Archive for August, 2013

Shakespeare in the Park brings stories alive in Buffalo

By Naomi Soman 

August 23, 2013
Section: Arts, Etc.


Whether you love Shakespeare’s plays or you hate them, everyone loves Shakespeare in the Park. Shakespeare in Delaware Park has been a Buffalo, N.Y., tradition since 1976. Free and open to the public, performances take place Tuesday through Sunday in a beautiful park in the city of Buffalo. This summer, hundreds of Buffalonians came out to watch “Hamlet” from June 20 to July 14 and “Measure for Measure” from July 25 to Aug. 18.

“Hamlet” is one of Shakespeare’s most well-known, iconic tragedies. In this play, Hamlet’s father, the king, dies and the king’s brother Claudius marries Hamlet’s mother Gertrude. He assumes the crown shortly after his sibling’s passing. The ghost of the former king haunts his son to tell him that Claudius murdered him, and to encourage Hamlet to avenge his father’s death. With his suspicions confirmed, Hamlet devises a plot to expose his treacherous uncle. Unfortunately, he ends up in a sword fight against Claudius’s henchman Laertes. As in all Shakespearean tragedies, almost everyone ends up dead on the stage when all is said and done, including Hamlet, Claudius and Gertrude.

I read “Hamlet” twice during the past two semesters, so I was intrigued to see this interpretation of the play. The set and costumes were quite impressive for a free, outdoor theater. The set consisted of multiple levels and staircases, which allowed the actors to hide from other characters or create more space and dimension in the scene.

While Claudius (Tim Newell) had a great stage presence and played his part well, Hamlet (Shaun Sheley) fell a little short. Shakespeare did not specify Hamlet’s age in the play, so critics debate whether he is more of a whiny teenager or a young man in his upper twenties or early thirties. The actor, Sheley, was much older, and while he had a lot of acting experience, he did not quite fit the part. For one, it looked strange to see someone as old as himself pouting and throwing temper tantrums at his deceased father. Throughout the text, Hamlet borders on insanity, forcing the reader to decide whether or not he has lost his mind, but this director chose to portray him as cool and collected as if he knew exactly what he was doing the entire time.

And even though the director cut scenes from the text, the play was still a bit too long. It ran for more than two and a half hours, which is a long time to sit on a hill at night. Overall, the performance’s ending was very well done, with an exciting sword fight and dramatic finish.

Shakespeare in Delaware Park always puts on a comedy to balance out the tragedy, and they assume a lighter mood and play around with theme. This year’s comedy, “Measure for Measure,” took place in what appeared to be America’s Wild West, though they claimed it to be Vienna. Complete with music, a sheriff and saloon girls, this production was a blast to watch.

“Measure for Measure” is not as well-known as “Hamlet,” yet the plot is more similar to a modern soap opera than sixteenth century literature. In Shakespeare’s version, a duke decides to go undercover to see what will go on during his absence. When he puts his deputy, Angelo, in charge, Angelo decides to enforce the rules—which includes persecuting premarital sex—with an iron fist. To set an example, he arrests and plans to execute Claudio, who impregnated his lover Juliet. When hearing of this, Claudio’s sister and soon-to-be nun, Isabella, begs Angelo to reconsider. He decides to comply, ironically, only if Isabella sleeps with him. Remaining chaste, she enlists the help of the undercover duke to trick Angelo into sleeping with his former lover Mariana, only revealing the tricks and the duke himself.

In this musical adaptation, the duke was a sheriff and the play was full of saloon girls, cowboys, western accents and country western tunes. Although many traditionalists do not like tinkering with Shakespeare’s original script, the play lent itself quite well to the theme change. The set was not elaborate and the smattering of props did the trick. The audience not only laughed at the sprinkled sexual humor throughout but also sang along with the popular melodies including “Home on the Range,” “Deep in the Heart of Texas” and “Happy Trails.” Pompey (Ray Boucher) took the spotlight with his endearing comedy and Lucio (Zak Ward) brought a spark to the performance with his charisma.

Shakespeare in the Park is popular nationwide, but Buffalo’s own in Delaware Park is one of the city’s gems; the cast and crew proved itself again with these two wonderful productions.

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Measure for Measure


MEASURE FOR MEASURE Shakespeare in Delaware Park
Jul 27, 2013, 21:57

Through August 18
MEASURE FOR MEASURE Shakespeare in Delaware Park

By Augustine Warner

Shakespeare wrote for an open-air theater on the South Bank of the Thames and probably dressed the casts in the clothes of the day.
We’re reluctant to do so since that’s…old-fashioned.
Instead, directors update Shakespeare or tinker with him or move the stage events to somewhere else or some when else.
For Shakespeare in Delaware Park, director Brian Cavanagh has moved “Measure for Measure” from Vienna, Austria in some time long ago to Vienna, Texas in the days of the Old West, moving Vincentio (Matt Witten) from duke to sheriff.
Cavanagh tosses in a lot of music from classic Westerns TV and big screen, as well as a lot of Western songs and a lot of Shakespearean jokes, P Yorick Mercantile or Wells-Fargo with a corporate motto of “All The World’s a Stagecoach.”
It actually works pretty well, with only a few clangers.
Some times, it can be a little implausible, like the sheriff’s jail having a basement and then a cellblock even further into the ground.
Most sheriffs probably were lucky if they had stone or brick walls.
Sheriff Vincentio is bored with his job and decides to go on the road, leaving his deputy, Angelo (Patrick Moltane), and his buddy, Escalus (Steve Petersen), in charge.
The sheriff believes his Deputy is a good man and trustworthy.
He isn’t.
Soon, with the sheriff still among the missing the deputy is suppressing the bars and brothels and using his iron fist to make the community the way he wants it.
There’s also the problem of Claudio (Brian Zybala) who has made Juliet (Kathryn Sands) pregnant and faces execution for it and Angelo plans to go ahead.
Isabella (Susan Drozd), Claudio’s sister, is a novice nun who leaves her cloistered convent to plead for her brother’s life.
Angelo falls in lust with her and says he will stall her brother’s execution if she sleeps with him.
What messes up his plans is that the sheriff is actually around, disguised as a friar who everyone treats respectfully because of his brown robes without asking many questions.
No one seems to notice this friar who always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
He starts sabotaging his Deputy while spreading word the Sheriff still isn’t coming back.
When Isabella shows up to sleep with the Deputy, it’s really Mariana (Diane Curley) who was once engaged to him but he pulled out of the relationship when her dowry went down at sea.
In the solution, Claudio escapes death and winds up with Juliet and the Deputy has to marry Mariana to escape awful punishment for his deeds in power.
Shakespeare did love to wind up with multiple weddings.
Even the Sheriff winds up with a wife, in this case Isabella.
Without being completely familiar with “Measure for Measure,” I think Cavanagh did some cutting here and there to help make it work.
Actually it does, although when you hear the music for “The Magnificent Seven,” you are reminded of the mythology of the West that Cavanagh is tapping into.
The best you can do is just go with it, ride your palamino into Vienna, Texas and watch what’s happening, as long as you aren’t engaged in any activity the Deputy doesn’t approve of.
Besides some strong work from Witten, there’s also Lucio’s comic turn from Zak Ward, Curley’s relatively small rose as Mariana, Drozd’s Isabella and Moltane’s well-dressed and iron-backed Angelo.
There’s also some nice singing from Sheila Connors as Madame Overdone.
Measure for Measure has a nice set design from Cavanagh and those town signs from Chris Schenk.
As I said, get on your horse, lubricate your spurs and ride into town.

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Measure for Measure at Shakespeare Hill

Measure for Measure @ Shakespeare Hill

Aug 1, 2013 Posted by  In ArtsLifestyle Comments 2


By Peter Hall:

THE BASICS:  This dark early comedy by Shakespeare has been lightened up considerably by director Brian Cavanaugh who sets the play in the American Wild West complete with cowboy songs.  This is the second of two Shakespeare in Delaware Park offerings this summer (the first was Hamlet) and it runs Tuesdays through Sundays through August 18th.  The show runs 2 hours and 45 minutes with its single intermission.  No admission is charged but a voluntary collection is taken at intermission.  Food vendors are on site and clean porta-johns (and hand-washing sink!) are available, but outdoor temperatures may drop so bring a blanket or a jacket along with your folding chair.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Corrupt and lawless behavior in 1891 in the border town of Vienna, Texas has gotten completely out of hand.  In order to judge just how bad the situation is, Sheriff Vincentio makes a show of leaving town so that he may return in disguise.  In his absence he promotes the morally upright Angelo who immediately begins to enforce laws which have been ignored for decades.  Angelo closes the saloons and the brothels and then sentences young Claudio to death for fornication.  When Claudio’s devout sister begs forgiveness for her brother, Angelo abuses his power.  The play, suitable for anyone 12 and older, is completely contemporary with issues that still make headlines 410 years after its first performance in 1604.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:   The cast is very well balanced in this production, and even though the role of Angelo is usually given to the strongest actor (and here it’s the only Actor’s Equity member in the cast) Patrick Moltane’s performance is only one of many solid portrayals.  Angelo does require rock solid acting skills because he is the only character to travel a long arc of self-awareness.  The actor must, in the course of the play, transform from a morally rigid bureaucrat with ice water in his veins to a very hot blooded sexual predator and then partly back again to a new position somewhere in between.  As Mariana (Diane Curley), who loves Angelo despite his faults advises: “They say, best men are moulded out of faults, And, for the most, become much more the better, For being a little bad.”

The only other transformation involves the Sheriff, Vincentio (Matt Witten) who toggles back and forth between his character in disguise, a monk with a strong Irish brogue, and his real self (revealed to the audience and a few other characters).   It’s not subtle, but it’s not meant to be, and, for his part, whatever character he is for the moment, he stays in character, which can be tricky, as anyone who’s even tried to tell a dialect joke has discovered.

The only other character who might be transformed during the course of the action is Isabella (Susan Drozd)  the virtuous sister of the soon-to-be-executed Claudio (Bryan Zybala).  The actress is fine; it’s the role that’s the problem, and that role is one of the reasons that this so-called comedy is known as one of Shakespeare’s “Problem Plays.”  Six of Shakespeare’s plays have that designation (including “All’s Well That Ends Well” and “The Merchant of Venice”) either because of morally ambiguous behavior that isn’t completely right or wrong or simply because they are hard to classify as either comedy or tragedy.  I was told in college that “if it ends in a marriage, it’s a comedy and if it ends in a death, it’s a tragedy.  Period.”  Spoiler alert: nobody dies in “Measure for Measure” and the plays ends with at least one, maybe two marriages about to take place.  So this is a comedy.

And everyone on stage does a fine job of character acting and pulling the laughs out of this play.  Escalus (Steve Petersen) dispenses folksy wisdom (not ALL of the dialog is from the bard) such as “don’t squat with your spurs on” while the standard trio of “low” characters  Pompey (Ray Boucher), Froth (Todd Fuller), and Elbow (Geoff Pictor) do a good job of bringing 400 year old bawdy puns to our century.  (One wonders how the comedy of Robin Williams will fare in the year 2414.)  Another broad comic role is that of Lucio (Zak Ward) who plays a sleazy operator and he gets lots of laughs.

Some of the comedy is silent, and kudos go out to Maria Nicole Held and Maura Nolan who each have the double role of “Saloon Gal / Scene Change Goddess” in which they strut downstage holding large signs identifying where the next scene takes place (Saloon, Jail, Town Square, etc.) with appropriate facial expressions and body language, usually rather saucy.

The stage is well decorated, the costumes look authentic, and the incidental music, taken from what seemed like a variety of cowboy movies, sets the mood.  A number of the characters stop the action to sing cowboy songs, and, in general, the men seem to be better singers than the women, but they also wisely have other cast members sing back-up, which covers a multitude of vocal sins.  Unfortunately, the director did not extend this courtesy to the women, so that the first song we hear  – “Rose of San Antone” – belted out by the owner of the brothel, Mistress Overdone (Sheila Connors) strikes a sour note early in the play.  Later, again as a solo, Isabella (Susan Drozd) sings “Don’t Fence Me In” and it isn’t much better.  It would be very easy to add some female supporting voices and perhaps later showings will include this.

The shakespeare in delaware park Mission Statement is printed on the last page of the 32 page program guide (handed out as you arrive by younger actors in costume and in character) and this play certainly lives up to their mission.  For purists, you can always buy a ticket and drive 2-1/2 hours to Stratford, Ontario where “Measure For Measure” is on stage through September 28th (ten days after Shakespeare in Delaware Park closes).  My strong advice is to use this play to introduce young people over the age of 12 to theatre in general and Shakespeare in particular and then, on the way home, try to listen to their reactions.


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