“Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves…”
And ye elf and sprite lovers and lovers of the Bard whose words have seeped so deeply into the fabric of our language that even those who’ve never seen them toss them out with a knowing nod – get thee soon to the Hazel Robinson Amphitheater at 100 Gay Street in Asheville where you can watch and hear as the Montford Players give voice to those wonderful words while the sun slides westward leaving the sky to “… these blessed candles of the night.”
Regular readers of this column know that the windows of “The Naturalist’s Corner” open on a wide and inclusive panorama of the natural world. There have been reviews of field guides, reviews of books, reviews of poetry, announcements of outdoor festivals and/or events along with ecological, environmental, conservation musings, opinions and observations as well flora and fauna taxonomy and systematics. I believe wholeheartedly in Thomas Berry’s declaration that, “The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.”
And it’s a wonderful appetite-whetting communion that the Montford Players offer in such a natural setting, perhaps inspired by the Globe itself where the King’s Men performed the Bard’s plays al fresco starting in 1599.
On Saturday, June 22, perchance not wanting to dream, we decided, on a lark, to venture forth to the Hazel Robinson Amphitheater located behind the Montford Recreation Center to see the “Tempest.”
We got there early with lawn chairs and picnic basket in hand and set up camp with a good view of the stage and grounds. We had time to dine and chat with Izzy (11) and Maddie (7) about the play’s plot. Soon, after brief announcements, the play began and we were quickly drawn to an island in the Mediterranean Sea and began to succumb, not only to Prospero’s magic but also to his plight.
The girls were drawn in immediately and had no problem accepting the sorcery and following the story line and empathizing with the sprite Ariel (portrayed in clever fashion by two actors simultaneously.)
To say the evening was enjoyable would be an understatement. But it got even better. The next day Izzy asked when the next play would start because, “I really want to go back.”
It just so happened that the weekend we saw the “Tempest” was the last weekend of the run and the Montford Players were back the next week with “The Merchant of Venice.”
We invited friends and the next Saturday, June 29, we once again arrived at Hazel Robinson Amphitheater, this time with more food and more friends and more girls – six in all, from seven to 13 years old. We picnicked and visited and the girls visited and soon it was show time. The Montford Players “camped-up” “Merchant of Venice” just enough to jazz the ambience without taking away from Shakespeare’s story.
The play began with the entire cast getting into costume in front of the crowd as the speakers rocked out “Money” by Pink Floyd. And the actors were in the audience often bringing theater up close and personal. Then the play closed with all actors stage front in a “flash mob” to Cabaret’s “Money, Money, Money.”
These anachronisms never got in the way of the play and never distracted from scenes like Shylock’s soliloquy – where Shakespeare eloquently and succinctly makes the argument that we are all human thus all equal.
And if, occasionally, little girls needed to jump up to catch fireflies or point to big brown bats skimming the top of the stage, it all folded in like one natural midsummer night’s dream.