The Bard Plays Hollywood at the Talbot County Free Library
by Bill Peak
I was sixteen when Franco Zeffirelli's film version of Romeo and
Juliet came out, the perfect age for that perfect story of young
love. Watching it, I developed a hopeless crush on Olivia Hussey, who
played Juliet, and fell head over heels in love with the language of
William Shakespeare. Last night, Melissa and I watched the film again
on DVD, as we do every year or so, and, as always, I noticed lines I
had missed before, little jewels of perception that—four hundred years
after they were first written down—still have the power to stop me
cold, make me think about something in an entirely new way.
Actually, I have a long, and occasionally troubled, relationship with
Shakespeare on screen. I'll never forget the first time I saw Ian
McKellen's film version of Richard III. At the time I was running a
small human service agency in Northern Virginia that was funded by the
United Methodist Church. As it happened, the only theater in my area
that was showing the film sat just down the hill from the church where
my office was located. Each day I would pass it on my way to and from
work and, each day, I would promise myself that, come the weekend,
Melissa and I would stop by and catch a matinee.
Well, when Saturday arrived, for reasons now long since forgotten,
Melissa opted out of the expedition and I was left to soldier on
alone. It was only when I pulled into the parking lot that I realized
the predicament this placed me in. The “art theater” I was about to
enter had two screens. To make ends meet, on the screen that wasn't
showing some work by the avant-garde, management had decided to show
films by the shady and licentious, films of a decidedly disreputable
Did I mention that the theater sat at the base of the hill my church
office sat atop?
Did I mention that this was a matinee?
What if I were seen walking—in broad daylight!—into a theater whose
marquee so brazenly advertised such fare?
Still, I had been told (rightly as it turned out) that McKellen's
performance as Richard was the greatest of his career, that in two
short hours he managed to go from Uriah Heep unctuous to Adolf Hitler
tyrannical without ever missing a stop in between … I just had to see
The theater was situated in a strip mall, which, as bad luck would
have it, possessed a huge parking lot. It seemed to take an eternity
for me to make my way across that lot, always advancing on the theater
with its titillating marquee, always telling myself that no one who
saw me could possibly think that a person who looked as I did would
enter such a place for any reason other than to watch Shakespeare.
When I finally achieved the relative security provided by the shade
beneath the marquee, I told myself one last time that no one could
mistake me for someone with unsavory intentions, smiled at the nice,
fresh-looking girl sitting in the glass-fronted ticket booth, leaned
toward the little perforated circle of tin set in her window, and,
speaking as confidently as I could, said, “One adult for Richard
III.” And watched her index finger move deliberately from the ticket
button she had been prepared to push to the other.
All of which is my longwinded way of announcing that, as part of the
library's month-long celebration of the inhabitants of fairyland,
Suzanne Sanders, creator of the Chesapeake Forum's Friending
Shakespeare series, will present, on succeeding Saturdays, film
versions of two of the Bard's plays that feature fairies: on April 23,
at 1 p.m., the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of The
Tempest, starring Simon Russell Beale as Prospero, and, on April 30,
also at 1, A Midsummer Night's Dream, starring Michelle Pfeiffer as
Titania, Stanley Tucci as Puck, and Kevin Kline as Bottom. Both films
will be shown on the Easton branch's big, professional screen.
Oh, and the nice thing about watching these flicks at this particular
art theater is … no one is going to think ill of you for walking into
the Talbot County Free Library.