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Letters Column

Week of September 14, 2005

Down on Brown
He hates clowns! Dennis Brown is definitely in the running for curmudgeon of the year with his "Will on Art Hill" [August 31]. I have seen every Shakespeare Festival production and have been quite impressed with each one. Acting has been superb, and the staging has been excellent, with a clever approach to each play. For example, this year's production of The Tempest used pantomime to enliven and clarify Prospero's long explanation of his brother's usurpation of his throne, which usually drags a bit. Miranda's reaction to being put to sleep was appropriate, charming and different from other productions. Perhaps the festival didn't put the word "quality" in their mission statement because they took for granted that quality would be the intent of anyone seriously producing Shakespeare.

My Shakespeare students at Francis Howell North have been equally impressed. Friends who have acted in other Shakespeare productions have given the festival glowing reviews. The youngest members of our family have also enjoyed the plays, not proof of "dumbing down," but rather of clarity. Shakespeare's plays were written for a wide audience, but with changes in the English language, modern audiences may need a little assistance, like the preview show's summary of the play. Mr. Brown objects to the clowns, whose role is to provide lighter amusement and who do it well. The pre-play entertainment effectively fills the time required for the audience to find a comfortable spot, and it sets the mood for a fun evening.

I don't necessarily object to a proposal to have the play travel to other parks, though I doubt that the full set would be portable enough to allow that. Perhaps a better idea would be for other companies to stage productions at other locations.
Mary Garrett
St. Peters

He's a snob! Although I am a founding board member of the festival and former chair of its artistic committee, I hope that does not disqualify me from taking issue with Dennis Brown's recent article on the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival. While I do have respect for Brown's acumen as a critic, I wonder at his seemingly gratuitous criticism of the SFSL over the years. Although he observes that "the quality of [the Festival] has improved over the past five years" and describes its recent production of The Tempest as "on a par with anything you might see elsewhere," he implies that there is something seriously wrong with the festival's mission. I think his comments deserve to be scrutinized.

His criticism makes a number of points, but the most serious have to do with what he construes as a "dumbing down" of the plays. He suggests that the omission of the word "quality" in the SFSL mission statement indicates a lack of concern for high aesthetic standards and strongly implies that the shows are deliberately slanted toward physical comedy for their free audience in Forest Park, arguing that "there seems to be an implicit attitude that audiences are not to be taxed."

Nearly everyone knows that the wonderful thing about Shakespeare is that the plays are so universal that they can work at many different levels simultaneously, and that they can be enjoyed by an enormously wide public, regardless of education or intellectual experience. Behind Mr. Brown's arguments and obvious intelligence, I am afraid I hear another voice: that of the snob who is appalled by the plays' very accessibility. Behind the argument over the excess of physical comedy or absence of the word "quality," is there not the unstated complaint that the plays are just too much fun? Why else would he argue about the advisability of the public's going to the effort of obtaining tickets to a free performance? When Dennis Brown tells us that "[a] ticket, even to a free play, separates the serious theater-goer from the dilettante who's simply there because it's the thing to do," I think we know exactly who he means by "serious theatergoer" and who "dilettante." And that is precisely the problem.
Henry I. Schvey
St. Louis

RAC: Not Wack
Open-door policy: On behalf of the entire staff and board of the Regional Arts Commission, we apologize for the unfriendly treatment Ms. Yancy and her husband experienced visiting the RAC Gallery at our Cultural Resource Center [Letters, August 31]. We were very surprised and disappointed to read Yancy's letter, but considering the response she received, it is perfectly understandable.

Because our facility is a rental venue for as many as six different events at any one time, we are not sure who it was who spoke to Ms. Yancy and her husband when they attempted to visit the gallery. Whoever it was -- be it an outside event coordinator or regular tenant, not a member of the RAC staff -- misspoke about our gallery hours and did not reflect the philosophy of the commission.

We maintain regular gallery hours, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. RAC advocates that the arts are for everyone, and that accessibility to the arts should be as easy and obvious as possible. We deeply regret that Ms. Yancy and her husband experienced something that we at the Regional Arts Commission try so hard to combat every day. I sincerely hope that Ms. Yancy and her husband give us another chance and will come by to check out Textiles as Emotional Landscape, which runs through October 2.
Jill McGuire, executive director
Regional Arts Commission
St. Louis

Taste Sensation
The Association of Food Journalists announced the winners of its 2005 food writing awards this past weekend at its annual meeting in San Francisco. Competing against newspapers with circulations under 150,000, Riverfront Times restaurant writer Rose Martelli took home the first-place award for Restaurant Criticism.

Read Martelli's winning columns here:
"It Must Be Love"
"Summit Kind of Wonderful"
"Louie, Louie"

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