Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sound and Fury, Signifying Everything

New York City is a place filled with infinite possibilities of things to do, especially in summer time. So many choices that it is an activity itself to filter out what are the worthy and interesting activities to do. Ironically, sometimes it is the unexpected and unplanned events that turn out to be the most memorable.

On this late August evening I was invited to an event I knew nothing about, except it is a play about Macbeth and is being acted out in Mineral Springs in Central Park. Without inquiring further, I gave an affirmative reply. Those two details was enough reason for me to want to attend. I worked in Central Park as a summer youth intern and love the park dearly, and am always happy to have a reason to return to visit. Shakespeare’s plays have interested me since high school where one very passionate English teacher, Mr Illman at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of the Arts taught the students the Shakespearean plays so thoroughly well that a lot of the scenes and soliloquy still stick firmly on my mind today.

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Twelve years later … just a few blocks away from Lincoln Center where I first learned Shakespeare’s plays I have the unique occasion to come see Macbeth performed by a young theater group, Extants Arts Company. Founded in 2007, the cast and crew are young, in their mid 20s, talented, and passionate. The director says, “Here in the park, against the backdrop of trees and sky, we can appreciate the most elemental story of Macbeth – the story of the society man has built upon the foundation of natural allegiances of kinship and marriage. We can see what these relationships can inspire us to become or what they can drive us to do”.

The weather has been scorching hot and humid this month of August. Recently a thunderstorm had struck more than 100 trees in Central Park, the most severe destruction that the park had experienced in the last 30 years. When I got to Mineral Springs, I noticed a huge fallen tree, kept off by yellow caution tape. The theater group has been rehearsing in Mineral Springs for some time - but their set has just been changed. Nonetheless the group adjusts and adapts; nothing deters their enthusiasm and the show goes on.

At 6PM the show starts and the audience has settled themselves on the picnic blankets on the grass. It was the first time I ever experienced sitting outdoors for a theatre performance. Unlike the traditional setting, where there’s a stage for the performers, and seats for the audience – here the audience is part of the set. The actors were performing in every direction, and we physically had to move our heads, move our bodies to react to the different scenes. It’s dynamic and engaging!

During the intermission, the audience was advised should it start raining, they could leave and come back the following day to see Act II. As raindrops steadily fall on my open umbrella, the actors continue their lines … oblivious to the rain. None of the audience left. The rain only made the scene more interesting. When MacBeth encounters the three witches, lightening sounds the sky, almost on cue.

Daylight fades from the park, the last act has ended, and the whole cast of eleven members stood in a row, bowing to the audience. The sound of applause fills the quiet park air and I glanced at each of the actors in admiration. They all put on a great show. The evening’s unexpected performance really liven me up. It left such a lasting impression on me that if I was to meet Shakespeare then and there, I would say to him: Life may be a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and heard no more, a tale full of sound and fury - but for sure, it signifies a lot.