One of our favourite things to do, living in Berkeley, Ca, is to go to the Cal Shakes outdoor theatre in Orinda in the summer. We went to three productions last year, “Comedy of Errors”, “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Pygmalion”. I didn’t have much planned for the kids last school holidays so I thought the least they could do was learn to love Shakespeare and who doesn’t like a bit of George Bernard Shaw? “I’m willing to tell you: I’m wanting to tell you: I’m WAITING to tell you!” And there is something about live theatre with the emphasis on entertainment and amusement which manages to win over even the most jaded teen or tween.
Last night we drove through peak hour traffic to get to the venue, just 20 minutes away, the car packed with picnic food, blankets and puffa jackets- no matter how warm the day, and it wasn’t that warm, sitting through a play outside requires every bit of layering you can lay your hands on. The performance was Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and my mother, the former English teacher, had taken us through the convoluted story of the twins, Sebastian and Viola, separated in a storm and launched off on their own separate adventures.
But first, we climbed the short hill up to the picnic area, past tall eucalyptus trees ( I swear there are more in California than Australia) and then to the most disconcerting backdrop of dry rolling hills like something out of a Colin McCahon painting. We shared our picnic table with a couple who were enjoying a tasty Mexican meal, complete with wine and dessert. The audience tends to be pretty white, middle-aged and middle class, but plenty of young things were floating around – the theater does a lot with youth in the Bay Area. Cal Shakes knows its theatre goers well and has a great cafe and bar to supplement picnic dinners. The hot chocolates from Peet’s are extremely yummy and there is always a nice display of home baking.
And then it was time for the play to start – we made our way to our low, very comfortable deck chairs and did some good people watching. A large, replete looking man was introduced to the audience as a prominent funder to Cal Shakes. He was willing to match the largest donation this evening, we were told. “No cap, tonight!” he claimed. His wife beamed, nodding enthusiastically. Can’t ever imagine that happening in New Zealand but good on him.
The fool, Feste, introduced us to the opening scene and won the boys over immediately by producing his iPhone and selecting some music to go with his words, “Riders on the Storm” and the theme to “Gilligan’s Island (geddit?) And we were drawn quickly into the play which has won rave reviews this year with its mainly women cast – a wonderful contrast to Shakespearean times when men played women’s roles. Some of the women were especially good at assuming the male persona, using their prominent codpieces and outward thrusting hips to good effect. A strategically placed hat and a male demeanor was the only thing to differentiate Sebastian from Viola, (played by the same actor).
We sat there, thoroughly enthralled, the hills behind the minimalist set disappearing slowly to complete darkness, fireflies flitting among the audience. Full of hot chocolate and brownies, the boys claimed it was another success. It’s always fun to go over phrases used in Twelfth Night which we still use today. “Westward-ho”, was one (well we don’t use it a lot but it’s been known on family holidays), “If music be the food of love, play on…” (oh yep, every Friday night) and “Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” Yes, okay, yet to use that one, but it’s a goody.
Back to the telly tonight. But good to know there is another world out there.