Free summer Shakespeare brings all sorts of people together, including me and the oaf who sat in front of me Friday. I was delighted not to meet him. It was enough just to watch him in action.
He was, at the least, entertaining in a mildly horrifying kind of way, good counterpart to the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s “Hamlet,” which was mildly horrifying in an entertaining way. The production was also funny where appropriate and staged in a watchable and accessible way, with some judicious updates. (It ends its run this weekend on Boston Common.)
But more about the oaf, whose conduct wasn’t so terrible but whose general behavior was increasingly objectionable. It was adding action to action that made him, heavy and bearded, gentle and simple, good competition for the play. As the tension mounted on stage, so did my incredulity offstage, and at times I wasn’t sure where to look and what to watch.
Just seconds after the play began he minced churlishly — or clumped delicately? — toward his friends, who were sitting just in front of us. Then came the settling-in process, in which he negotiated his bulk into a purple cloth seat. Not a traditional seat with legs, but the kind that forms an L of backpack material with a back clamped to its own base, which goes flat on the ground. Squeezing into one is like putting up wallpaper while facing away from the wall, and takes some faith and grace. This guy’s faith was on the awkward side, and he was roughly the size of a small bear, but he made it in.
Almost immediately his cell phone rang. It tootled away in his right pants pocket while he discovered that, straitjacketed by the seat, his right pants pocket was no longer accessible. He fumbled at it until the tinny song stopped leaking past his keys and, possibly, his slide rule.
When that crisis passed, he broke out a bookseller’s plastic bag, turned it over and poured out a Sparknotes “No Fear” edition of “Hamlet,” which translates Shakespearean English into clunky American (“The question is: is it better to be alive or dead? Is it nobler to put up with all the nasty things that luck throws your way, or to fight against all those troubles by simply putting an end to them once and for all?”). He was going to read along with the play, this earnest goof with a Van Dyke beard, comparing language, a work-intensive and distracting scheme that ended by intermission.
He stood then at the sausage stand, noshing away, and when the play started again, he was missing. His companions looked around for him occasionally. They waved desperately a couple of times, apparently because he was walking the paved path, scanning the audience, unable to find his way back to his seat. Eventually he wandered in with an Italian ice — possibly bought for sustenance during his sojourn. After intermission his “No Fear” edition disappeared. Eventually he was seen looking at the couple on his left, who had suspiciously broken out a copy of the same book.
When the play was over, he and his friends discussed the play.
“I wish I had read the whole play beforehand,” the bearded oaf said.
Right, I thought.
“I thought ‘To be or not to be’ was from ‘Romeo and Juliet,’” he said a moment later.
Enough, I thought, and exited, chased by thoughts of a bear.