My son Philip saw his first Shakespeare play when he was about eight years old, at a performance of Shenandoah Shakespeare Express at the JMU Arboretum. We sat on tarp-covered hay bales. The actors wore black shirts and pants, and used minimal props- masks, wands, cloaks – to convey the characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He was enchanted. A few weeks later, I went to the library and borrowed the classic film version of the play, and invited him to watch with me. There was wonderful scenery, fancy costumes, and famous actors. He lasted ten minutes, and left. When I asked him why he didn’t want to watch any more of the play he had previously enjoyed, he told me, “Mommy, I liked the real-people one better.”
So we kept on going to “real-people” Shakespeare. When he was thirteen or so, we went to a rollicking performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor that had us laughing so hard our sides hurt. Afterwards, he asked me, “Are there any Shakespeare comedies that we haven’t seen yet?” I told him that there were still a few, but I would make sure that we would see them all. And we have.
Philip had his favorites among the actors in the resident troop, and could discourse knowledgeably about who played which part when, and how the actors developed over the years. He’s now 22 and living in Boston, but he still enjoys Shakespeare plays. And when he comes home to visit, we always make a point of seeing a play at the Blackfriars Playhouse.
– Ruth Chodrow