The stage direction in Act 5 Scene 3 of CYMBELINE reads: Jupiter descends in thunder and lightning, sitting upon an eagle; he throws a thunderbolt.
That would have been a great sight in 1610 in the Globe Theatre, when the trap door in the heavens opened and the god was lowered from a winch to settle the affairs of wailing ghosts and petty mortals. Shakespeare was not in the habit of writing deus ex machinas, but when he finally got around to one he didn't mess around.
This stage direction posed bit of a problem in our tent--from which no divinely big bird could possibly descend. A pigeon, maybe. What could we do? One answer was to cut the scene entirely, as the recent New York production did. But this is a climactic and spectacular moment in the play, when the presiding Olympian god arrives to inform us that all will be well. It would have been a pity to lose it.
The answer presented itself while driving home, as I often do, on North Nevada Avenue. There it was, orange and black and gleaming, the lavish Harley Davidson sign, telling me they had what we needed. If our Jupiter could not fly in on an eagle, could he not at least ride in on a motorcycle? We had cast a motorcycle rider in the part, Melvin Grier, a long time veteran of our Shakespeare campaigns. And he had a splendid motorcycle too, a Honda Gold Wing. But really,there is no way Jupiter should ride into ancient Britain on a large smooth Honda. He needed a machine with total testosterone throwing down maximum thunder. He needed a Hog.
So the next morning I went down to the Harley-Davidson store and asked to speak to the manager, DJ Stringer. I waited for 30 minutes and when DJ showed up he said he had 2 minutes. I explained the situation and he understood immediately. I knew there was no chance Shakespeare would get a Harley, but I had to ask.
DJ said, "Fine, no problem, when do you want it?"
"Friday--and for a month!"
"It has to look good, and it has to start. It can't be too big but it has to . .."
" . .. make noise."
"No problem. Pick it up Friday."
And so it has come to pass that Jupiter makes a really grand and hilarious entrance in our Cymbeline to the wonder and delight of all. You have to see it to believe it. This is a god who can settle some hash.
And the further wonder of it is, the Harley folks not only supplied our god with his chariot, they did it with a simple handshake, and for free. This is not the way things work in today's America. That very day my wife Betty took her 81 year old sister, visiting us from the east coast, as a guest to her class at the YMCA. But because my sister-in-law, traveling light to yoga, did not have a photo ID, she was not allowed in. Security, it was explained. Right. That's life in America nowadays.
Our thanks to the Harley-Davidson tribe for reminding us that things can be different. And truly, what better combination is there on a summer night than Shakespeare, Jupiter, and a mighty hog! Now that's living! That's romance!