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This letter is going to the printer a bit earlier than usual. We are driving down to visit Barbara’s sister at her farm in North Carolina leaving early Tuesday morning, and I didn’t want to come up empty with WIFI connections near Lexington Virginia home of Washington and Lee University and gravesite of Robert E, or Bristol, VA, where the Carter family first sang into a can (N.B. all you Oh Brother Where Art Thou? fans), or near Asheville, North Carolina (the Paris of the South) or dropping down Route 26 before crossing the county line to Landrum SC and then hopping back up across the state line to our final destination just outside of Columbus (will it be renamed?) in Polk County, North Carolina-named for James K Polk 11th President of the United States and the person who annexed the republic of Texas, and subsequently added California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and parts of Colorado and New Mexico to the aggregate US – quite a haul even in those days of land grabbin’. Forgive me for burdening you with all this history I’ve been diving into Jill Lepore a lot this week.

Coco’s is quite the place in its own perfect and charming cold comfort farm way. Like her sister Barbara, Coco can turn any house and property into a beautiful, warm and, as the English say, “homely” place to live. Coco has performed her magic on the coast of Massachusetts, the mountains of Colorado, and now on a piece of property just shy of twenty acre that on any given day is populated by a dozen or so horses, six or seven dogs, numerous birds and a goat. Among others. We heard recently that Goatie the Goat has passed on, preceded in death by Barbie Q the Pig, but Bobby Cow is still going strong. As I said it’s quite the place. If you’re in the neighborhood these next few days, drop by for a glass of sweet tea. Coco loves company. She’d normally ask you in to spend the night in the cowboy room, but our ancient, and no longer housebroken, cat Mario-James is accompanying us on this trip and that’s his.

Something else that could qualify for the “quite the” event of the week is the New York Shakespeare Festival’s (why did they ever change that glorious name? The Public Theatre is nice, but it just doesn’t ring) radio version of Richard II to be presented this week in 4 installments on wonderful WNYC. I don’t know Richard very well. I saw David Tennant do it at BAM, and I saw the child genius Ben Wishaw do it on PBS in 2012 as part of the Hollow Crown series. Wow, what a performance that was! It’s from 2012 and showed us a Richard who projected an otherworldly presence and an air of tranquility, who was secure in his status but blind to his own faults and follies which prevented him from seeing what lurked in the weeds surrounding him. He was out of step with his times without being boorish, and the handing over of his crown to Henry Bolingbroke was filled with heart breaking vulnerability.

In one of my favorite Vonnegut short stories a young man’s nondescript life only comes alive when he is cast in the leading role of each new production of the local community theatre. “Who am I this time,” he asks, and for the next seven weeks of his life that is who he is, before shapeshifting into his next part.

Perhaps great plays ask the same question before a new performance comes to life based on the blueprint they bring to the table. “Who am I this time?” Perhaps in 2012 it was Barack Obama moving into his second term with that air of Richard’s tranquility, out of step with the political times of Mitch McConnell and gang, and who broke your heart as, filled with dignity and vulnerability, he would hand over the reins of power four years later.

There is always a reason to do a great play and to do it right now. In the right hands it will speak to the present moment with a clarity and specificity that could not have been imagined a few short weeks ago. What will Richard now offer us in answer to our own question of today , “Who are you this time?”


Jim Niesen


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