Rah, Rah Shakespeare, Hike Hike Hike!

Saturday dawned warm, hazy, and humid, but off to the Morton Arboretum we went to see a performance of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. If you’re not familiar with this play, it’s the one where girl meets boy, boy likes girl, boy runs off into exile into the woods, girl runs off into exile into the woods but dresses as a boy, boy meets “boy” and is tricked into “pretending” he’s wooing the girl so that he can be cured. Sundry rustic bumpkins and foppish courtiers intrude, and we get the famous “All the world’s a stage” speech from one of them. Girl dressed as “boy” makes a lot of silly demands of boy in the interests of comedy, trickery, and stringing the action along until all possible couples romping in the forest can be gathered in one place for the big reveal/wedding scene. Wacky Elizabethan hijinks ensue. And “curtain,” if there were one, but there’s not, so instead it’s and “treebranch.”

I enjoyed it very much, as it had elements of street theatre and absurd little touches like girls dressed as Elizabethan fools/refereees with starter whistles and silly hats. For stagecraft they had a collection of props and signs to indicate time of day packed into an oversize garden cart, which was also useful for transporting characters who were supposedly faint from hunger. There weren’t enough actors for all the characters, so everyone doubled or tripled up and there were a lot of quick costume changes.

There were about 11 “scene changes,” which meant we’d be whistled up from our “seats” by the referee girls and led off into another part of the woodlands. The locations often took advantage of natural and artificial features; for example one location had us all sitting on the steps above the vista showing the “4 Columns,” which made a good backdrop for something set at the tyrannical usurping duke’s palace.

Our theatre-hiking party consisted of myself, my husband David, and our friends Steve and Ruth. We all had folding camp chairs, thanks to Steve’s generosity a couple of years back, but this was the first chance we actually had to use ours. Otherwise, we would have been sitting on the ground or standing.

Fortunately, there was a breeze in most locations, so the temperature and humidity were bearable until the last scene or two. It was very well organized, with several volunteers who operated as “whippers-in” who would signal at each location that everyone had arrived. We heard later that they shortened the route and changed locations so as to maximize shade and minimize distance between scenes. Usually the actors would exit one scene and have time to get to the next one ahead of us, but sometimes an actor would finish a scene, pack up their props and costumes, and walk along with us. Where possible they took advantage of the terrain and shrubbery to screen their entrances.

One location was especially woodsy – for the scene where Rosalind, dressed as a boy, discovers the love poems that Orlando has hung on the trees, we arrived at a breezy glade to find scrolls hung all around. The wind blew and the branches moved and the poems flew like Tibetan prayer flags of all different sizes. The same location had something that was labled as a “dream oak” and the hike leader remarked that it would be a good reason to put on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The rainclouds held off and the temperature and humidity didn’t spike until the last 2 locations. The four of us often found ourselves separated by circumstance and there wasn’t a lot of time to talk between scenes, because we were all concientiously trying to minimize the amount of visiting while breaking down or setting up our camp chairs (there were about 40 people, so delays could have been considerable).

We weren’t able to go for a “hyrbrid rally” drive around both loops because the other side of the arboretum was closing for a members’ bike ride, so when the play concluded with all the couples married off (except for poor Jacques) and the exiled duke reinstated and the haughty brother reconciled to Orlando, we wandered back to the visitor’s center for something cool to drink or eat and then took off.

I’ll add that the Morton Arboretum’s Gingko Cafe has an outstanding menu with fantastic salads and hot and cold entrees. They rent it out for receptions – they were setting up for a wedding reception when we came back, and it’s a gorgeous room when it’s set up for a nice sit-down meal. It would be incredible in the autumn.

Also, before Steve and Ruth arrived, we had some time to kill, so we checked out the new maze next to the visitor’s center. It’s mostly geared for kids, but it was fun for us too as there was a treasure hunt aspect with 7 different “rooms” to find and mark off with hole-punches. It’ll be better next year after a season’s growth, but it was a relaxing way to spend the time.

In the fall, there’ll be a production of “Sleepy Hollow” that we’ll try to see – David can’t wait to see how they’ll pull off the Headless Horseman bit.

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