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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Coronavirus: ‘Rosalind’ virtual, daring for N.E.W. company

Coronavirus

Door Shakespeare

Kay Allmand is featured in the Door Shakespeare virtual production of “Rosalind.” (Door Shakespeare)

BAILEYS HARBOR, Wis. (WFRV) – When is a play not a play? When is a film not a film? When is time not time?

They are when creative sorts are tortured to feed the creature of performance in the midst of a massive muting force called the coronavirus COVID-19.

Thus, there is “Rosalind,” a hybrid project of Door Shakespeare, the professional classical theater company that normally romps around a majestic maple tree in summer.

The company has been marking its 25th anniversary in 2020. “Marking” not “celebrating.” There hasn’t been much to celebrate. Until now.

Door Shakespeare has produced the play “Rosalind” as a virtual production. The project is quaint, quirky and quaky, yet quite distinctive once its wholeness comes to focus – particularly in the central acting role.

The value in “Rosalind” is getting another perspective on playwright E.M. Barrie, creator of “Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.” Buried in his writing abundance is this character study. His interest is a famed actor on the cusp of middle age – which succeeds in keeping women off the stage, the main character observes. The play is from 1914, and what the actor frets about – roles vanishing with age – is heard echoing today among stars of stage and screen. Thus, time is not time.

Four characters are in the story: A narrator sets up the basics in the tones of a refined Briton. Mrs. Page is relaxing in a remote cottage and enjoying the company of Dame Quickly, the landlady, who believes Mrs. Page has a daughter who is a STAR on the London stage. A young man, Charles Roche, asks to come in from the rain.

The play is about acting, theater, romance – and the possibilities of the three existing together.

Amid coincidences, improbabilities and preposterousities, tasty bonbons are served about who Mrs. Page really is.

Showing his playful Peter Pan side, E.M. Barrie tosses in this sweet for naïve Charles to offer about the STAR:

“I mean, she is famed as almost the only actress to not have a mother.”

Alexander Johnson as Charles. (Screen shot)

And then there is this treat for the main character to say:

“Oh, the gladness of her gladness when she’s glad. And the sadness of her sadness when she’s sad. But the gladness of her gladness and the sadness of her sadness are as nothing, Charles, to the badness of her badness when she’s bad.”

The character is all those and more. It’s a delicious role – a motivation to take on “Rosalind” in the first place.

The title is drawn from the William Shakespeare play, “As You Like It,” which has a character, Rosalind. There are connections in this play.

The execution of this project speaks determination and inventiveness.

The cast takes its bows in separate locations with the same backdrop. (Screen shot)

It was recorded in multiple locations. The attempted main illusion is the visible characters are in the same room. Seen is a fireplace with a photograph, a candle and a cup holding flowers on the mantel. However, the actors are not in the same room but their homes. The backdrop was created in triplicate. The actors speak as though they are in the same room, but they in essence are talking to air and whomever is recording them, from more than one position.

Additionally, music was composed and performed to enhance the atmosphere.

The aura is that of a film, but it’s obvious this ain’t Hollywood. The drawbacks include awkwardness in shifts of conversations and the different sound from room to room. The characters don’t sound like they are in the same room.

Rhonda Rae Busch as Dame Quickly. (Screen shot)

Liveliness comes from Rhonda Rae Busch as busybody Dame Quickly and Alexander Johnson as the earnest Charles Roche, smitten with the slings and arrows of Cupid. And then there is Kay Allmand, the golden ring of this carousel.

The project is shot in black and white. I’m surmising that is deliberate to create the feeling that what’s happening is in the past. Black and white also has an “art film” quality.

Some of the art comes in Kay Allmand’s performance.

+ She is “taking to air,” yet nuances fill her expressions, movements and inflections by the nanosecond.

+ Today’s style of filmmaking is quick shots – splurges of action, action, action, shift, shift, shift. “Rosalind” serves longer moments as the character’s thoughts and emotions ebb and flow.

+ The play is not a play in that is being visually recorded, yet play moments when a character has attention for hunks of time are part of “Rosalind.”

Kay Allmand closeup. (Screen shot)

+ Much different are the “play moments,” which instead of being observed at a distance in a theater, are seen as if magnified – an up-close effect.

+ Kay Allmand, up close, is precise and pliable.

Taking the lead in this remarkable project is Michael Stebbins, who in “Rosalind” defines what his title is with Door Shakespeare – producing artistic director. That’s a person who comes up with an idea and executes it.

This is a pay-per-view project that is being shown virtually at specific times through Sept. 13.

“Rosalind” is a step above – the set work, costuming, location shooting, original music and overall professional craft.

Without stupid COVID-19, there wouldn’t be this different and smart thing. Funny how the world turns these days.

***

Creative: Playwright – E.M. Barrie; director – Michael Stebbins; film editor – Ryan Schabach; set designer – Jody Sekas; costume designer – Kim Instenes; sound designer/composer – Ann Warren; musician – Aleksandra Newland; managing director – Amy Ensign

Cast:

Dame Quickly – Rhonda Rae Busch

Mrs. Page – Kay Allmand

Charles Roche – Alexander Johnson

Stage Manager – Michael Stebbins

Running time: 44 minutes, 52 seconds

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 3, 4; 5 and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 5; 5 p.m. Sept. 6; 7:30 p.m. Sept. 9-11; 5 and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 12; and 5 p.m. Sept. 13

Info: doorshakespeare.com; 70-page virtual program on site, click on Pages and Door Shakespeare Goes Virtual

***

Ahead: A second virtual production is in the works by Door Shakespeare. Five actors will portray 16 characters in William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors.” Showings are scheduled at 7 p.m. Oct. 27-Nov. 1 and Nov. 10-15.

+ “The Door Shakespeare Reading Series” will be “Shakespeare’s Legacy” by J.M. Barrie featuring Amy Ensign, Rayne Kleinofen and Jarred Langwinski at 7 p.m. Oct. 12.

+ “Holidays on Ice” by David Sedaris presented by Michael Stebbins at 5 p.m. Nov. 20; 7 p.m. Nov. 27; 7 p.m. Dec, 4, 5, 18, 18 and 5 p.m. Dec. 6.

+ “Dream Upon Avon” by John Kishline, at 7 p.m. Dec. 11, 12 and 5 p.m. Dec. 13.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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