Hurrah for the Ides of October

The ides of October, which I think is singular, either the 15th of some months or the 13th of other months, is often more favorable than the ides of March, especially if you use the Roman rather than the Julian calendar, and of course, it is particularly more favorable if your name is Julius. But then, not many parents name their kids Julius anymore. One of these days the breeders are going to revolt and switch from names of towns to colors, just you wait. Or are they doing that now? How about Orange Julius? Well, no matter, ever since I opened my first Crayola box, the normal sized one, not the huge one, I have wanted Burnt Sienna as my first choice were I to find myself back in the naming racket, the color, not the band. I only knew about the latter because I looked it up in Wikipedia.

Carol and I just returned from Oregon where the Shakespeare Festival (that is the outdoor theatre above, only used for evening performances from June through September) runs from late February to late October in Ashland, and a really good jazz festival has been held the 2nd weekend in October for the last 19 years in nearby Medford. I was surprised by a waiter, who had lived in Ashland for more than a couple of years, who said he had never heard of the Medford Jazz Jubilee. I suppose we could have found someone in Medford who was unaware of what was going on in Ashland, just 15 miles down the 5.

My favorite was Gem of the Ocean, August Wilson‘s ninth and penultimate exploration of a special family or group of people wrestling with their and our problems. This one is a part of Wilson’s multi-faceted project of getting 20th century African-American life on the stage. The story takes place in Pittsburgh in 1904. Aunt Ester, a very old lady (285 years! to be exact), has the task of guiding younger generations in the business of soul cleansing. G. Val Thomas and Kevin Kenerly play some important parts wonderfully well, not surprising of course, but then all these players did well. The title refers to the paper boat Aunt Ester uses to sacramentalize the Atlantic Ocean passage that all their ancestors endured. Yes, there is something about water that has that hopeful quality.

Wilson is obviously getting more confident by this time (2003) as he seems to almost effortlessly engage his audience in the business of “making the invisible visible.” Like Joe Dimaggio, effortlessly, going after a flyball to deep centerfield in Yankee Stadium, we are carried along by the players to another time and place, somewhere we could never have gone by ourselves. I liked the a capella singing of the ensemble, calling up rhythms and words from an earlier time and generation. Sadly for all of us, Wilson died in 2005 just after completing his tenth play in the series, called I think Radio Golf. I wonder if he was aware of his impending early death when he wrote this play? As Aunt Ester says, “It’s all adventure . . . you signed up for it, and didn’t even know it.”

The director of Gem of the Ocean, Timothy Bond, says it is a “secular African-American Passover Seder.” It didn’t look all that secular to me, not all that Jewish either, except for the idea of passing over the ocean, similar to passing through the Red Sea, as constituting an identity for African-Americans. Highly recommended.


2 thoughts on “Hurrah for the Ides of October

  1. Someday I hope to make it to that Shakespeare Festival. Santa Cruz has a good one, too. I don’t know that it rivals Ashland, but Captain Pickard showed up one year to star in a play or two.

  2. Everybody west of the Mississippee should go at least once a year. These days it is more shaded to the non-Shakespeare plays. For not clear reasons both of us revel in seeing the regal Othello of the evening before playing the shuckin’ and jivin’ Wilson character the following afternoon. The players are magicians without rabbits.

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