On Tuesday evening, July 18th, we went to the Downer Theater to see the hi-def broadcast of Shakespeare’s “Anthony and Cleopatra,” as performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, of Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Actually, we saw half the presentation, since it was a work night for me and we both got tired, and bailed out at the intermission. (The first act plus “prologue” is two hours by itself--).  What we did see was very good and worthy of comment, though.

The title roles were played by Josette Simon as Cleopatra, and Antony Byrne as Marc Antony, both of whom were excellent. The RSC tends to cast this show with actors a bit more mature than usually pictured for the roles, which works well. Ms. Simon, like the historical Cleopatra, is striking rather than beautiful, and can be both commanding and beguiling. Her Cleopatra is mercurial both by nature and by design.  Byrne’s Antony is a bluff soldier, weary of the years of warfare since the death of his mentor, Julius Caesar.

The play makes it clear why Antony finds Egypt so seductive. Cleopatra’s court is beautiful, sensual, playful: everything Rome is not. Rome represents duty and politics. The one celebration there we see, for the temporary treaty with Pompey the Younger, turns into a crude all-male drinking bout.  

Very fine performances also by Ben Allen as the triumvir Octavius Caesar, who is more of a rival to Anthony than a villain, and by Lucy Phelps as his sister, Octavia, whom Octavian marries to Antony in an effort to cement an alliance.  Octavia is loyal to Anthony, until Octavius reveals his double-dealing with enemies of Rome, Cleopatra’s allies.

It was a really fine production as far as we saw and I’d be glad to see the whole thing if it were reshown at a more convenient time, or on DVD.

The Friday public program of the Madison Early Music Festival began with the “Participant Concert.”

The Festival is an intensive workshop for those interested in learning and performing early music, and the Participant Concert exhibits what has been learned in the week of the Festival, with more than twenty classes having prepared one or more pieces for the concert.

Memorable moments of the concert included the “Wake-up Bagpipes” playing Shepherd’s Hay, a Scottish air, and Ungaresca, a 16th century Italian tune.

“The Knot Untied,” a string group, played the “In Nomine,” by Pickforth, which was a unique piece of music. The lowest line, for violoncello, is played entirely in whole notes (four beats); the next higher (violas) are dotted half notes (three beats) and half notes (two beats); the violin lines are dotted quarter notes (beat and a half) and the “melody” line quarter notes. The overall effect was to be like the gearing of a clock, and the intricacies of its working were quite fascinating.

A trio of faculty members, Taya Konig-Tarasevich, Baroque flute; Charles Weaver, lute; Robert Eisenstein, bass viol, gave us two pieces, “Chaconne, Two in one upon a ground”, by Henry Purcell; and Sonata in G, by William Croft.

“Balanced, not Blended” presented some humorous rounds, again by Purcell. The audience particularly liked “T’is women makes us love/ T’is love that makes us sad/ T’is sadness makes us drink/ T’is drink that makes us mad!” (Each group chose its own name, some more creatively than others. This vocal group’s name reminds us that in music of this period, harmony was not common, but counterpoint was more common.)

Bard Notes presented songs referenced in Shakespeare. “Blacke Spirites and White,” was preceded by a reading of the famous witches “double, double, toil and trouble,” scene, complete with “cauldron,” a Weber barbecue grill overflowing with fumes of dry ice.

Gentle Ladies’ Ballad Society and Tea Club, gave us a gently bawdy song, “My Thing is My Own,” from the book “Wit and Mirth, or Pills to Purge Melancholy,” which was very funny, and ended the concert on a definite “up” note.

We drove out to our hotel to check in for the evening, and got dinner at Ella’s Deli on the way back. Ella’s is always reliable, although far from haute cuisine.  We’ve been going there on and off for more than thirty years and never had a bad thing. The Fairfield Inn, where we stayed last Saturday night as well, was clean, reasonably comfortable, and reasonably priced, especially compared with hotels downtown. Being out by the freeway past East Towne wasn’t terribly convenient, but not too bad.


The evening concert, “Sonnets 400,” was preceded by a lecture by Prof. Joshua Callahan, “Repackaging Shakespeare’s Sonnets,” which gave us an interesting piece of publishing history. The original 1609 edition of the Sonnets, published during Shakespeare’s lifetime, was a commercial flop and was quickly out of print.  However, in 1640, a London publisher, John Benson, “repackaged” the sonnets as part of a volume titled Shakespeare’s Poems. This combined most, but not all of the Sonnets along with others of the Bard’s poems, plus works by other authors blithely gathered in. Benson changed the order in which the sonnets appeared, removed the numbering, added titles, and grouped two or more into single units of verse.  Benson’s rough handling proved popular, however, and remained the definitive edition of the Sonnets until well into the 19th Century. Professor Callahan made the interesting argument that reuse of a resource, which he called “conservation,” can be as good for it in the long run as trying to maintain it in a pristine state (“preservation”).

The performance itself consisted of forty of the sonnets read by veteran actor Michael Herrold , with contemporary music between each set of three or four. The musical ensemble consisted of three members of the faculty, Grant Herreid, lute and cittern; Charles Weaver, lute and bandora; and Priscilla Herreid, recorder. They played dance music by Anthony Holborne, from Pavans, Galliards, Almains, and other short Aiers (1599), including such pieces as “Paridizio,” “Last Will and Testament,” “The Funerals,” and “The Fairie Round.”

Mr. Herrold read well, with good intonation, expression, and enunciation, but not overdramatizing. This was a very interesting and well-presented program which we enjoyed.

At various times Milwaukee has had free professional theatre; Shakepeare (quite a lot); and outdoor theatre, but to my recollection we have not had free Shakespeare “in the park” before.  This changed with the Optimist Theatre production of The Tempest which was performed not actually in a park, but on the grounds of Alverno College near us.

For the first major production of a new theatre company, The Tempest was a remarkable artistic collaboration, pulling together as it did James Pickering, the dean of Milwaukee’s theatrical community; Angela Iannone,  one of our premier leading ladies; a number of other very experienced actors; and resources such as those of the Milwaukee Mask and Puppet Theatre, which created some of the “special effects.”

Although philosophically and linguistically dense, The Tempest is actually a good Shakespeare play for a production using minimal resources:  other than the storm at sea in the first scene, the rest of the play is set on Prospero’s more or less desert island, with even the interior of Prospero’s ‘cell’ and the bog Ariel leads Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo into off stage. The cast is small by Shakespearan standards, and costume changes minimal.  The show was staged on a layered platform with no set pieces. Instead, setting was supplied by “The Tribe”, actors who represented the host of spirits at Prospero’s command and who became winds, waves, trees, and rocks as needed. In the storm scene, ‘thunder’ was creatively suppled by the beating of Tribe feet on the stage platform, which not only sounded good, is quite appropriate when knowing that it is these spirits who are actually making the storm.

Pickering as Prospero was a sturdy and commanding presence most of the time, but showed us many human sides to the wizard. He is angry and bullying when commanding both Ariel and Caliban; mischievous when spying on Miranda and Ferdinand;  and when he kisses “dear Ariel,” it is implied that not all his fleshly appetites have been laid aside, and that Ariel has served him in other ways than just flying hither and yon.

Angela Iannone’s Ariel is a strong, graceful and sensual presence. She can flash her eyes and teeth in a most feral fashion,  reminding us that Ariel is neither human nor civilized by our standards.

Tom Reed created a brutish Caliban by means of simple makeup, expression and stance that was quite effective, but played more for humor than anything else. This Caliban, while good in context, never seemed to be really dangerous, nor was there any particular pathos in his speech describing how Prospero stole his birthright from him.  It must be said, however, that the scenes with clowns Trinculo (David Flores) and Stephano (Ken T. Williams) were as funny as any “Tempest” production I have scene.

Jocelyn Fitz-Gibbon gave us a bright, charming, and sparky Miranda, with a couple of enjoyable “Pippi Longstocking” moments in her interactions with Ferdinand, the Prince of Naples. Andrew Voss as Ferdinand was handsome and princely, and acted well in response to the many strangenesses of the enchanted isle.

The ‘heavies’ were well represented by Jacque Troy as ‘Antonio’, Prospero’s treacherous sibling; T. Stacy Hicks as Alonzo, King of Naples; and Neil Haven as Alonzo’s suggestible brother, Sebastian.  Hicks showed as much genuine grief at the presumed death of his son as any Alonzo I have seen.  Making the character of Antonio a woman in the script (references to “brother” were changed to “sister”) made Antonio’s corruption of Sebastian a physical as well as spiritual seduction that worked perfectly well with Shakespeare’s text.  Flora Coker rounded out the principals as ‘Gonzalo’ and played the ethical nobleman well.  ( ‘Gonzalo’ wears skirts but carries a sword; ‘Antonio’ wears pants but carries only a dagger. These choices puzzled me and seemed one of the few flaws in the production.)

The Tribe was fast, flexible, and effective in their functions, including manipulating the masks and puppets.  I have some reservations about the mask used to represent Ceres and the puppet of Juno supposedly conjured by Prospero as a masque in honor of his daughter’s betrothal; while amusing, their primitive aspect seemed too literal, as though we were seeing a ceremony by South Sea Islanders (whom the Tribe vaguely resemble) instead of spirits.

The play was further enhanced by live incidental music from the “Full Fathom Four”, an ensemble comprised of piano, two violins, and woodwind,  who also did some sound effects.

As with any outdoor production, “Mother Nature” is a player whether you want her or not. This evening, predicted showers held off, and, as the evening drew into night, the stage lighting illuminated wisps of falling dew, such that some scenes were furnished with artistic drifts of mist, which only enhanced the experience.

We definitely hope that this project proves sufficiently successful to carry on into future years.


--and our recent bad weather? The fairies, of course! I'm surprised Bushco, Exxon Mobile, etc. haven't hit on that excuse yet, given this damning testimony from Queen Titania:

"These are the forgeries of jealousy:
And never, since the middle summer's spring,
Met we on hill, in dale, forest or mead,
By paved fountain or by rushy brook,
Or in the beached margent of the sea,
To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind,
But with thy brawls thou hast disturb'd our sport.
Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck'd up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents:
The ox hath therefore stretch'd his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain'd a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men's morris is fill'd up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable:
The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original."

"A Midsummer Night's Dream," by William Shakespeare, Act II, Scene 1.
Saturday, July 5th, turned out to be a near-ideal day for outdoor theater. We had, as we often do, selected a double-header of plays, APT's "Henry IV: The Making of a King," which condenses Shakespeare's Henry IV parts 1 and 2 into one play, and "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

The original APT group would not have cut the "Henry" play, committed as they were to integrity of the text, but I do have to agree with the director who was quoted as saying that there is about 1.5 good plays in the two installments. What we got was mostly Henry IV, Part 1, with its story of intrigue against the unpopular Henry IV, the coming of age of ne'er-do-well Prince Hal, and its culminating battle against rebel "Hotspur" Percy and his allies. What we got of part 2 were the essentials: the death of King Henry IV with the famous misunderstanding about Hal's trying on the crown; Hal coming into his kingship, and the new king's banishment of Falstaff and the old cronies of his misspent youth.

Up-and-coming Matt Schwader did a very fine job as Prince Hal, growing from a bored frivolity to seriousness as needed, and making a credible action hero in his duel with the dangerous Hotspur. Brian Mani was a very workmanlike Falstaff, handling his scenes of bluster very well, but was not up to the memorable performances given by Randall Duk Kim years ago in "Merry Wives," or more recently, Richard Ziman in the Milwaukee Shakepeare company's production of "Henry IV, Part 1."
(reviewed by me here: http://milwaukeesfs.livejournal.com/2007/05/14/)

James Ridge played the King of the title, and gave an excellent characterization of a man who seems to be continually unlikeable, even when he is trying to make peace. Standouts among the supporting cast were David Daniel, believably handsome and charismatic as Hotspur, Carrie A. Coon as his spirited wife, and Henry Woronicz, who managed a creditable Welsh accent in the role of Owen Glendower.

"Midsummer Night's Dream" was one of the first plays I ever saw at APT and which hooked me. The outdoor setting, with moonlight on the trees behind the stage, and the real-life bats, moths, fireflies, and whippoorwills seemed the perfect setting. That production was one of APT's early purist approach shows, and was beautiful for it. This year's production takes quite another tack, and, although preserving the text took great liberties with setting and business, resulting in one of the all-around funniest versions of the play we have ever seen.

As the play opens, the stage is covered with dropcloths, and upstage was a port-a-potty which close inspection revealed to be labled in Greek. This is the hall for the celebration of the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta being redecorated for the big event, and the workmen are the "rude mechanicals" who eventually "honor" the happy couple with their performance of "Pyramus and Thisbe." One of the best features of this production was giving distinct personalities and styles to Hermia (Tiffany Scott), Lysander (Matt Schwader), Demetrius (Steve Haggard) and Helena (Carrie A. Coon), playing against the more common joke that they are more or less interchangable. Hermia is a fashion-forward Alpha Girl, and it's easy to see why her father Egeus (James Ridge) thinks that preppie nerd Demetrius would be a better match for her than "Joisey" disco boy Lysander (Schwader channeling John Travolta). Counter-culture girl Helena makes up the foursome with her hippie attire and guitar-case decorated with "Che" stickers.

Of course, once into the woods, they fall foul of the fairies, Puck (Marcus Truschinski), Oberon (Micheal Huftile), and Titania (Carey Cannon). Huftile and Cannon double the roles of Theseus and Hippolyta, a fact I would not have known without looking at the program, so much are they transformed from one role to the other. The fairies also play havoc with the townsmen, working the famous "transfiguration" on Bottom, played with relish by Johnathan Smoots.

Once all the romances are sorted out, the climax of the play is the "Pyramus and Thisbe," given here the most over-the-top, all out played for laughs presentation ever. Suffice to say "The eye
of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not
seen, man's hand is not able to taste, his tongue
to conceive, nor his heart to report."

The play ended with what Georgie called "My Big Fat Greek Wedding Dance," to a spontaneous and general standing ovation.

Acting was fine throughout, given the broad slapstick tenor, and the spiral ramped stage worked well, illuminated by some attractive effects. If the play had a flaw, it was in the fairies' costumes, which had no unifying vision. Titania's attendants resembled "classical" fairies with short floaty dresses, white tights and ballet slippers, floral chaplets and ribbons. By jarring contrast, the named fairies, Peaseblossom, Moth, Mustardseed, and Cobweb, had grotesque full-body costumes that literally represented their names. Titania herself wore a water-colored Edwardian "mermaid" gown that displayed an impressive corsage, whereas Oberon was more of a "woodgod" figure, in gladiator buskins, earth-toned harem pants, and cape with a collar of roots or twigs over bare chest. Puck was more of a 70's punk-rock figure, with tight pants and fur-collared vest with no shirt. It is frustrating that the company's costume designers do so well when dealing with the period pieces but don't seem to be able to come up with an integrated vision when outside the historical.
Our season with the Florentine Opera ended with a very fine performance of "I Capuleti e i Montecchi" (literally, "The Capulets and the Montagues," but usually subtitled "Romeo and Juliet."). This opera, by bel canto composer Vincenzo Bellini, to a libretto by Felice Romani, gives almost an alternate-universe version of the story of the 'star-crossed lovers.' Unlike others such as Gounoud's "Roméo et Juliette," the story is not based on Shakespeare, but is instead drawn from the same Italian sources as Shakespeare drew upon.

This production was set in the time of the Guelph/Ghibelline conflict, and, as the opera opens, there is open warfare in progress. The Capulet home is a grim fortress, not the elegant palazzo we usually see, and Romeo is leader of the opposing army laying seige to the town. Romeo (Marianna Kulikova) arrives in mufti as an ambassador offering to make peace between the families by an interdynastic marriage with Giulietta (Georgia Jarman). Despite the positive advice of Lorenzo (Kurt Link), the family physician and counsellor, the Capulet patriarch, Capellio (Jamie Offenbach), refuses, determined instead to marry his daughter to his loyal captain, Tebaldo (Scott Piper). Capello's son was killed in combat with Montague troops, and Capellio hates Romeo for his son's sake.

In the second scene, Lorenzo arranges a secret meeting between Romeo and Giulietta. Although Giulietta loves Romeo in return, she refuses to elope with him, as it would be dishonorable. In the third scene of the first act, Romeo infiltrates troops into town and disrupts the planned wedding of Tebaldo and Giulietta, but himself barely escapes.

Faced with the potential death of everyone she cares for, Giulietta agrees to take the sleeping potion to feign death and elope with Romeo. However, word of the plan does not get to Romeo because Capellio becomes suspcious of Lorenzo and has him imprisoned.

Romeo and Tebaldo are about to fight to the death when news of Giulietta's supposed end reaches them. In a nice ironic scene, the would-be combatants each beg for death, each blaming himself for Giulietta's loss and claiming to be made the more miserable thereby.

The opera ends in Juliet's tomb. Adding a bit of Gothic horror, Juliet awakes just after Romeo has taken the poison, such that he dies in her arms. In some productions, Juliet then dies "of grief", although here she took the more Shakespearean route of stabbing herself with Romeo's dagger, whereupon the curtain fell.

The opera is "small" by some standards, with only the five principals, and the sixth character being the Florentine men's chorus representing Capulet and Montague retainers. "Bel Canto" however, calls for fine voices, and we were not disappointed. Soprano Georgia Jarman was outstanding as Giulietta, with a beautiful, strong, and expressive voice. Marianna Kulikova (mezzo) as Romeo, was not well reviewed by our local paper, which claimed she was frequently overwhelmed by the chorus and orchestra. I don't know if she "let it out" a bit more in the final performance or what, but we had no trouble hearing and enjoying her performance from our seats in the center loge. it must be noted that the "Romeo" role is a demanding one, since she was on and singing in all six scenes, with substantial running and fighting in scenes three and five. We thought she handled it all very, very well. Scott Piper (Tebaldo) has an excellent tenor voice and performed without flaw or seeming effort. Bass Jamie Offenbach, as the family tyrant was a dominating presence, and Kurt Link (bass) ably moved the plot along as Lorenzo. We detected no fault in any of the singing.

In our opinion, Bellini deserved his reputation as a musical genius of his day. With the support of the well-drilled chorus, and the orchestra under the baton of Maestro Joseph Resigno, the opera gave us gorgeous melodies, harmonies, and sonorities.

As well as being lovely to listen to, the production was good to look at as well. The sparse sets, hired from the Opera Company of Philadelphia, were brought to life by an expressive light plot, designed by Peter Dean Beck, and costumes were handsome and generally period-appropriate. Between stage director Bernard Uzan and fight choreographer Todd Denning, the company handily avoided the "typical" bel canto opera staging. ("Come down center, stand, and sing--.")

All in all, both Georgie and I agreed it was a wonderful treat to find an opera that was both new to us and so thouroughly enjoyable.
Saturday the 15th we made the pilgrimage to Spring Green to wind up our APT season with a double header of “Timon of Athens: and George Bernard Shaw’s “Misalliance.”

“Timon” is Shakespeare’s much debated tragedy: early or late, finished or not, collaboration or not. None of those questions made any difference to the very fine production APT brought to the stage.

The tragic Timon (Brian Robert Mani) is spiritual ancestor to Mr. Toad from Wind in the Willows. Like Toad, he is a profligate spender, excessively hospitable, and, when things go wrong, dives to the pits of depression and wallows there.

“Extravagance” is the keyword of Timon’s character. He gives and buys extravagantly, and, when his presumed friends fail to rally round to bail him out of his financial crisis, he curses them and Athens extravagantly, and then, even casting aside his clothing, goes to live in “the woods” and survive by grubbing for roots like a beast, rejecting all the hands that actually are offered to assist him. Timon refuses to recognize the irony of his own position: when he was wealthy he refused repayment of loans, and gave away his fortunes asking nothing in return: nevertheless, he is surprised when that’s what he gets in his hour of need and never admits that his campaign to buy friendship was built on a false foundation. When he stumbles upon a buried treasure, instead of using it to repair his fortunes, he continues his hermit lifestyle and gives some of it to the rebel general Alciabiades (David Daniel) on the condition that he use it to destroy Athens. Spurning the help of his loyal steward, Flavius (James Ridge) and the fearful Athenians’ call to return and save them from the wrath of Alciabiades, Timon dies alone in his miserable retreat.

In this case, the decision to update costumes to modern day worked well. When Timon and the men of Athens he calls friends gather to feast, their white dinner jackets provided an ambiance that Georgie called “half Las Vegas casino owner, half Godfather.” Timon’s wilderness refuge is a squalid piece of junk-littered waste land, where he sleeps in an abandoned oil tank, which perhaps intentionally refers to the Cynic philosopher Diogenes, who lived in a tub. Timon follows a number of Diogenes’ other reputed behaviors including behaving like a dog (who Diogenes considered wiser than men) and his diet of roots.

“Timon” is pretty much a one man show, whether the protagonist is effusing or ranting, and Mani handled it brilliantly. It is a rather over-the-top character, but he had just enough restraint. He was ably supported by Jonathan Smoots as the Cynic philosopher Apemanthus, Ridge, and Daniel, as well as the APT company playing faithless friends, loyal servants, and clamoring debt collectors. The audience responded with a spontaneous standing ovation at the end.

After a picnic dinner, we bundle up against the chill and went back up the hill for “Misalliance.” This is a more than usually didactic Shaw piece, with the soft center of a domestic comedy enrobed in layers of editorial comment. Unlike some others of Shaw’s work, such as “The Devil’s Disciple,” or “Arms and the Man,” there is no central debate. Instead, each of the characters takes a turn (or two) expounding their own particular take on life and the social issues of the day. Discussion subjects include parents vs. children, brains vs. brawn, labor vs. capital, feminism vs. middle class mores, business vs. art, and others. In fact, the characters spend so much time talking about their own ideas, that they hardly interact: they are self-centered, self-justifying, and self-satisfying. In fact, if the play has a hero or a villain, it’s hard to see who it might be since the most and least admirable characters (in my opinion) Lena Szczepanowska (Tracy Michelle Arnold) and Johnny Tarleton (Marcus Truchinski) are peripheral to the plot. That being said, the full-house audience gave every evidence of thoroughly enjoying the play, as did we. A lot of laughs were elicited by the witty (and constant) dialog, wonderful comic timing, and a plot that left us guessing how it would all turn out. Excellent performances by Smoots as John Tarleton, the rather befuddled paterfamilias, Sarah Day as his more with-it wife, Carrie A. Coon as his bored daughter, Chris Klopatek as her apparent suitor of last resort, and the others that completed out the cast.
On Saturday, June 30, we opened our season of American Players Theatre, attending their new production of "The Merchant of Venice", which is a particular favorite of mine. I once wrote an essay choosing "Merchant" as the one Shakepeare play I would keep if I could only keep one, since it combines both Shakepeare's comedy, in the plot I call "The Marriage of Portia," and tragedy, in "The Tragedy of Shylock the Jew."

The APT production from years ago starring Randall Duk Kim as Shylock is still my favorite, but this year's show is very fine indeed with numerous new nuances brought out. The current cast features Jim DeVita as Antonio (the "Merchant" of the title); Matt Schwader as Bassanio, Portia's suitor; Colleen Madden as Portia; and James Ridge as Shylock.

Although Shylock is often referred to as "old Shylock," Ridge plays him as not yet elderly, still vigorous, upright, and kept motivated by his resentments. And the play shows us he has good reason for them as Antonio, Bassanio, and other Gentiles do not soft-pedal their anti-Semitism in the least. DeVita's Antonio is somber, almost depressive, borne down not only by his financial worries but seemingly by a loneliness he momentarily eases among his coterie of young friends. Schwader's Bassanio is well-done but not outstanding: young, cheerful, energetic, loyal, all the role need be. Colleen Madden's Portia is a revelation: as the sought-after bride, she is warm and passionate as opposed to the cool and aloof Portia we frequently see. It is not just that Bassanio is the most acceptable of her many suitors, she actually desires Bassanio and passionately wants him to win her. In Bassanio's choosing scene, it is quite clear that Portia knows very well which is the right box and is willing him to choose correctly. In the courtroom scene, Portia as the young lawyer is not as smooth as often played, showing she is sometimes momentarily taken aback by Shylock's intransigence.

Supporting roles were also well done: Darragh Kennan's Gratiano is his own character and his own man, not just a second-string Bassanio. Jonathan Smoots had a hat trick playing two of Portia's suitors, the Prince of Morocco and the Prince of Aragon, as well as the Duke of Venice, which involved a very quick change of not only costume but makeup between the two Princes' roles. The suitors were rather broad caricatures (I thought Aragon was rather influenced by Monty Python's "Spanish Inquisition") but very funny and drew Smoots an ovation. I was intrigued by the portrayal of Jessica, Shylock's runaway daughter. Leah Dutchin played her as a serious, sensitive girl, the better to bring out nuance in the later scenes at Belmont, when Portia, as played by Madden, shows herself a bit uneasy at taking Jessica into her home; and in the late scenes with Lancelot Gobbo and Lorenzo. I did find this a bit difficult to reconcile with the kind of young woman who would so blithely steal from her father, and carelessly barter away the equivalent of his engagement ring to buy an unclean animal. This, however, I think was a directorial decision rather than on the part of the actress, and did support one of the play's major themes.

Jessica's elopment and apostasy are the last straws that drive Shylock to his deadly decision to pursue his bond, and, in the scene where he laments his losses, at least to the Gentiles, he repeatedly refers to Jessica as his "flesh and blood." This was an emphasis we hadn't noticed in the past but which makes a strong connection between Shylock's bereavement and his intention to exact revenge on Antonio.

The courtroom scene, as appropriate to the dramatic climax of the play, was done with great feeling and excellent timing, with peaks of intensity when Antonio's friends rave at Shylock, to a long moment of silence when Bassanio and Antonio embrace for what they think will be the final time. Shylock turns his eyes away from this scene, showing that he is not devoid of human feeling even then, which we all thought was a particularly good bit of acting.

This performance was the second official performance, following two "previews" and an opening night, and there were a few small, barely noticable moments of unsteadiness, but I expect these to be ironed out for future shows.

APT is a jewel. Anything they do is worth seeing if you care for the subject material. Other plays this year are "Timon of Athens" and Shaw's "Misalliance", which we will be seeing, and "Much Ado About Nothing", and Williams' "Night of the Iguana", which we will not. We've seen/done a good "Much Ado" recently and didn't need it, and I find Williams loathsome and don't want it. Nevertheless, I'm sure APT will do fine jobs with all and therefore reccommend them to the interested.
We were half expecting the heavens to open Wednesday the 9th, since the last times we had attempted to see one of Shakepeare's "history" plays ("Richard II" and "Henry V",) we had been at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, and been rained out both times. Fortunately, on this night the weather was good, and the venue was indoors, which presented its own challenges--.

We had caught a couple of performamces by this company during its partnership with the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and found them enjoyable if not without flaws (cf: "The Taming of the Shrew" previously reviewed herein). this show was reviewed well, as distinguished from this season's earlier "Macbeth," which was roundly criticised for making poor use of its performance space and having a weak Lady Macbeth.

This play was done in a very different space, the Studio Theater at the Broadway Theatre Center, which also houses the Skylight Opera Company. The Studio Theater is a "black box" performance space, and empty rectangular area that can be reconfigured for a number of different types of perfomance. For this show the space was set up "in the round" with performers on the floor in the center and seating on risers at either end. The result is a comparatively small and initmate theatre with a 'stage' about 30 feet on a side and used almost up to the first row's toes.

This space works well for most of the scenes. The play picks up some time after the action of "Richard II," in which the feckless Richard loses his crown to the provoked rebel Bolingbroke, who takes the throne as Henry IV instead of the childless Richard's anoited successor, Edmund Mortimer. As the play opens, King Henry deals undiplomatically with the powerful northern lords, the Earls of Worcester and Northumberland, and Northumberland's son, Henry Percy ("Hotspur") who were not only Henry's early supporters in his rebellion against Richard, but who have lately done good service in defeating a Scottish invasion under the Earl of Douglas. Thanks in part to his clumsy handling, the three great lords make common cause with "The Douglas" and Mortimer and his new father-in-law, the Welsh warlord Owen Glendower, and raise a mew rebellion against Henry.

This is the play that introduces Henry's son, "Prince Hal," his drinking companion, Sir John Falstaff, and Falstaff's pack of rogues. Hal, left idle by the inexplicable English practice of not giving the Crown Prince any real office, has fallen into bad ways and is the despair of his father, who wishes he had Hotspur as a son instead. Hal and Falstaff roister while rebellion foments, until war actually breaks out at which time Hal rallies to his father's defence and proves himself in battle.

The intimate space proved good for the scenes of council and conspiracy, amd made us feel that we were guests at Mistress Quickly's tavern along with Hal and the gang. This, however, was a mixed blessing, as some of the scenes wer just TOO LOUD. Hal, Falstaff, and the others drunkenly rant at the top of their lungs, which became a bit wearing after a time. As good an effect could have been achieved by toning voices down a decibel.

This play climaxes in a prolonged battle scene--far longer than that of "Macbeth" and longer than the battle of Bosworth Field in "Richard III", so the producers felt this called for lots of action. Although well done, and all kudos to the fight choreographer for doing so much in so small a space, the fight scenes made me nervous, and not just because we were sitting in the front row within arm's reach of swinging steel. Knowing the little bit I do about stage combat, I felt the fight direction took some unnecessary risks bu such things as moving from slow-motion to full speed, and punctuating the battle with flashing lights, all of which tend to unbalance. The use of "smoke" in this small space was also questionable: since the sightlines were short, in order to cause any real "fog of battle" effect, so much would have to have been used that the air would have become unbreathable, rather than merely irritating to asthmatic people like Georgie. (As it happened, we were sitting unfortunately near the "fog machine" and I could taste the smoke chemicals on my lips by the time the show was ended.)

King Henry IV is an example of the "Peter Principle" in action, having risen from popular rebel to unpopular King, a man who cannot seem to say the right thing, either to his former supporters or to his son, and was well played by Jeff Allin. Hal and Hotspur are the real stars, and nice performances of these two very different characters were given by Jeffrey Withers and Brian J. Gill, respectively. Of course, Falstaff tends to steal the scenes he is in (as well as anything not nailed down), and Richard Ziman gave us a very interesting Sir John, whom Georgie summed up as "a dangerous rogue." His white whiskers give him a "Kris Kringle" look, unsettling with his glittering blue eyes that the smiles do not quite reach. This was a good portrait of a poor knight whom laws and customs prohibited any trade save highway robbery in times of peace, and pillage in times of war, and who has to live by his wits otherwise.

All the actors spoke well and clearly, and delivered their lines with sense, always a joy to hear with Shakespeare. This play, consisting as it does maily of arguing (even among allies), battlefield boasting, and the aformentioned drunken ranting, does not really give itself to fine layers of emotion, although there was an excellent tender scene between Timothy Linn as Mortimer and Courtney Jones as his new wife, even though she speaks and sings only Welsh. Other standouts in the supporting cast were Laurence O'Dwyer, as wizardly Glendower, and Todd Denning as the battle-loving Douglas.

Like most of Shakespeare's plays, there is some lesson for us no deeply hidden. Of course, the lesson not to write someone off due to their past, Prince Hal's story, is quite familar. However, I was additionally struck by the tragic treachery of Worcester (Patrick Lawlor) who does not believe in the King's offer of settlement and hides it from his chivalrous nephew, Hotspur, so that the battle will go on. One would have thought that such a thing could never happen in mdern times, yet we have seen our own governmant hide truth from us repeatedly so that they could have the war they wanted. Shakepeare's plays are living texts still.

The Milwaukee Shakepeare company has great promise: they need only someone who can measure and employ their performance space to maximise their potential.
On September 9th, we made the pilgrimage to American Players Theatre for a Shakespeare double-header, “Julius Caesar” in the afternoon, and “Romeo and Juliet” in the evening. “Julius Caesar” gave the veteran members of the company room to stretch, with Brian Robert Mani in the title role and Jonathan Smoots as Brutus. With the exception of Michael Gotch as Cassius and David Daniel as Marc Anthony, most of the other company members (including the women) were kept on the run playing conspirators, soldiers of several factions, and the Roman mob. We found this production extraordinarily effective, especially in the use of sound. Martial drumming accented the action, and cast members spotted in the audience, together with recorded voices, made the audience literally part of the mass of people gathered for Brutus’ and Anthony’s funeral orations. Mani was an effective Caesar, showing both the courage that made the people adore him, and the insensitivity that made the conspirators fear him. When Caesar says:

“I could be well moved, if I were as you;
If I could pray to move, prayers would move me:
But I am constant as the northern star,
Of whose true-fix'd and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament.
The skies are painted with unnumber'd sparks,
They are all fire, and every one doth shine;
But there's but one in all doth hold his place:
So in the world; 'tis furnish'd well with men,
And men are flesh and blood, and apprehensive;
Yet in the number I do know but one
That unassailable holds on his rank,
Unshaked of motion: and that I am he,
Let me a little show it, even in this,—
That I was constant Cimber should be banish'd,
And constant do remain to keep him so.”

--we could not help but think of certain of our current leaders and how proud they are of their fixedness of purpose in the face of the fact of their blundering.

Smoots as Brutus showed how difficult it was for him to come to the fatal decision to murder Caesar, which difficulty caused him to make the mistake of insisting on mercy for Marc Anthony. Gotch showed us Cassius’ impatience with the political situation early one, and frustration when things fall apart later. Marc Anthony as played by Daniels was a very naturalistic speaker in the critical funeral oration, which makes the display of his cynical calculation once established as part of the Triumvirate all the more shocking.

There was one thing about the production that I found unsatisfying: the assassination of Caesar, which calls for the conspirators to literally wash their hands in Caesar’s blood, used a sufficiency of stage blood that it had to be mopped up from the floor between scenes. The death of the hapless poet Cinna at the hands of the angry mob featured prosthetic body parts that were “torn” off and brandished about. By contrast, the suicides of Cassius and Brutus were painfully fake looking: inserting a sword’s point half an inch between armor plates causes near instantaneous death? I know these deaths were supposed to be more tragic and dignified than the murders that had gone before, but I think more effort could have gone into adding a bit more realism. But that’s my only quibble. This was an excellent performance, the best I have seen of this tragedy.

“Romeo and Juliet” was rather another thing. Compared with the spare verse of “Caesar”, the rhyming couplets sprinkled through R&J make it out to be a less mature work in a number of ways. The younger members of the cast were given the burden of the work, and I must honestly say I have rarely seen the characters played so well for their appropriate ages. In particular, Shawn Fagan as Romeo played an unrealistic spoiled brat so well that, in the scene where Friar Lawrence brings him the news of his banishment, had I been Friar Lawrence, I would have wanted to have kicked him while he groveled on the ground self-absorbedly sobbing and sniveling. Leah Curney as Juliet delivered her lines as Juliet with a believably teenaged word-pressure gushing out. With the youth of the characters thus pointed up, the enormity of their betrayal by their elders comes to the fore. Juliet’s parents are callous brutes to her at the critical moment; her nurse, who has abetted her secret marriage to Romeo turns out to be no help at all when she is presented with the appalling prospect of a blasphemous second wedding to Paris. And Jonathan Smoots plays Friar Lawrence a much sharper man than the bumbler we frequently see, which points out his moral cowardice: it’s never stated but implied that he would have married Juliet to Paris without daring to reveal that he had already performed the same ceremony with Romeo; and his abandonment of Romeo in Juliet’s tomb at the climax allows the final tragedy to occur.

Darragh Kennan as Mercutio did not display quite the verbal agility one frequently sees in this role, but played the character with a certain fey quality that I quite enjoyed. David Daniel played Tybalt with a menace that let you know he was a dangerous bully. Tracy Michelle Arnold’s Nurse was not the old bawd we sometimes see, but rather a too-worldly woman who nevertheless lets herself get caught up in her charge’s dreams of romance.

Again, not the most affecting performance I have seen: I was able to watch the denoument dry-eyed, but reflecting on the foolishness of it all. Nevertheless, there was much fresh and good in this production.
On July 1st we made the pilgrimage to Spring Green to see American Players Theatre's production of Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure." After a long day of decent weather, the climate became unsettled just as the play was starting, and we had a "hold" during the second scene while stormy weather passed nearby. During the break, I retrieved our plastic ponchos from the car which allowed us to ignore the desultory rain that fell on and off during the first half. This made the play a bit more fun for us, in a perverse fashion.

"Measure for Measure" is a comedy in the classical sense, since it has a happy ending, but is not in truth very humorous in plot, and has a distinct moral ambiguity that this production neither shied away from nor emphasised.

The Duke of Vienna, Vincentio (Brian Robert Mani), decides to take a sabbatical. He is concerned that, through lack of will power, he has been lax in enforcing the laws. He has decided to leave running the state in the hands of his deputy, Angelo, who is known for his moral rigidity. (This despite the fact, as we later find, the Duke well knows that Angelo callously abandoned his fiance, Mariana, when her dowry was lost at sea, and slandered her in the so doing.) Vincento then sneaks back into the city disguised as a monk, in order to observe how his social experiment is going.

Meanwhile, Angelo (Jim DeVita) has declared the strict enforcement of all the old laws, including the one against "seduction" (classically "when a male person induced an unmarried female of previously chaste character to engage in an act of sexual intercourse on a promise of marriage.") and pronounces a sentence of death on Claudio, a young nobleman who has impregnated his lover. Claudio gets a message to his chaste sister, Isabella, who is on the verge of taking holy orders, asking her to plead for him in hopes Angelo will be swayed by her purity whereas the pleas of the Duke's more moderate servants ("Escalus," Paul Bentzen; "the Provost", Jonathan Smoots) have had no effect.

Angelo is swayed by Isabella (Colleen Madden), but not in a good way. After a great struggle with his lusts, Angelo declares that he will spare Claudio only if Isabella yields her virginity to him.

Dismayed, Isabella repairs to the prison to tell her brother what has happened, and is even more shocked and appalled when she discovers that he would be willing to let her do it on his behalf.

Enter Vincentio as the monk, acting as Claudio's confessor, who guides them to a plan whereby under cover of darkness Antonio's thwarted fiancee (who loves him despite all) will take Isabella's place.

The ruse goes off, but the promised reprieve does not come: Angelo has determined to let Claudio die, fearing that he might revenge his sister's dishonor at some future time. Vincentio grasps at desperate straws to avert Cludio's death without blowing his cover, finally convincing the kind-hearted Provost to substitute the body of a prisoner who had died of a fever the night before.

This is where it might be argued that the play (or at least the Duke) descends into gratuitous cruelty: Vincentio does not reveal his new plan, but allows Isabella to believe her brother is dead, and coaches her to accuse Angelo when "the Duke" returns, knowing that she will in turn be falsely accused by Angelo of slander, sedition, and mental instability. Vincentio as the Duke then allows his psychodrama to work out until his own part is revealed, at which point he threatens Angelo with the death he would have dealt Claudio, only appearing to relent when both Mariana and Isabella plead for his life. The Duke reveals Claudio and restores him to his sister, asking for Isabella's hand as he does so.

The play has some very modern features: Angelo's "little bit nutty, little bit slutty" smear attack on Isabella is right out of our recent history, as is Angelo's over-tightly wound hypocrite character. And it was ended on a modrn note: Shakespeare does not give Isabella an anwering line to the Duke's proposal, so, instead of being carried off by him, Madden's Isabella coldly walked away, leaving the Duke standing alone on stage as the play ends, which I thought suited the play and her character well.

The standout performances were Madden's, especially in the prison scenes, and De Vita as the self-loathing Angelo. Mani was very much a neutral presence as the Duke, commenting on and manipulating the action, but not seeming very involved in it. The supporting cast were up to usual high standards for APT, with a good comic turn by Kevin Christopher Fox as Lucio, Claudio's rascally friend.

Unusually for APT, I thought the production design to be a bit disjointed. The majority of the cast were costumed like Brechtian Wiemar Berlin characters; the Duke and Escalus like officials of the late Austro-Hungarian Empire; the underworld character Pompey got up in an outfit of lederhosen and derby hat that made the red-bearded actor look like a dissolute leprechaun, and Lucio had an outfit that could only be described as "Halloween disco pimp."
Fortunately, most of this was ignorable, (except when Lucio was on: his acid yellow-green "fur" coat was a visual pain at all times--). The musical background varied from current day "scratching" to snatches of "Mack the Knife."

Note: One may wonder why Shakespeare seems to have it in for constables--although, being an actor and a playwrite, perhjaps 'tis not so wonderous. The character of "Elbow" is a clear brother to the more famous Dogberry, complete with malpropisms and unwonted self-regard.

Very well worth seeing. Ignore the costumes.
This evening at 7:30PM the "curtain" goes up on the West Allis Players' production of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing".

I have the part of Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon, which I've been having good fun with. When I auditioned, I hadn't considered this role. I was interested in Don John the villain, or Leonato, Hero's father, figuring that I was too old for the young lovers like Benedick. Oddly enough, the bunch of people that tried out for this show "skewed old" on the men's side, with the result that only the man playing Conrad, one of Don John's men, and Don John himself do not have at least a little bit of gray hair. This may be a bit premature in the case of "young Count Claudio," but Benedick, Leonato, and myself all fall in the "fiftyish" demographic, as do Dogberry, Verges, Hugh Oatcake, and Borachio, with our Friar over that.

Don Pedro isn't as large a role as Benedick or Leonato, but it is pivotal, since "the Prince" sparks both the weddings that the action of the play concerns: Hero to his protege, Claudio, and that of Beatrice and Benedick. It's been a good cast to work with, many of whom I've worked with before, and it's going to be a good show, but we've really come down to the wire pulling this one together. We had a short rehersal period to begin with, lost a couple to bad weather, and what with flu and job conflicts, it's been a rare night when we've actually had all the cast present at the same time. Work's been very busy, also, so if I haven't been working for the last couple weeks I've been rehearsing while trying to cram in household maintainance and other commitments on such weekends as remain. Fortunately, there isn't much scheduled this weekend other than the play itself, so I have some time to catch up to things--.
We were looking forward with interest to the new film of Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice." Although it has awkward bits, "Merchant" is a particular favorite of mine, and I once wrote a paper in college arguing that if you could only keep one Shakespeare play, "Merchant" should be the one, combining as it does his tragedy and his comedy. Although the production was in many ways beautiful, I found it very keenly disappointing. Most upsetting was Al Pacino's portrayal of Shylock. He concentrated very much on creating a believable portrait of an aging Jew driven to the point of turning upon his oppressors, but made it seem more out of desperation than wounded pride and rage. His Shylock lacked fire. Jeremy Irons added to the enervated tone with his worn-out, depressed Antonio, who seems to welcome Shylock's murderous intention as a way of comitting suicide. These famous actors are totally overshadowed by Joseph Fiennes as Bassanio and Lynn Collins as Portia, for whom the accolade "fair" in its classical sense is well-suited (I have a weakness for pale women with red hair--). The Lexoumburg Gardens are beautiful as Belmont, but Venice is dark, dreary and crowded, with the sound of the crowded scenes being confused and difficult to hear. I see many critics rating it a "B" and I have to agree.
Our final expedition to American Players Theatre at Spring Green this season was to see the Sunday matinee of Shakespeare's 'Cymbeline'. I was particularly interested in this rarely performed play as it is among those I've never seen. (One of my ambitions in life is to see a performance of every one of Shakespeare's plays. So far, I'm weak in the History plays. APT has been our usual source, and those kept getting rained out on us for some reason--.) I was rather surprised to see in the director's notes that it is one of Shakespeare's later works. The rather harum-scarum plot with its headless body, spirits and the intervention of Jove seems more like something from an earlier day. On the other hand, we see very common mature Shakespearian elements, such as the heroine disguising herself as a boy, and the false accusation of a virtuous woman, which makes me think that perhaps the Bard needed a light piece in a hurry and threw together slapdash what he knew to be a collection of can't-miss elements.

Despite the title, the main characters of the play are Imogen, daughter of Cymbeline, King of Britain, and Posthumous, a young and poor nobleman of the king's household. Imogen has secretly married the virtuous Posthumous, which pleases everyone except the King, who prefers for dynastic reasons that she marry Cloton, the son of the current Queen. Posthumous is banished in hopes she'll change her mind. While abroad, he unwisely places a wager on Imogen's chastity, and Iachino falsifies evidence that he has slept with Imogen to win the bet. Enraged, Posthumous orders his servant Pisanio to slay Imogen. Instead, the loyal servant, like the Huntsman in "Snow White", aids Imogen to flee, and sends a bloodied portion of her garment to Posthumous as "proof" the deed has been done. Imogen disguises herself as a boy while hiding out, and the remorseful Posthumous joins a Roman force invading Britain to seek death in battle. The remainder of the plot deals with how they come back together, complicated by the machinations of the wicked Queen and her odious son, Cymbeline's own sons who were stolen in infancy, ghosts, gods, and several instances of mistaken identity.

Given all the action in this play it would be a bit much to expect deep characterization, but the main roles were played well and with life by Amy Hutchins and Gerard Neugent. They were supported with customary ability by the senior members of the cast: Jonathan Smoots kingly as Cymbeline, Sarah Day sinister as the Queen, Mark Corkins stalwart as Morgan/Belarius the old soldier, and Paul Bentzen fussy and absent minded as Dr. Cornelius. Jim De Vita filled in a number of small parts including "Jove." Other standout performances included: Scott Hayden as Cloten, by turns quarrelsome, cowardly, vain, vengeful, letcherous, and altogether hapless; and C. Michaal Wright as the put-upon servant Pisanio. It also seemed that Bryan Hicks (who plays Othello this season) took great pleasure in putting the shoe on the other foot as the would-be seducer and slanderer Iachino. The fight choreography of the battle scene, with its Morris-dance inspired stave work, set the piece firmly in Mythic Britain.

The director's notes indicate that "Cymbeline" has sometimes been classed as a tragedy, a comedy, or a romance. Classically, it is a comedy, since it has a happy ending, and the Players definitely chose to play it for comedy, although with a light touch that didn't entirely defuse the characters' woes.

Another excellent production by APT, and a great deal of fun for all.
On Saturday the 26th, Georgie and I drove over to the American Players’ Theater at Spring Green, one of two trips we will make this summer during their season. We had a ‘double header” of a matinee of “Othello” and evening performance of “London Assurance” by Dion Boucicault, both of which we enjoyed very much.

With James DeVita in the role of Iago, it was a given that every scene he was in would be his, and so it proved. While I don’t necessarily idolize DeVita as some do, I have to confess that his Iago was faultless. With his near-shaven head, worn leather uniform, and drill-sergeant squint, Iago looks every inch both the tough, competent soldier that he is, and the thoroughly bad man that he also is, and DeVita puts this all across. Bryan Hicks did well in the difficult role of Othello, but I would have liked to see more from him. He is very experienced actor, which perhaps was a bit of the problem. He was very careful to speak his lines with an accent, which sets Othello off from the “Venetians” (who all spoke in the unaffected Midwestern voice which is standard for APT) and I think his concentration on not faltering in the vocal characterization damped down the fire we should see in this role: Othello should rage and roar at times, and Hicks approached, but did not reach, the hair-raising power Othello can show. I would have preferred it had he eschewed the accent and let out the stops occasionally instead.

Amy Hutchins was one of the better Desdemonas I have seen; she played the role a bit more emotionally mature and self-possessed, which made her goodness and charity not just a matter of naivety. Tracy Michelle Arnold was an excellent Emilia, and delivered the role’s famous “feminist” speech with a world-weariness that gave it quite a new flavor. Gerard Neugent was very good as Iago’s dupe, Roderigo, and John Phillips as Cassio was everything Iago is not—handsome, open, courteous and unaffected—which serves to focus Iago’s malice.

The production was very spare—stacked platforms, with only a coil of hawser downstage to distinguish Cyprus from Venice—allowing the audience to focus on the vital human interactions. The performance received a very well-deserved ovation.

Excellent as Othello was, the really thrilling revelation of the day was “London Assurance.” As the director’s notes remark, it is surprising that this play is not more performed, except that it comes from a period—England of the 1840’s—that is not generally thought of as a high period for theatre and indeed was dominated by “mindless farces, characterless melodramas, and elaborate spectacles.” Boucicault re-introduced clever characters and cracking witty dialog in this, his first play, which was a rousing success. Boucicault went on to write or produce more than two hundred plays, and brought about a number of innovations that have shaped modern theatre, including the matinee, road companies, flame-proofing of sets, and copyrights for playwrights. As somewhat of a student of theatre history I was astonished I hadn’t heard of him and was fascinated to see what the play would be like. We were not disappointed in the least.

In contrast to the very spare “Othello”, American Players put on what is a very lavish production for them, with the clever scene changes choreographed to country dance music. The costuming was also very lovely with particular fun found in the foppish “fashionable” men’s costumes of the period. (I WANT Dazzle’s black and red socks from the first scene--.) The play’s plot is not particularly exceptional—young heiress is betrothed to an old man in order to preserve family fortunes and discovers she prefers his son—but is done with wonderful wit and clever dialog, and a wry attitude toward common morality and social foibles worthy of Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw. The action gives APT’s veterans plenty of scope to display the subtleties of their craft, with Jonathan Smoots as the aging fop, Sir Harcourt Courtly, and Sarah Day as Lady Gay Spanker, the hunt-mad neighbor who helps Sir Harcourt’s matrimonial plans run off the rails. Excellent supporting performances by Amy Hutchins as the hard-headed heiress Grace Harkaway, Shawn Fagan as the son Charles Courtly, and a bravura performance by Gerard Neugent as the clever but opportunistic and amoral friend, Richard Dazzle. Further, James Ridge provided a skillful cameo as the proto-Jeeves valet, the aptly named Cool. I highly recommend this show if you care for stage comedy at all and can get to American Players while it is running.
Romeo and Juliet

On Sunday the 1st, we went to the matinee performance of Romeo and Juliet at the Skylight Opera in Milwaukee. The Skylight normally specializes in "light" opera, so seeing the grand opera by Charles Gounod (better known for his famous Faust) on the season schedule was somewhat of a surprise. This production was actually an experiment, with mixed results. Of necessity, the company heavily cut the five-act original down to two acts, each made up of several scenes. In order to preserve the story, dialog and scenes from the Shakespeare play were inserted, resulting in a hybrid production, which seemed more like a slightly abridged play with music rather than an opera with spoken dialog.

There were a number of things about the production that unfortunately jarred, among them costumes: Romeo, Benvolio, Mercutio, and other supporting cast members sport Ren Faire garb. Papas Montague and Capulet wear modern-seeming business suits under their fur-trimmed robes. Paris and other noblemen sport frock coats and riding boots. Tybalt looks like a gunfighter in his long black leather duster, and Juliet's wardrobe seems borrowed from a Jean Harlow picture. All in all the effect is as though the show had no costume budget and was dressed in whatever could be scrounged from storage. In the Capulet's ball scene, all the guests carry decorated quarterstaves, largely for no discernible function. I hoped to see some clever choreography with the sticks, but what little there was was clumsy and distracting. The absurdly long train of Juliet's pregnoir in the balcony scene was handled a bit better, though it was still a distraction. I kept expecting to see Romeo clamber up it like Rapunzel's hair.

The Journal-Sentinel reviewer was rather harsh on Matt Morgan as Romeo, alleging he had only two volumes, loud and louder. It did not seem so to us. His performance could have been a bit more nuanced, but was not at all bad. Vanessa Conlin enjoyed her first starring role as Juliet, and, in the first act, seemed to not be acting much, relying on her doll-like prettiness and undeniably beautiful voice to carry her through. However, she warmed up in the second act, which she opens with a bravura aria, and continued to be more engaging. Michael A. Mayes was good wild Mercutio, although in his duel scene, his Warner Brothers-inspired cries of "woo woo" and the big smooch he plants on Tybalt were further indications of the lack of a unified vision for this production. Robert M. Bolden was appropriately sinister as the vengeful Tybalt.

My final criticism was that the swordplay was clumsy and uninteresting. I expect we are somewhat spoiled by American Players Theatre, but I have come to expect one of two standards for stage fighting—it should either be fast and realistic, or flashy and balletic in the old theatrical style. This was neither.

All that said, we still had a good time and thought the experiment well worthwhile. The cast members sang well and generally acted adequately, making good use of the minimal set, and the orchestra handled Gounod's romantic score very nicely.



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