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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Much Ado About Nothing as performed by the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, MN

Much Ado About Nothing (Barnes & Noble Shakespeare)Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a review of the performance by the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, MN.

Think of the couples on TV with sexual tension. Sam and Diane on Cheers, Ross and Rachel on Friends, Booth and Bones on Bones, Castle and Beckett on Castle. They all have their roots in this play, Much Ado About Nothing (which could be the subtitle for Seinfeld).

This version of the play is set in Italy in the early 20th century. The war is over, and the troops, led by Don Pedro, are coming home. They all meet at the house of Leonato, the governor, who lives there with his sister, Antonia, and his daughter, Hero. Among the troops is Claudio, who wants to marry Leonato's daughter, Hero. Also is Benedick, who has a tortured history with Beatrice. Also along is Don John, Don Pedro's brother and loser of the recent war. Leonato invites them all to stay at the mansion.

While there, Don Pedro agrees to not pursue Hero since Claudio is in love with her. Don Pedro also convinces Leonato and Claudio to convince Benedick, who has vowed never to get married, that he is in love with Beatrice. Chris Gerson gives a great performance here, doing everything he can to hide from the three men. They sing a song, they cut out and Benedick goes ahead. Classic. Meanwhile, Antonia and Beatrice's attendants work on convincing Beatrice that she is in love with Benedick. This all comes to a head at the masquerade ball, when Beatrice says things about Benedick to a masked Benedick not realizing who it is. Beatrice calls him the prince's jester.

Meanwhile, Don John is plotting to disrupt Claudio's marriage to Hero. Borachio has a plan where he will have Margaret meet him on the balcony while Don Pedro and Claudio watch. Borachio will call Margaret "Hero", and Margaret will respond. In this production, they dramatized this scene. Then it was intermission.

After intermission, we meet Dogberry the constable, who is incapable of speaking a coherent sentence. (Sounds like some politicians I know.) He readies the watch. At the wedding, Claudio accuses Hero of infidelity. Hero collapses, and Don Pedro and Claudio leave. Hero then wakes up. The Friar suggests that Hero pretend to be dead, so the truth can be flushed out. Everyone agrees. Borachio is walking through town and tells his friend about the whole scheme. The watch hears this, and takes Borachio into custody. Dogberry intervenes and wants everyone to know that he is an ass. Claudio is upset by Hero's death, and agrees to marry Antonio's daughter, who is the exact copy of Hero. At the wedding, the bride turns out to be Hero. Beatrice and Benedick finally proclaim their love for each other. And everyone lives happily ever after.

First of all, even though the play is set in Italy, no one tries to fake an Italian accent. It can be hard to do without sounding like a stereotype. It would have distracted from the play. Excellent performances all around. Start with Chris Gerson and Tarah Flanagan, who are married in real life, as Benedick and Beatrice. They do a great job of letting the chemistry between them simmer below the surface until the right time. Given all the remakes with these two characters, we know that the more they fight, the more they know they love each other. Michael Fitzpatrick as Leonato is great too, and gives off an aura of leadership. Stephanie Lambourn as Hero lets the confusion come out. Hero doesn't know what's going on. Brian White is great as Claudio, who is in love with Hero but doesn't know how to express it. Andrew Carlson is great as Don Pedro, who tricks Benedick into proclaiming his love for Beatrice. And one last shout out for Chris Mixon as Dogberry, who convinces everyone that he is an ass. All in all, a great performance.

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Monday, July 6, 2015

Romeo & Juliet as performed by the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, MN

Romeo and JulietRomeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This a review of the performance at the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, MN.

Romeo & Juliet. One of Shakespeare's most famous plays. I believe this and Hamlet are the two most widely performed plays in the US. The story of star-crossed lovers has become a timeless classic. It has been filmed many times, including Franco Zeferelli's 1968 film, and the 1997 version featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, where the setting is the late 1990s in Verona Beach, California. It has been rewritten numerous times, the most famous of which is Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story. The star-crossed lovers concept is quite frequent. Danny and Sandy in Grease, Prince Eric and Princess Ariel in Disney's The Little Mermaid (although that one had some biological issues as well), Shrek and Fiona in Shrek. Most rewrites do eliminate the double suicide at the end, however. The balcony scene is one of the most recognizable scenes in literature, and also one of the most parodied. Because of all this, I won't bother to summarize the plot. I won't even worry about spoilers.

Director Doug Scholz-Carlson said that this is a fun play, until it's not. That's how the play is set, in 2 parts. Part 1 is the fun part. It starts with a duel, reminiscent of West Side Story. The choreography comes across as a cross between West Side Story and the old Batman TV series. I almost expected a POW! or BAN! to flash across the stage. This is enhanced by the music of Mike Munson. The time is the late 1940s-early 1950s. The party is a blast, everyone swinging and having a great time. The costumes are a cross between West Side Story and Mad Men. When we see the balcony scene, Romeo, played by Benjamin Boucvalt, comes across as painfully shy, and doesn't know what to say. He's coming out of a relationship with Rosalyn, who is becoming a nun. (It's hard to compete with God.) It isn't until Juliet, played by Caroline Amos, professes her love for Romeo on the balcony scene that he has the courage to come forward. They get married in secret by Friar Lawrence, but have to separate. Juliet has to go back to her father, or else people will wonder where she is. Part 1 ends with the death of Mercutio, and the murder of Tybalt by Romeo. That's when the "not" kicks in.

Part 2 starts with the Prince investigating the deaths of Tybalt and Mercutio. Tybalt's body is at the front of the stage, with a large amount of blood on his shirt. Romeo is banished. He goes to Friar Lawrence to hide. There was an unexpected moment of humor when Friar Lawrence opened the gate. The gate came off its hinges. When he tried to shut it, it wouldn't shut properly. We all knew it was a blooper, but we went along with it. (There's talk that this may stay in the play.) The nurse arranges for Romeo and Juliet to spend one night together. Eventually, there is the double suicide. Juliet takes a drink that gives simulated death for 42 hours. Caroline Amos does a great job of going into convulsions, as I believe any actual drug would do. I've seen too many performances where Juliet takes the drink and goes right to sleep. Romeo eventually finds her body, and takes the poison, again going into convulsions. Juliet wakes up, and stabs herself with the knife. Kudos to Caroline for staying under the sheet for that long.

I thought this was an excellent performance. Chris Gerson, as the Prince, Peter, and the Chorus does a great job mastering all 3 roles. Michael Fitzpatrick as Friar Lawrence gave a great performance, with good counsel in some areas, poor in others. One thing I thought of, if this happened today, Friar Lawrence could just text Romeo that Juliet was only faking. To make it work, Romeo would have to be out of cell range, so he couldn't get the message. Benjamin Boucvalt as Romeo gave a very nuanced performance as Romeo. Tarah Flanagan as the nurse and Rosemary Brownlow as Lady Capulet were excellent in their performances. To me, the best was Caroline Amos as Juliet. This is her first performance on the Main Stage, after some years in the Apprentice Company. If you didn't know that, you couldn't tell. She played the part of Juliet with fire. She jumped in and sang at the party (great singing voice, by the way). She wanted to be somebody who had the guts to take the poison. It was an excellent performance, and I expect her to be on the Main Stage for many years to come. Mike Munson's music definitely set the stage for the production. He even wrote an original song for it. All in all, a great performance.

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