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Knight of the Burning Pestle revived for 100th anniversary
In 1903, the Stanford English Club presented a production of The Knight of the Burning Pestle in the old Assembly Hall on the outer Quad.
The play was performed March 5 and 7 and, according to reports at the time, came off splendidly. Southern Pacific Railroad offered a discount fare -- $1.35 roundtrip from San Francisco or 75 cents roundtrip from San Jose -- to theatergoers attending the March 7 matinee performance. Later that month the cast performed the Elizabethan burlesque for more than 2,000 people at the University of California-Berkeley.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Stanford production, the Drama Department will stage a reading of Pestle at 4 p.m. Sunday, March 16, in Pigott Theater. Admission is free and open to the public. Directed by graduate student in drama James Lyons, the reading will feature a cast of students, faculty, staff and alumni.
The play most likely was written entirely by Francis Beaumont, although his sometimes-collaborator John Fletcher is often credited as a co-author. It's about a grocer and his wife who take to the stage and interrupt a hack romantic comedy, The London Merchant, that they're supposed to be watching as audience members. They insist that the grocer's apprentice, Ralph, be given a part in the drama as a kind of grocer knight-errant.
The centennial performance was organized at the request of Wendell Cole, professor emeritus of speech and drama, who directed and designed the set for the play's 50th-anniversary production in March 1953. For that production, which took place in Memorial Auditorium, Cole designed a stage set based on the Fortune Theatre, an Elizabethan venue.
According to Cole, the original production at Stanford was a landmark: It was the first play to be performed on a replica of an Elizabethan stage in the United States. (The set was based on a drawing of London's Swan Theatre, which was built about 1595.) Lee Emerson Bassett, then a young instructor in the Stanford English Department, directed.
Bassett also attended the 1953 production, just as Cole will attend this Sunday's performance. "Departments come and go, and to have a continuity of theater over 100 years is really quite amazing," Cole said.
For more information, contact Alison Duxbury at 723-2646 or Mandy Khoshnevisan at email@example.com.