Down East 2013 ©
Naked Shakespeare has been cast out into the world, like King Lear into the wilderness. It’s almost as if the Bard had known the fate of the group of now-homeless Portland actors when he wrote in that famous play, “Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are,/That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,/How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,/Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you/From seasons such as these.”
That’s pretty classy stuff for a feature like this one, more noted for employing classic theater only for purposes of making jokes about codpieces . But I’m a sucker for any story that has the word “naked” in it, no matter how much culture might be mixed up in it.
The city of Portland (motto: We Haven’t Made Complete Fools Of Ourselves In Almost A Week, So Let’s Get To It) recently discovered that once a month on Monday nights for the past three years, the Wine Bar & Restaurant on Wharf Street in the Old Port has been hosting something called Naked Shakespeare .
Naturally, once this affront to public taste was discovered, Portland’s enforcers of morality moved swiftly to shut it down. Their goal, lifted verbatim from “Othello,” was, “To lash the rascals naked through the world.”
Except this wasn’t actually about nudity. The “Naked” part of the name meant that actors from Acorn Production’s Shakespeare Ensemble recited the playwright’s works fully clothed, but without period costumes or sets. The reason the Grand Inquisitors of Municipal Behavior proclaimed that the show must not go on is that the Wine Bar doesn’t have an entertainment license.
It may come as a surprise to high school students forced to memorize long passages from “The Merchant of Venice” that such fodder could be classified as entertainment, but the rulings of the Grand Inquisitors are not to be questioned by pimply faced whelps.
Nor could the restaurant merely apply for such a license after the fact. Portland hath … I mean, has … an ordinance that prohibits an Old Port bar within 100 feet of another such establishment licensed to provide entertainment from receiving a similar permit. The idea is to keep rowdiness to a minimum by preventing those revelers who have just witnessed a pub performance of “Much Ado About Nothing” from surging into the streets and accosting audience members departing another ale house’s production of “Pericles” for wasting their time on a clearly inferior work. Such a confrontation could strain the resources of the local constabulary to its limits.
And so it is that Naked Shakespeare may be forced to leave Portland under a tyrant’s unkind edict. Or as noted in “Richard III,” “And thus I clothe my naked villainy/With odd old ends stol’n forth of holy writ/And seem a saint when most I play the devil.”
That’s it for the high-minded portion of our weekly presentation. Let’s get back to the kind of low-brow humor a groundling can enjoy.
For instance, baseball. On August 4, the Portland Sea Dogs minor-league baseball team was getting clobbered by the Altoona Curve (a name more Dickensian than Shakespearian), when something remarkable happened. Late in the game, Portland pitchers had already given up eleven runs, while Dogs batters had been unable to score at all. According to the team’s Web site , “[Portland] 3B Iggy Suarez cracked a 3-run homer over the Maine Monster to cut the deficit to 11-2.”
I’ve heard of teams digging themselves into a hole, but I never thought it was mathematically possible. Talk about your loop’d and window’d raggedness.
Portland is not, however, merely a city of witless rules and arithmetic nincompoops. It’s also a place that takes to heart (or in that general vicinity) the plaintive cries of womankind. As Shakespeare put it in “Antony and Cleopatra,” “Dost thou not see my baby at my breast,/That sucks the nurse asleep?”
To that end, the city has dispersed about its downtown six life-size cutouts of women breastfeeding .
The idea is to raise awareness of unlicensed productions of Big Bill’s works. Or it may have something to do with a new state law that requires employers to allow nursing mothers to take time off to pump breast milk.
The cutouts are described as “conservative,” which seems to be a polite way of saying there’s about as much skin showing as in the average Naked Shakespeare production.
Speaking of whom, was it Stratford-Upon-Avon’s most celebrated son who wrote these immortal lines:
“Back of the bar, in a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan McGrew,/And watching his luck was his light-o’-love, the lady that’s known as Lou.”
Not exactly. But that reference to “solo game” is interesting, because I hadn’t realized they had iPhones back in the days of the Wild West when Robert Service was churning out his poesy. But it seems that Dangerous Dan isn’t the only one with apps in his chaps. L.L. Bean is offering a free iPhone game called “Moosentration,”  in which players seek to prove they’re smarter than a moose. Or a Sea Dogs statistician. A Bean spokeswoman said the game was supposed to help the company “interact with customers in a new and different way.”
As I recall, that didn’t work out so well for Mr. McGrew and the lovely Lou.
Well, back to the Bard, who in “Julius Caesar,” proclaimed, “Thou art the ruins of the noblest man/That ever lived in the tide of times.”
Ol’ Will was speaking of the red of spilled blood, but it just as easily could have been the red of toxic algae that’s been polluting the Maine coast for weeks, but finally seems to be drifting away  to wherever toxic algae goes when it’s off duty.
An Old Port bar, perhaps, to relax and catch a Shakespeare play. Boy, is this year’s algae crop going to be disappointed.
The end of the red tide is good news for clam diggers (and, I suppose, bad news for clams), who’ve had hardly any days this summer when they’ve been able to work. But now, the pelting of the pitiless storm has eased, and local steamers are back on the menu.
Which calls to mind this classic verse:
O, bivalve of the succulent taste,
Dipp’d in butt’ry splendor,
I praise those who brought thee hither,
Where thou shall meet thy end-or.
I don’t think that’s Shakespeare. Looks more like that Dan McGrew guy. Or Longfellow.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.