Monday, October 12, 2009

Reviews of the Summer Season at the Blackfriars

I've seen a number of plays at The American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars Playhouse over the last few months. My wife and I saw the three Summer Season plays: Titus Andronicus, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Much Ado About Nothing on August 1 & 2. As always, the plays were wonderful. We sat in the Lords Chairs and had lots of interaction with the actors. We stayed at the historic Stonewall Jackson Hotel, and only had what I would call an average stay (kinda noisy with the pet friendly policy and our room was, ahem, small at best). We also enjoyed some of Staunton's finest foods at Mill Street Grill, Cranberrys, The Pampered Palate Cafe, and The Depot Grill.

James Keegan was tailor-made for the roles of Titus and Falstaff. His performance as Titus was very powerful and his turn as Falstaff was full of predictably comedic moments. Sarah Fallon, of course, was wonderful in all of her roles, but particularly so as the evil Tamora and the witty Beatrice. Daniel Rigney, an apprentice, was hilarious as Dr. Caius in Merry Wives of Windsor, BY GAR! He and Chris Johnston were particularly snarky and vicious as Chiron and Demetrius. They had a wonderful interaction with a lady in the front row that left her as red as a tomato! The veteran performer Johnston also has a memorable turn as the odd, effete, and cowardly Slender in Merry Wives of Windsor. Victoria Reinsel, another apprentice, was great as Hero, Ann Page, and particularly Lavinia. She compares favorably in her performances to ASC veteran Miriam Donald (and that is a high compliment). Chris Seiler was as solid as a rock as Marcus and hilarious in the role of Dogberry, and his musical performances in the band before the show and during intermissions are not to be missed. Luke Eddy, who always plays a great hero, was wonderful as Lucius, but also had a great comedic turn as Dogberry's lackey Verges. ASC veterans John Harrell and Rene Thornton, Jr. turned in their typically brilliant performances. Thornton was particularly strong as the villain Aaron and the under attack Benedick. His turn as the lecherous old Shallow in Merry Wives was a sight to behold. Harrell is always at his best playing a conniving, somewhat cowardly villain (see his turn as the Dauphin in Henry VI, Part 1) and he was great as Saturninus. He was particularly strong as the frustrated Ford/Master Brook. ASC newcomer Denice Burbach has a great turn as the gossipy Mistress Page and has a wonderful singing voice in band performances. Ali Glenzer has great interaction with Keegan in the role of Mistress Quickly. She also does a brilliant pre-show cameo as Queen Elizabeth I with Tobias Shaw as Shakespeare. Shaw was strong in all three plays, but particularly so as Claudio in Much Ado.

On October 10, after a great tomato, spinach, and provolone quiche and salad meal on the sidewalk at The Pampered Palate, we attended Henry IV, Part 1. This play is directed by ASC Co-founder and Director of Mission Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen. We again sat in the Lords Chairs. This performance was my favorite production by the ASC yet. Eddy and Keegan are absolutely brilliant as Prince Hal and Falstaff in this rollicking, fun-filled, action packed play. If you have any preconceived notions about history plays being boring, thrown them out the window and check out Shakespearean history ASC style. As a matter of fact, two histories, this and Henry VI, Part 1 are my two favorite ASC productions (caveat: I'm a trained historian). Toby Shaw is tremendous as Hotspur, and John Harrell's subtle facial expressions are worth the price of admission. That guy can make me laugh without speaking a word, sometimes perhaps unintentionally. Chris Johnston, who is really asserting himself this summer as a leading talent, is particularly strong as Ned Poins and the Douglas, complete with Scottish brogue. Thornton exudes regal authority as Henry Bullingbrook and is very impressive in the understated title role. Ali Glenzer once again delights as Mistress Quickly and Burbach is strong as Hotspur's concerned wife. Big props go out to Seiler and Reinsel for convincingly speaking Welsh on stage. Seiler is great as the sneaky charlatan Owen Glendower, and Reinsel plays his daughter, married to Daniel Rigney's Edmund Mortimer. The music, performed by many of the actors, was quite good, especially the rollicking Irish folk song, "Ramblin' Rover" that had the entire crowd (trying) to sing and clap along. Such great fun!

We will be returning to the Blackfriars to see The Rehearsal late next month and then A Christmas Carol and Harrell's one man performance of The Santaland Diaries the day after Christmas.