On Friday Mrs. T and I drove down to Staunton, Virginia, where we lunched on Superburgers at Wright’s Dairy-Rite, a drive-in that has been doing business in the same building since 1952, and saw another Tom Stoppard play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, in another Elizabethan-style theater, the Blackfriars Playhouse, which I visited for the first time in 2006:
In theater, seeing is believing, and the best way to learn about 17th-century theatrical performance practices is to watch a Shakespeare play acted on a modern re-creation of an Elizabethan-style stage….The U.S. is home to a half-dozen such houses, including the indoor theater at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., and the open-air theaters that I saw earlier this year at the Oregon Shakespeare and Utah Shakespearean Festivals. Most of the American replicas, however, are variously modernized structures that incorporate such anachronistic devices as theatrical lighting. If you want to see the real thing–and to see it used in a convincing way–the place to go is Staunton, home of the American Shakespeare Center, whose performances are given in a dazzlingly exact re-creation of the Blackfriars Playhouse, originally built in London in 1596….
To pass through the lobby doors into the 300-seat auditorium is like jumping into Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine and setting the controls for 1600, with some allowances made for fire safety. Actors and audience are lit by the same electric chandeliers–there are no spotlights–and if you’re fortunate enough to hold a ticket for one of the 12 “Lord’s Chairs” placed on either side of the stage, you’ll be close enough to the players to reach out and touch them.
The opportunity to review two Stoppard plays performed on consecutive nights in two different Elizabethan-style theaters was, of course, irresistible, and I didn’t even consider resisting it, even though I knew it would involve a fair-sized chunk of long-distance driving, there being no practical way to get from Washington to Staunton other than in a car. The next morning I took Mrs. T back to Union Station, from whence she departed for Connecticut. I then drove to Dulles International Airport and flew to Houston, Texas, by way of Charlotte, North Carolina, to begin the second leg of my cross-country regional-theater pilgrimage.
Too much travel in one day makes my head spin–I woke up an hour ahead of my wake-up call in Staunton–and it wasn’t until I landed in Houston that I started to calm down. All told, I spent thirteen hours on the move last Saturday, including a twenty-minute jog from one end of the Charlotte airport to the other (for once, the word literally is applicable). As soon as I picked up my rental car in Houston, I drove straight to La Mexicana, a neighborhood joint recommended by Michael Stern, and dined on fish tacos laced with fresh cilantro and lime. Then I found my hotel, ascended to the twenty-third floor, called Mrs. T and my mother, and fell into bed.
(To be continued)