Posts Tagged ‘tom stoppard’

Shakespeare in Love
by Lee Hall (Adapted From Screenplay by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman)
Directed by Suki Peters
Insight Theatre Company
August 30, 2019

Aaron Dodd, Michelle Hand (standing), Gwendolyn Wotawa
Photo by John Lamb
Insight Theatre Company

Shakespeare in Love is a play! Or at least, it is now. The acclaimed and somewhat controversial 1998 film was adapted for the stage by playwright Lee Hall and first produced in London in 2014. Now, Insight Theatre Company has brought the play to St. Louis in an energetic production currently on stage at the Grandel Theatre. While the show itself has a few issues in terms of translation from screen to stage, Insight has assembled a top-notch cast, and the result is a fun, highly entertaining show.

Despite the ongoing debate over its Oscar wins, my opinion on the film of Shakespeare in Love is largely positive. Maybe it didn’t deserve to beat Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture, but on its own merits, it’s a clever, witty, and enjoyable film. The play retains a lot of that wit, although the transition to the stage seems a bit clunky at times, in that the focus seems to be more on Will Shakespeare (Aaron Dodd) and his relationship to friend/frenemy/mentor Christopher Marlowe (Spencer Sickmann) than I remember from the film. Shakespeare’s unexpected paramour and muse, the idealistic Viola de Lesseps (Gwendolyn Wotawa) is still prominent, but doesn’t seem to have the same level of emphasis onstage, and Viola’s story takes something of a backseat to Shakespeare’s, particularly at the end. The ensemble nature of the piece is highlighted more on stage, as well, with a relatively large cast and some excellent featured roles. This is a good thing, although there is a lot of hopping from setting to setting that may flow well on screen, but can seem a bit abrupt on stage. Still, for the most part, it’s an engaging story, especially in the hands of director Suki Peters and the excellent cast. The love story is here, as is the generally broad comic tone with some serious overtones and themes, including the relationship between artists and their patrons; the roles of women in theatre and in society; the pressure of living up to societal expectations; the very nature of inspiration and collaboration, and their role in creating arts, and more. It’s a lively, fast-paced show that plays more as a comedy than a romance, at least on stage, and the biggest romance seems to be of writers/performers with their work, more than with a particular person.

The cast, as previously mentioned, is first-rate, led by the personable Dodd as the conflicted, earnest Shakespeare, the charismatic Sickmann as the worldly Christopher Marlowe, and the engaging Wotawa as the determined, stage-loving Viola. There are also strong performances from Michelle Hand as Viola’s devoted Nurse; Ted Drury as Viola’s oily fiance, the Earl of Wessex; and the memorable, stage-commanding Wendy Renee Greenwood in the small but pivotal role of Queen Elizabeth I. Other standouts include delightful comic performances from Joneal Joplin and Whit Reichert as theatre patron Fennyman and producer Henslowe. Carl Overly Jr. and Shane Signorino are also excellent as prominent rival actors Richard Burbage and Ned Alleyn. The whole supporting cast is strong as well, with a lot of energy and an excellent sense of ensemble chemistry. Overall, the Elizabethan atmosphere and the sense of what the theatrical world in Shakespeare’s day was like shines through with vibrant enthusiasm.

The Elizabethan flair is well-maintained through the play’s physical production, as well. Chuck Winning’s multi-level unit set is colorful and versatile, as are Julian King’s impeccably well-suited costumes. There’s excellent work from lighting designer Jaime Zayas and sound designer Robin Weatherall, as well. There is also a strong musical sense in this production, with period-style songs and score played by musicians Rachel Bailey, Chuck Brinkley, Ruth Ezell, Cara Langhauser, Catherine Edwards Kopff, and Abraham Shaw, and vocals by various cast members. The music especially works well for setting and maintaining the tone and era of the play.

Overall, I would say Shakespeare in Love on stage, as performed by Insight, is a success. The adaptation is not without its flaws, but the overall enthusiasm of the production and the superb cast make up for any script and flow issues, for the most part. It’s a fun show, ultimately, with a real sense of love for its characters, and for theatre itself. It’s worth seeing especially for the strong performances.

Cast of Shakespeare in Love
Photo by John Lamb
Insight Theatre Company

Insight Theatre Company is presenting Shakespeare in Love at the Grandel Theatre until September 15, 2019

Read Full Post »

by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Ellie Schwetye
West End Players Guild
October 1, 2016

Michael Cassidy Flynn Photo by John Lamb West End Players Guild

Michael Cassidy Flynn
Photo by John Lamb
West End Players Guild

I had never seen or read Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia before seeing this latest staging at West End Players Guild. Now, I think I have a new play to add to my list of favorites. Not knowing exactly what to expect when I sat down to watch it, I was soon impressed with the brilliance of the writing, which is well showcased in the remarkable staging at WEPG.

This play is, simply put, a masterpiece of contemporary theatre. It’s so intricately plotted and the characters are well-drawn and believable. There are so many little clues to the various mysteries that unfold here, and that’s another great aspect of this play. There’s more than one answer to find.  Cleverly, the play takes place at the same English country estate in two different time periods–the present day and the early 19th Century.  We’re first introduced to the 19th Century characters including young Thomasina Coverly (Kristin Rion), the daughter of the aristocratic family that owns the estate, and her tutor Septimus Hodge (Michael Cassidy Flynn), a scholarly and somewhat romantically adventurous young man who, we eventually find out, is an old school friend of Lord Byron’s. We also meet Thomasina’s mother, the jaded aristocrat Lady Croom (Ann Marie Mohr) and her brother, Captain Brice of the Royal Navy (Anthony Wininger), as well as the family’s enthusiastic landscaper Richard Noakes (Carl Overly, Jr.), who has grand plans for redesigning the grounds of the estate. There’s also an insecure, mediocre poet, Ezra Chater (Andrew Kuhlman) who has several complaints against Septimus regarding Chater’s poetry and his wife. We spend a good deal of time in this era until we’re eventually transported to modern times, in which the ancestors of the Coverly family still own and live on the estate, including the outgoing Chloe Coverly (Erin Renee Roberts), her quiet brother Gus (Mason Hunt), and studious brother Valentine Coverly (Jaz Tucker), who is working on mathematical equations concerning the local grouse population. Another scholar has also arrived to stay with the family, English literature specialist Hannah Jarvis (Nicole Angeli), whom Valentine refers to as his “fiancee” although their relationship doesn’t seem as clearly defined on her side. Hannah’s there to work on another scholarly project–finding out the identity of a hermit who lived on the grounds sometime after the time period featured in the first part of the play.  Another scholar, the egotistical Bernard Nightingale (John Wolbers), also arrives working on yet another project involving Lord Byron’s connection with the estate, and as the modern day characters interact and do their research, the action frequently switches back to the 19th Century plot, where we learn exactly how accurate the present-day scholars’ research turns out to be. It’s a gradual process, and I’m realizing now that my description my make this all sound hopelessly dry, but it isn’t in the least. The characters are so richly drawn and the events play out in surprising and fascinating ways, dealing with important issues concerning the importance of integrity in scholarship, the process of scientific discovery, the ignoring of the roles of brilliant women in history, and more.  This is a very dense but extremely well plotted and thoughtful play, and West End’s production is a superb rendition of this remarkable script.

Director Ellie Schwetye has staged this play in a lucid, dynamic way that makes everything the audience needs to know readily apparent, although it’s important to keep your eyes and ears open because there’s a whole lot going on. The set is static throughout, with few changes to the props between the time periods. Most of what is there, is there in both eras, suggesting more of a link between the two stories. All the little clues that are dropped throughout are there for the noticing, and the period details are very well-realized, as well. Tracey Newcomb-Margrave’s costumes outfit the characters with excellent detail, from the character-appropriate modern costumes to the vibrant 19th Century attire. There’s also excellent atmospheric lighting by Benjamin Lewis and strong sound design by Schwetye.

Even with such a wonderful script, a play like this requires a first-rate cast, and this production has that. Led by the strong, earnest performances of Flynn as Septimus and Angeli as Hannah, this cast doesn’t have a weak link. Other standouts include Wolbers in a lively performance as the pompous Bernard, Rion in a winning turn as the inquisitive, ahead-of-her-time Thomasina, Mohr as the somewhat imperious Lady Croom, Kuhlman as the defensive Chater, Overly as the energetic Noakes, and Hunt in a dual role as the silent Gus and his more gregarious ancestor, Augustus Coverly. Everyone is excellent, however, no matter the size of the role, and the ensemble chemistry–extremely important in a show like this–is superb.

Arcadia is one of those plays that makes me want to buy the script. As presented at West End Players Guild, the excellent words are brought to glorious, fascinating life. It’s a great show, and it’s only playing for one more weekend. Go see it if you can.

Nicole Angeli, Michael Cassidy Flynn, Mason Hunt, Kristin Rion, Jaz Tucker Photo by John Lamb West End Players Guild

Nicole Angeli, Michael Cassidy Flynn, Mason Hunt, Kristin Rion, Jaz Tucker
Photo by John Lamb
West End Players Guild

West End Players Guild is presenting Arcadia at Union Avenue Christian Church until October 9, 2016. 

Read Full Post »