Defying the cold and rainy weather, Takoma Park residents gathered Thursday evening to watch the talent and antics of the Foggy Bottom Morris Men’s dancing and acting show, in celebration of the winter solstice.
With the Takoma Park Gazebo as a backdrop, the troupe performed traditional English Morris dances — sometimes accompanied by instruments including the accordian, fiddle and drum — and were dressed for the part in matching bowl hats, long-sleeved white shirts, long stockings and bell pads fastened below their knees.
Their dances incorporated rhythmic steps, hitting large sticks together and waving handkerchiefs, and invited onlookers across the street at Roscoe’s Pizzeria as well as the crowd that braved the weather for a closer look.
Maybelle Patterson, 8, of Takoma Park, said she joined in the fun when she was asked to play the triangle for the dancers.
“I was just going ‘boom boom’ along with the drum,” said Maybelle, who also danced along on the sidelines.
“I think it’s awesome,” she said of the performers’ dances.
The solstice performance, which has become a tradition of about 25 years in the city, also was partially a Mummer’s play of English tradition with six characters, including Prince George and his adversary the Turkish Knight.
“[Our play] is kind of special in the sense that the play is woven in between the dance,” said Jud McIntire, of Arlington, Va., who played Prince George.
Arthur Shaw, who acted as Father Christmas, said the underlying theme of the play was “the death of the hero and resurrection.”
The troupe’s version of the play is based on similar plays that have been acted out for about 150 years, said long-time troupe member Bill Brown.
“It’s a tradition, but we’re not historical re-enactors,” said Brown, of Takoma Park. “We’re trying to make it relevant to today.”
Following the performance by the gazebo, the group headed to the Takoma Park Maryland Library to celebrate the solstice again in similar fashion.
As they acted and danced in the evening drizzle, it was clear that the varied assortment of Morris Men — who include an architect, a cartoonist and a chemist, among others — enjoyed themselves.
The performers’ goofiness and enthusiasm drew laughter from the audience or was jokingly demanded.
“Give us your laughter, or I’ll sweep you all out!” one performer said.
Another performer acting as a doctor trying to prove his merit said he had been to places including Italy, Russia, Prussia “and the Beltway in rush hour.”
“It gives people a chance to embellish and to play their parts as they see fit, and it changes, it evolves all the time,” McIntire said of the play and its humor.
Alex Moses of Takoma Park said she and her two children, Carter Hyde, 7, and Amelia Hyde, 5, were going to dinner when the performers caught their eye.
“It’s one of the fun things in Takoma Park,” she said of the show.
After watching the performance with his two-year-old godson Cole Gilbert — who stomped along with the dancers — Ed Wilhelm, of Takoma Park, said he enjoyed the play’s humor.
“I love the goofiness,” Wilhelm said. “They enjoy themselves and they have fun.”