The Folger Shakespeare Library Hosts an “At-Home” Evening to Celebrate Director Michael Witmore (Photos)

Plus: good drinks, high kicks, and the “Very Like a Whale” exhibition.

By: Carol Ross Joynt

In a mess of invitations this week, one stood out. It was to a cocktail party Thursday hosted by Maxine Isaacs and Philip Deutch at the Folger Shakespeare Library, where both are members of the Board of Trustees. Guests were enticed to stop by for a “very at-home night” of “Old Fashioneds, comfort hors d’oeuvres by Susan Gage, and the chance to meet our new director, Michael Witmore, and enjoy a private viewing of the ‘Very Like a Whale’ exhibition he just curated.” It lived up to expectations on a cold November night, and even offered a few guests the chance to do something unheard of on the Folger stage.

But first of all, does this mean I’ll go anywhere for an Old Fashioned? Maybe so, thanks to an event environment where the standard is generic white and red wine. Witmore said that for the evening the drink’s name had been changed to She Doth Protest Too Much. No one seemed to protest, though, as trays of the drink—whiskey with an orange slice, bitters, and a cherry—were passed again and again. The “comfort food” was just that: chicken salad in pita pockets, sliders, ripple potato chips with an assortment of dips, mixed vegetable crudité that included baby carrots, green beans, jicama, and Brussels sprouts.

Isaacs called the party “special,” and it wasn’t just because of the drinks and food. The wood-paneled library is cozy and warming, and the Whale exhibition is intriguing, in part because the works appear to be paintings but are actually photographs, taken by Rosamond Purcell, who put together the show with Witmore. It’s free and runs through January 6, 2013.

What does it have to do with Shakespeare? It’s explained best on the library’s website: “By juxtaposing books and manuscripts from the Folger collection, natural history objects, Purcell’s photographs, and passages from Shakespeare and other early-modern thinkers, this exhibition explores the interplay between the real world and the world of the Renaissance imagination.” (For more on the exhibit, read our earlier preview over at After Hours.)

When he welcomed his guests—which included Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer, Tom Udall, and Fred and Linda Wertheimer—Witmore was effusive about the Bard and diplomatic about the legal profession. “Shakespeare is the most widely read secular writer on the planet” . . . pause . . . “[but] he may have got a few things wrong about lawyers.” The audience laughed. He then invited guests to tour the library and adjacent theater, and most took him up on it, including Jennifer Maguire Isham, Brooke Bronner, Jennifer Noland, Rebecca Fishman, and Nancy Liffmann, who stepped onto a stage more accustomed to Romeo and Juliet than the Rockettes—and performed a kick line.