Monday, February 21, 2011

Integritas fieldtrip to Chicago

Integritas took the show on the road this weekend with a fieldtrip to Chicago to take advantage of the culture the city has to offer. We boarded a bus bright and early at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning to reach the Art Institute of Chicago when it was opening. For most of the students, it was their first visit to the Art Institute, and their astonishment was visible as they rounded corners to come face to face with Picasso's Old Guitarist, Hopper's Night Hawks, Wood's American Gothic, Monet's Haystacks, and El Greco's St. Martin and the Beggar. We had a couple of hours to roam around the museum at will, before grabbing lunch on our way to Navy Pier.

At Navy Pier, we saw As You Like It at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. By common consent, it was the best production of Shakespeare that any of us had ever seen. The set reminded us of some of the Surrealist paintings we had seen at the Art Institute: the floor boards of the stage bent upwards to form a weeping willow tree in the Forest of Arden, and as the scene shifted between the duke's palace and Arden, a large pendulum clock hanging over the stage remained a constant. Actors and actresses made their entrances and exists from all sides and levels of the Navy Pier Theater, which is modeled on the Globe (but thankfully with seats!), seemingly materializing out of nowhere.

Jaques (Ross Lehman) was an excellent counterpoint to Touchstone (Philip James Brannon), and the two clowns threatened to steal the show, despite excellent performances by Kate Fry as Rosalind/Ganymede, and Matt Schwader as Orlando, the young man who has captured her affections. Jaques' famous speech,

"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin'd,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav'd, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."

cast a skeptical eye on the whole dance of courtship played out between Rosalind as Ganymede and Orlando, the man she seeks to woo as a man. In the course of their courtship, she does not simply seek to charm him, but to warn him that marriage is different from courtship, and he will have to learn to contend with what is worst in her nature. Through their courtship frought with tension and misgivings (not least of which the gender-bending engaged in by Rosalind as she dresses as the page boy Ganymede and seeks to woo Orlando as a boy standing in for Roasalind), they discern that their love for one another is truly self-less, and they are prepared to pledge their fidelity for life. Touchstone's seduction of a woman he will keep for only two months stands in sharp contrast to Rosalind and Orlando's pure love, as Touchstone admits that he wished for a minister of ill repute to wed them so that he could bed her and divorce her quickly thereafter. These are some of Shakespeare's most complex characters in any of his comedies, and the actors and actresses who brought them to light for us portrayed them with a worthy subtlety. If you have a chance to see the production, don't miss it!

After the play, the group got back on the bus and we went to the home of some of our benefactors in Chicago, who generously invited us to dine with them before we departed for South Bend. They gave us a wonderful welcome, delicious food, and warm hospitality. We couldn't have asked for a nicer way to end the day than by spending time with their family, especially their beautiful children.

We said goodbye to them all too quickly to get back on the road to South Bend, pulling into Hesburgh Library before the clock struck midnight and we awoke from the enchantment of the Forest of Arden, the dappled light of Monet's gardens, and the beauty of the treasures of western civilazation we saw that day.

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