Sept. 19-21, The Grove put on a show that was free for all. Presented by Shakespeare Festival St. Louis (Shakespeare in the Park), the Grove and Forest Park Southeast neighborhood, “Old Hearts Fresh” took place right on the gravel of Manchester Road. The road was blocked off and a stage was erected with a large screen for projecting neighborhood images. A DJ and live band provided the music and spotlights lit the stage along with the full September moon.
“Old Hearts Fresh” is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Winter’s Tale,” rewritten by Nancy Bell. The original plot follows King Leonites and his childhood friend King Polixenes. Polixenes visits Leonites’ kingdom and when ready to leave, Leonites’ wife is the only one who can convince the Polixenes to stay. Driven crazy by this, Leonites begins to think that his pregnant wife, Hermione is having an affair with Polixenes and that her child is not his. The play is narrated by time and fluctuates between the years and generations.
Bell’s interpretation follows the same frame except brought to modern day. The characters keep the same names but now modern speech is blended with the words of Shakespeare to create something unique. King Leonites (Drew Battles), in his rage, kidnaps and abandons his newborn child. The baby, Perdita (Wendy Greenwood) is found by strangers and his wife Hermione (Jacqueline Thompson) and her older child are hit by a car, sending Leonites further into his madness.
Narrated by personified Time, the play dealt with many important themes relevant to those in the neighborhood. Interracial relationships were touched on, homosexuality, the historic racial divide of Manchester, the community gardens and, most prevalent, the theme of forgiveness. The play reminds us all that it is not too late to make things right, it is not too late to make an effort and it is never to late to forgive others.
The performance functioned on multiple levels, first as a narrative of the neighborhood. Citizens were interviewed, asked about their lives, experiences and feelings living in the Grove. The dialogue created the inspirations for the play adaptation as well as seasoning the play’s dialog with the actual words of the citizens.
The play also functioned as a fundraiser for the community garden in hopes of building a new shed. Though the performance was free, attendees were given the opportunity to donate to help out the neighborhood. There was a beautification effort as a mural that was unveiled, simultaneously in the play and to the neighborhood, to commemorate the night. It was painted by local artist Grace McCammond whose previous work can be seen all over the Grove.
Given the theme of forgiveness, McCammond quotes Shakespeare within the mural, “What is gone and past help, should be past grief.” A hopeful message to all. The mural can be seen at 4226 Manchester Rd. The goal of Shakespeare in the Streets is to make seeing and participating in art and culture accessible to all. The goal was the reclaiming of the city streets by the citizens to create a strong sense of community.