Monday, December 5, 2011

The Winter's Tale

Eugene Douglas as Leontes inThe Winter's Tale. Photo by Michael Bailey.
I took in a matinee performance of The Winter's Tale by the Almost Blasphemy touring troupe this past weekend. I had tried to read the play earlier in the year, and have to admit, I only got about half way through it. After seeing this production, I think I'll pick it back up.

Eugene Douglas is amazing as the Sicilian King Leontes. He stalks this stage in a bravura performance, very reminiscent of James Keegan at his best. He mixes in all the right emotions to make his performance one of the more memorable of this artistic year. Also outstanding is Stephanie Holladay Earl as Hermione, Queen to Leontes; Jake Mahler as the hilarious cutpurse Autolycus, Ronald Peet as the shepherd (he plays a great old man), and Rick Blunt as his clownish son. Denice Mahler is fantastic playing both the son and daughter of Leontes and Hermione. Daniel Abraham Stevens plays her love interest, Florizel, and turns in a strong performance.

This play is interesting; it is intense during the first half, with many tough to watch scenes as Leontes destroys his family out of jealousy. The play seems to turn toward the comedic about the time of "Exit, pursued by a bear." There is a definite lighter feel to the performance following the musical interlude. Erin West's costumes are again outstanding and tell a tale of their own, particularly Hermione's bloody dress.

I'm looking forward to seeing this one again at Roanoke College in January and back on stage in Staunton.

Tis Pity She's a Whore

Patrick Earl as Giovanni in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. Photo by Michael Bailey.
I attended a preview performance of the Almost Blasphemy troupe's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore at the American Shakespeare Center during the break between the Fall season and the Winter/Holiday season. I had read John Ford's brilliantly disturbing incestuous tragedy earlier in the year and was looking forward to the show with anticipation. I was not disappointed. If you are a fan of dark tragedy, then you will love this production.

I guess 'Tis Pity is similar to Romeo & Juliet, in a twisted way. Giovanni, played brilliantly by Patrick Earl, fresh from his return from University is hot to trot for his sister Annabella (the always excellent Denice Mahler), and seeks the advice of Friar Bonaventura (Kevin Hauver) to deal with his moral dilemma. Of course, the Friar advises against this evil, but Giovanni can't help himself and tries to reason with the Friar that his love for his sister is not wrong. Well, we also find out that the feeling is mutual with Annabella, who is being courted by a series of men including Soranzo (Jake Mahler), Grimaldi (Michael Amendola), and the dandy Bergetto (a typically entertaining Rick Blunt complete with a wonderfully geeky sidekick, Poggio, played by Stephanie Holladay Earl). Annabella is not interested in these men, and her tutor Putana, played brilliantly by Bridget Rue (nice costume) encourages her to pursue the relationship. They consumate their relationship and Annabella becomes pregnant. She later marries Soranzo at the urging of Friar Bonaventura following the murder of Bergetto by Grimaldi and after he discovers she is pregnant with her brother's child. Following this the play descends into a series of twists and brutalities that are too complex to detail here.

Other outstanding performances are turned in by Eugene Douglas as Vasques, a servant of Soranzo who has traces of Iago to him; Daniel Abraham Stevens as Florio, the father of Giovanni and Annabella, and Stephanie Holladay Earl as Hippolita. Again, Erin West deserves a big shout out for the costumes in this production.

This play is considered one of the most controversial in the history of the English language. After seeing it and reading it, I would agree. Basically, the feeling I was left with was one of shock. This is a must see production. One rarely gets to see something this shocking or controversial, particularly from a mainstream theatre company. If the tour is performing this anywhere near you, go see it and then check it out again when it returns to Staunton. It will blow you away.

The Tempest and Tamburlaine the Great at the ASC

I saw The Tempest at the American Shakespeare Center several times over the summer and fall seasons, but I never got around to actually reviewing it. The Tempest, as with many of Shakespeare's laters plays, is not my favorite. That said, I did enjoy the performances I saw. James Keegan was as brilliant as always in the role of Prospero. Keegan tends to dominate the stage at all times with his presence. Miriam Donald is wonderful as Prospero's child-like daughter Miranda, and she and Patrick Midgley's Ferdinand have terrific chemistry. Other great performances include Benjamin Curns' turn as Caliban, the half-man, half-fish creature; Chris Johnston as Stephano, and Allison Glenzer as Trinculo. Those three have the audience rolling several times. Curns, Johnston, and Rene Thornton, Jr. tear the house down as the spirits Juno, Ceres, and Iris. Erin West's costumes are fantastic for this production, really some of the best I've seen at the ASC. OK, so The Tempest wasn't my favorite ASC production of all time, but it was better every time I saw it and I can't think of a much better way to spend a couple of hours among friends.

Tamburlaine the Great, or the James Keegan Show, was something I had been looking forward to all season. I saw a preview of it early on but I missed the final scene because of a snoring boor in the audience. The play has some terrific language, but the plot is pretty sparse and the play is wholly dominated by the title character. There are a few moments for some of the other actors, particularly Blythe Coons as Zenocrate, Chris Johnston and Miriam Donald as Tamburlaine's minions Ucumcasane and Techelles, and Rene Thornton, Jr. as Bajazeth and Allison Glenzer as Zabina, but the play is pretty much a vehicle to show how great Tamburlaine actually is. You basically wait the whole play for Tamburlaine to get his comeuppance, but it never happens. Once again, Erin West's costumes are outstanding. I hope the ASC will consider a production of Tamburlaine part two.