Notes on the Culture

1219159232Every Tuesday, Matthew Reed Baker will offer his thoughts on the arts and culture scene. This week: Summer means the end of Free Shakespeare on the Common; Plus: Denise Mickilowski’s show at the Arden has us thinking about berries.

Surely it’s a sign that summer is fading fast when the last strains of Shakespeare are heard on Boston Common. Alas, last weekend the Citi Performing Arts Center‘s Free Shakespeare took its bow, and now we face a long, slow crawl indoors for new seasons at the Huntington, A.R.T., etc. etc. Not to dismiss those august institutions, but it’s just special to see Rosalind cavort in the Forest of Arden under actual trees. It’s like the theatrical equivalent of raspberry season: so fleeting, but yielding uncannily delicious fruit.

As reported in this magazine and elsewhere, Free Shakespeare on the Common has had its ups and downs over the past few years, with budget constraints, shortened seasons, and even the absurd notion floated by the city parks commissioner and other grass masters that our central showground should not be used for large events. Apparently, the Common can’t handle too many common people.

Thankfully, the Stratford tradition was poised to bounce back with a vengeance this summer with 18 showings of As You Like It in Boston, and in an unprecedented move, three more scheduled for Forest Park in Springfield. See, western Mass., Boston remembered that you exist this time.

Still, Free Shakespeare faced another obstacle to a flawless summer run, albeit one less predictable: rain. According to Gali Halpern, general manager of Commonwealth Shakespeare Company (whose artistic director, Steve Maler, is Shakespeare on the Common’s one-and-only director), four of those 18 Boston shows were cancelled and two more cut short because of rain, along with another show in Springfield. “We always try to put in as many performances as we can,” Halpern says, “and with the weather this year, we needed them.”

The good news is that plenty of Bostonians (and presumably several gaggles of tourists) were still able to see the Bard as nature intended. The folks at the Citi Performing Arts Center estimate that upwards of 60,000 people total saw the Boston perfomances, with about 2,000 at Saturday night’s Springfield show.

The Springfield experiment is particularly heartening. Joking aside, it’s a good thing for us provincial Bostonians to remember that the Bay State extends past Route 128. And besides, the City of Homes really needed an immediate pick-me-up: That same week, Springfield was named one of America’s fastest-dying cities by Forbes, joining the ranks of more infamous contenders like Cleveland, Buffalo, and Detroit.

The local ABC affiliate even did a somewhat desperate report showing that the city couldn’t possibly be dying if Shakespeare was coming to town. So while Boston Common preservationists complain that the park is being “loved to death,” they should remember that Springfield is just happy to be loved at all.

A lame metaphor rationalized: It’s hard to get away with such terrible writing as that raspberry/theater comparison at the top of this column, so I won’t pretend that I did. But I can’t help it—I have fruit on my mind, namely fruit painted by Denise Mickilowski.

Last week, after perusing the photography by Calcutta children at the Chase Gallery, I wandered across the hall at 129 Newbury to the Arden Gallery, drawn to its produce section of luscious canvases. Mickilowski got her MFA at BU and is a member of the Fort Point Arts Community. Her stock in trade is almost fetishistic still lifes of fruits and vegetables set in trompe l’oeil wooden crates. (Yes, the raspberries were there, and I admired the elegance of her solitary pineapple.)

I’m not sure her paintings would be as memorable if viewed separately, but they make quite a cornucopia when taken in all at once. Her show, “Something Old – Something New,” runs at Arden through August 30, accompanied by the eerily wry familyscapes of Mexican artist Pedro Bonnin.

Image of Denise Mickilowski’s work, Clementines with Cranberries from her website