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"Seussical; The Musical," April 15-24, Columbia Children's Theatre, 691-4548.
"The Tempest," April 15-23, USC Drayton Hall, 777-5208.
"Five Women Wearing the Same Dress," April 21-24, USC Lab Theatre, 777-5208.
"The Ephemera Trilogy," April 22 - May 7, Trustus Theatre Black Box, 254-9732.
"The Merry Wives of Windsor," April 23-30, SC Shakespeare Company at Finlay Park.
"The Full Monty," April 28 - May 8, Sumter Little Theatre, 775-2150.
"Crimes of the Heart," April 29 - May 8, On Stage Productions, 351-6751.
"The Addams Family: A New Musical Comedy," May 6-28, Town theatre, 799-2510.
"Around the World in 80 Days," May 13-22, Workshop Theatre, 799-6551.
"The Flick," May 20 - June 4, Trustus Theatre, 254-9732.
Press Releases for Current Shows
Camden Community Theatre
Chapin Theatre Company
Columbia Children's Theatre
On Stage Productions
Ritz Theatre of Newberry
SC Shakespeare Company
Sumter Little Theatre
Village Square Theatre
|Timeless Humor in Finlay Park with “The Merry Wives of Windsor”
Review by August Krickel.
Call them Shakespeare's Real
Merry (House) Wives of Windsor. They might as well be, with gossip,
back-stabbing, sexual escapades, and fights breaking out from a heady
mix of alcohol and jealousy comprising most of Shakespeare's
of the comic misadventures of Sir John Falstaff. Running through this
live under the stars at Finlay Park, the South Carolina Shakespeare
production of The Merry Wives of Windsor wrings every drop of
merriment and double entendre from this venerable farce, proving that a classic can still be sheer, unfettered fun. Or, more
accurately, broad comedy created as a crowd-pleaser for the lowest common
denominator among late 16th-century audiences can be revered as a classic 400 years later, just as long as it's written by
the right author.
Falstaff was a popular character in Shakespeare's otherwise straightforward history plays about Henry IV and his son Hal. Based on stock types including the braggart soldier from Greek and Roman comedy, Falstaff was a jolly, rotund libertine who gave us lines like "The better part of valor is discretion" (i.e. run away and live to fight another day.) We should despise him, and a major theme of those plays is how Prince Hal outgrows Falstaff and the party-hearty companions of his youth. Yet like Lost in Space's cowardly Dr. Smith, or John Belushi's Bluto, Falstaff quickly became a beloved anti-hero, with Elizabethan audiences rooting for the corpulent old knight in his quest for fulfillment via drinking, gambling and wrenching. So much so, that Shakespeare took this dramatic character and spun him off into his own comedy, just as if Joe Pesci's annoying character from the Lethal Weapon series or John Hannah's bumbling archaeologist from the Mummy films were to get their own starring vehicles.
Windsor appears to
be a posh suburb
about a day's ride from London, populated by wealthy country squires
Master Page (Jason Sprankle) and his wife (Libby Campbell-Turner), and
the overly-jealous (for no good reason) Master Ford (Scott Blanks) and
wife (Becky Hunter.) Into this Renaissance-era O.C comes Falstaff
Boyle) and his retinue of rowdy rascals, Nym (Joseph Bess), Pistol
Wallace), and Bardolph (Mark Compton), all characters who similarly
comic relief in the Henry plays. Carousing takes money, and in scheme
#1, Falstaff decides he will seduce these two wealthy housewives and profit
financially along the way. Part of the attraction of the character, and played
gleefully by Boyle, is Falstaff's belief that he will be irresistible, in spite
of his acknowledgement of his size and age. Mistresses Page and Ford are
appalled, especially when they discover that each has received the same
word-for-word love letter, and in a comedic moment that would still get laughs
on any sitcom today, speculate that Falstaff must have
"a thousand of these letters, writ(ten) with blank space for different
Director Linda Khoury played one of the merry wives in SCSC's first-ever full-length production in Finlay (then Sidney) Park 24 years ago, and Boyle reprises his role as Falstaff, supported by a who's who of local talent. Steele is almost incomprehensible - by design - as an Englishman's caricature of a Frenchman, following Shakespeare's phonetic spelling of Caius's mispronunciations and malapropisms. Interestingly, he joins a brief but distinguished roster of dashing left-handed fencers that includes Bruce Campbell as the Daring Dragoon and Frank Langella as Zorro. Other accents are a mixed bag, however, with some actors opting for British, some American, and some mid-Atlantic. Scott Blanks has perhaps the largest of the supporting roles, and carries out the classic comedic "spit-take" with a finesse that would have made Danny Thomas proud. In recent years, Hunter and Campbell-Turner have excelled at playing older, matronly roles (the former as Clairee just last month in Steel Magnolias, the latter as Lady Capulet, and as Violet, the drug-addicted mom in August: Osage County), and so it's quite refreshing to see them here as vital, attractive MILF's (Mistresses I'd Like to read a First Folio with.) Chris Cook plays Slender's uncle, elderly Justice Shallow - one surmises their names are winking references to their wits - with spry irascibility, while Sara Blanks steals a number of scenes as comic chatterbox Mistress Quickly, whose speeches never mirror her surname. If you think about it, when an older, would-be Don Juan who drinks too much is named "Fall-staff," there are probably proper noun puns all over the place. And when Shallow brandishes his cane from below the belt while boasting of his youthful prowess with his "long sword," there's little likelihood that he's referring to battle, and little doubt as to the level of the majority of the jokes that work as well now as they did in the 1500's. Khoury allows her actors to use body language to enhance understanding of some of these, as when Hunter adds a pelvic thrust (a skill recalled from her days as Janet Weiss, no doubt) to her line about being "knighted," i.e. being bedded by a knight. Repeatedly, however, I was struck by just how many jokes fit seamlessly into our modern era, as when Mistress Page proposes "a bill in the parliament for the putting down of men." Even obscure vocabulary presents little challenge for the audience, because Khoury also ensures that every word is spoken with precise enunciation and clarity. Excellent sound coverage by area microphones really helps too, and I noticed that the most experienced within the cast always managed to find the precise spot where their lines would be picked up best by the mikes. Boyle is nevertheless the undisputed champ of the production, inspiring laughter with each line delivery, or sometimes just a wordless entrance in a fine doublet.
Janet Kile's costumes reflect an early 18th-century setting, and while the characters historically would have lived in the early 1400's, Shakespeare's dialogue reflects a fresher, newer, more accessible vernacular. My guess is that unlike his tragedies, Merry Wives incorporates the contemporary language spoken on the streets in his time, vocabulary that only found its way into literature decades later, and more closely resembles the English we speak now. One word in particular can be guessed from its context, but given that it's repeated several dozen times, it's worth defining here. "Cuckold" just means a guy whose wife has been unfaithful, and if he has been "cuckolded," he's an object of derision, and thought to be less of a man. The Elizabethan symbol for this was the sign of the horns (a murky reference to male deer who lock antlers in competition for females), so when assorted characters extend their fingers like antlers, they are neither Aggies proclaiming "Hook 'Em 'Horns," nor Ronnie James Dio fans invoking the gods of heavy metal. You'll notice that I've intentionally used a lot of references to and analogies with modern pop culture on purpose, because Merry Wives in unquestionably pop entertainment. It's not a deep tragedy or character study like Hamlet, nor does it have the beautiful poetry of comedies like As You Like It. This is the Elizabethan equivalent of Benny Hill, written for mass consumption by a proficient humorist whose gags still work today. With that in mind, I'd like to recommend that you orchestrate scheme # 8, in which you invite your snootiest, most pseudo-intellectual friends or relatives to see Shakespeare in the Park with you. Then watch gleefully as they either writhe in discomfort at the pratfalls, mugging, and bad puns, or smile with appreciation as they come to understand that humor is timeless, and that Shakespeare was the great master of the art. The Merry Wives of Windsor runs Wednesday the 27th through Saturday the 30th in the amphitheater in Finlay Park. Just show up to claim a seat before the 8 PM start time, because it's FREE!
“The Tempest” at USC: Shakespeare Reimagined
Review by August Krickel.
Set on a fantastical island, opening with a calamitous shipwreck, and featuring acts of dark magic and appearances by assorted spirits and deities, The Tempest is perhaps William Shakespeare's most ambitious and atypical work. Capitalizing on the exotic and supernatural implications within the text, director Robert Richmond, designer Neda Spalajkovic, music director Jessi Witchger, lead actor Richard Willis, and a gifted group of soon-to-graduate MFA students (including Spalajkovic) spin a revisionist tale that explores the mysteries of the soul, while retaining most - although not all - of Shakespeare's original.
Much of the core plot may sound
familiar to enthusiasts of the author. There are the young lovers, Ferdinand
(Dimitri Woods) and Miranda (Candace Thomas), instantly smitten at first sight.
There are the comic goofballs, drunk Stephano (Josh Jeffers) and dim Trinculo
(Rachel Kuhnle) who imagine they will be new rulers of the island paradise they
have discovered. There are Machiavellian bad guys (Ben Roberts, John Romanski,
and Tristan Hester, with Matthew Cavender as the one good egg in their crew)
who plot and scheme. Each actor embodies these stock characters proficiently, speaking
their speeches trippingly on the tongue, just as Hamlet once advised. Trinculo
is ostensibly a jester, and male, yet there are no specific references in
dialogue to make these absolutes or essential. Thus Kuhnle creates a vaguely
gender-neutral character who is an amalgam of funny types from pop
culture. She wears pilot's garb
Guest artist Richard Willis plays
protagonist Prospero, once Duke of Milan until the bad guys above usurped his
throne, as well as Caliban, a wild, beast-like island native whom Prospero has
enslaved. Yes, you read that right - this is where the revisionist part kicks
in. In collaboration with Willis, Richmond has added an extra layer onto two of
Shakespeare's more memorable characters, played for the last 400 years by
separate actors in several scenes opposite each other. The mechanics are quite
simple, given the magical nature of the story, in which assorted conjured spirits
come and go, carrying out Prospero's will. Here, when Prospero calls
for his servant, there is a screech of a violin, Willis twists and writhes in
pain, and then assumes a different posture, tone and accent, and voilą - he's
Caliban. As Prospero, Willis is
simultaneously bedraggled and professorial, as befits a shipwrecked wizard who
has learned witchcraft from books. His quick metamorphoses into Caliban
preclude any of the feral or reptilian make-up often employed to define the character. Instead, he
incorporates body language, and a lilting sort of accent that is vaguely
Caribbean, with echoes of Africa and India, to suggest a crafty islander.
(Although somewhere in the great Green Room in the sky, Shakespeare's clowns
are probably chortling "He's not a native - he's just Welsh.")
Visually, the production is stunning. One might think at
first that the creative team's reimagining of a 400-year-old classic extends to
the production design as well, but that design is actually much more
traditional than it first suggests. It's just inventive. Most of center stage
is dominated by a huge, two-story slide that reaches up to what looks like the
radiant moon. That shining orb is actually just an opening, creatively lit by
lighting designer Chris Patterson, that serves as the mouth of the cave where
Prospero and daughter Miranda live. When lighting is all dark blues and grays,
we're inside the cave, and the slide represents interior rock formations one
must ascend to exit. When the space is flooded with bright golds and greens,
we're seeing the sun-drenched tropical island, and what might have been
stalagmites now look more like tree trunks, while the slide now suggests a
rocky cliff leading up to the entrance to Prospero's cave. With changes in
lighting creating shifts in locale, and minimal use of any props or furniture,
we are able to focus on the actors and the dialogue, just as Shakespeare
intended. As the villains and clowns explore the island, magical entities
in service to Prospero watch them, haunt them, tease them, and torment them. We
see these beings as mainly silent actors in nondescript rags, but they are
usually invisible to the mortals, who imagine their weapons or clothing are
being whisked away magically. Leading these creatures is Ariel (Carin Bendas,
although some of the character's lines are spoken by Nicole Dietze as a Harpy),
imprisoned in an extra-dimensional cage by her (its?) master. Bendas is clad
all in white, including an eerie Celtic demon mask that unfortunately obscures
most of her face; she is on stage throughout the play, exhibiting admirable
athleticism as she twists and contorts her body through various postures and
poses, often hanging from a bar or perching on top of the structure to direct
her subordinate minions. Prospero never looks at her directly, instead speaking
to a mirror, inside which we assume she is somehow confined.
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