It’s December 24, 1615. Shakespeare is hanging out at the Windmill Inn in Stratford upon Avon. Naturally a modern actor would find himself walking into the place. He had just been at a post-show talkback in Illinois. Playwright/actor/Milwaukee theatre veteran John Kishline plays Shakespeare himself in a staging of the play that’s being presented by Door Shakespeare. Kishline is joined by a talented cast of actors in a drama that’s presented videoconference-style with each actor appearing in front of the same backdrop suggesting a 17th century tavern.
In the course of the play’s sole hour onscreen, the staged reading format of the show gradually melt into the background. The first actor making unexpected meeting with Shakespeare is played by Neil Brookshire. He’s charismatic as an actor suddenly found himself in the presence of one of the most legendary writers in history. He performs a bit as Friar Lawrence with Shakespeare before a couple of fellow actors enter. Cassandra Bissel and Deborah Clifton play the other two contemporary actors entering the tavern to inadvertently stumble into the legend. Bissel is particularly warm as an actor suddenly in awe at Shakespeare’s presence. Before long, the others perform a little bit of Shakespeare’s work with him.
Director Michael Stebbins has done a good job of finding the perfect minimalist framing for the drama. The simple backdrop works well enough. Stebbins himself reads the stage directions. Not much longer later, Duane Boutté appears as the final member of the modern cast to run into Shakespeare. Kishline’s script serves as a fun backdrop for a simple reading of excerpts from Shakespeare. Bissel, Boutté, Clifton and Brookshire carry the Shakespeare.
Delivering Shakespeare in videoconference is always difficult, but Door Shakespeare makes it work. The ensemble’s greatest victory, though, lies in bringing the distinct social atmosphere of a group of actors to the screen. It’s a scripted dialogue over videoconference, but the ensemble brings it all together like it’s a casual soiree between actors after a talkback. Kishline’s dialogue is stiff in places as he dives into history with Shakespeare. The ensemble does a brilliant job of keeping it all very light and social even on those few occasions when Kishline’s script feels awkwardly historical.
An ancient playwright and a group of actors spend some time together on a video screen. It’s a fun bit of light and classy entertainment that might inhabit a cozy corner of any holiday get-together on the journey out to the middle of the month. Outside of COVID, Kishline’s script has great potential to be a holiday standard. Classy snippets of Shakespeare would be a welcome alternative to traditional holiday fare in almost any theatre market. Casts of contemporary actors meeting Shakespeare could be adapted to fit the market. Here it’s Neil and Cassie and Deborah and Duane, but it could just as easily be any othe quartet in any other region interacting with Shakespeare for a holiday show set on Christmas Eve in 1615. Kishline’s script is a fun diversion from the usual type of thing that makes it to stages for the holidays.
Dream Upon Avon is available for free online through December 13. For more information, visit Door Shakespeare online.