Even though our Shakespeare sets are usually minimal (just as Shakespeare's were), we spend some time thinking about them and getting them the way we like them. Our lights are rarely simple and we spend a lot of time on them too (usually 24 hours in the dark, tweaking away). As the second, and much smaller show of our festival, Venus and Adonis had to take a back seat to its bigger sister, As You Like It this summer. I must say no harm has been done. It plays beautifully in the Bon Vivant, and the dream-like segue from coffeehouse to mythological landscape, managed with the pull of a drape and the spin of a turntable, makes it almost seem like the set was designed for the poem. But on Tuesday night, when we took Venus and Adonis outdoors to the grounds, groves and flowerbeds of ForestEdge, the show got a setting that was truly divine. I do not think I exaggerate when I say it was magic in the garden.
ForestEdge gardens is the ongoing lifework of Laura and Tim Spears. Friends say it started 17 years ago when the couple decided to plant a few flowers outside their modest little house in Black Forest. The garden expanded annually, flowers and plants and bushes moving outwards like ripples on a pond. Now the gardens extend down hills, across fields, around bends, past where the eye can see. They are not the gardens of a stately home; they are personal, extensive, splendid yet not rich or grand. We asked Tim and Laura if we could do one performance of Venus and Adonis there. They said yes, we could. We all thought it was a good idea at the time. We had no idea how good.
We limited the audience to 40 people, who would follow the performance after a picnic supper. So at 7:00p m we invited our audience down the stairs, through the arbor, and into a little grassy clearing in the Elysian fields. Our Narrator was there, with the poem, which she began to read. Adonis was lying on a bench. Venus, Goddess of Love, came out from behind a juniper to woo him and the show was on. Later a young filly pranced down the hill, and Adonis's stallion joined her for a mating run which left Adonis horseless and angry. We followed the horses up the hill, and coming over the rise we saw the sunset--Colorado's finest, red and burning over the line of black mountains. Venus resumed her love play with her pouting youth in a grove of pine trees. A boar came grunting out of the bushes, then a bunny hopped on---and off, losing his ears rounding a hedge.
On a perfect night--calm and free--you can't beat Shakespeare in the open air. The poetry flowed out of the actors like scent from roses (the poem itself is all about scents, too). Images ballooned up into the air. Nature was meeting art; art nature. Our staging is a kind of show-and-tell version of the poem, and now nature was showing too. When Venus spoke of her body as a kind of park, she was sitting on the grass in a park like setting, and we could see how wonderful that was. Our producing director told me later she noticed by the second act couples were standing and sitting closer together, arms around each other in the garden. Venus was having her way. When the dogs of the boar hunt began to bay, dogs from the ranch next door joined them. When Adonis said it was getting late, "the sheep are gone to fold, birds to their nest/ And coal black clouds that shadow heaven's light/ Do summon us to part and say good night," we looked and saw that it was so. Night had fallen, black clouds had gathered in the west.
We followed Venus following Adonis in the dark, and found him bloody and dead, lying on a figured black rug under the large roof of the home's patio. When Venus despaired, we felt for her. When she cursed love and lovers, we gasped. When Adonis "melted like a vapor from her sight," Adonis seemed to lift off the ground and float into the night. And then he was transformed--the word from Ovid is "metamorphosed" into a flower--an anemone held in Venus' breast. It all made perfect sense-- Adonis become a magical flower among other magical flowers. Then Venus stepped back into the dark, the drums beat softly into silence, and we were done.
Afterward, Drew Martorella, our exuberant executive director, said we all felt like Elizabethans. We did--whatever that means (flower & poetry people perhaps). Tim Spears told me he had forgotten he was in his garden. I don't think he was alone. When a great poem meets a beautiful garden on a perfect night, and all of art and nature sit in perfect harmony together---well, that is transporting. That's a real metamorphosis. One of a kind.