Sunday, September 27, 2009

I had as lief the towncrier spoke my lines

(Hamlet, Act III, scene 2)

Nancy, Jeff and Sherry are playing some card game called "Five Crowns" while I write this recapitulation of our Sunday excursion.

It began with a drive to Imperial Beach, the town near the Mexican border where Jeff and Nancy lived for a few months when they were first married and Jeff was a newly commissioned Naval officer. We located the building they had lived in, and then got lost looking for the Tijuana River Estuary Wildlife Refuge that Sherry and I had stumbled on last Thursday. Was it Thursday? It's so hard to keep the days straight on vacation.

Anyway, after a few false starts we found it, and went for a stroll, but since by then it was noon, there wasn't a lot of wildlife about. A few thousand tiny crabs darting from hole to hole on a stream bank; some hummingbirds and egrets and such. Nothing remarkable, but all in all a pleasant way to kill an hour or so until it was time to head up the road to Coronado, where we had tickets waiting for us for the 13th Annual Free Coronado Shakespeare's production of Hamlet.

It being community theater, I wasn't expecting much, and I wasn't entirely disappointed. The scenery was sparse, the staging was straightforward, and the dialogue was "modernized" by leaving out most of the "thee's" and "thine's". Some of the more arcane words were rendered into modern English, and most of those changes were barely noticable; but I did take some umbrage at the change from the elegant (and fully comprehensible) line, "I am myself indifferent honest," to "I'm fairly honest myself."  A couple of the performances were creditable, notably Martin White as Claudius and Eva Kvaas as Gertrude. I found it hard to believe that even a small town like Coronado, lying as it does just a couple of miles from the nation's 9th largest city, couldn't find a few more reasonably competent actors, but they did manage to find a guy who could remember almost all of Hamlet's lines. A balding, 40-something ham named Terence J. Burke, who shot the words out as though, if he slowed down to think about them, he would forget which one followed which. I thought it somewhat ironic that he got to deliver the Bard's famous lines on how an actor should deliver his lines:

Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to
you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it,
as many of your players do, I had as lief the
town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air
too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently;
for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say,
the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget
a temperance that may give it smoothness. O, it
offends me to the soul to hear a robustious
periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to
very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who
for the most part are capable of nothing but
inexplicable dumbshows and noise: I would have such
a fellow whipped for o'erdoing Termagant; it
out-herods Herod: pray you, avoid it.

And this guy was physically so unsuited to the role that I was surprised to find, when I consulted the program after the show, that he was not, in fact, the producer, and his name does not appear in the lists of Playhouse Foundations members and donors. He looked like Ted Danson, not as Sam Malone in Cheers, but as John Becker in Becker.

Still, it takes more than wooden acting and overwrought emoting to ruin one of Shakespeare's biggest hits, and we all had a great time. And, as Sherry said, the price was right.

We drove a few blocks to visit, first, the Glorietta Bay Inn, where Nancy had once stayed, and then the Hotel del Coronado, a famous local landmark. The Glorietta Bay Inn was originally built as the home of the Spreckles family, one of the area's richest. Built in 1904, the house is not overlarge but is very elegantly appointed, with wood carvings and chandeliers that were the height of fashion for the time, and that have stood the all-important test of time.

One of Mr Spreckles's investments was in the Hotel del Coronado, built 15 years before his home. He financed the original developers, but when they went bust he ended up with controlling interest; although he kept one of them on as project manager. I guess he must've thought the other one was the problem.

I'm sure everyone has seen pictures of the Hotel Del, as they call it around here. Its 12-sided lobby building with the pointed red roof is practically the paradigmatic landmark for San Diego. The place has had its ups and downs, but right now it's on the up, and has been restored to a state of great elegance and seems to be a profitable business. It has a well-tended beach, extensive grounds and gardens, and all the toniest shops. It's not as old as the Menger, but is much larger, more fortuitous in its location, and more flamboyant in its grandeur. It's a Destination.

We drove back to San Diego, crossing the big bridge at sunset, and were home in time for margaritas and a dinner of arroz con pollo and zucchini. Which turned out very well, if I do say so myself.