Silly Shakespeare Shakes My "Twelfth Night"

Silly Shakespeare Shakes My "Twelfth Night"

Four hundred years later, we are still redefining and reshaping these classic stories, and finding new ways to experience Shakespeare.  Filter Theatre has found the right rhythm to give us new access to Twelfth Night's fun and merriment. While I wish that some of the play's gravity, particularly in Malvolio's ending scenes had emerged, the play's condensed focus to ninety minutes meant that sacrifices needed to be made. I think that Shakespeare would be proud of the buffoonery and ludicrousness accomplished by these actors, expertly reined by Director Sean Holmes.

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Dragonfly’s "As You Like It"

In the middle of Dedham, Massachusetts, a new theatre company spread its wings with a production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. This production choice was the perfect summer treat and an excellent decision for the young and growing Dragonfly Theater. With strong female leads and plenty of supporting ensemble roles, As You Like Itproved why it is one of Shakespeare’s most lighthearted comedies and easily accessible plays for modern audiences.

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Harvard Ventures Into the Dream-Like Forest of CA?

Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a wonderfully accessible play, made for adaptations to different times and places with ease. The Hyperion Shakespeare Company and The Office for the Arts at Harvard presented their own adaptation of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with some talent and some reckless abandon befitting the play’s mastery. The production struggles, however, under some awkward adaptation, stilted performances, and uninspired concepts.

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Workshopping An (Almost) All-Female "The Winter’s Tale"

Technically, I can’t review Boston University Shakespeare Society’s Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare. Former My Theatre (Boston) writer Elizabeth Ramirez directed, and Junior Editor Fabiana Cabral played King Leontes. I have to create boundaries for conflict of interests, and this is one of them. However, read on to hear a bit more about this rarely-produced Shakespearean fairy tale in an exclusive feature.

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Winter in July

While the summer months can be sweltering in the Greater Boston area, many actors escape to the suburbs to perform outdoor Shakespeare for local audiences. Many companies choose to perform crowd favorites like As You Like It andComedy of Errors, but The Gazebo Players of Medfield presentThe Winter’s Tale, a late Shakespeare romance, a traveling production with no apology and little explanation. It’s an odd choice for a novice group of actors, but they experience much success under the skillful direction of Marianne Phinney, an accomplished director and Shakespeare aficionado. With performances in Medfield, Medway, and Walpole, The Gazebo Players of Medfield brought a rarely-performed Shakespeare play about jealousy, joy, and redemption to the green parks and appreciative communities, all offered free of charge through generous contributions and grants.

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Much Ado about a Midsummer that Ends Well

Hub Theatre features an impressive ensemble of male actors to perform and excel in a laugh-out-loud, hold-your-sides, bring-your-Shakespeare-philes production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [Abridged] at Club Café. This production works in ways that their prior performances have not. First, the small cast is a tight ensemble unit featured fluidly throughout the evening in equal parts, and all actors are capable of shining on their own merits. The play also works in the intimate Boston Club Café’s Moonshine Room, providing small tables for food and drink, numerous seats (some audience members choosing to stand in order to fit for the sold-out performances), and just enough of a stage to showcase the performers’ work. Finally, the show’s light and cabaret-esque style is the kind of light (but artistically stimulating) fare to fill up Shakespeare novices and experts alike; it’s the production that you can bring your Red Sox-loving brother and bibliophile English teacher to with equal success.

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ASP is Exactly How I Like It

Shakespeare’s As You Like It offers one of his most accessible comedies. Featuring one of the Bard’s best female characters, the play is a wonderful exploration of sexual and romantic liberation and education, as personified in the diverse relationships in this classic play. The Actors’ Shakespeare Project delights in this energetic production, featuring some impressive younger talent in this aging company. The troupe’s greatest achievement, aside from telling the story in its plainest and simplest terms with outstanding success, is performing the work in Medford, MA’s Springstep Building. This venue allows the company to flex its creative design muscles as they adapt the space to serve their purposes while also allowing the Greater Boston community to access professional Shakespeare performance at an affordable price. Now in its 10th season, the Actors’ Shakespeare Project has grown dramatically, especially in their mission to offer the Bard’s work to audiences of all ages and experience levels. As You Like It shines as exactly how I’d like to see the troupe consistently perform.

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O Brave New "Tempest," or The Beauty of Smoke and Mirrors

Full disclosure: I am not a Tempest fan. One of Shakespeare’s last plays, The Tempest is heralded as a farewell to the stage, a commentary on art and life, and a post-colonial exploration (though this last lens may be a later addition to the play’s analyses). The American Repertory Theater, in association with The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, present The Tempest in all of its spectacle and glory, and probably like nothing that you have seen onstage, let alone for a Shakespearean play. With fresh perspective and adaptation by Aaron Posner (famous for his directing as well as his playwriting—see Stupid F***ing Bird) and Teller (of the famous Comedy Central duo, Penn & Teller), the play is revived with the perfect amount of magic, excitement, and wonder to bring the 400-year-old play to the twenty-first century audiences. I couldn’t help wishing for something more from the famed A.R.T. that brought us the Broadway-running Pippin and Glass Menagerie, and I wonder if, behind the curtains and magic tricks, if we just see the smoke and mirrors, and wonder, “Doesn’t the Man Behind the Curtain have anything to say?”

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Lord, What Fools These Actors Be

Ever have one of those college English papers which you can’t seem to write because you’re worried that the professor will judge you for your crazy ideas? What if you just wrote your ideas to him or her in a musical adaptation of the most accessible Shakespeare plays and called it a night? Midsummer Night: a musical(loosely adapted from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) attempts to do just that. I can’t explain why Suffolk University wasted their time on this trite adaptation or how I sat through the production, but here goes nothing.

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Shakespeare’s Bringing "SEXYBACK"

The A.R.T.’s and the OBERON’s The Donkey Show is old news; while a refreshing and imaginative retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream when it premiered in Boston in 2009, and though the appeal has not worn-off completely, the production is on its way out the door. In its place, the Boston theatre scene demands something as catchy and artistically challenging (Note: I use challenging in the sense that it defies the stereotypes of a typical theatrical performance). My hope is that Touch Performance Art and the OBERON New Works Series latest remix of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night to the music of your favorite boy bands, SEXYBACK or what you will, will fill this much-needed void, pushing the boundaries and limits of how we think about performance art and “mainstream” theatre in the 21st century. To get there, however, SEXYBACK offers much promise, but needs a solid summer of revisions and refocus to get its sexy on for the fall.

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ASP Breathes New Life Into Henry VIII‘s History

I was pleasantly surprised to find a new Shakespeare play to enjoy on a chilly December night. Actors’ Shakespeare Project tackles the rarely-produced Henry VIII by the famous bard. This play is one of his later plays but without much of the memorable depth of King Lear or Winter’s Tale. In fact, I was surprised to find much of the play to be a mere homage to Queen Elizabeth (and her ancestors). Actors’ Shakespeare Project, lead by the knowledgeable Tina Packer, carries the show, however, to great success.

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ASP’s Star-Crossed R & J

I have strong feelings about Romeo and Juliet. There, I said it before and I’ll say it again. I always wait with baited breath during the Prologue to see how this new production will interpret this timeless classic. Sometimes, I leave merely disappointed; other times, I leave damned confused. Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s production leaned towards the former for me. They didn’t do anything egregiously wrong; their use of race was tastefully and thoughtfully executed. One of the issues, however, was that they were, dare I say, safe and boring. That’s not to say that the production was boring. No, ASP knows how to do Shakespeare and their cast can tell a story through Shakespeare’s words and characters. I call the production “star-crossed” because things seemed disjointed rather than a fluid production or concept. I went into the production expecting more.

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ASP Presents "Romeo & Juliet" in Its Finest Form

The stars aligned for me last Saturday night. Two of my great loves came together for a beautiful, heart-moving, and compelling performance. Actors’ Shakespeare Project presented its Summer Youth Intensive production, Romeo and Juliet, at the Charlestown Working Theater. I am too sad that I did not write this review before it closed. Too many truly perfect moments to recount in this short review, I would have demanded everyone attend to see the joy of teenagers understanding and performing Shakespeare, especially when many of the characters are around their own ages. You see, teenagers are meant to perform Romeo and Juliet. With a breakneck pace, impulsive decisions, and enough simplicity, joy, and angst that only a teenager could appreciate, Romeo and Juliet falls flat with older cast members. This youthful cast, under the steady helm of director Michael Forden Walker, shines brightly with the perfect pacing and moments to accent some of Shakespeare’s best themes.

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Bad Habit's "Much Ado"

Every now and then, I like to see theatre that will amuse me. Pure and simple. Bad Habit Productions, a My Theatre Award winningBoston company, delivers solid production after production. Their latest show is an original adaptation of one of the Bard’s finest comedies. Their William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing . . . With a Twist is a magical and joyful romp into the merry world of romance, mistaken identities, and a bit of cross-dressing. Yes, you heard that right, this production of Much Ado About Nothing goes there. This adaptation is clever, thought-provoking, and, most of all, accessible to any audience. I think this accessibility and easy is what I enjoyed most about this production. The cast and crew’s journey into the difficult world of Shakespeare seems effortless and their skill and joy in putting on this production is where the magic really happens.

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Brandeis' "Comedy of Errors"

As I mentioned in my last review, November was full of Shakespeare. My second show was at Brandeis University, featuring an original adaption of Comedy of Errors by Bill Barclay, a Resident Acting Company member of the Actor’s Shakespeare Project. Barclay also directed this unique production, which starred Brandeis University students with award-winning community actors.

Brandeis Comedy of Errors

The production dazzled at first glance because it was set with a Middle Eastern influence on a thrust stage. A stream of instrumentalists stealthily took the stage when the lights dimmed, and strummed, beat, and jingled the entrance of the foppish Duke of Ephesus, played by Ben Gold. I’d never seen a funny take on the stoic Duke, who condemns poor Aegeon (played with pathos by Chuck Schwager) to die at sundown. One of my favorite parts was the use of puppetry by the actors. The opening scene of Comedy of Errors typically struggles through a long stream of exposition by Aegeon, but Schwager’s empathetic portrayal and the shadow-puppet storytelling substantially helped the scene’s pacing.

The pacing as a whole was a huge success for Barclay’s production. The scenes transitioned seamlessly with the help of Barclay’s original music and no blackouts. I was impressed with the musicianship and theatricality of this troupe. The instruments were not traditional orchestra instruments, but the musicians carried the intricate melodies with gusto. I was especially impressed with the recurring motifs, which strengthened the production’s themes and storytelling. I was unsure what the changed location revealed about the story, but I don’t consider this Shakespeare play to be an amazing thematic work, and I appreciate the play for its rich storytelling.

To that end, the cast did an admirable job creating the play’s farcical moments. The best actors were Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse, master-servant team played by Aidan Horowitz and Jared Greenberg, respectively. This pairing had exceptional timing and delivery of the Shakespeare lines. I found their mastery of the language to be commendable for their young age, especially since both actors lack any formal Shakespeare training. Their facial expressions added scores to their performance. Their chemistry was palpable, and their friendship felt truly genuine. This production sparkled with extra energy because the play included two sets of twin actors, exactly what the story requires, but few companies can accommodate this need. Opposite Greenberg was his twin brother Zachary Greenberg, playing Dromio of Ephesus, and opposite Horowitz was his twin brother Dotan Horowitz, playing Antipholus of Ephesus. Whatever mastery of the language Zachary and Dotan lacked, they made up tenfold in energy. Their scenes raced and swerved and neither actor let the language impede their focus or goals.

I can’t say that energy always helped the performance, however. Nicole Carlson as Adriana, Antipholus of Ephesus’s wife, and Leah Carnow as Luciana, Adriana’s young sister, were some of the most dynamic actors in the production, but I don’t know if this spark was as productive as intended. Carlson acted like a raging squirrel who let nothing, or no one, stop her from getting what she wanted, namely her husband. Her vocal register agitated and annoyed within minutes. Carnow could barely save the scenes from splintering headaches as she would often match Carlson’s vocal patterns and storm. I respected their understanding of the language, but I wish they had channeled this knowledge into a more nuanced performance.

Brandeis Comedy of Errors 2

The ensemble was commendable in their ability to create fully fleshed-out characters from their minimal stage-time, and each crowd scene buzzed with an appropriate level of personality. Barclay deserves respect for his ability to draw this skill from his young actors without overdoing the activity onstage. Overall, the show buzzed with just the right amount of energy for a highly enjoyable interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s weaker plays. These actors, especially Jared Greenberg and Aidan Horowitz, did not make their performance weaker because of the texts’ limitations. Instead, they excelled by adding their own interpretation and nuances to the text. Together with Zachary Greenberg and Dotan Horowitz’s energy, these four actors were a delight to watch and to laugh at through the evening’s debacles and triumphs. There was just enough naïveté to make any mistakes into a comedy, creating a wonderful mix for Comedy of Errors to excel as a production.

As originally published on My Entertainment World.

Occupy Rome: Full Contact's "Titus"

I never turn down a Shakespeare play. In fact, a while ago I had a weekend full of Shakespeare. Back in November, I was ecstatic that a new company emerged in the Boston theatre scene, and I was excited to check out some of Commonwealth Shakespeare’s interns and actors at work. Full Contact Theatre presented a lively reimagining of one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays, Titus Andronicus.

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