Last year, Will Shakespeare spent some time sharing his Midsummer Night’s talent while in the forest surrounding CazSonoma Inn in mid-June. This year, F. Scott Fitzgerald will pay a visit with his progeny, Jay Gatsby.
Those in the know say Gatsby is throwing a Rolls Royce of a party.
Thanks to lodge owners Richard Mitchell and Renee Brimm Mitchell, it’s your chance to costume up, time trip back to the early ’20s and immerse yourself in decadence, resistance to change, social upheaval and excess. Feel free to kick back and succumb to your true hedonistic desires in the middle of a redwood forest, and enjoy fine food and wine while helping the Cazadero Music Camp survive. For more than 50 years, it has offered a dynamic music-based program that is a balance between in-depth music education and light-hearted summer camp fun. Campers perform free recitals during summer months.
Mitchell, once New York’s Commissioner of Prisons, also taught high school English in Switzerland and said he considers “The Great Gatsby” the Great American novel because “It grabs the heart.” His 80-page play doesn’t quite replicate Fitzgerald’s 180-page book, but it captures the art, history and romance of the Jazz Age that evolved from WWI. Mitchell says American culture took us “from the First World War to running through forests naked.”
The Gatsy performance came about after a chance encounter. While taking a train from Oxford to London, the Mitchells met Ian Flintoff and his wife. Before long, Flintoff, the esteemed Oxford director and author of “Gatsby at Trinity,” stood up and started quoting from “Richard III,” cementing a longtime friendship between the couples. Mitchell eventually invited the Flintoffs to visit the CazSonoma Inn and help him direct “Gatsby’s Party.”
Mitchell also contacted Aiden O’Reilly, founding member of the Sonoma Shakespeare company, and asked him to cast the play and collaborate on the direction with Flintoff. O’Reilly, who has been 80 percent blind since birth, agreed. “He did Hamlet when he was 18 and knows lots of actors,” Mitchell said.
“Gatsby’s Party” aims to transform Cazadero’s CazSonoma Inn — complete with pond, waterfall, sculpture garden and the cathedral-like redwood grove — into an elegant setting like those found on the North Shore of Long Island in the ’20s.
Reminiscent of a Black Forest hunting lodge, CazSonoma Inn is situated in a wooded canyon amid a redwood forest. Nearby Kidd Creek cool mountain water into the Mill Pond and merges with that of a waterfall that cascades from above.
“C’mon old sport,” says Mitchell excitedly, “this is one you won’t want to miss.”
A board member of Cazadero’s renowned music camp, Mitchell decided last summer that “instead of wine tasting as a means of raising money this year,” he and wife would produce a contemporary version of Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Nights Dream.” The elaborate event was a huge success, so this year they fired up their time machine and their imaginations and thought it might be fun to plunge themselves and their friends into F. Scott Fitzgerald’s reckless and rowdy Age of Jazz.
They envisioned America’s Hoi Poloi jumping in their Chandler convertibles and Lincoln Phaetons and motoring from Manhattan to Long Island’s West Egg (aka CazSonoma Inn), bedecked in their top hats and spats, silks and satins, to dance the Charleston and Black Bottom and dazzle their senses with gourmet delectables, fruit of the vine and live theater.
In the day, people were not so much invited to Gatsby’s parties, they just happened by. But to this memorable event, everyone is “formally invited.” Mitchell has a 95-year-old friend who is driving his 1926 Rolls Royce Phantom up from the East Bay, and there will be other vintage autos.
Daisy will be there with Gatsby, Tom and Myrtle, even Wolfsheim. It’s a rare opportunity to be immersed in a unique collaboration, about which Mitchell says, “Aiden is baking the cake, and Flintoff is putting on the frosting.”
As an actor, Flintoff has worked on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company, The National Theatre at London’s Old Vic, and with thespians such as Laurence Olivier and Daniel Day-Lewis.
Ross Heil of Walnut Creek, who designed and painted the five sets for “Midsummer Nights Dream,” is now at work creating backdrops for “Gatsby’s Party.”
Sixty chairs for a limited audience will be provided in the Inn’s sculpture garden, and people are asked to arrive at 3 p.m. for the matinees and at 5 p.m. for the evening performances.
“If the play is to be a success, it will engage people. Actors and the audience — asked to wear period costumes — will all be integrated into one dream or memory to be shared and experienced by all present,” Mitchell said.
The $75 ticket price includes dinner, wine, theatre, music, tax, tip, parking and, say the Mitchells, “just about as much fun as you could hope for.”
Contact River Towns correspondent Stephen D. Gross at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: The name of the “Great Gatsby” expert featured in the headshot in this article was incorrect in the orginal version of this story. It has been corrected.