Bishop: If Christmas is in July . . . Then 12th Night is in August

Thursday, August 03, 2017
Brian Bishop, GoLocalProv Guest MINDSETTERâ„¢

William Shakespeare
In western civilization’s never failing devotion to dead white men, Shakespeare returns to Wilcox Park in Westerly. But lest one think this hazards placing stifling tradition above latter day pilgrim’s progress, this year’s production is one of the bard’s transgendered romps, Twelfth Night.

Indeed, Gwneyth Paltrow’s echo of the Shakespearean Viola ain’t got nothin’ on Katrina Michael’s real thing in Westerly this and next week – similarly most alluring in her boyish get up as Caesario. Of course, the play written for the revels afoot at the new year reveals that Shakespeare was as wont to send up the mores of his time as to embrace them . . . and, truth to be told, they are the same mores we debate in our own time.    

Some bemoan that we are doomed to such ‘superstitions’, as believing that men are men and women are women, and that the design of nature has placed them in abundant, if oft more argumentative than Aphroditic, juxtapose (see., e.g., the Taming of the Shrew, the early evidence for dead white misogyny). But, if we have no tradition, there is nought to be trifled with.

Some are convinced that cross-dressed characters are a hint that Shakespeare was gay -- that the bard had a beard, so to speak. Other’s think his veiled criticism of the English church bespoke a concealed Catholicism. One wonders why it is we seek the hidden, when the obvious is that he was imbued with a wit not since matched.

As Nigeria busies itself with mass arrests for gay affection, our punishments are limited to the bard toying with our manhood. And the delicious irony of, at first, unrequited love that hovers about the true love triangle of Twelfth Night is conveyed in this production with such vivid expressions and mannerisms, believable and sincere as they are slapstick and exaggerated, that the story was clear to German speaking friends with modest capacity for English who joined our annual repose in Wilcox Park.

And in this locale you are treated not only to the dead white Shakespeare but the work of dead white Olmstead as well who created what is surely Westerly’s central park as he did New York’s. And the entire affair was endowed by the dead white Wilcox whose boiler innovations with the dead white Babcock paved the way for industrial steam production and electric generation. Wilcox Park is a legacy of their partnership. As reported Wednesday by the Hummel Report, it is the 125th anniversary of this gem, privately endowed for the benefit of the public culture

12th Night cast
This Yankee culture could readily have been displaced by the olive skinned Italians flocking to Rhode Island’s granite city, but it has become revered rather than reviled. And Olmstead himself, whose family tree goes back to the earliest English settlement of Hartford in the 1600s is less well known for having made the economic argument for the futility of slavery. Of course it is hardly the politically correct thing to have said of slavery that its problems were that it made white economic culture lazy and inefficient. As it turns out though, Olmstead’s frank critiques of the slave economy had a poignancy and influence for some that “was more powerful and convincing than ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.’”

But few can turn a midsummer night to dream like the bard and these latter day King’s Men who occupy Wilcox Park for three weeks each summer. A happy confab of local talent and temporarily imported stock such as Michaels who plays the hero . . . eer heroine of the comedy, they reveal that Westerly talent stock is not limited to guitar players (which the city produces at a per capita rate that likely exceeds any other jurisdiction).

This year’s run of Shakespeare’s revels inspired romp began on July 25, Christmas in July perhaps, and runs Tuesday through Sunday at 8 PM ‘til Aug. 13th. You bring a blanket and lawn chairs (short ones and get there early if you want to sit up front to best see the fabulous expressions that telegraph both the wit and sensitivity of Shakespeare and this cast of interpreters) and a bit of wine and cheese to tide you through a late supper.

Regardless of what you think of dead white men, or live ones, this is an experience not to be missed. The company has done itself proud once more and never ceases in its talent to make Shakespeare accessible, not simply because the performances are free -- with the only penance being to listen to an earnest appeal to pay what you can (the tip jar is back) -- but because the approach is neither pedestrian nor  patronizing. It reminds in its earnest regard for its everyman audience that, in Elizabeth’s time, the commoners saw at public theater what the queen saw at court. It is dramatic license to have placed Dame Judi Dench’s Elizabeth of the modern telling of Shakespeare in Love at a public theater, but the point is well made that she shared Shakespeare with her subjects as we might share Red Sox highlights, without regard for class.

An equally proud and insular culture built in Westerly remains both beguiling and inviting if largely a mystery to the rump of the state that considers the town too far to bother to with.  So this city in waiting has produced its own independent social and cultural milieu. A company of players is but scratching the surface where one will find a civic chorale with revels to rival Shakespeare, and a brass band that will open the open air performance of Twelfth Night on about its twelfth night, next Wednesday, August 9th.

John Speziale
That night, you can join a compendium of actors, journalists and roustabouts who will lead past the walls after the show, pied pipers as it were, to illuminate that the magic in Westerly goes beyond the park for a ‘Twelfth NightCap” at Perks and Corks with yet another band helmed by Pawcatuck’s John Speziale.

Speziale is a testament to Westerly’s central place in presenting contemporary music that stems from American traditional forms – ergo, “Americana”. And he is surrounded by friends who offer further evidence of the magical mystery tour that is also Westerly (as if favorite son Duke Robillard’s appearance at the town beach in Misquamicut earlier that evening were not enough).

Westerly is in genuine competition for the role of the cultural heart of the state 12 months out of the year, but it is impossible to avoid how it shines in the summer. In all likelihood, sometime resident Taylor Swift will send her regrets, but you shouldn’t miss the Shakespeare or the city. We, like the legislature, are glad to allow politics to be out of session and fun in season for Rhode Island’s all too brief summer.

Brian Bishop is on the board of OSTPA and has spent 20 years of activism protecting property rights, fighting over regulation and perverse incentives in tax policy. 



  • Winner

    Criminal Justice Reform

    Per recommendations from the Justice Reinvestment Working Group, the Governor is proposing nearly $1 million in investments such as the public defender mental health program ($185,000), improved mental health services at the ACI ($410,000), recovery housing ($200,000) and domestic violence intervention, in her FY18 budget. 

  • Winner

    English Language Learners

    Under the heading of “promoting 3rd grade reading,” Raimondo proposed adding $2.5 million to make English Language Learning (ELL) K-12 funding permanent.  The Governor’s office points out that RI is one of four states that doesn’t have permanent funding.

    The suggestion was one made by the Funding Formula Working Group in January 2016, who said that “in the event that Rhode Island chooses to make an additional investment in ELLs, the funding should be calculated to be responsive to the number of ELLs in the system and based on reliable data, and include reasonable restrictions to ensure that the money is used to benefit ELLs — and promote the appropriate exiting of ELL students from services.”

  • Winner

    Car Owners - and Drivers

    Governor Raimondo wants to reduce assessed motor vehicle values by 30% - a change that would reduce total car tax bills by about $58 million in calendar year 2018. Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, however, has indicated that he might want to go further in its repeal.  

    In her budget proposal, Raimondo also put forth adding 8 staffers to the the Department of Motor Vehicles to "address wait times."

  • Winner

    T.F. Green

    The “Air Services Development Fund” would get an influx of $500,000 to “provide incentives to airlines interested in launching new routes or increasing service to T.F. Green Airport.” The Commerce Corporation set the criteria at the end of 2016 for how to grant money through the new (at the time $1.5 million fund).

    Also getting a shot in the arm is the I-195 development fund, which would receive $10.1 million from debt-service savings to “resupply” the Fund to “catalyze development & attract anchor employers.”

  • Tie

    Minimum Wage Increase

    An increase in the state minimum wage is part of Raimondo’s proposal, which would see it go from $9.60 an hour to $10.50 an hour.  Raimondo was unsuccessful in her effort in 2016 to bring it up to $10.10 — it was June 2015 that she signed legislation into law that last raised Rhode Island’s minimum wage, from $9 to 9.60.  

    The state's minimum hourly wage has gone up from $6.75 in January 2004 to $7.75 in 2013, $8 in 2014, and $9 on Jan. 1, 2015.  Business groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business however have historically been against such measures, citing a hamper on job creation.  

  • Tie

    Cigarette Tax

    Like the minimum wage, Raimondo is looking for an increase - in this instance, the cigarette tax, and revenue to state coffers.  Raimondo was unsuccessful in her effort to go from a tax of $3.75 to $4 last year. Now she is looking for an increase to $4.25 per pack, which the administration says would equate to $8.7 million in general revenue — and go in part towards outdoor recreation and smoking cessation programs.  

    The National Federation of Independent Business and other trade groups have historically been against such an increase, saying it will hurt small businesses - i.e. convenience stores. And clearly, if you’re a smoker, you’re likely to place this squarely in the loser category instead. 

  • Loser


    As often happens in the state budget, winner one year, loser the next. As GoLocal reported in 2016, “the Rhode Island Hospital Association immediately lauded the budget following its introduction, and addressed that while it is facing some reductions, that it "applauds" this years budget after landing on the "loser" list last year.”

    This year, it falls back on the loser list, with a Medicaid rate freeze to hospitals, nursing homes, providers, and payers — at FY 2017 levels, with a 1% rate cut come January 1, 2018. 

  • Loser

    Online Shoppers

    The taxman cometh — maybe.  Raimondo proposed an “Internet Sales Tax Initiative” — which would purportedly equate to $34.7 million in revenues.

    "Online sales and the fact that online sellers do not collect sales tax has created a structural problem for Rhode Island's budget — our sales taxes have been flat," said Director of Administration Michael DiBiase, of the tax that Amazon collects in 33 states, but not Rhode Island. "We think mostly due to online sales, we’re able to capture the growth. The revenue number is $35 million dollars — it improves our structural deficit problem. It’s an important fiscal development."



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