’Food of Love’ puts chocolate, poetry on center stage

When Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, there is nothing like a good dose of Shakespeare and chocolate to tug on the heartstrings. Luckily neither of those things was in short supply at “Food of Love,” an event at the Williams Inn on Friday night that was advertised as a celebration of Shakespeare, love and chocolate.

When I opened the door to the Williams Inn and stepped in out of the snow, the smell of the fireplace and the even more unmistakable aroma of warm chocolate greeted me. The performance space was set up in dinner-theater fashion with rose bedecked tables surrounding a central stage in the ballroom. Before I took my seat, I could not help but stop by tables that were laden with chocolate and chocolate-covered treats. After precariously balancing spiced pumpkin chocolate mousse cups, chocolate-dipped butter cookies, chocolate-covered pretzels, chocolate-covered cherries and pink-frosted chocolate cupcakes on my plate, I headed into the ballroom to see an array of Shakespearean works performed by the area’s high school students.

The performance featured Shakespeare’s sonnets and scenes as well as traditional Elizabethan dances. The first act showcased the light frivolity that appears in much of the romantic world of Shakespeare, while the second act dealt with some of the harsher realities of love as they are portrayed in his works.

The performers presented the silly side of love with the famous scene from As You Like It in which Rosalind reads aloud a poem Orlando has written for her and Touchstone mocks her with the line, “Sweetest nut hath sourest rind, Such a nut is Rosalind.”

Another humorous scene was the balcony exchange between Romeo and Juliet. Their coyness gives way to giddy foolishness as they try to avoid confessing the magnitude of their love for one another while falling all over each other. Of course, the cheerful sort of love presented in the first act was not always foolish and laughable: the recitation of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 154, which concludes, “Love’s fire heats water, water cools not love,” exemplified a quality of sincerity.

The second act started with a jolt, quite literally, as Romeo and Tybalt engaged in a well-choreographed swordfight that even included back handsprings.

The subject of unrequited love is frequently explored in Shakespeare’s works and was presented in a scene between Phoebe the shepherdess and Silvius the shepherd from As You Like It. Silvius’s moaning for Phoebe is still rather comical, however, and when the second act moved on to scenes like the one in which Romeo tells Juliet he “must be gone and live, or stay and die” after murdering Tybalt, the wide spectrum that love can take in Shakespeare’s canon became clear.

Of course, the point of “Food of Love” is to celebrate love, not condemn it, and so after presenting all Shakespearean facets of this complicated emotion, the company ended the show by taking the candles that had been in the center of the tables, standing around the ballroom, dimming the house lights and singing. As the character Puck delivered the final speech, it was clear that the students loved delivering the performances and entertaining their audience.

It was a successful event in its fourth year of existence. “Food of Love” became an annual tradition four years ago when a budget crisis at Mount Greylock Regional High School and other surrounding high schools threatened the life of the Fall Festival of Shakespeare, a program that brings together students from about 10 area schools. The students work on Shakespeare plays at their own schools and then perform at their autumn festival each year.

Deb Burns was among the concerned parents who knew how important the program was to their children, and how devastated they would be if it were to get cut. “It’s one of the pinnacles of their adolescence,” Burns said in a speech at Friday’s performance. The Fall Festival program has been able to continue due in large part to “Food of Love,” an incredible fundraiser put together almost entirely by the kids it benefits. The Williams Inn has donated the use of its facilities for the program every year, and the community support has grown each year – this year well over 200 people were in attendance.

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