The Colorado Shakespeare Festival, which is playing out its 58th season this summer, is at its finest when the weather cooperates — which doesn’t always mean what you might think it does.
To be sure, there’s nothing quite so sublime as watching A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Mary Rippon Theatre on a starry, ethereal mid-summer night. Been there, done that.
But sometimes the weather, play, actors, director and moment all combine to produce an experience you’ll remember all your life. Let me tell you about two times that happened.
The first occurred in the summer of 1961 during a performance of King Lear.
(Lear, you will recall, is a play about the lack of affordable senior housing in the early Middle Ages.)
Act III, Scene II finds the king, who’s been 86-ed by his evil daughters and their husbands from the castles he gave them, outdoors in a storm venting thus:
Blow, winds…! Rage! Blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout…!
You sulpurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou,
Smite flat the thick routundity o’ the world!
Just about the moment that actor K. Lype O’Dell, who was playing Lear, let loose with the royal rant, a fierce summer storm cut loose over the theatre — replete with winds, cataracts, hurricanoes, oak-cleaving thunderbolts and all-shaking thunder.
O’Dell, no fool (the Fool was played by Robert S. Cohen), seized the moment and played to the storm. Director and CSF founder Jack Crouch (who was a terrific English lit prof) had the wit to let the scene play out. The drenched audience beat its hands raw.
The second electrifying moment, and it was electrifying, occurred during a production of Othello in the 1980s. I was there for that one.
(Othello, you will recall, is a play about relationship problems in military families stationed in Cyprus.)
Act III, Scene III finds the evil Iago poisoning Othello’s mind against the lovely Desdemona by conjuring the green-eyed monster of jealousy.
As the scene unfolded, you could feel the electricity in the air. Literally. Up above in a darkening sky lightning was flashing from cloud to cloud with an ominous hint of distant thunder. The air was filled with so much static electricity that the hair on my arms was trying to stand up, and it got stronger and scarier as the scene unfolded. The actors seemed to have picked up on the moment, and the dialogue crackled.
As with Lear, the director let the scene play out, but immediately stopped the performance when it ended — and the audience was told to exeunt with dispatch into Hellems. Which we did.
This year’s festival will again feature an Othello production in Mary Rippon. They say lightning ne’er cleaves twice the same oak, but I’ll be wearing my rubbers anyway.
Photography © iStock/GeorgiosArt; iStock/Simon Bradfield