Much Ado In a Park
Shakespeare’s longevity has much to do with the adaptability of his scripts. Though it is strictly a comedy, Much Ado About Nothing can be done with serious intensity and dramatic depth. This summer Maureen Kilmurry directs a touring production of Much Ado for Summit Players Theatre that leans gratifyingly in the direction of pleasantly light comedy without compromising the seriousness of much of the drama.
The story of love, deception and false accusations is staged with minimal set and costuming in an outdoor space. The sleek 70-minute (or so) story glides gracefully from beginning to end in a way that engages audiences of all ages. Summit veteran Caroline Norton is intricately comic in the role of the reluctant romantic heroine Beatrice. Norton has spent quite a few summers in the intimate outdoor spaces that Summit haunts every year. This gives her an impressive range of motion and emotion for Shakespeare’s comedy. The rest of the cast is making its first appearance with The Summit Players. The Summit Players program involves everyone in the ensemble camping together at various parks all over Wisconsin. This can't help but bring a cast together in a way few programs could.
George Lorimer is admirably charismatic as Benedick to Norton’s Beatrice. The egotistical end of the character has a tendency to hit the stage more prominently than anything else in a performance. Lorimer plays to a far more humble confidence in the role that serves it quite well. Matching Lorimer’s charisma step-for-step is Ogunde Snelling Jr. who makes for dashingly wise Don Pedro.
King Hang passionately delivers the more serious dramatic end of the story in the role of Claudio, who has fallen the beautiful, young girl named Hero. Emma Knott makes a very sympathetic Hero, but the contrast between her Hero and the other two characters makes for a stronger impression than any one of the people she’s playing. Knott is engagingly comic as the constable Dogberry (who is always in the company of his pet dog: a plushie dog named...Barry.) She makes a delightfully musical appearance as Balthasar as well. Not to be outdone, Maya Danks hits very clever marks in no fewer than FIVE roles including a classically villainous Don John in with elegant posture in a swirling black cape and waiting gentlewoman Ursula in a pleasantly Sconnie accent.
Design elements are always fun in a Summit Players show. Scenic Designer Carl Eiche’s rolled-up painted backdrops get used to particularly clever comic effect in the pair of scenes in which Beatrice and Benedick rush into hiding. Amelia Strahan’s minimalist costuming serves so many clever purposes...it’s simple and lightweight, allowing it to take up little space on tour...it’s comfy enough to be worn in the heat of summer AND it’s iconic enough to quickly and easily differentiate between characters who must swiftly switch between characters. And...y’know...Maya Danks is just so cool with Don John’s black villain’s cape. (This is a really fun show.)
Summit Players Theatre’s production of Much Ado About Nothing runs through Aug. 20th at various state parks all over Wisconsin. For dates and tour stops, visit The Summit Players Online. All performances are free to attend.
Fun Shakespearian Romance
This summer Optimist Theatre presents a fun, breezy little outdoor Shakespeare show that is as romantic as it is comic. Optimist’s tenth annual Shakespeare in the Park show makes its way through various outdoor venues over the course of the summer.Twelfth Night (or What SHE Will) is a free 90-ish-minute edit of Shakespeare’s classic that is performed with a satisfyingly quickened pulse without intermission. Under the directing team of Mary Lynn Cogar and Tom Reed, the cast adroitly tumbles through the comedy with sharp costuming and a score that is cleverly constructed by Sound Engineer Tony Roman.
In abbreviated form, the story of love and folly feels like a pleasant, little dream that ends outside before sunset. Brielle Richmond is a powerful Viola/Cesario, sent by Count Orsino (in the form of a deeply charismatic Deshawn Thomas) to court a beautiful woman for him. Richmond has a sympathetically commanding presence in a waistcoat made of neckties. (This probably looks a lot more impressive than it sounds. Mel Benson’s costume design is remarkably appealing on everyone in the cast.)
Kaitlyn Feely renders a few very deep and emotionally gratifying moments as the love struck Olivia. It’s not often that an actor really gets a genuine opportunity to develop a subtle and intricate layers of romantic interest. Feely’s love is dizzyingly fun to watch without being at all amplified. It’s a very cleverly crafted vision of infatuation that radiates gorgeously at the heart of the production. Richmonds’ passion for the poetically beating heart of love in the role of Cesario allows Feely firm footing for a subtle and intricate portrayal of someone falling quite hard into romantic attraction. Honestly it’s one of the most compelling portrayals of this sort of thing that I’ve seen in a long time. Straight-ahead romantic love doesn’t make it to the center of the small stage quite as often as one might expect.
Libby Amato, Ken T. Williams and Siddhartha Rajan are remarkably cohesive as the trio of tricksters looking to make a buffoon of Olivia’s servant Malvolio. Rarely are Maria, Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Agucheek as dynamic as they are in Optimist’s production There’s a quick wit about the group as a whole, but each individual has a distinct presence. Williams earthy gravity as Toby pairs well with Rajan’s noble flakiness as Agucheek, Amato’s charmingly self-satisfied scheming as Maria serves as a clever center to the group. Andrew Varela has deft comic poise as the stuffy guy who goes a bit mad at the prospect of love. His got a powerfully stern and gruff presence before the fall...which makes his awkward descent into the madness of love that much more intense than it often appears.
Susie Duecker blooms beautifully on a variety of different levels as the fool known as Feste. It can be really difficult to balance the silly humor of the comedy relief while still possessing the kind of wisdom required of such a role in Shakespeare. The roles are equal parts silly and wise. Often a performance can lean a bit too far in one direction or the other. Duecker navigates a very tight and balance performance and even manages a few musical flourishes here and there.
Optimist Theatre’s Twelfth Night or What SHE Will runs through August 7th at various parks and places all over the greater Milwaukee area. For specific locations, times and more, visit Optimist Theatre online.
A War Cast in Foam and Plastic
There’s a war between Troy and Greece onstage at a historic site not far from the Deer District of downtown Milwaukee. There’s a love affair going on, but since it’s kind of boring, so it's been cut in Boozy Bard’s Troilus and Cressida (not.) No love. No romance. Only the silly pointlessness of war. Script editor Andrea Roedel-Schroeder’s Troilus and Cressida makes its way to the stage without Troilus and Cressida early this week with brightly-colored scripts, strange costuming and weirdly exaggerated prop weapons. There are some rather nice beers on tap. There’s an open ridicule of war and human aggression. It’s a fun evening at The Best Place at the old Pabst Brewery.
As people settle-in before the show, the arsenal sits on a long table beneath leaded glass. Foam swords of various types are displayed (at least two of which look ridiculously big enough to be the Sword of Aubec. One of the big, cuddly swords has blood painted on it. The other doesn’t.) In and amidst the arsenal is the most formidable item in the venue: a single hat. It is from this humble hat that the ensemble draws its assignments for the evening. The cast of characters settle themselves in and around the cast of actors and everything gets underway after brief and charming introduction by the evening’s host Stephen M. Wolterstorff.
It’s always a bit weird to see what the casting director chooses for any given night with Boozy Bard. The hat was possessed of strange generosity last night with the opening of the week. The contrast between Achilles and Patroclus was fun. The diminutive Christee Means Reince played the epic warrior Achiles next to an imposingly towering bearded Keith Gaustad as his beloved Patroclus. Reince has sharp comic instincts, which served the role well as things heated-up towards the end of the drama. Sarah Wallisch seemed very comfortably witty in the role of comic relief Thersites (instantly recognizable by the red fez she wore.) Hector’s best moments might have been shared by Josh Bryan as legendary warrior Ajax. Bryan and Wallisch had some of the better comedy of the evening, but the show was enjoyable throughout with something entertaining onstage.
The specter of war hangs like a shadow around the edges of the drama that is played for comedy. There are big plush-like swords. There are tiny plastic helmets. (One of which couldn’t seem to remain on the noble head of Ajax.) There’s a big confrontation that is shown to be every bit as silly, tragic and pointless as war always is. Somewhere in the heart of everything with so much death and suffering in the world beyond The Best Place, you know...you know that this is how warlike human conflict SHOULD be pursued: with harmless weapons and silly wit...drink in hand and “vastly underprepared” by design.
Boozy Bard’s Shakespeare RAW production of Troilus and Cressida (not) continues through June 15th at The Best Place Tavern at the Historic Pabst Brewery on 917 W. Juneau Avenue. There are performances the 14th and the 15th at 7 pm. (There’s also a free performance of Boozy Bard’s Twelfth Night at 5:30 pm on Sunday the 19th.) For more information, visit Boozy Bard’s Facebook Page.
The ensemble enters in dark tops and blue jeans. Glittery adornments sparkle amidst black t-shirts and blouses. Bare feet press against the hardwood floor of the the Calvary Presbyterian Church. The Milwaukee Opera Theatre and Aperi Animam present a serene vision of love with its production of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo. The tale of Orpheus and Eurydice resonates through the church. Translated into English, the lyrics are projected onto two walls on both sides of the action as the ancient drama makes its trek across the heart of the church.
A sweeping adventure story journeys through the music. Deep romantic feelings are celebrated in wedding ceremony as Apollo’s rays dance through the ornate stained glass of the church. Then there is loss and sadness. Orpheus’ love perishes as the summer light on West Wisconsin Avenue drains from the sky outside the church. The stained glass fades into shadow amidst the distant sound of downtown traffic. During intermission all light is within the church as Orpheus descends into Hades in search of her love. The journey into the afterlife follows the departure of the sun in a clever synthesis between nature and art.
I’m referring to Orpheus as “her.” The libretto addresses the title character as “him.” The traditional Orpheus is a guy. This is perfectly okay and nothing to be ashamed of, but Orpheus is a hell of a lot cooler and more aesthetically engaging as a woman. The production cleverly casts the hero as a gracefully earthbound Jackie Willis. She’s radiantly elegant in the role of the legendary bard. Willis conjures a dreamy, melodic gravity about her in the role as she sings. She’s barefoot in jeans like the rest of the ensemble, but she carries herself with an elegant grace that serves the center of the stage quite well. She glides serenely through both joy and sadness...never needlessly exaggerating either. The music, story and libretto are larger than life. Willis lends the story organic emotional depth. David Guzmán carries a much more divine energy about him in the role of Pluto--the lord of the underworld who is persuaded to consider the plight of Orhpeus.
The tale is told in wide arcs. Montiverdi takes his time in getting to the conflict, which migrates across the stage in breathtakingly slow and steady movements. Debuting in 1607, the music for the opera is an elegantly simple dinner party for violin, harpsichord, sackbut, recorder and more. Most impressive on the stage is a massive lute-like thing called a theorbo…which feels nearly big enough to qualify as a piece of architecture. The epic concerns of gods and humans alike are cast against an unwaveringly minimalist soundscape in the cozily cavernous confines of the church across the street and down the block from Milwaukee’s Central Library.
Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s production of L’Orfeo runs through June 12 at the Calvary Presbyterian Church on 935 W. Wisconsin Ave. For ticket reservations and more, visit Milwaukee Opera Theatre online.