Making Oscar Proud

Dramaturgy Intern Clio McConnell blogs from inside the Lady Windermere’s Fan rehearsal room.

Before actually landing one’s dream job in the real world, the average college student looks upon that prospect as a sort of utopian ideal: Naturally, one’s dream job involves spending all day doing something one enjoys and is good at. If one is lucky, of course, this utopia will eventually become reality.

By that standard, hanging out at Cal Shakes this summer has been a really lucky break for me. The more time I spend in the rehearsal room for Lady Windermere’s Fan, the harder it is to imagine a better workplace. From the first read-through it has been clear that this early Oscar Wilde play is seriously complex, with a lot of complicated relationships and moral quandaries. But I assumed that director Christopher Liam Moore would have a vision to dive into straightaway—to my untrained mind, that is what a director does. Of course, Chris had a thoroughly better idea about how to approach directing.

Stacy Ross (Mrs. Erlynne), Emily Kitchens (Lady Windermere), and Aldo Billingslea (Lord Windermere) in Cal Shakes’ production of Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde, directed by Christopher Liam Moore; photo by Kevin Berne.

Stacy Ross (Mrs. Erlynne), Emily Kitchens (Lady Windermere), and Aldo Billingslea (Lord Windermere) in Cal Shakes’ production of Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde, directed by Christopher Liam Moore; photo by Kevin Berne.

On the first day of rehearsal he spoke to a huge group of actors, designers, production crew, Cal Shakes staff, and donors, essentially saying to us: “I could tell you what I think this play is about. But instead, I’m going to wait for these actors to teach me what it’s about.” And from then on, the process of Lady Windermere’s Fan has been a great big learning experience—for everyone, I think (directors, actors, stage managers, dramaturg), but especially for me.

Indeed, we have all learned (or been reminded of) a fair amount about Oscar Wilde and his London. We know about the peerage system—a Duke is higher than a Lord, for anyone who was wondering—and about how to properly convey one’s feelings with a certain wave of a fan. We know about 1870s fashion and train schedules and Victorian gentlemen’s clubs. Hopefully all of these fascinating minutiae will afford lessons that the audience can learn from their seats. But I have learned one thing above all that will not (and should not!) manifest in the final production: that this show has had a head-spinning trajectory of evolution.

After the first day of work, I remember chatting with one of the actors and telling her how great her scene had looked (because it really had been lovely). She grimaced, saying, “No, no—let’s just forget about today.” This has been the overwhelming attitude of everyone involved: We can always know more and we can always change things.

So, my utopian ideal of working in the theater is largely based on a dream to work with intelligent people. As far as that wish goes, I think I have fallen in with the right crowd, because the Lady Windermere’s Fan rehearsal room is pervaded by an air of intelligent wit—an air, I think, which Mr. Wilde would have much appreciated.

Lady Windermere’s Fan, directed by Christopher Liam Moore, is on stage at the Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda from August 14 to September 8.

 

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Volunteer Scoops the Scoop!

Volunteer Zoe Halsne attended the Inside Scoop for Lady Windermere’s Fan and submitted this review about the event.

Inside Scoop panelists (from L-R): Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly, actor Emily Kitchens (Lady Windermere), Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone; photo by Jay Yamada. (Not shown: set designer Annie Smart)

Inside Scoop panelists (from L-R): Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly, actor Emily Kitchens (Lady Windermere), Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone; photo by Jay Yamada. (Not shown: set designer Annie Smart)

On Monday, July 29, I attended my first-ever Cal Shakes Inside Scoop—for Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan—at the Orinda Public Library. In addition to this event, I confess I did not know much about the play itself. However, I quickly became enthused about it after chatting to longtime California Shakespeare Theater-goer, Joan. She told me that, despite the unusually long line for the ice cream, she was looking forward to Lady Windermere’s Fan, especially as a feminist.

Indeed, after the Q&A, it was clear the mere 24 hours of Lady Windermere’s life covered in the play portrays a significant change in a young woman, while simultaneously providing comedic elements. It produces a sense of independence and disillusionment and, despite my disappointing lack of Oscar Wilde exposure in high school, I could relate the description of the themes of the play to other stories like Zora Neale Hurston’s bildungsroman novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Or, as was mentioned during the Q&A, there are even similarities between the struggles of Hamlet and those of Lady Windermere.

Lady Windermere's FanIt was also interesting just to hear how this particular production was put together. Emily Kitchens, who plays Lady Windermere, actually auditioned for the role over video while she was with her mother in Georgia. She went on to describe her personal process for dissecting the script including determining the distinctions between producing a sense of realism versus a sense of melodrama. Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone also mentioned the additional difficulties with speaking with 19th-century British mannerisms.

One audience member asked why the production wasn’t adapted to another time period, like the theater often does with Shakespeare plays. Moscone said it would be possible to set the play in decades like the 1950s (and he had even seen a 1930s version once) but for several reasons they decided not to—one of which is the love for the costumes. “You can flirt like nobody’s business,” Set Designer Annie Smart said, pointing out the enormous poof the skirt had on the costume’s backside.

Lady Agatha's act 2 costume

Costume designer Meg Neville's sketch for the Act 2 costume of Lady Agatha, played by Rami Margron.

Though the production is definitely not set in the 21st or even the 20th century, Smart admitted that the costumes are not entirely designed based on when the play originally takes place, for good reason. The true attire of the play’s age would require a tiny waist of about 17 inches, and actors have an understandable need for access to their diaphragm.

Besides a mannequin sporting one of the female costumes from the production, there was also a model of the stage’s set design on display in the front of the auditorium. Smart described how even something as simple as a living room was difficult to replicate for this specific stage, especially when there was a need for several niches within the set, in order for the characters to be able to share secrets without other onstage characters “hearing” those secrets.

I felt informed and excited after hearing the background of Lady Windermere’s Fan directly from the some of the creative team and cast as well as other theater enthusiasts. It sounds like a fantastic production of a universal story (though with rather fixed societal standards), and I can’t wait to see it! Lady Windermere’s Fan, directed by Christopher Liam Moore, is on stage from August 14 to September 8. The next Inside Scoop is for A Winter’s Tale on September 9.

Thanks, Zoe! 

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Ask Philippa: LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN Edition

Emily Kitchens (Lady Windermere) and Aldo Billingslea (Lord Windermere) in Cal Shakes’ production of Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde, directed by Christopher Liam Moore; photo by Kevin Berne.

Emily Kitchens (Lady Windermere) and Aldo Billingslea (Lord Windermere) in Cal Shakes’ production of Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde, directed by Christopher Liam Moore; photo by Kevin Berne.

Philippa Kelly, resident dramaturg for Cal Shakes, shares her thoughts on the current production, and invites your questions. Lady Windermere’s Fan runs August 14–September 8, 2013.

Lady Windermere’s Fan has an intriguing subtitle: A Play About a Good Woman. Written in 1892, this was one of Wilde’s earlier plays, a “drama” with farcical undertones, as distinct from the more broadly farcical The Importance of Being Ernest that would emerge a few years later. The entirety of Lady Windermere’s Fan takes place over a single day, which happens to be the protagonist’s 21st birthday. “I’m of age today,” she tells Lord Darlington, and we see her, over this 24-hour period, go through what Jonathan Moscone described at our Inside Scoop as “24 YEARS of experience.” Among other things, she comes to question what a “good woman” actually is in this fascinating drama that combines mystery, comedy, and a measure of malignity.

Are you going to see our production of Lady Windermere’s Fan?  Do you have questions or comments about the production’s cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

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Fanning the Flames of Victorian Desire

The language of the fanIn Victorian society—including that of Oscar Wilde and the dramatis personæ of Lady Windermere’s Fan— it was said that fans were used to communicate silently across a room. Some claim it was merely a myth made up by advertisers to sell fans, like what De Beers did with engagement rings and, less romantically, what Campbell’s did with green-bean casserole. Regardless, it’s a lovely idea, not unlike the language of flowers, a more ancient form of wordless-yet-poetical communication that also saw a rise in popularity during Queen Victoria’s reign.

Here are just a few unspoken sentiments one could convey with this useful accessory. When you take in our production of Lady Windermere’s Fan, see if you can find any hidden meanings in the actors’ fan choreography!

  • The fan placed near the heart: “You have won my love.”
  • Resting the fan on her lips: “I don’t trust you”
  • A closed fan touched to the right eye: “When may I be allowed to see you?”
  • Letting the fan rest on the right cheek: “Yes.”
  • Letting the fan rest on the left cheek: “No.”
  • The lady fans herself with her left hand: “Don’t flirt with that woman.”
  • Covering the left ear with an open fan: “Do not betray our secret.”
  • Fan opened wide: “Wait for me.”
  • Running her fingers through the fan’s ribs: “I want to talk to you.”

Read more about the Victorians’ secret language of fans—regardless of its actual, factual existence—at the following websites:

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Get Wilde & Win

Oscar WildeI am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.

Ah, Oscar Wilde. Was he the cleverest man in all Christendom? You be the judge:

I can resist everything but temptation.

Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.

Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.

There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.

All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.

Work is the curse of the drinking classes.

I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.

The thing is, we’re pretty sure our Cal Shakes community has some masters of the aphorism in its ranks. Fancy yours a Wildean wit? We hereby challenge you to come up with your own Wilde-style witticism, for fun—and prizes.

HOW DO YOU  ENTER? Comment here; tweet to @calshakes with the hash tag #Wildean; write on our wall at facebook.com/calshakes; or email marketing@calshakes.org.

HOW DO YOU WIN? Be clever! Extra points will be awarded to those entrants who:

  • Attribute their line to a particular character
  • Make the topic Cal Shakes
  • Make the topic one of the plays in our 2013 season

WHAT CAN YOU WIN? The ones we like will be published in our program for Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan. The one we LOVE will earn its creator a pair of tickets to the show!

So slip into something fur or velvet, sharpen your walking stick, gaze longingly into the camera…and get that wit cracking! Contest ends July 17.

Lady Windermere’s Fan begins previews at Cal Shakes on August 14, and opens on August 17. Get your tickets today.

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Season Artist Profile: Christopher Liam Moore

CLM in Ghost Light

Christopher Liam Moore and Bill Geisslinger in GHOST LIGHT at Oregon Shakespeare Festival; photo by Jenny Graham.

In the months leading up to the start of our 2013 Main Stage season, I am once again profiling the creative minds behind our productions. The March installment of the Season Artist Profile features Christopher Liam Moore, a frequent guest artist at Oregon Shakespeare Festival who may be familiar to you as the actor who played Jon in Ghost Light at OSF in 2011 and Berkeley Rep in 2012. The noted director makes his Cal Shakes debut this summer when he helms Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde.

What follows is the full transcript of my email interview with Chris. To sign up for our email newsletter, click here.

Stefanie Kalem: What are you working on right now? What projects have you done most recently, or do you have coming up?

Christopher Liam Moore: I am directing two shows at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this season. I am currently in rehearsals for A Streetcar Named Desire, which opens on mid-April. I start rehearsals next week for A Midsummer Night’s Dream which opens in mid-June. This winter, I directed Red Herring by Michael Hollinger at Artists Repin Portland.

Red Herring at Artists Rep

The cast of Moore's 2013 production of RED HERRING at Artists Rep; photo by Owen Carey.

SK: Is this your first time directing Wilde?

CLM: This will be my first time directing Mr. Wilde. I am thrilled and terrified.

SK: What do you like about directing for an outdoor stage?

CLM: I love the scale of it. I love that the stars are the roof. I love the intimacy and claustrophobia of a Victorian drawing room juxtaposed against the expansiveness of the hills and trees.

SK: How do you think working on our stage will be different from working with the OSF one?

CLM: In the Elizabethan Theatre at OSF, there is a massive two-story Tudor facade that is the backdrop for every production. It is a decidedly strong visual presence which can be wonderful and also challenging. I am very much looking forward to having the hills of Orinda lend their magic to Mr. Wilde’s world. I am looking forward to learning the space acoustically as well.

SK: Can you share with us any additional early thoughts on this production of Lady Windermere?

CLM: We have a tremendous cast. I know we will dive deep and create an emotionally fearless production which honors Mr. Wilde’s wit and sharp insight. Our early design meetings have been exciting. There will be some unexpected choices.

SK: Was there a piece of theater you saw when you were younger that made you think, “I want to be a part of this”?

Original production of Streetcar

Elia Kazan's original Broadway production of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, starring Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, and Jessica Tandy.

CLM: Yes, I saw Midsummer at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts when I was in high school. I had never seen Shakespeare done with such wide-open imagination.

SK: What inspires you right now? Any particular theater artist, music, film, television, visual art, politics?

CLM: Two people: my husband, Bill Rauch, the artistic director at OSF, for always putting his heart into the work and inspiring me to do the same; and Jon Moscone, for being brave and daring me to be so, too

SK: And lastly, if you could have directed or acted in any production in history, what would it be?

CLM: Right now, I would have loved to be a fly on the wall during the rehearsal process for the original production of Streetcar.

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Ask Philippa: Off-Season Edition

Philippa Kelly at Blithe Spirit Scoop 2012 by Jay Yamada

Philippa Kelly at the Inside Scoop for BLITHE SPIRIT, July 2012; photo by Jay Yamada.

Philippa Kelly, resident dramaturg for Cal Shakes, invites your questions about our 2013 season, which begins May 29. Subscriptions and FlexPasses on sale now.

Just because the Main Stage season closes, it doesn’t mean we at Cal Shakes are suddenly turned to marble, like Hermione in the fourth play of our 2013 season, A Winter’s Tale. Ask any questions you like and you’ll get an answer promptly. Are you reading the 2013 plays between seasons? Curious as to what we’re planning? Or do you have questions about Shakespeare—what is known about his life and writing process? Ask in the comments and I’ll be sure to respond.

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“Everyone’s a Critic,”by Laura Hope

 

Everyone’s a critic:
Wilde, Chekhov and their detractors, otherwise known as “mildew.”

Ah, my dear, gentle reader! I must say, I have been trying to balance a relationship with two very  demanding men this summer, and I am exhausted: Oscar Wilde and Anton Chekhov.

How can they be so demanding when they are both dead? It doesn’t matter, gentle reader, men are men. Dead, alive, or somewhere in between, they are time consuming. Men in the theater are even worse. I dramaturged Oscar’s An Ideal Husband, and now I am dramturging Anton’s Uncle Vanya. Let me assure you, gentle reader, these men were–and are–a handful. They have relentlessly kept me up for many a sleepless night this summer. My grandmother Leadlay (God rest her) used to always say, “Just remember, dear, men get older, but they never grow up. Never.” She usually whispered this to me while my grandfather was in the process of doing something extremely silly, or, more usually, something to attract attention to himself. My grandfather was a natural born actor and the world was his stage. He never met a stranger, and was always “acting out” in ways that won him many fans, and completely wore out my grandmother, who often found his antics a little embarrassing.

Grandma’s wisdom is doubly true of men in the theatrical profession: Many never grow up. Both Oscar and Anton were quite a handful in their day, and working on their plays still keeps you on your toes. I mean, really, just try to imagine the lives of Constance Wilde (Oscar’s wife) or Olga Knipper (Anton’s). Oscar led a double life that eventually ruined not just his own, but also Constance’s. On the other hand, poor, handsome Anton, ever the somewhat emotionally unavailable, constant bachelor, played the field for years leaving many a broken heart. When he finally settled down (predictably with a younger woman), he promptly died four years later from TB after a long, sad goodbye.

Oscar and Anton were contemporaries. Oscar was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1854. Anton was born in Taganrog, Russia in 1860. Oscar died penniless from cerebral meningitis in 1900, in exile in France, living under the name Sebastian Melmoth. Anton died in 1904 in his wife’s arms after downing a glass of champagne and announcing in German to his wife (of German descent) and his doctor (also German), “Ich sterbe” (I am dying). He was at a spa in Badenweiler, Germany at the time, trying to recover from the tuberculosis that killed him. Both men, so close in age, and such colossal geniuses, were like meteors: They flamed brightly and far too briefly across our horizon, but oh, how they shined!

Oscar and Anton never met, which is just as well. I have the sneaking suspicion Chekhov would not have liked Wilde. Chekhov believed in gentlemanly manners and did not approve of acting out in public, and Wilde was always and forever acting out. Wilde was the kind of guy you could party with till the wee hours of the morning, and have a great time. The next day, however, you might be a bit mortified with yourself, and vow not return anymore of his calls–or call him–ever again. He was like the Pied Piper of bad behavior in that way, I think. Chekhov, on the other hand, was the kind of guy you’d fall hopelessly in love with and quietly pine over for years. You’d never dare tell him because even if you did, you’d get no discernible or satisfactory reaction from him. He’d cough (you know, because of the TB), smile sadly, and apologize for your misplaced affection without actually naming what he was apologizing for. Anton could have been a character in Jane Austen’s Persuasion–there’s a lot of pining in that novel. Better still, he could have been one of the tall, handsome, unknowable bachelors in a Gothic novel by a Brontë sister. More than one lady worked herself into an unrequited love melancholia over the tall, beautiful, distant Chekhov. (Personally, I think pining is underrated in our instant-gratification-based society. I like to pine. Anticipation is so much better than reality, anyway. Pining is possibility. Reality is disappointing.)

Sooo, Oscar and Anton were very different men. Yet working on plays by these two all in the same summer has raised some interesting parallels in my mind: about the difficult life of a writer, about the nature of fame and genius, about humor (as both were known for their humorous tales), about dying young, and about the relationship between the artist and the critics.

Unfortunately, not everyone valued Wilde and Chekhov as playwrights in their lifetimes, although we speak of them today in reverent tones. There were no such phrases like “Chekhovian” or “Wildean” in the critical pantheon of pat comparisons with which to skewer younger, less established writers. At the time, they were the less established writers, and they were the ones receiving the skewering. Chekhov would probably be astonished at how he is revered today. He was a humble man, and always the first to point out what he perceived as the failings of his own work. Oscar would not be surprised at his current status at all. Oscar would wonder what the hell took us all so long to recognize his genius.

It is a wonder either man continued writing plays at all when one considers the public beating they took in the press. Let us, gentle reader, peruse a few examples. I will give the names of the odious critics, when available, as they deserve to be derided, albeit posthumously. They should not have been so rude to my Oscar and my Anton. Dramaturgs love their writers, quite passionately. We’ll go to the mat for them. Dramaturgs do not like their writers to take a beating. We take it personally. We hold grudges. We use our pens to get even. Put on your flak jacket, gentle reader, it’s about to get ugly!

When An Ideal Husband opened in 1895, certain English critics lined up to say mean things about Oscar the Irishman and his play. H.G. Wells (yes, the guy who wrote The Time Machine) wrote a review for the Pall Mall Gazette in which he opined,

So much for the play. It is not excellent, indeed, after Lady Windermere’s Fan and The Woman of No Importance, it is decidedly disappointing. But worse have succeeded, and it was at least excellently received. It may be this melodramatic touch, this attempt at commonplace emotions and the falling off in epigram, may be merely a cynical or satirical concession to the public taste…But taking it seriously…the play is unquestionably very poor.

 

Notice that not only does Wells slam the play, he slams the audience for liking it. Interestingly, he did not sign his review. It was published anonymously, which shows he didn’t have the “oysters” to own his opinions. Too bad his time machine wasn’t real; he needed to be beamed away.

A.B. Walkey also had nasty things to say in Speaker: “Mr. Wilde’s play will not help the drama forward a single inch, nor–though that is a comparatively unimportant matter–will it, in the long run, add to Mr. Wilde’s reputation…the fact remains that Mr. Wilde’s work is not only poor and sterile, but essentially vulgar.” Walkey also didn’t use his full name, publishing as A.B.W. I think we can all get a giggle now over Walkey’s entirely anal, uptight prognostications. Nowadays, we all know the name Oscar Wilde, but who gives a cat poo about A.B. Walkey? “Who,” you ask? Exactly, gentle reader. “Who” indeed!

Even William Archer, one of the premier English critics of the day, was a real jerk about Oscar and An Ideal Husband. He wrote that the play, “…does not positively lack good things, but simply suffers from a disproportionate profusion of inferior chatter.” He may have been the premier critic of his day, but only theater historians remember the name William Archer, and we don’t remember it without ambivalence. As a critic, Archer did not positively lack good insights, but his work suffered from a disproportionate profusion of inferior blah-blah-blah. (Yes, I did wear an evil grin as I wrote that last sentence.)

Chekhov also took a beating when he first introduced his plays to the stage. Tales of the disaster that was the opening night of The Seagull in St. Petersburg are the stuff of theatrical legend. Unfortunately, they are true. Audiences and critics alike lined up to hate the play and heap abuse on the author. Chekhov ran home in the middle of opening night. A friend later found him curled in a fetal position in bed where he cried out, “I implore you, no lights! I don’t want to see anybody. I only want to tell you this: let them call me a——– if I ever write for the theater again.” Thankfully, he did.

Poor Chekhov even had to endure negative criticism from his good friend and idol, Tolstoy (yes, the author of War and Peace). Tolstoy read The Seagull and wrote to Chekhov, “It is absolutely worthless: It is written like Ibsen’s drama…You know that I don’t like Shakespeare, but your drama, dear Anton Pavlovich, is even worse than his.” Tolstoy may have been a great novelist, but he was a nut job. Keep in mind that this is the man who also thought that the only way to improve the human soul was to give up carnal desire and quit having sex. He wins a Darwin award for that one. (And he didn’t like Shakespeare? See what I mean? Total wingnut!)

The point is, gentle reader, Oscar and Anton succeeded despite the drama critics. I wonder how many other Chekhovs or Wildes we have lost, who never wrote again due to the snarky opinions of some small-minded cretin with a poison pen and a printing press? As a dramaturg, I’ve seen first-hand the crater left in the soul of more than one extremely talented, emerging playwright after they were napalmed in the press by a critic who thinks every new play should be judged against the masterpieces of a golden oldie like Wilde or Chekhov. They don’t seem to realize that a writer is not born to this stature: One becomes a Wilde or a Chekhov, usually after one is dead, and in spite of what the papers wrote of your plays when they first premiered. Thank heaven Oscar and Anton had enough inner fortitude to keep at it. Imagine all we would have lost if they had taken the criticisms to heart and quit writing. I think I’ll give my beloved Anton the last word here. He once wrote of the critics who initially ranted and raged against The Seagull, “They are not men, but a kind of mildew.”

Till later, gentle reader,

I am ever your,

Dr. Laura, Resident Dramaturg and Shoe Aficionado

P.S. I bought 2 new pairs of shoes at the Macy’s 4th of July sale. They are fabulous.

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Will Dramaturg for Shoes….

Aside

(This week marks the blog return of both our favorite Intern, Derek Smith–now a full-fledged Cal Shakes employee–and our resident dramaturg Dr. Laura Hope. Derek’s blog will come tomorrow. But for now, it pleases me to no end to welcome back Dr. Laura, blogger extraordinaire. –Stefanie)

I’m back. Yippeee!

Yes, I have returned, gentle reader. Although I have been languishing in a Louisiana swamp for the last ten months, I have returned home to Cal Shakes for some dramaturgical high jinks. After all, nobody wants to stay in New Orleans during the summer anyway: too hot. And who in their right mind wouldn’t want to miss the first two and half months of hurricane season? So, coming to Berkeley/Orinda to dramaturg An Ideal Husband, Uncle Vanya, give Grove Talks, and write the dramaturgy pages in the programs for the season provided the promise of a very lovely escape. It’s good to be home.

It took me four days to drive from New Orleans to Berkeley. I drove through it all: thunder, lightening, pouring rain, hail, three tornado warnings, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and one small-town, Louisiana sheriff with a Napoleon complex and a sneaky-a** speed trap. I hate him. I mean I really, really hate him. A pox upon him, gentle reader.

My car was entirely loaded down with all the necessary items for a summer of dramaturgy fun for Cal Shakes. The inventory goes like this:

Shakespeare’s Collected Works
Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare
Marjorie Garber’s Shakespeare After All
110 other books for research and writing purposes
2 computers
1 printer
2 boxes of paper
10 research notebooks
2 file boxes
4 research journals
3 suitcases of clothes for that unpredictable NorCal weather
4 coats of assorted thickness and length for unpredictable tech week weather at the Bruns
4 scarves
2 pairs of gloves
5 hats
1 hip scarf, veil, and zills (don’t ask)
1 yoga mat
2 sets of sheets
2 sets of towels
2 blankets
5 pillows (I can’t sleep unless my bed looks like a Turkish bordello)
2 boxes of kitchen stuff
1 bag of cleaning supplies (cleanliness truly is next to Godliness)
1 cat (my trusty Tallulah) in her kitty carrier
1 bottle of kitty Valium for the road trip. (Technically, she takes the pills, but let’s face it, they’re really for me.)
3 Cal Shakes nametags
21 shades of lipstick
32 pairs of shoes

That’s right, I said it: 32 pairs of shoes for a 12-week stay in California. And let me tell you, it took forever to narrow it down to 32. I debated. I agonized. I packed and repacked. I couldn’t bring all the shoes, but how to choose the small fraction that would travel with me to dramaturg at Cal Shakes? It was awful. And I may say, since I have been here now for 2 weeks, I dearly miss some of those shoe-friends I left behind in New Orleans. My feet weep for them. How could I have left my pointy-toed, vibrant green, straw-and-faux-gator high heels in New Orleans? Why did I leave behind my strappy, red, patent leather Isaac Mizrahi 4-inch pumps? I REALLY wanted them yesterday, and they weren’t there. What if they are blown away by a storm and I never see them again? How will I go on? It’s too awful to contemplate. I miss them more than the last three men I dated–I don’t miss those guys at all. Pining for my missing shoes for 12 weeks, however, may just kill me.

The rest of the astonishingly huge laundry list aside, why, you may ask, do I need 32 pairs of shoes to dramaturg at Cal Shakes? I maintain that it is entirely necessary.

There are those shockingly ill-informed individuals who say it is an illness–an addiction, if you must put a label on it. If so, I have no intention of getting well. I am the Imelda Marcos of Dramaturgy.

Jon Moscone actually used my shoe obsession as an example in Ideal Husband rehearsals this week. He was explaining to Sarah Nealis how it was possible for her character (Mabel Chiltern) to be in a serious conversation with her handsome boyfriend (Lord Goring, played by Elijah Alexander) and suddenly be completely distracted from him by a diamond brooch on the floor behind a divan. Jon told her, “It’s like our own Laura Hope. She’s one of the most serious people I know. But if she’s talking to you and sees a pair of shoes she likes, forget it. It’s over. She’ll forget all about you and the conversation because it’s all about the shoes. She immediately loses IQ points and it’s instantaneous dumb blonde. So, these things do happen.”

What could I say? I cannot object when it’s true. Jon knows me too well. And he’s not the only one. I looked over, and my dear friend L. Peter Callender was silently laughing so hard into his script that he had tears in his eyes. Elijah was giving me that smirk of his–he just doesn’t get it. Poor man, I pity him. But Peter gets it. He knows about the shoe thing. He’s wise enough never to question me about it, and he doesn’t judge. He also knows it took two hours to unload my car when I got here, probably due to the shoes. Like a good friend should, he accepts my shoes and me just as we are. What are friends for?

Anyway, the example worked. Sarah completely understood the point Jon was making, and the scene is really great. I wonder how many pairs of shoes she has? I mean, she really seemed to understand …

You know who else would understand? Oscar Wilde. He probably wouldn’t want any dramaturg working on one of his plays that needed less than 32 pairs of shoes to get the job done. Oscar was into Aestheticism. He believed in fashion decadence. After all, Aubrey Beardsley was his illustrator. How much more stylish can you get? Oscar was a dandy. He believed that beauty was entirely necessary and as a result, life should imitate art, not the other way around. He loved fashion, and the more outrageous it was, the better. If you read Richard Ellmann’s biography of Oscar Wilde, you will understand what I mean. You don’t even have to read the whole book (though you should, gentle reader), just look at the pictures. Those photos provide a veritable fashion spread of Oscar in all his glory. There he is in all his fashion-fabulousness: in short velvet pants and patent-leather ballet slippers, in a fur coat, in a white linen suit and panama hat worthy of Tennessee Williams’ “Big Daddy,” or in a silk smoking jacket reclining on a divan covered in Persian rugs and bear skins, in a tuxedo, in a Dracula-esque cape, a natty pin-stripe suit and bowler hat, and finally, in drag as Salomé (for his play by the same name), bowing in front of the severed head of John the Baptist while wearing dangly earrings and a long, flowing wig. Oh Oscar, how I love you! Would that we had lived during the same time period. He would have loved my beautiful straw and faux croc, vibrant green, pointy-toed pumps I so foolishly left back in New Orleans. He would not have let me leave the house without them. We would have been soul mates, Oscar and I. We both like pretty men and pretty shoes. We could have gone shoe shopping together! Viva Oscar!

And another thing, Oscar would totally have understood my motto: Will Dramaturg for Shoes.

Till later, gentle reader,
I am ever your,
Dr. Laura, Resident Dramaturg and Shoe Aficionado

 

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