- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2007

There were more slices of cake yesterday than birthday anniversaries for William Shakespeare, but not nearly enough for the estimated 5,000 visitors at the Folger Shakespeare Library for the playwright’s 443rd birthday celebration.

Drawn by the warm, sunny day, the crowd began arriving on Capitol Hill before noon as Metropolitan Police Department officers blocked streets for the celebration and parade.

It was the 28th Shakespeare open house at the 75-year-old Folger building, but the first for John Cox, a Vienna, Va., physicist.

“We’ve been members of the Folger Library for years, but have never been down for this event,” said Mr. Cox, accompanied by his wife and 10-year-old daughter, Dianna.

“I liked the performance of the 9-foot unicycles,” said Dianna, referring to one of the many stunts, shows and exhibits on the library yard and surrounding streets.

For more than four hours, men, women and children circulated outside and inside the massive library with its numerous showrooms, Shakespearean exhibits, gift shop, books and paintings. Above one door was the message, “I shower a welcome on ye; Welcome all. William Shakespeare.”

On one stage, an audience applauded enthusiastically as Nell McKeown, 12, bowed, knelt, swayed and gracefully stepped about while reciting Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

Nell lives in Alexandria and has been doing Shakespeare for half her life.

A temporary stage on the lawn outdoors was surrounded by hundreds of spectators who gasped as swordsmen Casey Kaleba, 28, and Dan Curran, 41, both of Hyattsville, dueled in the sun.

Their misses and pretend strikes were described and explained by Brad Waller, 51, of Springfield, a choreographer-teacher of sword fights for 19 years.

Mr. Kaleba is a choreographer. Mr. Curran teaches eighth-graders at Fairmount Heights in Prince George’s County.

Alex Kensington and Charon Henning, Fairfax residents, were this year’s sword swallowers.

Ms. Henning first took off her boots, slowly walked up a slope of sword blades, then showed her uncut soles to the crowd.

Twice, she dropped a sword about 18 inches down her throat. One had a blade about 2 inches wide.

Mr. Kensington thrust sword blades nearly 25 inches into his abdomen. Once, he lowered three blades at once down his throat.

Marking the closing of the celebration, the Army Fife and Drum Corps marched up.

The day concluded when “Queen Elizabeth” — also known as Penelope Rahming of Alexandria and dressed in a glamorous gown with a white collar and a golden crown — came up to formally slice the birthday cake.

With her forefinger, she wiped some frosting and crumbs off the sword blade and ate them.

Then, she asked the crowd to join her in “three rousing cheers.”

“Hip! Hip!” Queen Elizabeth shouted. “Hooray,” echoed the crowd. They repeated it twice more.


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