Sunday, June 27, 2010

Summer's Greatest Gift

In addition to steamy subway platforms, hot, humid nights, and a plethora of soft serve trucks, summer in New York City offers what I consider to be the season's greatest gift: outdoor Shakespeare. I heartily partake of this offering each year, and one major reason why this month has seen so few blog postings is because I've been spending much of my free time outside in the company of Stratford-Upon-Avon's favorite son. My devotion to outdoor Shakespeare in this town is not quite as obvious as it might seem, however; as anyone who has spent ten summery NYC minutes with me knows, I cannot stand extreme heat or extreme humidity, and I particularly cannot stand extremely humid heat (n.b. "extreme heat" for me is anything north of 80*F). Why, then, would I willingly spend three hours traipsing through northern Central Park, or sitting in the still, steamy air of the Delacorte, or standing on the hot asphalt of Battery Park, much less four additional hours waiting in line in said humid heat?
Shakespeare in the Park
I've pondered the reasons behind these hot hours of willful Shakespeare-induced insanity, and what's resulted are a few plausible explanations. First and foremost, I love to be outside, and even when the temperature's unbearable, I still rise early to run or ride, walk home each day through Central Park, and embrace eating out outdoors (most recently at Ocean Grill, Pier I Cafe, and Frankies 457). Call me crazy--and I am, because even though I ultimately love to be outside in the summer I still complain freely to everyone within earshot about how gross the weather is--but there's something wonderful about a warm evening spent walking home from a candlelit dinner under the trees and the stars, while wearing just a sundress and carrying only a book and a wallet. I try my best to remember these magical summer moments when I'm sweating heavily on a hot subway platform at 8:30 am.
Second, I really, truly enjoy--dare I say, love?--Shakespeare. I'm not a Shakespearean and I don't claim to possess scholarly insights that others do not, but I have spent several years reading, studying, and even teaching his texts, and my affection for his work only grows as time passes. His rich language, use of metaphor, re-casting of source texts, and general sense of humor continue to impress me as I grow older and spend a little more time in this grand experiment we call mankind. And while every time I re-read one of his plays I see or hear something that I did not initially notice, I also treasure the characters, themes, and dramatic moments that ring as true as the first time I encountered them. Gower sang his "song that old was sung" in my Oxford attic bedroom over Christ Church Meadow eight years ago, and then he sang it again in Riverside Park last year when I was tutoring on Saturday afternoons; Henry V pitched his Agincourt battle in a high school classroom in foggy San Francisco, and drew his battle plans once more one leafy Fall when I drove through Vermont; several years ago Perdita vanished at the Roundhouse in Camden, and she vanishes again this summer at the Delacorte.
Frederick Sandys's Perdita
Attendant to this love of Shakespeare is my delight in seeing, hearing, or reading the same story re-worked in different ways, and not just with regard to the Bard's texts. For example, one of the reasons I enjoy Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida so much is because of my devotion to Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde; I like untangling each author's embellishments and general re-workings, and I find the texts' respective shifts in perspective and interpretation to be more exciting than simply reading a "different" or "new" story. Similarly, to the consternation of an ex-boyfriend, I once created a music playlist that played in succession various musicians' renditions of "Down by the River" (Neil Young's, the Indigo Girls's, and Buddy Miles's, to be specific), because I loved hearing how each artist spun the same song into his/her own. And so while I rarely go to other plays, I see Shakespeare's whenever I can--not only because often each performance is a welcome re-visitation of a text I've read or seen before, but also because every production offers a company's or actor's own interpretations and re-workings as well (e.g. Samuel West's Cold War Hamlet at the Barbican, the almost Edwardian setting of the Public Theater's current Merchant of Venice).
Gorilla Rep's Bottom and Puck, and Hermia and Puck
In sum, the outdoors, a love of Shakespeare, and a desire for textual/artistic resonance are the best explanation for why I would willingly subject myself to weather that makes me want to collapse in front of an air conditioner. After all, heavy, humid air seemed a small price to pay to see fireflies dart around Lady Anne's skirt and hear Clarence's mournful voice float above the meadows of northern Central Park during the New York Classical Theatre's production of Richard III. Ditto for the heady scent of warm grass at Summit Rock on the evening when NCT and I watched A Midsummer Night's Dream, courtesy of Gorilla Rep. Even better, at times the weather can dramatically aid these performances in a way that no air-conditioned theater ever could; last summer, while I was enjoying the Classical Theatre's production of King Lear at Battery Park, the heavens swirled and broke in a massive, dark thunderstorm right as Cornwall gouged out Gloucester's eyes--it was chilling, to say the least.
The Delacorte
Still, I nearly reached the limits of my extremely humid heat tolerance last Wednesday, when I decided to brave the standby line at the Delacorte in the hopes of getting just one solitary ticket to The Merchant of Venice. I joined the line at 4:30 pm as the thermometer hovered around 91*F, and after three and a half very hot and pretty uncomfortable hours sitting on a concrete Central Park path--during which I'd exhausted my reading material, and as it began to seem unlikely that I would end up with a ticket at all in spite of how early I'd arrived--I swore that this would be the last time. No more heat, no more mosquito bites, no more loud New Yorkers screaming at one another about line jumping. At 7:55, with 23 people ahead of me and no obvious standby tickets in sight, I nearly left (visions of my air conditioner were dancing in my head). At 7:58, I positively, absolutely decided that I was only waiting one more minute and then I was leaving. At 7:59, a box office employee ran towards us with a fistful of tickets, and forty five seconds later, as the sun set over Central Park and the Delacorte quieted, I was sitting in the middle of the seventh row, ready to see Bassanio ask Antonio for a fateful 3000 ducats. Somewhere, the Bard smiled.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Sugar Snap Pea, I Salute You.

Because you are my favorite legume hybrid, and because I love you as much whole as I do shelled. Because I first fell for you at 4 Corners Farm in Vermont, and because my affection for you only grows as we continue to meet at farmers' markets in California and New York. Because you are the perfect companion to lush butter lettuce and arugula salads, and to big spicy radishes, and even to sardines on toast. Because you are an English cultivation well-suited to New World soil, and because you are my favorite harbinger of summer's bounty. Sugar snap pea, I salute you!