GREEN BAY, Wis. - Some people live and breathe acting. They are the embodiment of art, craft, diligence, dedication and precision. And they have fun doing it. A team of five of those people is walking our way at present – in Green Bay for an exploration and learning experience centered on the work of William Shakespeare, with opportunities for the public to see a performance served with all the varieties of mustard you can imagine.
In the hands of Actors From The London Stage, “The Taming of the Shrew” is an energizing experience. For serious-minded theater folk, the performance is like going to the encyclopedia and looking up “William Shakespeare” and realizing from these players that there is more.
Two more performances await for “The Taming of the Shrew.” Here is a look at what happened at the first performance Thursday night in University Theatre of Theatre Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, host of the players’ comprehensive, six-day visit:
The stage is bare, save for eight chairs and props and water bottles at their feet. The five players slip into the arriving audience and chat. The atmosphere is loose and chummy versus being “us”/“them” – the audience (us) and the actors (them). The feeling: We’re in this together. Eventually, this casualness will give way to a formidable, nobody-can-do-this-but-us presentation of the play. But first:
During an introduction, Emily Ransom of the UWGB humanities faculty speaks briefly of myths surrounding Shakespeare and the authorship of his plays. One of Ransom’s thoughts is William Shakespeare was forged in an off-the-beaten-path place equivalent to Green Bay.
The performance opens with the cast singing and playing a red and a pale blue small stringed instrument. More music is woven into the action along the way.
The five players introduce the characters – 17 featured ones. With so few players playing so many characters, this “The Taming of the Shrew” is adapted galore.
The players are costumed. The two women wear especially customized outfits; in a sweeping motion, they can go from wearing a female dress to, with a tab of Velcro, wearing a male robe-like garb, changing character/voicing in the same swoop.
The aura is that of a staged reading, but these players use no scripts.
Everything is interplay. Players/characters bounce situations and predicaments off each other.
“The Taming of the Shrew” is strewn with mistaken identities, so all the quick-change/voice-and-mannerism change flips become dizzying, especially near the end.
Being that the play is partly about marriage, earthiness is a factor. (Thursday’s audience let out some big hoots.)
Nuance of voice, expression, body English and timing is everywhere. Quick thought: Actors From The London Stage is what happens after 400 years of distilling and honing and burnishing William Shakespeare’s lines and meanings and intent and possibilities, with the players trained to the hilt and eager have at the rich array of human foibles this play offers.
The performance is quite physical, especially by players Chris Donnelly (like tumbling backward when a chair suddenly isn’t there) and Carl Prekopp (given to springy/wiry leaps and rolls). There’s even a slapstick fight scene.
There’s some playing with Italian (lots by Lizzie Hopley) in language and song. The play is set in Italy, after all.
The players play Shakespeare’s wordplay in two variants. One. Simple toying, as with multiple meanings around “knock.” Two. Suggestive toying, as with… I can’t go there in this mass media website, but there are bundles of double entendre meanings both in word gags and sight gags (and more hoots).
Sum: The actors are excellent, the play is a merry handful and the performance is right up there, especially in a kind of place where much of Shakespeare’s life unfolded.
Creative: Playwright – William Shakespeare; directors – the players, whose American home base is the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana
Cast: Chris Donnelly – Baptista, Grumio and Hortensio; Lizzie Hopley – Kate, Biondello and Pedant; Tom Kanji – Lucentio, Gremio, Widow, Vincentio and Nathaniel; Evelyn Miller – Bianca, Tranio, Haberdasher and Tailor; Carl Prekopp – Petruchio and Curtis
Running time: Two hours, 45 minutes
Remaining performances: 7 p.m. Friday, March 9, University Theatre, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay; 3 p.m. Saturday, March 10, in Brown County Central Library Auditorium, 515 Pine St., Green Bay
Info: weidnercenter.com (with special notation for Saturday)
Ahead for troupe (residencies): March 12-18: Count Basie Theatre, Red Bank, N.J.; March 19-26: Santa Monica (Calif.) College; March 26-April 1: Shakespeare Association of America, Los Angeles; April 2-8: Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.; April 9-15: Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah; April 16-22: Kahilu Theatre, Waimea, Hawaii.
THE VENUE: Of 1970s vintage, the 450-seat University Theatre is a complex facility inside Theatre Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. The theater features a proscenium (flat front) stage that’s 50 feet across and 23 feet high. The seats are a calm shade of red fabric, black plastic backs and light brown arms. The concrete walls gray and slightly angled. The ceiling is a semi-dark green/blue for the coverings ventilating/electrical equipment. Concrete dominates the room – the floor, the walls, the stairs. Aisle carpeting is a flecked gray. The seating area in front of the stage is adjustable to accommodate an orchestra pit when needed. The theater includes two seating areas – a lower one 20 or so feet deep on a slight incline that reaches a poured concrete wall and the upper one above that “moat” that rises sharply and creates an amphitheater effect. The theater may be entered from the lower or upper level.
Contact me at email@example.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays.
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