I spent Friday evening at a college Shakespeare production. I’m sure many of you are shuddering at the thought and before I went I would have seen your shudder and raised you an “eewww.” What would possess me, you ask? Family obligation. My great-niece, Johanna, is a college Freshman (and the family history as to why I have nieces and nephews older than me is way too complex to get into here) at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. Given the fact that I was a theatre major in college as well, along with my relative proximity to her college, it seemed appropriate to make the road trip down I35.
The other appeal was that – in one of those weird 6 Degrees of Separation things – the Director of the show was my old college theatre buddy, Tom Woldt. He’s been at Simpson for several years now, yet this was the first time that I had made it down for one of his shows. I admit – it’s the drive. 4 hours one way. And I also admit to the guilt. I suspect it’s a theatre thing. When you major in theatre you understand the incredible amount of work that goes into the making of a production. As such, you go to see your friends’ shows. It’s the right thing to do – and you want to do it as well. Yet, 4 hours in the car, to Iowa no less, has been a deterrent. I hang my head in shame.
Let me tell you, the drive was worth it. More importantly, it would have been worth it even if Johanna had not been in the show. The production was Henry V and while it is Shakespeare and, thus, you can count on a well written and interesting play, it isn’t one of his comedies which are – of course – much more 'fun.' Mistaken identities, chases through the woods, thwarted lovers all make for a good time at the theatre. War, death, and destruction, while all significant matters particularly given our current climate, aren’t really what we would call ‘fun’.
But this show was fun. Really! The production was 90 minutes and the audience was a part of it. We stood and moved through the show and the action and actors both surrounded us and mingled with us. The actors were good – some of them Very good. They spoke with meaning and moved with purpose. You felt as though you were in the midst of this battle. I watched one woman in the audience as she ducked and flinched at the action on the platforms with eyes wide and her hands to her mouth. She clearly was caught up in the action and the story. I admit to a flinch or three myself during the fight scenes.
The set and costumes had this great ‘Mad Max’ feel to them - lots of pipes and metal scaffolding for the set and lots of leather and fishnet in the costumes. And, I think all who saw the show would agree that Johanna’s hair was the BEST of all the actors – conical spikes that stood out 4 and 5 inches from her head. (Curtain was at 7:30 and she arrived at 4:30 to start doing her hair. And some people think theatre is ‘glamorous.’)
In addition to the set and costumes, the casting was interesting. The English, including Henry V and all his brothers, were played by women. The French were all played by men. The text of the play takes on new levels, and wars and conflicts take on new meaning. It’s a show that stays with you after you leave, and I find myself thinking about it days later, and talking it up to my friends. That’s the sign of a really good show. And a really good show is the sign of a really good director – someone with vision and inspiration, and the ability to pull it together and pull if off.
I wish I could encourage you all to see it this weekend. Unfortunately, it ran only last weekend. I can, though, encourage you to check out another show at Simpson. If you’re in the general neighborhood, I can honestly say it is worth the drive.
And, in true great-aunt style, I can also say that Johanna, while she wasn’t the lead, of course was the best!
You can check the Simpson schedule and theatre department online at http://www.simpson.edu/theatre/index.html.
Simpson is just 30 minutes south of Des Moines so you can make it a weekend road trip and check out one of Iowa’s fair cities at the same time.
And, for those of you who would rather visit Minnesota, Tom will be directing a show, Expecting Isabel, at the Yellow Tree Theatre which runs from April 23-May 16. You can find out more at http://yellowtreetheatre.com/shows.php.
3 hours ago