Glorious Summer

July 1, 2018
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York…
–from Richard III, by William Shakespeare

**I haven’t forgotten it’s Independence Day. There’s a bit about American literature and the American author John Steinbeck below. Happy 4th of July!**

I have to confess, I’ve never read Richard III. The 1995 movie version with Ian McKellen was on television the other night; but I have to confess again, I only caught a few minutes before falling asleep. Even the movie was pretty dense. Hamlet has always been my go-to Shakespearean tragedy, he seems so much more relatable. The hapless victim of a murderous king, rather than the murderous king lui-même

But the quote featured above? That’s another thing altogether. It will pop into my head in the midst of winter, and in the midst of summer. And the time I traveled to York in the summer of 2002? (Yes, the original York, in England.) Fuggedaboutit.

I first encountered the quote over thirty years ago, in high school, when I had to pick a subject for a term paper in my American Lit class. Being an angsty teenager, I was immediately drawn to the title of John Steinbeck’s novel, published in 1961. “The Winter of Our Discontent? That is SO my life,” I probably thought.

Regarding the novel and Steinbeck: I remember liking it, though I don’t remember it having much in common with Richard III’s story. And I think I got a good grade on the term paper. I also went on to read more Steinbeck around that time.

But my biggest takeaway was the quote. I found out pretty quickly that Steinbeck didn’t invent the title; I might have been vaguely disappointed by that. Though I was pretty impressed that it came from Shakespeare.

Thirty years on for me, and more than 425 years for Shakespeare, there’s still so much humanity to ponder in those two lines. How subject we are to seasons, how easily we can be persuaded that something as formidable and harsh as winter could be its exact opposite.

It might be my go-to Shakespearean quote. I’m going with that, until another one pops up to prove its leadership in the clubhouse of my head.

I wish I could say with certainty that I was not the one who wrote on the cover of this book, but I can’t. I don’t remember doing it, at any rate. Though I did have a thing for Donald Sutherland back in the day…

The Spider Queen

There is a theater company here in New Orleans called The NOLA Project. They’ve been around for more than ten years now, so they don’t really qualify as “newcomers.” But I’ve seen many of their productions over the years, and I’m always struck by how they manage to keep things fresh.

Case in point, there’s their annual spring production in the New Orleans Museum of Art’s sculpture garden. A (sort-of) quick aside: the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden is one of my favorite places in the city. There is something transcendent about the way the sculptures are seamlessly woven into the five acre landscape of mature oak and pine.

And an aside to the aside: the name itself features a bit of New Orleans history. Sydney Besthoff was one of the principals in Katz and Besthoff, or K&B—a pharmacy that dominated the New Orleans cityscape for most of the twentieth century. People of a certain age in this city will still describe a particular color as “K&B purple.”

I’m so inspired by the sculpture garden, I set the final scene of The Incident Under the Overpass there. But I guess I’m not the only one inspired by it. I have to believe The NOLA Project’s latest production, The Spider Queen, was at least partially inspired by some of its sculptures. It’s an original play, written by James Bartelle and Alex Martinez Wallace. James Bartelle is the Associate Artistic Director of The NOLA Project.

I saw The Spider Queen with two nieces on Friday. The play was staged on the patch of ground in front of a sculpture called “Spider” by Louise Bourgeois. It’s the one pictured at the top of this post. (That photo was taken about four years ago, during one of the three cold-ish months we have in New Orleans.)

The most remarkable thing about The Spider Queen was, hands-down, the puppets. There was a bird operated by two puppeteers, and a dragon that (I think) had five puppeteers. The ogres had just one puppeteer apiece:

And the production saved the best for last. Here’s the Spider Queen herself. I think she had six puppeteers:

So, back to the original point I was attempting to make, about The NOLA Project keeping things fresh. The spring production in the sculpture garden is an annual thing, and it’s something I’ve done with an assortment of nieces over the years.

For several years in a row, it was Shakespeare in the garden. It was during Much Ado About Nothing, as I recall, when we had messy crepes filled with speculoos and had to fend off a termite swarm. (The two things are not related. Termites swarm in New Orleans every May, regardless of what’s in your crepe. If swearing off speculoos would keep the termites away, I would do it. Reluctantly.)

As timeless as Shakespeare can be, I’m glad The NOLA Project hasn’t felt compelled to stage the Bard every spring in the sculpture garden. While I’m sure some of the universal human foibles that inspired Shakespeare are still around, it was a lot of fun to see a contemporary composition, inspired by one of the very same places that inspires me.

Not to mention, niece Kate can do a spot-on imitation of the ogres. Much better than I bet Shakespeare himself could have done.