Shakspere Society of Philadelphia
Maybe not the first, but the oldest Shakespeare club in America or possibly even the world, has kept minutes for over a hundred fifty years.
.MEETING OF THE SHAKSPERE SOCIETY OF PHILADELPHIA AT THE FRANKLIN INN CLUB, OCTOBER 10, 2001
The Shakspere Society began its new season, happy to meet again at the Franklin Inn Club, with Dean Wagner in the chair, and the following members in attendance: Binnion, Bornemann, Cramer, DiStefano, Dunn, Fallon, Friedman, Green, Griffin, Hopkinson, Lehmann, Madeira, O'Malley, Peck, Pickering, Simmons, Wagner, Wheeler. Vice Dean Fallon's son Rob Fallon, an environmentalist from Oregon, was present as his father's guest, heartily welcomed by all. Dean Wagner began with some unhappy news about our members: Harry Langhorne died in Virginia last May; Jodie Dobson's son Mark died in early September. The members of the Society extend their heartfelt sympathy and condolences to a member of Harry Langhorne's family and to our dear friend Jodie Dobson. Roland Frye has suffered from bad health but is recovering and is expected back among us shortly, we were very happy to hear. Jim Warden, after several years in London, is now back in Philadelphia, and we hope to see him at dinner with us in the near future. Jim Massey, who is living in London, has resigned his membership in the Society.
Your scribe was asked by the dean to say a word about his playgoing travels this summer. I was the grateful recipient of a grant from the Haverford School parents so that my wife Leila and I could spend two weeks in London and Stratford, and then five days in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, seeing plays. All in the name of duty, my friends. We saw Macbeth and King Lear at the new Globe in London, and in Stratford King John, Twelfth Night, and Hamlet. The Globe provides a remarkably intimate ambiance for playgoing relative to the size of the audience in attendance, standing around the platform and sitting in the two tiers of balconies. One is very conscious of the other theatergoers'distracting to some, but to me an intensification of the emotional impact of seeing these plays. The Lear was largely traditional in concept, aside from some marginal gimmickry in staging. The acting was crisp, energetic, forceful, especially the work of the women. But the language was rushed, I thought: focus was on action, blocking, pacing, not on eloquent poetry. That was even more true of the Macbeth, which was funny and lively in the treatment of the witches (party hats, kazoos, grotesque dances, comic voices), and always clever in staging. Lady M was chilling, arresting, powerful. But where was the anguish of Macbeth and his queen? Where was the moral crisis each one faced, the religious judgment Macbeth felt with such agony in the play's late scenes? Where was the actor who would treasure the most wonderful language ever written in English for the stage? In Stratford, a lively, extravagant pageant for King John, which your scribe wrote about at excruciating length for his dissertation and never expected to see on stage in this life; a uniformly spectacular Twelfth Night, captivating in every scene, every speech, every word of dialogue'although the Viola might have been more varied, artful and nuanced in her speeches of love; and an impressive but rather cold Hamlet, spectacular rather than moving. The staging of Hamlet was wonderfully suited to the play's psychological world: a huge and bare stage, lighting either cold and glaring or deeply obscured; characters often physically separated from each other by huge sterile spaces so that speeches seemed launched into emptiness, unheard or unheeded by others. The ghost, for once, was not silly or flat or embarrassing. But Hamlet, though articulate and intense, speaking every word with crisp conviction, seemed irritable, angry, gloomy, depressed'but never a man facing ultimate questions about the meaning of life and the nature of familial or erotic love.
As to the Shaw, no Shakspere, but eight shows, all wonderfully well staged and acted. One was a stinker, Edwin Drood, but the others great fun, and the production of Pirandello's Six Characters a revelation about the psychological power of a play I had seen as only of Philosophical interest.
Bill Madeira reported that a summer Twelfth Night was beautiful in staging'"like a Watteau"'and enlivened by fine acting, especially the work of Paxton Whitehead as Malvolio. The PA Shakspere Festival put on a wonderful Romeo this summer; Bob Fallon thought the Juliet especially fine. A recent Princeton Romeo production at McCarter was criticized in comparison. Winter's Tale in Williamstown featured a remarkable performance by Kate Burton. (Your scribe has just seen MissBurton as an arresting Hedda Gabler on Broadway'but in his opinion, our friend Grace Gonglewski offered a more nuanced and complete portrait two seasons ago at the Arden). A portrait of an Elizabethan man has appeared in Ontario which purports to show the Bard at 39. It evidently dates from the early 1600's, but whether the subject is Shakspere is debatable.
Vice Dean Fallon introduced our reading and discussion of Antony and Cleopatra. The play is a sequel, historically, to Julius Caesar, though written perhaps eight years later, after the other major tragedies of the Bard. The action covers about ten years, from 40 till 30 BC (BCE to politically correct readers). The second triumvirate has divided the empire. Antony rules all the Roman lands east of the capital. He has gone to Egypt and become entranced, mesmerized, drugged by Cleopatra. Antony is 42, the queen 29'old enough in the ancient world so that in the play she is haunted by the specter of age. Cleo is Shakspere's best portrait of a mature woman. She is a legend: even in Rome, she is the principal subject of gossip and worry. She keeps her hold on Antony by constantly keeping him off balance, surprised, defensive, puzzled, charmed by her changing moods. Cleo's magic is in her language, as rich and varied as the words the master gave to any of his creations. The Roman Enobarbus is a frequent commentator on Cleo's words and actions, how she keeps Antony from his Roman duty. Egyptian decadence is dramatized in early scenes: "sensuous, self-indulgent, trivial," in the vice dean's words. In scene two, Antony tries to recover his sense of Roman duty, reflecting on the death of his wife: "She's good, being gone"'and determines that he must "from this enchanting queen break off" and return to Rome. "These strong Egyptian fetters I must break/ Or lose myself in bondage," says Antony, reprogrammed for the moment as a dutiful Roman. In scene three, Cleo plays her usual part: "If you find him sad, / Say I am dancing; if in mirth, report/ That I am sudden sick." But Antony declares that duty calls him to Rome, though "my full heart/ Remains in use to you." Cleo accuses him of "excellent dissembling" in declaring love, that she is "all forgotten." Antony hotly declares that "I should take you for idleness itself." Rome rules in him'for the moment.
OUR NEXT MEETING IS WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 24.
Respectfully submitted, Robert G. Peck, Secretary for Minutes
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