Tuesday, June 12, 2012

all along sheep street

I always love an English breakfast, but it's even tastier when it's cooked by a Tunisian. Usually when we check into these B&B's there's a nice middle-aged couple or an elderly English woman there to greet us. This year we were enthusiastically greeted by Imet, a trained Tunisian chef who runs this place like a four star hotel. He's proud of his work, and it shows. The place is clean and the breakfast is tasty. But he's also funny, and that goes a long way. He's bringing in plates of food and he's telling us all about his dreams to move to the US and yet somehow simultaneously makes fun of Daniel's morning hair. He's a riot. And he sort of woke everybody up.

Kate arranged for a great little lecture session with Miriam Gilbert, a visiting Professor from the University of Iowa. Conveniently, she lives just around the corner from our B&Bs. She's one of these really fascinating people who know everything about something that matters, speak with confidence and kindness, and can afford to buy a house in Stratford-upon-Avon to live in during the summer months. Inside it's decorated with little children's drawings of Shakespeare plays, and it feels cozy and well loved. We all gathered in a circle in her formal room and talked about Julius Caesar, the play we saw later tonight. How great to listen to a scholar like Dr. Gilbert share her insights on the play, but how even more inspiring to see the care and enthusiasm she had for the students' comments and insights. It was sort of a teaching moment for me. A teaching moment in teaching. Afterwards she fed us all triangle-cut sandwiches and soda, and we had a really nice time meeting her.

The students all had passes to get on the tour bus and hit all the Shakespeare sites, but I've done enough of that and felt I could skip it this year. So instead I took a tour of the RSC. The RSC has recently been redone, and it was exciting to see what they've done to it. It really used to be this terrible cavern of a theatre. I remember seeing a Romeo & Juliet there in 2005 and all I remember was hearing people coughing. Cough, cough, bored, bored. So the new theatre is awesome! Our tour guide was Tony and he was very informative and patient with all of our dumb questions. After the tour was over I was able to ride to the top of the RSC tower and see Warwickshire in all it's glory and greenery.

One of the fun things about the tour was this couple, who were very old and very interested in everything Tony said and thought. The woman, in particular, was very sweet but had a habit of making a sound or a word at the end of every sentence Tony uttered. So it sounded like this:

TONY: Sadly the original RSC burned down in 1938 (NO) and it was difficult to contain the fire because it was made of wood (MADE OF WOOD) so there was no way to stop it (MMMMMMMM) and it was very expensive to rebuild (OF COURSE) so they had to raise a lot of money from donors all over the world (MMMMMMM) and that was difficult because there was a war on (THAT'S IT) and nobody had any money (ANY MONEY) to spare (YES) and so the theatre suffered (RIGHT)....

During the tour I spotted these stained glass windows representing the seven ages of man from As You Like It:

the infant
the schoolboy
the lover
the soldier
the justice
the pantaloon
the second childhood, "sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything".

I experienced the disparity of these generations during dinner tonight at Pizza Express. For a long time I sat alone, eating my pizza and pretending to read while covertly listening to the table next to me. There was a man about my age, perhaps a little older, a girl about 12, and an old gentleman. Maybe his father? Listening to these three communicate was pretty entertaining. The guy my age kept trying to engage the girl in conversation, but she just wanted to play stupid games on her phone. She did not want to talk about her braces and she did not want to play a weasel in the school play of Wind in the Willows, and she could not get wifi at Pizza Express and it was driving her crazy. Meanwhile, Grandpa kept interjecting comments that had nothing to do with anything, since he clearly couldn't hear. The guy my age was working so hard to pique that little girls interest in something (anything!) while at the same time periodically bleating the conversation topics out into Grandpa's ear. It was both fascinating and exhausting to listen to. But still a nice evening dinner in a pizza place with a roaring fire. In June.

Also fascinating and exhausting was the performance of Julius Caesar at the RSC tonight. And baffling and frustrating. The director had chosen to set the piece in modern day Africa and the entire cast looked and sounded native African. I loved that. I loved the colors of the set and costumes and the absolute commitment those actors were investing in their roles. Unfortunately, the African dialects were so thick and pervasive that I only ever understood 40% of what they were saying. And it's not like Shakespeare can afford those kinds of percentages. So after a while I checked out, and everyone kept talking and pulling machetes and dancing to kettle drums. There were some really poignant moments, for sure, but if I can't understand your play in the first twenty minutes, you've lost me. Also, I'm naturally mistrustful of plays over 90 minutes that don't let you have an intermission. It tells me two things:

1. You are afraid your audience is going to leave.
2. You are indulgent and don't care about our attention span or bladders.

I understand if they didn't want to break the spell of intrigue and violence they'd created, but sometimes it's ok to let us stand up and stretch! I promise I won't leave. Trapping us in our seats for 2 1/2 hours changes the performance from something we collectively experience into something we have to survive.

But the good news? Color blocking urinals!