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The Winter’s Tale
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Bruce Longworth
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis
June 2, 2017

Chauncy Thomas, Cherie Corinne Rice (Left), Charles Pasternak (Right) and cast of The Winter’s Tale
Photo by J. David Levy
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

It’s time to return to Forest Park again, for the latest production from Shakespeare Festival St. Louis. This year, the show is The Winter’s Tale,  the Bard’s somewhat mysterious tragedy/comedy/mystery/romance, and it’s in good hands, with veteran director Bruce Longworth, a strong cast, and stunning production values which contribute to a fascinating dramatic journey in SFSTL’s Shakespeare Glen.

This is an unusual play, and one of Shakespeare’s more controversial considering the major tone shift that happens in the middle, and the inexplicable actions of some of the characters. It’s a fascinating story especially when staged well, and it is here. The Winter’s Tale starts out somewhat light-heartedly but then plunges quickly into the drama, and then into tragedy, before transforming itself again into more of a comic romance with a somewhat mysterious ending. The “tale” follows Leontes (Charles Pasternak), the king of Sicilia, who is happily married to Hermione (Cherie Corinne Rice), who is expecting their second child. When their friend, Polixenes King of Bohemia (Chauncy Thomas) wants to cut short his visit and Hermione convinces him to stay, Leontes’ is suddenly plagued by irrational, raging jealousy, convinced that his wife has betrayed him and that her unborn child was fathered by his friend. This leads to a chain of events that involves murder plots, self-exile, accusations, and death. Then there’s the intermission, and we come back to a pastoral romantic comedy sixteen years later as Leontes’ exiled daughter Perdita (Cassia Thompson), who has been raised by a bumbling Shepherd (Whit Reichert) and his even more bumbling son (Antonio Rodriguez), is romanced by Polixenes’s son Florizel (Pete Winfrey), who hasn’t told Perdita who he is, nor has he told his father who he’s romancing.  At first, it isn’t entirely clear how the two sections of the play will be tied together, but eventually they are, in a grand, fantastical fashion orchestrated by Hermione’s wise, protective gentlewoman Paulina (Rachel Christopher).

This is a fascinating play, and the tone-shift is part of what makes it so interesting. The blend of tragedy, comedy, and romance is somewhat jarring, but this production makes the most of it. The music by Matt Pace and Brien Seyle contributes a great deal to the mood, with a more classical chamber-music type vibe in Sicilia and more folky, rustic air in Bohemia. The look of production is striking, as well, with richly detailed costumes by Dottie Marshall Englis that seem to be in a late-18th, early-19th Century style. Scott C. Neale’s versatile unit set shifts well from setting to setting, and there are some excellent effects from lighting designer John Wylie and sound designer Rusty Wandall. The overall pacing is brisk without being too hurried, and all the right tonal notes are met, from the poignant to the jarring to the whimsical.

The casting here, as usual for SFSTL, is strong, and features some welcome returning players, including the excellent Pasternak as the jealous Leontes, whose journey from irrational rage to contrition is made credible. Rice is also strong as the wronged Hermione, and there is excellent work from all of the key players, including Winfrey and Thompson, who display a sweet chemistry as the lovers Florizel and Perdita. There’s good comic work from Reichert and Rodriguez as the Shepherd and his son, and a wonderful comic turn by Gary Glasgow as the scheming, opportunistic con artist, Autolycus. Thompson as Polixenes and Anderson Matthews as the loyal courtier Camillo also give strong performances, as does Michael James Reed as the earnest Antigonus, Paulina’s husband and the unfortunate victim of Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction (“Exit, pursued by a bear”). Christopher, as Paulina, is a real standout in a strong, powerful performance as the protective, somewhat mysterious Paulina. There’s also a strong ensemble lending excellent support to the principal cast.

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis is one of the highlights of June in St. Louis. Free Shakespeare done with such expertise and style is always a treat, and The Winter’s Tale is another prime example of this company’s excellence. It’s a thoughtful, engaging, superbly staged and performed production, and I highly recommend it. I’m looking forward to next year in the Glen as well, when SFSTL will present the Bard’s classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet.

 

Pete Winfrey, Whit Reichert, Cassia Thompson
Photo by J. David Levy
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis is presenting The Winter’s Tale in Forest Park’s Shakespeare Glen until June 25, 2017

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Twelfth Period, or Not Another Twelfth Night
Adapted from William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night
Directed by Gabe Taylor
ERA
April 22, 2017

The Cast of Twelfth Period
Photo: ERA

ERA is known for some excellent experimental theatre, including its mash-ups of Shakespeare with other elements of culture. Their latest show blends the Bard’s classic comedy Twelfth Night with high school films from the 1990’s. Music from that time period abounds in this intriguing tone-shifted production that actually brings elements of tragedy into the comedy. There’s a strong cast and some great ideas, and a truly excellent use of the show’s performance space, and it’s an entertaining and challenging story, although not everything they try works as well as it could.

Twelfth Period takes the basic plot and characters of Twelfth Night and takes them to high school in the 1990s, but with a few notable twists beyond the setting change. Here, some of the major comic elements from the original have been taken out, and some characters are more emphasized, such as the Malvolio figure, here called Mallory “Mal” Olio (Katy Keating), who is a socially awkward girl with a crush on popular girl Olivia Davenport (Erin Renee Roberts), who is grieving the recent loss of both her father and her brother. Olivia is being courted by Dude Orsino (Jonah Walker), who enlists the help of new kid Sebastian Horowitz (Amanda Wales), who in turn has a crush on the Dude. The mistaken identity/identical twins plot is shaken up a little here, and the prank played on Mal by party-boy jock Toby Belch (Andrew Kuhlman), his girlfriend Maria Smith (Francesca Ferrari), and new quarterback Andrew “Andy” Aguecheek (Tyson Cole) is given a much more sinister twist than in the source material. Situations and quotes from various 90s films are incorporated into the script along with the Shakespeare, as the story takes a much darker turn than is first implied as it leads to a prom night that none of the students will ever forget. The story also features a student videographer, Valentine (Erik Kuhn) who doesn’t figure much into the story until he turns up later as a different character, and  Mrs. Feste (Anna Skidis Vargas), the well-meaning but somewhat clueless principal and English teacher.

The structure of this play is intriguing in that it varies depending on the schedule audience members are handed at the beginning of the show. I was in the “junior class” and followed the schedule given, which took our group to several different floors and rooms in the building. The use of space is a major strength of this production, as it really helped to create and maintain the atmosphere of being in high school. The characters also interacted with the audience at various moments in the play, most notably in the “cutting class” segment, where Toby hands out beers and cans of water to his fellow class-cutting “students” and jokes around as he goofs off on the building’s balcony, waiting for his friends Maria and Andy so he can plan the prank on Mal.  Kuhlman is believable as the boisterous, hard-partying prankster Toby, and Ferrari as Maria is a suitable accomplice. Cole is convincing as the awkward, conflicted Andy as well. Keating, as Mal, is a standout in her complex, sympathetic portrayal of a character whose story verges quite a lot from the original story. Wales is fine as well as Sebastian–who as in the orginal is really Viola, but there’s more to the story this time. Walker and Roberts also do well with what they are given, but they aren’t given much. The same goes for Kuhn, who plays two characters but isn’t seen a lot.  Skidis Vargas gets to be the comic relief much of the time as the teacher and sometimes gym coach, and she also gets a good dramatic moment in the prom scene. It’s a good cast, and they have a great deal of energy and enthusiasm.

The look of the production is generally consistent, and as mentioned the use of space is excellent. There are some funny moments, some awkward-funny moments (like Sex-Ed class especially), some intense moments (Mal in the dark room especially), and a lot of moments that are just very “high school” whether it’s the 90’s or not. Still, while this is an excellent effort and a clever idea, the somewhat sudden shift to a darker tone doesn’t work quite as well as it could, and ends up seeming somewhat contrived. The characters sometimes get lost in the concept, as well, in a sense that it seems a lot of time like the theme is dictating the plot in ways that aren’t entirely consistent.

For the most part, Twelfth Period is a successful experiment, although it could use a little bit of refining.  The performances of the cast, especially Keating, Kuhlman, and Skidis Vargas, are strong, and it’s always fascinating to see what ERA can do with Shakespeare. This isn’t quite as stunning as previous efforts like last year’s remarkable Trash Macbeth, but for the most part, it’s a memorable trip to a 1990’s high school, with messages about individuality, peer pressure, the dangers of bullying, and more. In keeping with its academic setting, this play gets a B from me.

ERA is presenting Twelfth Period, or Not Another Twelfth Night, at the Centene Center for the Arts until May 2, 2017.

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The Comedy of Errors
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Shaun Sheley
St. Louis Shakespeare
April 1, 2017

Michael Pierce, Chuck Winning, Zac McMillan, Shane Signorino
Photo by Ron James
St. Louis Shakespeare

April Fool’s Day weekend was a great time to open St. Louis Shakespeare’s latest production. The Comedy of Errors is basically like one big, elaborate, hilarious April Fool’s joke done extremely well. With sharp direction, a terrific cast, and lots of laughs, this is a treat of a production.

The Comedy of Errors is actually one of the few Shakespeare plays I had never actually read or seen, but it really doesn’t matter if an audience is familiar with the material with this production, as clearly and energetically presented as it is. It’s a fairly simple story of mistaken identity, challenging to audience to suspend disbelief but making that suspension entirely worthwhile. The story, set in Ephesus, involves a visitor from Syracuse, Egeon (Dan McGee) who is spared a death sentence for trespassing by the Duke (Erick Lindsey) and is searching for his long-lost family. Meanwhile, other visitors from Syracuse, Antipholus (Shane Signorino), and his servant Dromio (Zac McMillan) arrive and are immediately mistaken for their local doppelgangers Antipholus (Chuck Winning) and Dromio (Michael Pierce) of Ephesus. A somewhat complicated story ensues in which basically everyone is confused, as the Ephesus Antipholus’s wife, Adriana (Frankie Ferrari) and the local authorities also get involved, and Antipholus of Syracuse finds himself attracted to Adriana’s sister, Luciana (Jamie McKitrick). After a series of incidents in which the the wrong people are invited to dinner, the wrong people are locked out of the house, and people get arrested, escape, and just keep getting more and more people involved in the confusion, answers finally start to arrive, but not until after a great deal of hijinks and physical comedy. This play is the very definition of the phrase “hilarity ensues”.

The plot is not deep, but it is convoluted and complicated, and it seems quite challenging for a director and a cast to get all the timing right. Fortunately, St. Louis Shakespeare has found the right director and cast. The pacing is super fast, rarely slowing down, and everyone on stage keeps the energy going with style. The four principals are fantastic, and easy enough to tell apart but also making the confusion understandable. Pierce and McMillan, as the Dromios, carry the brunt of the physical comedy and do so with excellent comic flair. Winning and Signorino are also excellent as the determined and increasingly frustrated Antipholuses. There are also strong, funny performances from Ferrari as the surly Adriana, McKitrick as the bewildered Luciana, Patience Davis as a Courtesan who is caught up in the confusion, McGee as the unfortunate Egeon, Ben Ritchie in three roles including a Merchant and a Doctor, and Margeau Steinau as a local Abbess who gives shelter to one of the pairs, but turns out to be more than she seems. There’s a good-sized cast here, some playing more than one role, and all play their parts well and commendably maintain the breakneck comic pace of this fascinatingly ridiculous plot.

The direction is sharp and dynamically paced, staged on Scott McDonald’s colorful set that serves as a suitable backdrop for the play’s action. There are also well-matched, well-suited costumes by Annalise Webb, clear sound by Ted Drury, and excellent lighting by James Spurlock.

The Comedy of Errors is a short play, and this production is brisk, brief, and action-packed, running without an intermission. It’s a quick-witted, quick moving, laugh-fest of a story. Even though the plot itself is difficult to believe, the implausibility adds to the sheer fun of it all. This is a hilarious production from start to finish.

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Frankie Ferrari, Jamie McKitrick Photo by Ron James St. Louis Shakespeare

St. Louis Shakespeare is presenting The Comedy of Errors at the Ivory Theatre until April 9, 2017.

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Macbeth
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Suki Peters
St. Louis Shakespeare
October 8, 2016

Ben Ritchie, Michelle Hand Photo by John Lamb St. Louis Shakespear

Ben Ritchie, Michelle Hand
Photo by John Lamb
St. Louis Shakespeare

One of the many, many things I love about Shakespeare’s plays is that they are in the public domain, meaning directors and theatre companies can stage them whenever, wherever, and however they want. Sometimes this can lead to self-indulgence, but often it can lead to some truly innovative, riveting theatrical experiences. Macbeth at St. Louis Shakespeare is a prime example of how a director’s well thought-out vision can take an established classic and turn it into something intense, immediate, and  stunningly memorable.

The story is the familiar one, with some cuts to streamline it a little and add to the fast-paced feel of this production. It’s not rushed, however, and every decision makes clear sense. The tragic story of the ambitious Scottish thane Macbeth (Ben Ritchie) and his equally ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth (Michelle Hand) is lucidly told here, and one of the most remarkable parts of it is in the representation of the three witches, or “Weird Sisters” (brilliantly played by Elizabeth Knocke, Taleesha Caturah, and Katie Robinson). In this production, the witches are everywhere, reappearing throughout the production as observers and participants in the action. Having them show up in various situations in other roles, but still in their witch makeup, amplifies the haunting sense of their presence and influence on the action. As the Macbeths conspire to murder the noble King Duncan (Kim Curlee) in order to help fulfill the witches’ prophecy, everything has a sense of palpable urgency. There are other figures who stand in opposition to Macbeth as well, such as the earnest, doomed Banquo (Maxwell Knocke), the determined warrior Macduff (Maggie Wininger), and Duncan’s displaced son and heir Malcolm (Eric Lindsey). The story of the insidious corruption of a thirst for power is told with glaring, visceral intensity, and the consequences of war are made real as well. It’s Shakespeare’s story, set in a mostly traditional setting, but told in a way that speaks to today’s audiences with clarity.

The cast here is impressive. Ritchie convincingly plays the title role, portraying the character’s journey from surprise to ambition to all-consuming lust for power with alacrity. Hand, as the scheming Lady Macbeth, is also superb in her role, expertly displaying the character’s manipulation and also the profundity and horror of her haunting, self-destructing remorse. There are also memorable performances from Knocke as the first devoted and then suspicious but always noble Banquo, and Wininger–who has previously played Hamlet for this theatre company–playing the usually male role of Macduff as a woman, with clear determination and a strong range of emotions, and clear skill as a warrior in the well-choreographed (by Erik Kuhn) duel scene with Macbeth toward the end of the play. There are also excellent performances from Wendy Farmer in a dual role as the witches’ queen Hecate and as the ill-fated Lady Macduff; Chuck Brinkley as the drunken Porter and as a Doctor who attends to Lady Macbeth; Lindsey as Duncan’s rightful heir Malcolm; the and an excellent ensemble of supporting performers in various roles.

The look, sound, and overall atmosphere of this production is stunningly realized by the top-notch creative team. Chuck Winning’s wood-and-metal set is a fitting backdrop for the action here, and JC Krajicek’s costumes are inventive, mostly in a traditional style but with more modern touches here and there. There is truly spectacular use of lighting designed by Nathan Schroeder, and sound designed by Ted Drury to create the eerie, haunting atmosphere and achieve some truly chilling storm effects throughout. All the technical aspects of this production are impressive, in fact, serving director Peters’ vision of a spooky, raw, fast-moving telling of this oft-told story.

There isn’t a lot of time left to see Macbeth at St. Louis Shakespeare, but I highly recommend making a trip to the Ivory Theatre to see this one-of-a-kind production. This production makes the most of the space it’s in, and director Suki Peters’ clear, bold concept comes across extremely well. I’ve seen a lot of excellent productions from St. Louis Shakespeare, but I think this is their best one yet.

Maggie Wininger, Eric Lindsey Photo by John Lamb St. Louis Shakepeare

Maggie Wininger, Eric Lindsey
Photo by John Lamb
St. Louis Shakepeare

St. Louis Shakespeare is presenting Macbeth at the Ivory Theatre until October 16, 2016.

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Julius Caesar
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Tom Kopp
St. Louis Shakespeare
August 6, 2016

Cast of Julius Caesar Photo: St. Louis Shakespeare

Cast of Julius Caesar
Photo: St. Louis Shakespeare

There’s a whole lot of plotting going on in Julius Caesar. Shakespeare’s tragic history play focuses on political machinations and personal loyalties in ancient Rome. St. Louis Shakespeare’s production fills the stage at the ornate Ivory Theatre, with a strong cast and a great deal of tension and intrigue.

Even though the play is called Julius Caesar, Shakespeare’s play focuses more on the key figures who surround the charismatic Roman leader, particularly his friend, the senator Brutus (Ben Ritchie), who is persuaded by the scheming Cassius (Maxwell Knocke) into joining the conspiracy to kill Caesar before he can become too powerful. Torn between his personal loyalty to his friend and his concern for the good of Rome, Brutus is the central player in the drama, which also involves omens, prophecies and dreams uttered by various characters from a Soothsayer (Josh Saboorizadeh) to Caesar’s wife Calpurnia (Annalise Webb). There’s also Caesar’s loyal ally Mark Antony (Brennan Eller), who is determined to see the conspirators brought to justice. It’s a play full of memorable speeches and well-drawn characters, bringing the stories of history to life by bringing a sense of immediacy to the proceedings.

The cast here is a large one, with several cast members playing more than one role. The staging is at once dynamic and intimate, with emotions and relationships given sharp definition in the memorable portrayals of the central cast members, anchored by Ritchie in an impressively measured performance as a thoughtful, reflective and conflicted Brutus. His scenes with Knocke’s angry, plotting Cassius are particularly dynamic. Eller makes a strong impression as Antony, as well, with a believable sense of loyalty, determination, and charisma, and Callahan is excellent as the regal, doomed Caesar. These standouts are also backed by a particularly strong cast portraying the conspirators and various Roman citizens, the roles being too numerous to list but all strikingly well-played, and staged with a buildings sense of suspense and ominous foreboding. The battle sequences are also memorably staged by Fight Director Erik Kuhn.

The stage at the Ivory is suitably transported to ancient Rome by means of Chuck Winning’s convincing multi-level set. The costumes by Liz Henning are suitably detailed and evocative of the time and place, as well. There’s also distinctive, haunting lighting by James Spurlock and excellent sound design by Robin Weatherall.

Julius Caesar is a play about politics and ambition, but portrayed a very personal sense. It’s an examination of motives and loyalties, and a complex character study and intense drama. The characters, drawn from history, are brought to life convincingly in St. Louis Shakespeare’s thoughtful, thought-provoking production.

St. Louis Shakespeare is presenting Julius Caesar at the Ivory Theatre until August 14, 2016.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Rick Dildine
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Cast of A Midsummer Night's Dream Photo by David Levy Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Photo by David Levy
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

June 3, 2016

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis is back with free Shakespeare in Forest Park, with a production that makes the most of the outdoor location and atmosphere. A Midsummer Night’s Dream as directed by the festival’s Executive Director Rick Dildine, emphasizes music and physicality. The production has a whimsical, earthy tone that’s augmented by a liberal use of music and a top-notch, extremely energetic cast.

As one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s plot is a familiar one to many viewers. It’s somewhat convoluted, and all the intersecting subplots provide the basis for much of the humor. The wedding of Duke Theseus (Paul Cereghino) and Amazon Queen Hippolyta (Jacqueline Thompson) provides the initial setting, and the plot moves forward from there, ranging in setting from the Athenian court to the surrounding forest, eventually involving an amateur acting troupe made up of local craftsmen and the fairies who inhabit the forest, led by King Oberon (Timothy Carter) and Queen Titania (Nancy Anderson), whose relationship is both flirtatious and contentious. Their sparring leads to much mayhem involving the mischievous Puck (Austin G. Jacobs and Ryan A. Jacobs), who carries out Oberon’s wishes as well as indulging in his own humorous whims. These actions lead to mix-ups in the romantic entanglements of four young Athenians as well as weaver Bottom (Stephen Pilkington), who becomes involved with Titania herself in a delightfully ridiculous plot twist.

This production’s emphasis on physical comedy is especially successful in the plot involving the young lovers Hermia (Cassia Thompson) and Lysander (Justin Blanchard), who want to marry despite the wishes of Hermia’s father Egeus (Whit Reichert), who orders her to marry Demetrius (Pete Winfrey), whose affection for Hermia is not returned. It’s Hermia’s childhood friend Helena (Rachel Christopher) who loves Demetrius although he doesn’t care for her, until Puck and a magical plant become involved, mixing up the affections of the men and causing further confusion for the women. All four performers give energetic, hilarious performances, with Christopher’s determined and perpetually rejected Helena being the standout. Kudos also to fight choreographer Paul Dennhardt for some truly marvelous physical moments.

The double-casting of Puck is an interesting choice, combined with director Rick Dildine’s inventive staging to make the character seem to appear and disappear in various places on stage with seemingly miraculous speed. Both actors give charming, impish performances. Other standouts in the cast include Carter’s bombastic Oberon, Anderson’s quirky and assertive Titania, and Pilkington’s delightfully hammy Bottom. It’s a strong, extremely cohesive cast overall, without a weak link, making the most of the comedic elements of the story. The “Pyramus and Thisby” play-within-a-play is riotously funny, as well–with all of the players (Michael Propster as Peter Quince, Jay Stalder as Francis Flute, Jerry Vogel as Robin Starveling, Reginald Pierre as Tom Snout, and Alan Knoll as Snug) contributing to the hilarity. This performance is a real highlight of this production. There’s also an excellent use of music, played on stage by the actors, including original songs by Peter Mark Kendall and some additional folk-style songs that have been added to the production.

The overall whimsical air of the production is augmented by Scott C. Neale’s colorful multi-level set, featuring a series of doors from which the players emerge at various times, particularly serving as a vehicle for Puck’s appearances. The costumes, by Dottie Marshal Englis, represent various styles mostly with an early 20th Century air,  and John Wylie’s lighting adds to the overall fantastical atmosphere of the production.

This staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is full of style, energy, and a great deal of fun. It’s the second production of this show for the festival, but their first was before I moved to St. Louis. From what I can see here, the second time is definitely a charm.

Cast of A Midsummer Night's Dream Photo by David Levy Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Photo by David Levy
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is being presented by Shakespeare Festival St. Louis in Forest Park’s Shakespeare Glen until June 26, 2016.

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Trash Macbeth
by William Shakespeare and ERA
Directed by Lucy Cashion
Equally Represented Arts
April 29, 2016

Mitch Eagles Photo by Wilson Webel ERA

Mitch Eagles
Photo by Wilson Webel
ERA

Welcome to part 3 of “ERA reinvents Shakespeare, and it’s awesome!” After successful runs of wildly, wonderfully experimental productions based on Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, Lucy Cashion and company have turned their attentions to the Scottish Play. And in a similarly clever, surprisingly relevant vein, Trash Macbeth is a winner. Taking the audience along for the ride in a fully immersive, participatory trip through the minds of Shakespeare, Emily Post, Dr. Spock, and others, this is Shakespeare like you’ve never seen or lived it before.

The story of Macbeth is familiar, but here it’s been put into an unique new context. This isn’t simply “modern dress Shakespeare” as has been done before by numerous companies. This is a new creation, assembled by blending Shakespeare’s text with the works of etiquette expert Emily Post, along with Dr. Benjamin Spock’s Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, the biblical book of Revelation, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, and a collection of advertisements and commercial jingles from the 1950s. Shakespeare’s story is essentially intact, but the generous sprinkling of other material makes for a different slant on the story, with the focus on social expectations and manners giving it a surprising new weight.  It’s also possibly the most immersive theatrical performance I’ve experienced, as the audience members are ushered into a dinner party at the Macbeths’ and greeted by the characters as we enter the eclectically decorated Chapel and treated as honored guests. Or as one honored guest, most specifically. In a unique twist, the audience collectively plays a role–that of the ill-fated King Duncan, given his lines to read in a key scene and adding to impact of the drama, considering what happens to the character.

Our hostesses for the event are Emily Post herself (Ellie Schwetye), as well as the ambitious Lady Macbeth (Rachel Tibbetts) and the conflicted Lady Macduff (Maggie Conroy). These three also double as somewhat disturbingly cheerful iterations of the three Witches, uttering commercial slogans and jingles about cleanliness and perfect homemaking skills along with their spells and prognostications. As the dapper, tuxedo-clad Macbeth (Mitch Eagles) climbs the social ladder by means of murder and plotting, his confusion about his own actions is palpable. In an another fascinating conceit, we’re also made witness to “confessional” style monologues from the key characters at key moments in the play, especially when a character is about to die.  There’s so much going on here, and so much to think about and consider, and I don’t want to give too much away as that would spoil the experience. Still, this is all presented in an extremely thoughtful, sometimes whimical, sometimes disturbing, and always fascinating way that holds the audience’s attention from start to finish.

The performances are stellar, as well. From Schwetye’s somewhat too-cheerful Emily Post, to Tibbetts’s calculating but increasingly unsure Lady Macbeth, to Conroy’s frustrated housewife Lady Macduff, to Eagles’s conflicted Macbeth, Nic Tayborn’s bewildered Banquo, and Carl Overly Jr.’s determined Macduff, this small but versatile ensemble is ideally chosen. The juxtaposition of Shakespeare’s story with various images and concepts from an idealized 1950s America brings out the drama in a way that I hadn’t quite expected, and the excellent cast contributes to this effect with their stylized but remarkably human portrayals.

The Chapel is such a versatile space, and ERA has used it to the height of its potential with this boldly stylish production, incorporating the use of antiques of various styles, to a somewhat ostentatiously decorated dinner table dripping with melting wax candles, wine goblets and real wine for the audience to share. The table also doubles as a performance space later in the show, and various “trash” elements such as garbage bages and copious amounts of shredded paper are strewn about at occasional moments. Scenic designers Kristin Cassidy, Wilson Webel, and Lucy Cashion, along with costume designer Meredith LaBounty and Lighting Designer Erik Kuhn have created a fantastical space and world for these characters and the audience to inhabit, inspired by a feverish blend of eras and styles, as well as a noticeable nod to 1950’s style and advertising. There’s also a haunting atmospheric score played by composer and musical arranger Joe Taylor and musical Philip Zahnd.

Trash Macbeth is as much an experience as it is a production. Taking Shakespeare’s text and themes and combining them with other sources and themes from mid-20th Century American culture has turned this story into something that is at once timeless and timely. It brings the characters into focus in an inventive way, and creates a fascinating world for them (and us) to inhabit. It’s another artistic triumph from ERA.

Set for Trash Macbeth Photo by Wilson Webel ERA

Set for Trash Macbeth
Photo by Wilson Webel
ERA 

Trash Macbeth is being presented by ERA at the Chapel until May 7, 2016 (go see it)! 

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