When we saw an item in the Shepherd Express that a new theatre group was performing Shakespeare’s “King John,” a history play few people have heard of, let alone actually seen, we had to go. (One of the items on my “bucket list” is to see every Shakespeare play performed at least once. This was one to check off.)

Voices Found Repertory performs at The Underground Collective, a surprisingly nice space in the basement of the Grand Avenue Plankinton Building, that includes a theater, recording studio, and other art spaces.

As the play opens, John (Brandon Judah) is King of England following the death of his brother Richard I (the Lionheart). His position is contested by Constance (Brittany Ann Meister), widow of John’s other elder brother, Geoffrey, who predeceased Richard but left a legitimate son, young Arthur (Graham Billings). Constance has leagued with King Phillip of France (Kira Renkas), promising him English-held lands in France if he helps win the English throne for Arthur.

Aided by his mother, the still-formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine (Claire Tidwell), John steals a march on the French, and meets them in arms at Angiers, a fortified town that is reluctant to let either force within its walls. (It’s interesting that Eleanor would seem to be so supportive of John, but this performance makes it clear that there is no love between Constance and Eleanor--. Eleanor shows more favor to a presumed bastard son of her beloved Richard, “Philip Faulconbridge” (Jeremy Labelle), whom she takes as a protégé, than for her grandson Arthur).
John and Eleanor broker a masterful deal, offering the Dauphin, Louis, (Brandon Haut), the hand of Blanche of Castile (Rachel Zembrowski) in marriage. (Historically, Blanche was the daughter of John’s sister, Eleanor of England, and Alfonso VIII, King of Castile). The marriage ceded some fiefdoms to Louis, and gave him a claim on the English throne after John. Arthur is thrown a bone in the form of being confirmed Duke of Brittany, his father’s title. Although Constance rages, she is stymied.

In the play (Shakespeare compresses considerable time), things fall apart upon the arrival of Cardinal Pandulph (Sarah Zapian), emissary of Pope Innocent III, who excommunicates John for having refused to recognize the Pope’s appointee to the Archbishopric of Canterbury, and requires the French to make war on him. Phillip is angered, but has to comply. (Historically, Phillip had felt the pain of being under Pope Innocent’s interdict over his attempt to set aside his marriage to Isambour of Denmark--.) The situation degenerates into a general battle, in which Arthur is captured by John’s forces.

John finds himself under pressure from both within and without, by the French and by English partisans of young Arthur. John gives orders to Hubert, Earl of Kent (Nick Hurtgen) to put Arthur to a particularly cruel death, which orders Hubert cannot bring himself to carry out. Nevertheless, rumors fly that John has killed Arthur, inspiring rebellion. Hubert returns to Rouen to produce Arthur, only to find that he has killed himself by leaping from the castle battlements. (Historically, no one knows what really became of Arthur after his incarceration at Rouen, and it is assumed John did away with him--.)

With Arthur’s death blamed on John, rebellious English join the Dauphin in an attempt to unseat John. John having perforce made his peace with the Pope, Pandulph attempts to decree peace, only to face the Dauphin’s vehement refusal.

In the battles that follow, John is demoralized by the death of his mother, and is roughly handled by the French and allies. In the heat of battle, he accepts a drink from a mysterious “monk”, which proves to have been poisoned. (John is actually thought to have died of dysentery contracted while on campaign, so a ‘poisoned drink’ may be not far from the truth—more so than the famous “surfeit of lampreys” story--.) John has a slow and agonizing death. Supporters of John’s son, Henry III, personified by Blanche, arrange for his succession.

This was a very enjoyable play. Done in modern dress, with little in the way of makeup or props, it relied on the considerable skill and energy of the cast to put the play across, which succeeded admirably. We particularly liked the convention of portraying the battle scenes as general brawls in which everyone, even Eleanor and Constance, took part. Although the production notes make explicit comparisons between the petty, spiteful, and cruel John and a certain American President, there’s little attempt to portray that in the performance (John doesn’t even wear a red tie--.). The director and cast wisely let us draw parallels where we may.

The major cast members have significant resumes in Shakespeare and other drama, and it shows. Brandon Judah had a fine range of expression as the sometimes charming, sometimes craven, and usually scheming King. Kira Renkas as King Philip effectively goes from smiling good humor when the wind is in France’s favor, to frustrated rage when the Church upsets plans. Actually, the play is full of good rants: John, Philip, Constance, Faulconbridge, and the Dauphin all have their unbridled scenes. In particular, Jeremy Labelle as Faulconbridge, a.k.a. Richard Plantagenet, a.k.a. “The Bastard” made the welkins ring, sometimes a bit too loudly, while taking pleasure in stirring up trouble.

On Tuesday evening, June 6th, we went to the Downer Theatre to see a really fine production of Tom Stoppard’s play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which shows us the existential dilemma of two minor characters in a great play, and what they do, and do not do, between scenes. The play has a lot in common with Samuel Becket’s Waiting for Godot, but we like it better since Rosencrantz and Guildenstern engage in debate about the meaning of it all, whereas Vladimir and Estragon in Godot are just overwhelmed by the meaninglessness.

The play had an excellent cast, lead by Joshua McGuire (mainly known for British TV) as Guildenstern, Daniel Radcliffe as Rosencrantz, and David Haig as The Player. The little pre-show film mentioned that Stoppard himself had been involved in this production, and I do believe the script had been tweaked in comparison with earlier versions I had seen. It seemed to me that scenes with Hamlet, Polonious, Claudius, and Gertrude were cut or shortened, and The Player, who is Stoppard’s voice on stage, had a good bit more to say.

The play was set in a mostly timeless time, and a largely undefined space, which underscored the characters’ being adrift from reality. This didn’t really affect the performance much, but at least did not distract.

McGuire and Radcliffe in particular were very good, and handled Stoppard’s lightning-speed dialogs with alacrity. I was a bit surprised at first that the bigger name Radcliffe did not have the more intellectual role of Guildenstern, but found that he was wonderfully good as the frequently clueless Rosencrantz, being able to do an effective variety of blank, baffled, or just plain stupid expressions.

I’m not sure I would say that this was a definitive performance, but it was very, very good, and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in this play. (The 1990 film with Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, and Richard Dreyfuss is also very good, in my opinion.)

On Friday night, March 4th, we went to the Helfaer Theater on the Marquette University campus to see the production of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” which we greatly enjoyed. This was a fast-paced lively presentation that made the best of the Bard’s slight story about exiles living the bucolic life in the Forest of Arden.

The main characters are Orlando (Michael Nicholas) , the youngest son of a knight, who has been denied both his financial and intellectual due by his greedy eldest brother, Oliver (Michael Young); and Rosalind (Mackenzie Possage), daughter of Duke Senior (Michael Cienfuegos-Baca).
Duke Senior has been overthrown and sent into exile by his “brother” Duke Fredrick (Chloe Hurkes). Orlando has come to Fredrick’s court seeking redress of his grievances against his brother, but finds no help there since his father was a partisan of the exiled Duke and Orlando is therefore on Duke Fredrick’s enemies list. He decides to seek his fortune in the greenwood with Senior and his followers, but not before being smitten with Rosalind.

Paranoid and jealous of Rosalind’s friendship with her own daughter, Celia (Nadja Simmonds), Fredrick banishes Rosalind. Celia, who loves her cousin as a sister, runs away to the forest with her, in the company of the loyal jester, Touchstone (Terry Lee Watkins, Jr.). For safety in travelling, Rosalind decides to adopt the disguise of a young man, “Ganymede.”

This sets up most of the comedy that follows. When the three reach Arden, they find trees festooned with love poems addressed to Rosalind from Orlando. Liking Orlando, Rosalind as Ganymede tests his devotion and determination by declaring that “he” will teach Orlando how to be a lover, by encouraging him to woo “Ganymede” as if Ganymede were his Rosalind, and then critiquing his efforts.

Meanwhile, the disdainful shepherdess, Phoebe (Madeleine Farley) who is loved by the shepherd Sylvius, gets a major but unrequited crush on “Ganymede.”

The intervals between advancements in the love story are taken up with Senior and his followers hunting, singing, and philosophizing. Jaques (Dan Callahan) gave a very relaxed and naturalistic rendering of the famous “seven ages of man” speech, which was punctuated with musical emphases by Amiens (Jake Zelinski).

There was a lot of running, jumping, and larking about appropriate to the story, which added to the joy of it and made it all good fun. All of the actors did well with their parts, and gave us Shakespeare’s dialog with good understanding and sense. This was one of the most musical productions of a Shakespeare play that I recall, with many of the “songs” being actually sung, and well sung. Musicians Kate O’Neill and Jessica Szuminski provided additional musical support, as well as entertaining sound effects for the pastoral scenes.
On Friday evening, February 19th, we went to the Raabe Theatre at Wisconsin Lutheran College to see a performance of Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost”.

This was to be an unusual production, the opening of “Shakespeare in Rep,” two performances of three plays over two weekends, the advertisement stated “A company of student actors will work and prepare three comedies of Shakespeare in a manner referred to today as "original practices." Based on the historical condition of the "players" presenting DIFFERENT dramas and comedies DAILY (in "repertory"), some people believe that much more of the show was the creative and technical product of the individual actors than today's practice of director and designer-led cohesively conceptual performances. With very little time for group rehearsals, the performances take on an added intensity and energy resulting in truly unique, one-time events that are not to be missed!”

As expanded upon by Prof. Jay Sierszyn in his introductory remarks, there’s a bit more to it than that. “Original practices Shakespeare” is based on conjecture that, due to the large repertoire described in contemporary writings, and that play appeared often with as much as two months or more between performances, the manner of performance had to have been quite different than that we are used to. As presented here, “original practices” means that there is minimal to no rehearsal, and that the cast appears on stage with “cue scripts” in hand. (Cue scripts are individualized scripts, called “sides” in musical theatre, that contain just the one character’s lines and stage directions, and the cue lines from other characters that call for them.) The argument is that, given six different shows in a week and months between individual shows, the actors couldn’t possibly have learned and remembered all those scripts.

Professor Sierszyn’s production added several variables to this experiment. This was a new play to most, if not all of the actors, which would not likely have been the case in Shakespeare’s day. The actors were recruited anywhere from two weeks to two days before the performance, and had had minimal opportunity to work with each other. Most of the actors knew little of the script other than what was in their “sides”. When you add in that Shakespeare’s actors would have been familiar and comfortable with the vernacular vocabulary, pronunciation, and turns of phrase, whereas some of the cast demonstrably were not, what is left is basically a first-run-through rehearsal with improvised blocking and some costumes. The resultant performance was academically interesting to me as a some-time actor, but I was definitely not convinced that the groundlings of Shakespeare’s day would have paid money to see it.

A case in point occurred when a line or entrance was missed. Since other actor’s didn’t know the script or even the context of the scene they were in, they were stuck until the “book holder” prompted them. In one instance, when the stage manager was distracted by another crew member, the cast got so far off track, missing an entrance and several page of script, that the show had to be stopped, backed up, and started over from the missed spot.

The “original practices” idea does not convince me. OK, suppose you DO have sixty plays in your repertoire. Is it so impossible that anyone could memorize that number of parts? I think not. People in times before easy retrieval of information, or even hand books, could train to feats of memory that we would think prodigious today. If you ran an acting company then, why would you even consider hiring someone that couldn’t do that? Take into account that the same people wouldn’t necessarily have to learn all the largest parts, and there would be lots of small roles more easily learned and parceled out. The “original practices” idea also fails to take into account that, performing in the afternoons, the company has mornings and/or evenings to brush up the play either for that day or the following day. Once you had blocking down, that’s relatively easy to recall, and in my experience helps to make the lines come. Verse structure also helps memory.

That being said, the student actors were game, gave it their cheerful best, and weren’t badly thrown by fluffs and misses. While interesting, I think that this experiment pretty conclusively disproves the “original practices” thesis, at least as practiced here.
Saturday, February 13th, we went to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church for Early Music Now’s presentation of “The Food of Love,” by The Baltimore Consort.

The Baltimore Consort is a well-established early music group, and this year is touring a concert made up of music related to Shakespeare, since 2016 is the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. They assembled a roster of twenty-eight pieces, some of which were known to have been composed for use in Shakespeare’s plays, and others which were quoted from or referred to by Shakespeare.
These were grouped into suites for various plays to which the music could be related. The concert was preceded by a very informative lecture that helped put the music in context.

The first half gave us music for As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, and Henry IV, Part 1 & The Winter’s Tale. There was a lot of fascinating music presented, some of it familiar, but most new to us. We were particularly pleased with the performances of “It Was a Lover and His Lass,” by Thomas Morley, “Les Buffons,” by Jean d’Estree, “Heart’s Ease (The Honeysuckle)” by Anthony Holborne, and “The Carman’s Whistle,” an anonymous broadside ballad.

In the second half, there was music for Hamlet, The Tempest, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Othello, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In this section there was a bit more emphasis on vocal music, with vocalist Danielle Sonavec appearing in costume as the Gravedigger from Hamlet on “In Youth When I Did Love,” and as Puck on “The Mad, Merry Pranks of Robin Goodfellow,” by Ben Johnson.

The performers were: Mary Anne Ballard, treble and bass viols; Mark Cudek, cittern and bass viol; Larry Lipkis, bass viol, recorder, krummhorn, gemshorn; Ronn McFarlane, lute; Mindy Rosenfeld, flutes, fifes, bagpipes, krummhorn. All the music was flawlessly presented by this very polished group, and sounded beautiful in the Church.
Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Windsor” is one of my favorite plays, and this year’s production took full advantage of the many opportunities for over-the-top foolery.

The production was updated to Edwardian times, which worked well, and gave the designers some interesting options with costume and set, although I do not think the inhabitants of Windsor (then or now) would be flattered at being compared to American television’s “Mayberry”, as in the director’s notes. An interesting dimension was added by musical numbers which sounded like period music-hall songs.

Brian Mani plays Sir John Falstaff as a decorated veteran of colonial campaigns, wearing a Boer-War era khaki uniform, and accompanied by his raggle-taggle bad men Bardolph (Wigasi Brant), Nym (Chike Johnson), and Pistol (Jeb Burris). (The men’s broad-brimmed hats, Colt pistols, and Bowie knives give kind of an American West vibe, like Rough Riders gone to the bad--.) Mani’s beard and makeup resemble the late Orson Welles in his age, had he played Falstaff as an old man, and Mani’s characterization, sometimes pompous, sometimes threatening, and sometimes pathetic, was always spot on.

Falstaff, ever self-deluding about his charms, casts eyes both lecherous and covetous on two wives of wealthy commoners, Alice Ford (Deborah Staples) and Margaret Page (Colleen Madden) whose wiles are more than up to the task of making a fool of Falstaff, while initially hiding the goings-on from their respective husbands.

James Ridge, as the easy-going Page, has little to do but be amiable, except when plotting against his wife to marry their daughter to the man of his choice (Robert R. Doyle, the diffident Slender). On the other hand, David Daniel, as Ford, has a major bit of scene-chewing to do as the husband “possessed of a fine devil of jealously,” and takes full advantage of the opportunity.

Although Falstaff is the star, Daniel’s Ford dominates the scenes he is in, whether laughing, crying, and grimacing in his solo rants as “Master Brook,” or in destroying his own house hunting for Falstaff. I have often heard the somewhat vulgar phrase “going apeshit,” but never seen it done on stage until now. When Ford, having emptied the buck-basket fruitlessly searching for Falstaff, sits in it, rocks, and literally screams with rage and frustration, it was truly primal. The audience roared its appreciation.

The supporting cast was also excellent. I give full marks to Tim Gittings for his Welsh accent and delivery as Sir Hugh, the parson, even though American audiences don’t find Welshmen as easily funny as comic Frenchmen like Dr. Caius (Jonathan Smoots). Sarah Day was a lively and youthful Mistress Quickly, and gave a very good rendition of a song as well. Eric Parks, playing the aptly named Peter Simple, gave a charming dimension to the character by hugging everyone he meets, no matter whom. I was so very glad that the Theatre took a stab at actually presenting Hugh and Caius’ revenge prank on the Host of the Garter (Chris Klopatek), which is often cut, although the duel scene that sets it up is always left in--.

The climax in Windsor Forest was very nicely done, with period-appropriate disguises, effective lights, and a major musical number when the ‘fairies’ discover Falstaff.

This was a thoroughly delightful evening at the theatre, and has our highest recommendation.
Ok, the Shakespeare spate isn’t quite over. Georgie and I had to go see the new “Romeo & Juliet” film, with screenplay by Julian Fellows (of “Downton Abbey” fame).

“Romeo & Juliet” is well worth seeing for the gorgeous settings, beautiful costumes (1490-1520 era), handsome actors, and brutal, brawling swordfights (none of your fancy-nancy “fencing”, here--).   Listening to, well, not so much.

Cramming the play’s action into 118 minutes requires ruthless cutting of the script, especially to accommodate the action scenes. This has certainly been done, with the script cut to the bone in every scene and speech. The only scenes that survived mostly intact were the balcony scene, and Romeo and Juliet’s bedroom scene.  I had been alerted to the likelihood of further issues by the BBC article, which quoted Mr. Fellows as saying: "When people say we should have filmed the original, I don't attack them for that point of view, but to see the original in its absolutely unchanged form, you require a kind of Shakespearian scholarship and you need to understand the language and analyse it and so on.

"I can do that because I had a very expensive education, I went to Cambridge. Not everyone did that and there are plenty of perfectly intelligent people out there who have not been trained in Shakespeare's language choices."

Now, I’ll admit that I have studied Shakespeare at a college level, seen all the plays I possibly could, and acted in four of them, but I think this is just plain wrong.  Shakespeare had to write, not just for the lords, but for the commoners as well. Of course, there’s action for the groundlings, but they had to understand the speech to follow along as well. And no one then could have been expected to understand Shakespeare’s speech without thought: he made up new words*, coined phrases, punned, and took wholesale poetic license with usage and word order.  There are plenty of people today who go to Shakespeare performances with no special training, who understand and enjoy the original language.  One expects to have to pay attention, but that allows one to understand meaning of unfamiliar words and phrases from context.
Besides surgically dissecting the skeleton of the play out of the text, Fellows also changed words, with some replacements sounding clunky coming from the period-looking characters, and some changes just apparently pointless.  For example, when Capulet says to Paris, “Let two more summers wither in their pride, ere we may think her ripe to be a bride,” Fellows changes it to ““Let two more summers wither in their pride, ere we may think her ripe to be a WIFE.”  Surely Fellows isn’t suggesting modern audiences don’t understand the word “bride.” Instead, he is killing the rhyme that occurs in in this speech, which is part of a concerted effort to modernize the script by cutting the music out of the text.

The Times review characterized the principals' performance as lacking passion, and I am inclined to agree.  Romeo and Juliet get lots of kissing in, which apparently director Carlo Carlei thinks is indicative of passion. However, the frequently tepid reading of the lines doesn’t give the kissing enough foundation to make up the difference.  In addition, in the first half of the film, Hailee Steinfeld  (Juliet), rushes murmurously through her lines, which makes most of them seem thrown away.  It’s only in the second half, when she has things to cry and shout about, that her enunciation acquires some bite. Also, while girlishly cute, she's just not beautiful.  Rosaline (Nathalie Rapti Gomez), who actually gets some screen time and lines in this adaptation, is closer to actual beauty in my opinion.

Douglas Booth is an adequate but low-keyed Romeo. The pair are well supported by Christian Cooke as Mercutio, in the film, a Montague cousin; and Ed Westwick as a suitably glowering and growling Tybalt.  Kodi-Smit McPhee is a curious choice to play Benvolio, who is the Montague’s voice of reason and usually older than Romeo.  McPhee is a boy compared to the other men, and, although he does his best, just lacks the gravitas for the part.

Veteran actors fill in the older characters. Lesley Manville was good as the Nurse, although most of the character’s best bits were cut.  Paul Giamatti puts a lot into Friar Lawrence, building up a good rapport with Romeo and Juliet.  Damian Lewis as Lord Capulet was the one player singled out by the New York Times as “outstanding”:  “Mr. Lewis persuasively plays the fool when need be, only to rise up in a foaming rage. . ..” In our opinion there was too much fool, and too little rage.
So, in sum, if you are a Shakespeare fan, see it for the eye candy, but don’t expect either a full reading of the play, or an exciting one.
*If I recall correctly, Shakespeare still holds the Oxford English Dictionary record for most new words appearing in his writings.
Followers of this journal will recall that, when I was cast, I was not pleased to find out that we were using an abridged script. While I’ve gotten accustomed to it, rehearsing the show and hearing the other parts just made me more aware of its deficiencies.

Notes to the adapted script say: “Edited and adapted by David Hundsness, 2008…. This adaptation retains Shakespeare’s original language. It has been shortened to under two hours, cutting scenes that are typically slow to modern audiences. Dated references are minimized so the story may be set anytime and anywhere. A Wedding Ceremony and Juliet's Funeral are created from cut-and-pasted lines, and some scenes are altered for dramatic impact (all from the original script, of course). To see all lines that were cut, see the unabridged version at www.hundsness.com/plays.”

Mr. Hundsness has also posted one comment, by “Austin Live Theater,” “This is no Reader's Digest edition. The adapter did a scrupulous, ethical job of fileting the original text, preserving the story line and the essentials of the characters. Almost all of the most memorable lines of verse were retained. Purists would certainly object to his reducing the text by 30 to 40 percent, adroitly stitching together scenes while adhering to original texts and crafting both a brief marriage scene in Friar Laurence's chambers and a funeral for Juliet. But none of this diminishes a whit the power of Shakespeare's language or plot. The adaptation is directly in the centuries-old tradition of moving the bard to the audience."

Well, I beg to differ. I admit that I am one of the purists referred to, and that cutting any play, let alone Shakespeare, is problematical. I much prefer to start with the uncut text, and then prune where you find you can’t make it work, rather than, as we did, starting with someone else’s idea of what a good abridgement is, and adding bits back in. 

Admittedly also, that’s a big job and not everyone may be up for it.
Some of Mr. Hundsness’ cuts I didn’t have a problem with.  The sections where Capulet’s servants are sent to invite friends to the ball doesn’t advance the plot too much, nor does Capulet’s dialogue with his uncle at the party, and I didn’t mind not having to add that to my role. On the other hand, the adaptation entirely cut Paris visit to the Capulet tomb, his duel with Romeo and death, and Friar Laurence’s  dialog with Juliet before he flees the scene. All these we added back in. On the other hand, Friar Lawrence’s confession to the Prince doesn’t add anything the audience didn’t know, so I don’t so much mind that being cut. However, Hundsness then goes on to cut out the text of Capulet and Montague’s reconciliation, which I think is vital. The street scene with Romeo, Murcutio, and the Nurse, wherein the wedding plans are made, is vital and went back in. We also added back in the short scene wherein Juliet convinces her father she has repented and will marry Paris, which I think was good to have in, although perhaps not as crucial. Other cuts were also restored.

Perhaps worse than the cutting of entire scenes is the picking out of words and phrases from individual speeches, with the result that what remains makes little sense. Here’s the unabridged version of Capulet inviting Paris to his party:

“This night I hold an old accustomed feast,
Whereto I have invited many a guest
such as I love; and you among the store,
if you be not of the house of Montagues,
One more, most welcome, makes my number more.
At my poor house look to behold this night
Earth-treading stars that make dark heaven light.
Such comfort as do lusty young men feel
When well-appareled April on the heel
Of limping winter treads, even such delight
Among fresh femalel buds shall you this night
Inherit at my house. Hear all, all see,
And like her most whose merit most shall be;
Which, on more view of many, mine, being one,              
May stand in number, though in reck'ning none.
Come, go with me.”

And here’s what I was left with:
“This night I hold an old accustomed feast,
whereto I have invited many a guest
Such as I love, not of the house of Montagues,
And you, most welcome. Look to behold this night
Earth-treading stars that make dark heaven light.
Such comfort as do lusty young men feel
Among fresh female buds. Hear all, all see,
And like her most. Come, go with me.”

I had the biggest problem with the lines “such comfort as do lusty young men feel among fresh female buds.” Say what? This isn’t even a complete sentence. I added back in the words, “thou shalt inherit,” so it at least had a verb and made some sense.

Mercutio suffers badly under this regime.  Not only does Hundsness hack away at the “Queen Mab” speech, probably the most famous in the play after the balcony scene, he also makes pointless changes to poor Mercutio’s death scene.  Instead of:

Courage, man, the hurt cannot be much.
No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a
church door, but 'tis enough, 'twill serve. Ask for me
tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.”

We get:
“No, 'tis not so deep, nor so wide,
but 'tis enough, 'twill serve. Ask for me
tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.”

Not so deep nor so wide as what? The logic of the  cut puzzles me. Even in the name of removing dated references, I would think a modern audience could be relied upon to understand that a well is typically deep, and a church door typically wide.

So, in sum, I find Mr. Hundsness’ abridgement objectionable, not alone because it is an abridgement, but because, in my opinion, it is a badly done abridgment.
I auditioned for the West Allis Players' production of "Romeo and Juliet", and have been cast as "old Capulet" (or "Lord Capulet," Juliet's father, a part I was pleased to get. Being a Shakespeare purist, I wasn't quite as pleased to find out we are using an abridged script, which cuts the show down to two hours long. However, it has all the "good parts," the cast seems good, and I hope to have fun with it. It's being directed by Mary Beth Topf, whom I've worked for quite a bit in the past, including on "Taming of the Shrew" and "Beauty and the Beast," and I think she's very good. Also, for the first time, I'm in the same show as friends Lily (Apothecary), James (John the messenger), and Briana Sullivan (Chorus), so that's a plus as well.

The show will go on at the usual venue, West Allis Central High School, Friday and Saturday nights, October 4th, 5th, 11th and 12th, and one Sunday matinee, October 13th.
On Saturday, August 24th, we made the trip to Spring Green to see APT’s new production of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” followed by Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.”

We had been very excited when we heard that APT was doing both these plays this year, and even more so when it appeared they would do a thing that I had wanted to see ever since discovering Stoppard’s play: to perform the shows together, one after the other, with the same actors in the same roles. This combination appeared exactly once in this summer’s schedule, so we were glad to be able to catch the conjunction.

In Shakespeare’s play, Matt Schwader as Hamlet gives us a very active and vigorous prince, not so much a “melancholy Dane” as a manic-depressive one. The switchover from passive-aggressive to just plain aggressive gave a very interesting emphasis to the play that we had not seen before. For one thing, it become plain that Hamlet is being insufferably cruel to Ophelia (Cristina Panfilio) in the “Get thee to a nunnery,” scene and the interaction that comes after, before the “play,” which markedly contributes to her breakdown after Polonius’ death. Hamlet taunts Claudius (Jim DeVita) to his face, which, given Hamlet’s subsequent murder of Polonius and lack of remorse therefore, makes his uncle seem justified in deeming him dangerous and wanting to be rid of him. Hamlet’s confrontation with his mother after killing Polonius and demand that she have no further carnal contact with Claudius, even while he’s preparing to carry away the dead man, shows that Hamlet really DOES have an unhealthy obsession with his mother’s sex life--. This is what we are calling the “Hamlet is a jerk” interpretation, which we thought worked really well and gave the performance great energy.

Another good departure was to make Polonius (David Daniel) a likeable fellow. Certainly, he’s pompous and talks too much, but he’s not an ass or a stuffed shirt. Most importantly, the scenes involving Polonius, Ophelia, and Laertes (Eric Parks), demonstrate that they are a close and caring family, with children and parent loving one another, which makes Ophelia’s grief and Laertes’ rage at his double bereavement seeming very genuine.

Yet another clever touch was to have veteran actor James Pickering enact the roles of the Ghost, the Player who plays the murdered Gonzago before Claudius, and the First Gravedigger. The fact that the Player and Gravedigger resemble the murdered King is noticed by Claudius, whose visible starts when meeting them underscore that he, too, is haunted in his way.

DeVita as Claudius is a man running as fast as he can to stay in one place, desperately trying to hold on to by charm what his brother held by merit. Deborah Staples plays Gertrude as a woman who is still young and vital, who has fled from a long and lonely widowhood into marriage with her brother-in-law without really appreciating what she was getting into, or what effect the hasty marriage would have on others. By the time Hamlet returns from his aborted sea voyage, Gertrude seems to have forgotten any misgivings he might have had, since it is high spirits that lead her to drink from the poisoned cup.

That this was a very carefully and intricately worked out production was evident in attention to every detail and nuance. Definitely one of the best Hamlets we’ve seen.

Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” is the same play, but seen (and only seen) from the viewpoints of the two minor characters, friends of Prince Hamlet from college, who get caught up in Claudius’ plots and come to a bad end thereby. Ryan Imhoff is billed as Rosencrantz and Steve Haggard as Guildenstern, although, since in Hamlet they are interchangeable, they spend most of the play being uncertain what their own names are.

The play opens with the pair waiting “offstage” as they frequently are. That all is not quite right is made apparent both by their coin-flipping game in which “heads” has come up an unprecedented 90+ times in a row, and the fact that neither of them can remember anything later than the morning, and the morning only vaguely. As the play goes on, we see their brief interactions with the “main” characters, between which times the two try to figure out what’s going on, both in the machinations of the Danish court in general, and with their state of suspension in particular.

Steve Haggard is one of APT’s most able comic actors, and his character is the sharper of the two, raising questions about existence which his partner is frustratingly unwilling or unable to appreciate. Imhoff’s character is genially goofy (in fact, it occurs to me that at points when he is “moseying” around the stage, he is literally walking like Disney’s “Goofy”), with a short attention span and short re-tention span as well. He has too little grasp of the situation to be worried about it until things get too bad to ignore.

The one group of characters that do interact with them on a personal level are the Players, lead by John Pribyl in a wonderfully juicy portrayal. However, the Players, with their “all the world’s a stage” solipsistic viewpoint are of no help to the perplexed pair. After all, as the Player King says, “We’re the opposite of people.”

For people who love theater and acting, the play is particularly funny, not only for the Players’ cynical take on acting and audiences, but because Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are acting out the life of bit players: waiting offstage in costume, engaging in desultory conversation or mild amusements, something enough to keep one alert but not so distracted that one misses a cue.

Even without that, the play is wonderfully funny, with both leads handling Stoppard’s witty dialog ably and augmenting it with judicious amounts of physical comedy. It really is a tour de force for Haggard and Imhoff, since they are on stage for 99% of the play. (I suspect this why there are two intermissions, whereas the longer “Hamlet” has only one—because the principals need breaks--.)

The set is exactly the same as the “Hamlet” set, not surprising. I was initially a bit surprised that the costumes (with the exception of Hamlet’s somber black) were not the same, but gradually realized that they are brighter, more fantastic, more artificial, perhaps a bit tawdry—in a word, theatrical. The other characters also pitch their parts up a notch, as well. It occurred to me that perhaps not only was this a reminder to the audience that we are seeing a play about a play, but that it may also reflect Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s view of the world—more dramatic and highly colored, since they see themselves as the protagonists of their own story.

Both productions played to full houses and drew standing ovations. I expect that this will prove a once in a lifetime theatrical event, and we will not forget it.
It's been a busy couple of weeks with me pulling overtime to deal with a large client's needs, so time for some quick catching up.

July 4th, we picked up Chris Madsen, and went over to Mayfair Mall (open 10-6 on the holiday)to see "Monsters University," the prequel to "Monsters, Inc.". In this one, ambulatory eyeball Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) is the protagonist, and the story deals with his entry into the prestigious Monsters University "Scarers" program, which prepares one for a career harvesting the children's screams that power the Monster world. James P. "Sully" Sullivan (John Goodman) is his classmate, and both get washed out of the program for differing reasons. The plot then goes on to detail their plans to get back into the program.

While its an ultimately sweet story, actions have real-world type consequences, and there are plot twists that take it away from the "loveable losers save the day for the school" story that's been made a cliche after first having been done by Harold Lloyd in 1925.

The veterans are well-supported by an interesting voice cast in a myriad of monstrous shapes, lead by Helen Mirren as Dean Hardscrabble, and Alfred Molina in a nice cameo as Professor Knight. Unlike a lot of the "cute" monsters, Hardscrabble is a truly fearsome image, with the head,torso, and wings of a dragon, and the tail and legs of a gigantic myriapod.

Pixar continues to go from strength to strength in animation. The crowd scenes and long shots are particularly astonishing, as no to creatures are alike, or have the same number of heads, or number and types of limbs. The sources are drawn not only from myth and legend, but classical monster artists such as Hieronymus Bosch, as well.

We enjoyed the film a lot. As a prequel, it doesn't "spoil" Monsters, Inc., and you don't have to have seen Monsters, Inc., in order to see and enjoy "Monsters University."

After the movie, we went to the Applebee's restaurant at the Mall for dinner. This was the first time I'd been into one for many years. Chris and I each had their 9 oz. sirloin steak, and Georgie had a classic turkey breast sandwich. The steaks were good and cooked to order, and the potato and vegetable accompaniments were OK. Georgie said the turkey was good, but thought the ciabbatta used as bread was a bit insubstantial. We would definitely eat there again.

After that, we went over to Chris' place to chat and let dinner settle enough for dessert, which was apple pie and ice cream we had bought.

After leaving Chris, we walked down to Jackson Park for fireworks, which was a nice twenty-five minute show. We noticed a new color this year, a light greenish yellow that was quite interesting.

Saturday the 6th, we met Henry Osier for dinner at East Garden restaurant on Oakland Avenue, to be followed by the new film of "Much Ado About Nothing," by Joss Whedon at the Downer Theater.

East Garden is a Chinese restaurant, with the typical extensive menu. I had Mushu Duck, Georgie had Sesame Chicken, and Henry chose a ginger noodle dish. All the food was good, but not wonderful, and service was decent. I'd try them again if in the neighborhood, but wouldn't go out of my way just to go there.

"Much Ado About Nothing" is the production of Shakespeare's play put together by Whedon in ten days after "The Avengers" wrapped, shot in black and white, using Whedon's home as the villa where the action takes place, and cast with Whedon's regular players. The result is fun and interesting, with the cast giving a very accessible reading of the play that modern viewers not previously familiar with it can enjoy. The script was straight Shakespeare, although the actions were sometimes a bit more slapstick than typical on the stage. In particular, the antics of Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker) when they think they are eavesdropping on their friends, are rather over-the-top, but funny. Nathan Fillion was excellent as Dogberry, playing the role mostly straight, instead of as a Keystone Kop.

I generally liked the production very much, except for one salient thing--a wordless sequence at the film's opening showing the relationship of Beatrice and Benedick before the time of the play, which is directly contradicted by the script and the play's whole argument. This is responsible also for the reading given to Acker for her opening speeches about Benedick which are far from "merry war," and indeed bitter. I don't understand why Whedon thought this was necessary and find it a disappointing flaw in an otherwise fine film.

For me, the definitive film version of "Much Ado" is still the Emma Thompson/Kenneth Branagh version (although Fillion's Dogberry is better than Michael Keaton's baffling portrayal), but this is a very worthwhile addition to the canon of Shakespeare in cinema.
On Saturday afternoon the 13th, I went to the Helfaer Theatre on the Marquette campus to see the Fiasco Theatre Company's performance of Shakespeare's "Cymbeline."

Fiasco Theater is a small, not-for-profit theater company in New York City, formed in 2007 by graduates of the Brown University/Trinity Repertory Consortium MFA Acting program. They espouse a minimalist approach to production. Per their website: "We believe the performer, the text and the audience are the only elements required to make great theater." The name Fiasco was chosen "because only when artists are brave enough to risk a fiasco can they create the possibility of something special."

The performance of Cymbeline was light-hearted, but not a send-up. Nor, despite the physical cast of six, was the story significantly cut down as with "reduced Shakespeare," although some text was edited in order to fit into the two hour timeframe.

Based upon the "history" of the real-life British monarch Cunobelinus as taken from Geoffrey of Monmouth, with a sub-plot from Bocaccio grafted on, the lot seems to be Shakespeare trotting out all his reliable bits. There is the pigheaded Lear-like King, a wicked and ambitious Queen, a secret marriage and a death-simultating potion (Romeo and Juliet), a wager over a wife's fidelity (Merchant of Venice), a stolen love-token and a jealous husband's intent to murder his wife (Othello), a woman disguised as a man (several), an unwanted, doltish suitor (ditto), missing heirs, and deathbed revelations.

The members of the Fiasco troupe manage all this melodrama quite handily with their cast of six, and a mostly bare stage using a secially constructed convertible trunk as a setpiece.

Jessie Austrian is one of Fiasco's co-artistic directors and, in the central role of Imogen, Cymbeline's daughter, the only one of the cast who does not do multiple parts. Noah Brody, the other co-artistic director, played her husband Posthumus and a Roman Captain. Paul L. Coffey was much of the supporting cast, as Pisanio the loyal servant, Philario, Posthumus' Roman friend, Caius Lucius, the Roman envoy, and Guderius, one of the missing heirs. Justin Blanchard played the treacherous Iachimo and the other heir, Arivagus. Patrick Mulryan had the actually rather small part of Cymbeline, but also most of the comedy as the odius suitor Cloten, and as Doctor Cornelius. Emily Young had two juicy roles, as Cymbeline's scheming Queen, and "Beliaria", the exiled noble who stole, then raised, Cymbeline's sons.

It's not enough for six actors to play fourteen roles, they also sang, played instruments, and did all the prop and setting changes. The musical interludes were quite enjoyable: in one, the whole cast sang a Rennaisance style septet, whereas Coton had a '50's style ballad, and the "Welsh mountaineers" had a couple of Appalachian type songs.

All the players are very experienced actors, and it showed well in their ability to shift scenes and characters seamlessly yet make it all clear to the audience who was whom when. I really enjoyed this performance, and would make it a point to see Fiasco if they come to town again.
As we often do, we made our trip to American Players Theatre a "double-header," and also took in the evening performance of Shakespeare's "Richard III," on Sunday evening the 9th.

We found it very interesting that, although this production was directed by James DeVita, it was about as different from APT's last production of "Richard III" (in which DeVita played Richard) as could reasonably be. Whereas the DeVita Richard was a low-keyed, confiding, and occasionally actually sympathetic Richard, in this production James Ridge is a ranting, laughing, all-out villain and seems to have a good time chewing the scenery, something we the audience enjoyed as well. The broadness of the characterization and Richard's glee in his plots almost make the first half of the show a black comedy. The second half, after Richard has come to the throne, is decidedly darker, and builds up to a big climax when Richard's murdered victims, having already troubled his dreams, appear as spectres to his fevered vision on Bosworth Field.

Georgie noted that this Richard in particular is a "crisis politician,"—manufacturing crises, and then stepping in to take charge, ruling through fear as when he stampedes the people of London into demanding he take the crown—an approach to governance still too much in use today.

Ridge was very well supported by his co-conspirator David Daniel as Buckingham, and by the formidable cast of women: Sarah Day as Cecily, the Dowager Duchess of York; Tracy Michelle Arnold as Margaret of Anjou, widow of Henry VI; Melissa Graves as Anne Neville, Richard's tortured Queen; and Colleen Madden as Elizabeth Woodville, the soon-to-be widowed wife of Richard's brother, King Edward IV. (It seemed to me that the women's roles were somehow larger in this production than the past, for some reason--.) Adding to the sinister aspects of the play was Eric Parks as Ratcliff, Richard's murdering henchman, coolly noting down his assignments as an uncredited DeVita does the actual dirty work.

The production's handsome Edwardian-era costumes are shown off well by the barren, rocky stage, which is transformed by props and pieces into a throne room, a prison, or a battlefield.

This was an interesting and engaging addition to our collection of Richards, and we were very glad to have seen it.
On Sunday, September 9th, we made the pilgrimage to Spring Green to see APT's production of Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida." We were interested and curious to see this rarely performed play, even though reviews were ambiguous. (In fairness, the reviews questioned the goodness of the script, not the presentation, a judgment we are inclined to agree with. However, we have as an informal goal in life to see as many of Shakespeare's plays as we reasonably can, and when else will we see this one?)

The play is generally considered problematic, in part because it is partly a tragedy, and partly a history. This isn't necessarily a problem for Shakespeare, since "The Merchant of Venice" is a tragedy with a secondary comedy plot, and "Henry IV" is a history with a substantial comic element centering on Falstaff. However, 'Troilus and Cressida" has other issues, notably that the plot concerning the nominal main characters peters out about 3/4th of the way through.

The play begins in the seventh year of the Trojan War. Achilles is sulking in his tent with Patroclus, and the other Greeks berate themselves at their lack of success as the stalemated siege drags on. In Troy, Troilus (Nate Burger), youngest son of King Priam, courts Cressida (Laura Rook), daughter of the turncoat Calchas, who has gone over to the Greeks. Troilus suit is not prospering, largely because, rather than speaking for himself, he uses her garrulous uncle, Pandarus (James DeVita), as a go-between. (At least in Shakespeare's version, poor old Pandarus is somewhat maligned by historic use, since he's much more of a "yenta", trying to arrange a match for his niece, than a procurer as the term "panderer" has come to mean.) When Troilus speaks up for himself, Cressida welcomes him.

Of course this happens the night before King Priam agrees to exchange Cressida to the Greeks for a Trojan prisoner. Both are heartbroken as the Greek Diomedes (Travis A. Knight) leads Cressida to her father in the Greeks' camp. Despite being treated shamefully by the Greeks, who are rough and barbarous by contrast with the Trojans, Cressida seems to come down with "Stockholm Syndrome" in record time and accepts Diomedes as a substitute for Troilus, although not without some regret. Cressida's lack of motivation here is one of the weak points of the play, and makes one wonder if something is missing from the already long text. When Troilus witnesses her betrayal of him, that portion of the plot is ended, and the remainder of the play deals with well-known incidents from the Iliad: the duel between Hector (Marcus Truchinski) and Ajax (Michael Huftile); the subsequent battle in which Hector kills Patroclus (Samuel Ashdown) believing him to be Achilles (Eric Parks); and, in a departure from the classic events, the death of Hector, who is surprised unarmed and murdered by the Greeks in a gang, although Achilles takes the credit for his killing. Troilus seeks Diomedes on the battlefield, but their fighting is inconclusive, and both they and Cressida are alive at play's end. Both sides end the show shouting their battle cries, the Greeks still intent on winning back Helen, and the Trojans motivated to avenge Hector.

The history of this play is somewhat muddled, making it debatable if the play was ever actually performed in Shakespeare's time, which would make the flaws somewhat more understandable if the Bard never finished polishing it for production. APT gives it their best shot, with a nicely mounted production. The very sparse set is divided by heavy red beams, implying a construction site, or perhaps walls shored up to withstand a siege. Costumes for the men are basic tunics, russet for the Greeks, aqua for the Trojans, with leather armor pieces. All the women in the play are Trojans, and they had attractive gowns in a style suggesting classical Asia Minor.

Acting was up to APT's usual high standard, and there was excellent ensemble so that it's hard to point to any one outstanding performance, although notable were La Shawn Banks as the spiteful servant, Thersites, and Greta Wohlrabe in a small but poignant part as the tortured Cassandra. (Kudos to Shakespeare for his treatment of her: of course the Trojans would think she was mad, since she is frantically trying to warn them of doom and, due to Apollo's curse, none of them can believe her--).
One flaw in the directing struck me: As in other Shakespeare plays, the dialog for most of the "noble" characters is in verse, but those of a more "common" sort, in this case Pandarus, are in prose. DeVita delivers his lines in a very naturalistic and confiding fashion which stands out quite distinctly from the more formal and declamatory delivery of the others to the extent that it sounds like hearing overlapping parts of two different plays. Had I been directing, I would either have had DeVita add a bit more structure, or, more likely, have the rest of the cast smooth out the versifying to be more natural, something APT usually excels at.

Verdict: Ultimately unsatisfying, but the fault is in the play, and not the players. Thanks to APT for staging it so that we could have a chance to see it at its best.
On Sunday evening, July 1, we went to the Alverno College courtyard for this summer's free Shakespeare production, "Macbeth." The company delivered an enjoyable presentation that was long on sense and short on grue.

Acting was generally up to a very high standard. Unfortunately, two of the weakest performances were by Tom Reed, in the crucial and lengthy title role, and Michael Cotey as Malcom. Both men had similar problems—a certain stiffness of stance, and a definite inflexibility of the vocal instrument. Reed's tone is all very one-note, whether happy or sad, raving or musing, this in a role that practically defines scene-chewing and calls in any case for great range. A certain physical stiffness may also be accounted for by the fact that Reed is short, especially when compared with Timothy Linn as Banquo, and Andrew Voss as Macduff, and Reed may have been trying for a more authoritative presence. Both Linn and Voss give a much more naturalistic portrayal of wild Highland clansmen than the seemingly calculating Macbeth.

Cotey's Malcom seems more like a deliberate acting choice, since we see in the last scene that he can roar out, so the very flat affect may have been attempting to portray a shy and withdrawn young man. However, if that were so, his more relaxed scene with Macduff should have shown more emotional range.

The really stellar performance was Marti Gobel as Lady Macbeth. She made excellent use of the intimate performing space to make eye contact with the audience during her soliloquies, which made us feel that she was talking TO us, and making us complicit in her dreadful plans.

Timothy Linn as Banquo was vital and powerful when alive, and made an excellent and fearsome ghost as well. His fright makeup and staring eyes as "blood-boltered Banquo" were extremely effective.

The three witches were more New Age than frightening, looking like youthful depictions of the Celtic goddesses Morrigan, Babd, and Macha, which was interesting and fresh, but at odds with the script description of "secret, black and midnight hags" who can't readily be identified as male or female, or even human.

The cast in general made very good use of the small but multi-level playing area. I didn't "get" the backdrop at first, which looked just like sheets with holes in them and seemed more like sails than anything else. Then the light changed and the paired slits in each panel gave them the appearance of ghostly faces.

Costuming was a weak point. Kilts are expensive, so I can see why they didn't go with those, and as far as it went, the kind of street-gang odds and ends of leather and padding for armor weren't bad. What I didn't appreciate was the peculiar one-shouldered jackets and tunics even for dress wear that seemed to be a half-baked suggestion of the plaid over the shoulder, but only succeeded in looking odd. One directorial decision I did not think worked well at all was the choice to bring Macbeth's "severed head" on stage, and leave Malcom stuck awkwardly holding it throughout his final speech.

All in all, still a very enjoyable production despite its flaws. The Optimist Theatre project is a very worthy one, and it will be interesting to see what comes next.


Mar. 20th, 2012 03:31 pm
Sunday the 18th, we went to the Oriental Theater to see the new film "Coriolanus," adapted from William Shakespeare's tragedy of the same name. Directed by Ralph Fiennes, the screenplay by John Logan updates the plot into a powerful story of pride, envy, ingratitude, and betrayal. The modern-era setting (shot in Serbia and Montenegro) makes the scenes of combat harsh, brutal, realistic, and compelling. Excellent story telling, and really marvelous acting by Fiennes in the title role, the suitably regal Vanessa Redgrave as his mother*, Brian Cox as his friend Menenius, and Gerard Butler as his long-time foe, Aufidius. (*Possibly one of Shakespeare's greatest blunders was retaining her name as "Volumnia" from historical sources. Can anyone not see or hear this name and not think that she must be hugely fat? The movie script deals with this by referring to her as "mother," "my mother," "his mother," et cetera, which helps a lot.)

Parts of the movie are fleshed out with news footage of real-life battles and riots. Lubna Azabal as the fierce Tamora and Ashraf Barhom as Cassius are the faces of the mob, hungry, dissatisfied, and angry.

Very spoileriffic blow-by-blow behind the cut:Read more... )

We were very glad to have had the opportunity to see this rarely-presented play. Loud and bloody as it frequently is, it also seems honest, with the grotesqueries of say, the 1999 Julie Taymor "Titus". The paring down of the text preserves the arc and the sense, with little being lost. Highly recommended for the Shakespeare completists out there.
On July 2nd, we went to American Players Theatre, and enjoyed the most remarkable production of "The Taming of the Shrew" that we have ever seen.

This version was done without the "Christoper Sly" framing story, which was appropriate and not missed due to the naturalistic presentation. The company chose to forgo putting the play on as the knockabout comedy it frequently is done as, and instead make it what Georgie deemed a domestic drama, altough still with much humor.

The keys to the new interpretation are the principals' performeances, Tracy Michelle Arnold as Katherina,"the shrew", and James Ridge as Petruchio, who has "come to tame her."

Arnold plays Katharina as a vulnerable woman, deeply hurt by her father's spiritual abandonment, and angry at her powerlessness which gives her "acting out" as a sole outlet for her frustration. The scene of the first meeting between "Kate" and Petruchio was different than any I have seen. Instead of being presented as a hard shelled person who volleys wisecracks, we see that she is confused by Petruchio's protestations, both wanting and not wanting to believe in him. Ridge takes Petruchio at a slower, gentler, tempo also, insistent but not at first demanding.

This balancing of the two characters continues throughout the play. When the newly married couple arrives at Petruchio's house, we see very real misery on Kate's part, but also, in Petruchio's Act IV solilloquy "Thus have I politicly begun my reign," we see that he is tired as well but determined to continue his program. In the scene traveling back to Padua it is partly understanding Petruchio's weariness with her contrariness that causes Kate to make peace.

The one part about this interpretation that troubled me a bit was that Kate's last act speech,"Fie, fie! unknit that threatening unkind brow," was done with perfect sincerity, with nothing ironic or suggestive of collusion with Petruchio, although somewhat lightened by, when delivering the line, "put your hands beneath your husband's foot," making the hands-joined gesture of "giving a leg up." However, Georgie and her avowedly feminist friend who joined us for the show both found Kate's speech quite good and not too submissive, so perhaps I was reading too much (or too little) into it.

The interpretations by the supporting cast were more tradional and added a lot of the humor to the play.

Production values were up to APT's usual standards, with a clever modular set including a tromp l'oeil door that I would have sworn I saw used. Costuming set the play somewhere in the middle 1800's, with lots of yummy top hats, frock coats and fancy vests on the Paduan men. Petruchio and his men were soldiers with double-breasted shirts, and hats that made them look like early American Indian Wars veterans. The women's dresses were hoop-skirt period, with the striking exception of Kate's distinctly Edwardian last-act gown (which may have been intended to show how she had progressed?). The performance was interrupted in the first half when the audienced noticed a plume of smoke rising from a lamp housing above the stage. It was evident that something inside was on fire. The show was stopped while the chief electician climbed the light tower, extinguished the flames, and disconnected and removed the lamp. It was rumored that a partially constructed bird's nest was the fuel. There was a bit of grumbling from some audience members, but the play picked up without a hitch.

This was absolutely the best and most thought-provoking presentation of this play in my experience, and highly recommended for anyone interested. "The Taming of Shrew" continues in repetory through October 2nd, with tickets available for most performances.
As soon as the e-mail came through that Optimist Theatre was again going to be presenting "Free Shakespeare in the Park" this year, I put in my reservation and scored tickets for Sunday the 18th. The evening performance was once again staged in a courtyard at Alverno College, although this year with the positions of the playing area and the audience reversed, so that the actors would have a bit larger and more flexible area to work in.

"Twelfth Night" is a sentimental favorite of mine, and I am always glad to see another production of it, especially one as good as this. Although there were not as many of the 'big guns' of Milwaukee's acting community on stage this time, the mostly young cast was excellent and gave us a very fine show.

Georgina McKee was quite charming as Viola/Cesario and costume, makeup and hairstyle in her male disguise were referential enough to the appearance of Clayton Hamburg as Sebastian to be good comedy. Alison Mary Forbes as Olivia gave a nice performance of the young woman awakened out of her grief by the strange charm of "Cesario." The other paricularly strong characterizations were by Todd Denning as a very John-Cleese-like Malvolio; Dan Katula as a thouroughly rogueish Sir Toby Belch, and Ron Scot Fry as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who would not have been at all out of place as a member of Bertie Wooster's "Drones' Club." (The play was done in early 20th-century costume--19-teens or so, which worked well.)

Everyone else was quite good in support. The performances I had most to quibble with were those of Marcella Kearns as Maria, and Tom Reed as Feste, although some of this may have been directoral choice. I've seen a number of productions that give Maria most of the lines belonging to the otherwise superflous character Antonio, which makes her much more of a co-conspirator and would-be equal in mischief with Sir Toby. As it was done, she got to act out only her spite towards Malvolio, which made the eventual revelation of her marriage to Sir Toby fall rather flat. Reed as the jester was given a characterless outfit of work clothes and duster that did not at all go with his role as privleged character to both Olivia and Orsino. Reed's interpretation gave us a very common-man view of the goings-on which were not quite either edgy or antic enough for my taste.

But, as mentioned, these are quibbles. We are very fortunate to have this excellent company doing free Shakespeare in our community, and it is to be hoped that future productions won't be "shipwrecked" by our miserly and backward state government's cuts to arts funding.
Saturday evening, June 18th, we caught the final Cream City Chorus concert of this season, "Shakespeare in Song."

This was an unusual entry for the usually co-ed chorus. So many of the male members ended up with conflicts for the date that they decided to make it an all-woman show, which had the added attraction of "turning Shakespeare on his head," because of course in Shakespeare's day, his productions were of necessity all-male.

The chorus did a very nice job of putting together an entirely Shakepeare-themed concert, combining some classics with some surprising new pieces.

The first half began with Cole Porter's "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," from Kiss Me Kate, which was definitely in the classic category and set a nice upbeat tone.

"A Tale Told by an Idiot," was one of several pieces in the concert that set Shakepeare's verse to music, setting this famous speech from Macbeth to an appropriately ominous tune by Huub de Lange. It was followed by "Double Trouble," by John Williams for the "Harry Potter" movies, which was done in a humorous style by Char Haas, Julie Magida, and Susan Reider as three witches.

"Sonnet XXIX," ("When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes . . .") was set to a very pretty tune by Georgia Stitt, and very well sung by Ebbie Duggins.

Then, there was one of many settings of "Sigh No More, My Ladies," from Twelfth Night; "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" from The Lion King (which is of course inspired by Hamlet); and back to Cole Porter for "Tom, Dick, or Harry."  "Shakespeare 101" was an orginal piece, lyrics assembled by Hillary Giffen from familiar snippets of Shakespeare, set to music by chorus director Kirsten L. Weber.

The second half of the program was all music inspired by Romeo and Juliet, and included "A Time for Us," from the movie, "Love Story" by Taylor Swift, "Tonight" from West Side Story, and "Run Away With Me," by Kerrigan and Lowdermilk. As sung by Shirl Greeb and Sharon Megna, this caused Georgie to comment, "Which one's Thelma and which Louise?"  There were also three pieces from R&J The Rock Musical, which stuck closely to Shakespeare's text, but inventively reformed it into trios and chorus pieces.

The chorus also gave us Sonnet XVIII, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" as an encore.

A very enjoyable concert with the energy and creativity we have come to expect from the CCC.
Well, we've had a couple of good performances. Not word-perfect, which I find personally annoying (particularly when it's me--), but good lively enjoyable shows. Those friends who came showed signs of genuine pleasure in the performances, so I guess we can be pleased with our efforts.



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