, returned the car, and then got on the bus back to Philadelphia. It’s not a happy homecoming. I have grown to really hate Philadelphia over the last year, and the only thing worse than being in Philadelphia is being in Philadelphia sick. I’ve been back here for almost a week now and I’m still not fully recovered.

I’ll give y’all an update on the Plan B, but before I get into that, I’d like to talk a little bit about the shows that I did manage to see while at the American Shakespeare Center.

 

Dearest Partner of Greatness

 

As I said, I had a brief respite from puking on both Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, and both times I foolishly thought that I was making a recovery. So I took some painkillers and went to the evening performances of Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew. Surprisingly, this was my first time at the ASC. I’d been to the Globe in London, the RSC in Stratford Upon Avon, and the Stratford Festival in Ontario, but I’d never been to the ASC a hundred miles from my hometown. So, I was mystified by the whole ASC vibe in a way that probably isn’t nearly as exciting for folks who have seen dozens of shows there.

For those unfamiliar with the American Shakespeare Center, it is based in a theatre which is a recreation of the Blackfriars Playhouse that would’ve been Shakespeare’s indoor theatre when it was too cold to play in the Globe. The folks at the ASC believe in a style of theatre called “Original Practices,” which seeks to — as much as is practicable — imitate the playing conditions of Shakespeare’s theatre. So the playhouse uses universal lighting — meaning all the houselights remain on and the actors can see the audience just as well as vice versa. It also doesn’t utilize any recorded music, only what the actors can play unplugged.

I am afraid that my thoughts on both shows will be limited, because my head was pounding and my stomach turning so much that by the end of each show I was just dying to get away and back to Matt’s.

I should begin by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed both shows, and the experience of going to the theatre as a whole. The pre-show and intermission music were both amazing and I wish I had been able to enjoy them more, but I mostly sat out in the lobby because it was too loud for my migraine.

I personally love the vibe that the ASC works to cultivate, with a lot of interplay between actor and audience. With the universal lighting and a row of stools on either side of the stage, the actors have a lot of opportunity to get in your face. I go to the theatre because I want people in my face, so when one of the stage stools (the “gallant’s seats” as they call them) opened up for Shrew, I quickly volunteered.

A lot of the magic of what the ASC does lives in this intimacy with the audience, and it makes it hard to write a review, because the moments that I enjoyed were less directorial choices and more organic moments of ad-libbed connection with the audience.

However, there were two choices that stood out to me in Macbeth. Firstly, they did an amazing job of showing how the choice to kill Duncan destroys Macbeth’s peace. As the director Ben Curns points out in his notes in the program, unlike some of the “villains” in Shakespeare, Macbeth feels no joy at his crimes. He has no relish of his murders the way that a Richard III or an Aaron does. Macbeth became more sunken, more sallow, more sickly looking as the show went on. The other thing that really connected with me, was the rapport built in between Macbeth and Fleance, Banquo’s son. One gets the impression that Macbeth has always served as Fleance’s “cool uncle,” making it extra horrifying when Macbeth orders his death. The whole cast gave great performances, but for slightly smaller roles, the Porter and Malcolm both knocked their scenes out of the park.

Shrew is a problematic play, and there are some folks who will never enjoy it no matter what. I’m not going to rehash a thousand arguments about misogyny in the play. I will simply say that this is the best Shrew I’ve ever seen, and the only I’ve ever seen that included the full Induction, which has always been my favorite part of reading the play. I had the opportunity to watch Shrew from the stage which was an amazingly fun experience. The thing that really connected with me about this Shrew was the way that Petruchio seemed much less confident and more like he was winging it the whole play. The actor who played Petruchio, Ronald Román-Meléndez, mentioned this choice in the post-show talkback: that he felt like Petruchio was a boring character when he was played as someone who had everything figured out. Petruchio in this show was much more human. When he is describing his efforts to keep Kate awake, he yawned himself and was visibly exhausted. The show played up its farcical elements and got a lot of laughs. Favorite moments for me were Biondello’s report of Petruchio’s impending arrival at the wedding, dressed absurdly and riding a horse that’s one ailment shy of collapsing, and Tranio’s convincing the old traveller to pretend to be his father Vincentio were highlights that had me cackling.

As I said before, I had to miss Equivocation although it had been the show I was most excited to see.

 

Screw Your Courage to the Sticking Place and We’ll Not Fail

 

So now that I’ve been on the mend for about two weeks, what’s the plan B? Way behind on schedule and way over budget, and still not fully recovered after two weeks laid up resting, it seems obvious that finishing the trip via bicycle isn’t feasible. I’d considered a few options, none of them perfect. In the end after talking with some of my Shakespeare colleagues and my bosses at my theatre company, I’ve decided to rent a car and finish the project as a road trip. It isn’t a pleasant thought, given that half of what I wanted to do with the trip was encourage people to do more biking and less driving, but in the end I would rather do the trip via car than abandon the project entirely.

So BardCycle is changed into BardVenture. The tentative plan is to head out at the end of June and spend a month or so getting to the west coast and back. The goal is to add more stops onto the trip and see more shows than I would have before in an attempt to make the best of a bad situation.

I apologize to those who supported BardCycle, and I promise you that no one wanted this trip to succeed more than me. If I felt even remotely capable of completing the trip via bicycle I would do it.

I’m currently updating the website with a revised itinerary. Stay tuned for more info.