It was a good Shakespearean date -- The Ides of March -- to be saluting the Bard's favorite theater. And that's exactly what they were doing at the British Embassy last night. For prithee the rebuilding of "The Wooden O," as Will himself called the Globe, was in the thoughts of one and all.
"The Ides of March? That doesn't worry me," said Chicago-born actor Sam Wanamaker, who went to England in the 1950s to play with the Royal Shakespeare Company and 30 years later has become the moving force in efforts to reconstruct the theater on its original London site.
The most important thing, he was saying, is that the American organization, Shakespeare Globe Center North America, won't just be raising money to help rebuild the Globe, but that American actors, teachers, students and the general public also will benefit from its use.
The dinner, hosted by Ambassador Oliver Wright and Lady Wright for 120 Anglophiles, Shakespeare buffs, media types and some just plain moneybags, was to launch a multi-city fund-raising tour of a miniproduction Wanamaker calls "The Wooden O." Even Armand Hammer, who heads the international committee, flew in to lend the evening a certain cachet.
Hammer became involved because "Sam is very persuasive, he twisted my arm." Wanamaker smiled but didn't let it pass.
"Not too hard. Dr. Hammer, being an international figure, recognizes that you need certain universal connections and understandings with people. He also recognizes that Shakespeare is the element that brings people together culturally," Wanamaker explained.
Hammer, whose cultural benefactions are legendary, teased that Wanamaker started him off on this project by getting him to host a reception for Prince Philip last year in Los Angeles.
"We raised $1.25 million just with five people," Hammer grinned, knowing he had achieved more than 20 percent of the project's $5 million goal. "I started it off with a quarter of a million and we got four others immediately."
That wasn't at all the case last night--at least not overtly.
Over crab pa te' prospero, capon Elizabeth I and midsummer ice, inspired by the Bard's own lines, guests with checkbooks handy might have found themselves a bit ignored as attention focused on the small troupe of actors.
Wanamaker got this together, too--a kind of rag bag of information about the Elizabethan theater, how the original playhouse was built, some songs, some jokes, all delivered by some of Britain's finest actors, including Michael York, Jean Marsh and Nicol Williamson. They played to an audience that included the Folger's John Neville-Andrews, Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin, and arts patrons Maurice and Joan Tobin, Oatsie Charles and Texaco chairman John K. McKinley.
It was York who spoke the lines in which Shakespeare first referred to the Globe as "this wooden O":
"The vastie fields of France? Or may we cramme
"Within this wooden O, the very caskes
"That did affright the ayre at Agincourt?"
And in the end, as York had put it earlier, "You can do Shakespeare on a bare stage as long as your imaginary forces are working."
A couple of unexpected, but hardly imaginary, thespians were Ambassador Wright and his wife, Marjory, who played Elizabeth I with such flair that she won a bust of the old Bard.
"A special award for great actors who are in government," said Wanamaker.
"Am I in government, too?" asked her ladyship.