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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Virtual ‘Dream Upon Avon’ embraces the Bard with flair

Critic At Large

Door Shakespeare

The cast of Door Shakespeare’s production of “Dream Upon Avon.” (Door Shakespeare photo)

BAILEYS HARBOR, Wis. (WFRV) – William Shakespeare was vaccinated against the coronavirus COVID-19 the other day in England. Not THE William Shakespeare but a man with his name. The real William Shakespeare doesn’t need a vaccine. He has endured for more than 400 years, and he looks to be good to go forever – not only from his plays and other writings but the current play, “Dream Upon Avon.”

A skilled reading of “Dream Upon Avon” is available online this weekend by way of the pros of Door Shakespeare of Door County. The author, John Kishline, portrays one of the characters, who happens to be Will Shakespeare. How good is that?

It’s a Christmas show of sorts, being set on Dec. 24, 1615.

Will Shakespeare is relaxing in a pub in his hometown of Stratford-Upon-Avon. He soon is joined – “for reasons hidden” – by a fellow from today. Neil has been at a talkback about Shakespeare in the Niles Library.

Will Shakespeare wonders: “Were you in Egypt?”

“Oh no,” Neil says, “Illinois.”

Will Shakespeare wonders if ill-annoy is “a sickly irritation.”

Neil goes on about Chicago and explains that the name comes from the plant ramp, which is related to the onion. Will Shakespeare quotes lines about the onion from one of his plays.

“You know Shakespeare?” Neil asks.

“Yes, I do,” Will Shakespeare says.

The inviting sequence sets the tone for the play.

Neil will be joined by others from the Niles Library talkback. All will wonder where they are. All will be able to not only quote Shakespeare but perform scenes from his plays as an ensemble. All will be having the time of their imaginary life. Neil is the first to wonder, “Is this a dream?”

Will Shakespeare is a congenial soul. Immediately, the visitors from the future are treated as friends. “Do you drink?” he asks. All have a brew on Will Shakespeare – having been told their money is no good, that being the case literally.

Will Shakespeare and the Niles Library folks are curious about one another.

The Niles folks ask about how Will Shakespeare happened to write certain characters or about his thoughts on challenges to him writing all his plays or about meeting kings in real life.

Among the latter, he mentions Denmark, and Neil pops with “cheeseheads,” who he describes to the quizzical Will Shakespeare: “They’re noisy. Not too bright.” Then, along the way later, Will Shakespeare comments that the university sorts of his time looked upon him as “a Warwickshire cheesehead.”

Author John Kishline being of the Milwaukee area, “Dream Upon Avon” is “from here” with the cheesehead stuff. How good is that?

For his part, Will Shakespeare asks the Niles folks if they can fly, about America, about women acting on stage and even portraying men, and, importantly, “Do you know the day I die?”

And here the play becomes wondrous. Will Shakespeare learns his words have gone on and on, and they are spread all over the world, and he is admired by people like the Niles folks. Will Shakespeare is genuinely pleased and flattered.

This is a treasure of a play – warm and smart and funny and clever and affectionate and appreciative. Everyone is likable – the characters and the players, who are awfully good at what they do.

Side note: Playgoers in the Green Bay area will notice that John Kishline bears an uncanny resemblance to Stuart Smith in his voice – the timbre, pacing, inflections, depth, tones, colors and presentation. For a jillion things Stuart Smith did, he shared a Carroll College distinguished alumni honor with Alfred Lunt, the Broadway legend. Not too shabby, hey?

All the players clearly like their roles and the chance to let fly with William Shakespeare lines and “conversations” with, as he calls himself, “an old frayed player.”

This production is a reading rather than a fully realized performance. Scene descriptions are given by the voice of Michael Stebbins, who directs the cast and who is producing artistic director of Door Shakespeare. The players are Zoom-recorded in different locations. By way the green wall of Chroma Key, their backdrop is the same scene in the Windmill Pub, a sturdy place.

The players’ images aren’t sharp. The words-to-lip-movement sequence is off. Little oddities happen on the screen.

In a weird way, the viewing of “Dream Upon Avon” is not the best but better. In person, play readings often have the players strung out on a stage, standing and reading/emoting with scripts in front of them on music stands. In the Zoom setup, the five players are in an economical, contained space a couple of feet or so from the viewer – an immersive situation.

The Internet and Door Shakespeare are providing a convenient opportunity to discover a gem.

One more bit from the show: Duane is the last to arrive by quite some time. As he joins his friends, he wonders about stuff. After he is told, “It’s 1615,” Duane observes, “You have been here a while, then.”

***

Creative: Playwright – John Kishline; director – Michael Stebbins

Cast (in order of appearance):

John Kishline as Will Shakespeare

Neil Brookshire as Neil

Cassandra Bissell as Cassie

Deborah Clifton as Deborah

Duane Boutté as Duane

Running time: 50 minutes

Remaining performances: 7 p.m. Dec. 12 and 5 p.m. Dec. 13

Info: doorshakespeare.com

***

Also, returning: Michael Stebbins in “Holidays on Ice,” livestreamed Dec. 18-20. Info: doorshakespeare.com.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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