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.


A country twang obscures Shakespeare in Delaware Park’s ‘Measure for Measure’

From left, Matt Witten as Duke, Patrick Moltane as Angelo and Steve Petersen as Escalus at Shakespeare in Delaware Park’s production of “Measure For Measure.” Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News
A country twang obscures Shakespeare in Delaware Park’s ‘Measure for Measure’

BY: Ted HadleyPublished: July 26, 2013, 05:17 PM, Updated: July 27, 2013, 01:14 AM
William Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” written in 1604 but never published in his lifetime, usually falls in his “dark comedies” category (along with “Troilus and Cressida” and “All’s Well That Ends Well”), but mostly it’s called a “problem play.” Maligned for centuries for its ridiculous plot, one that pursues distasteful topics – although sex, church and state can get your attention – it then tosses them off in a hasty and contrived conclusion. Most theater companies are content to leave the work on the shelf.But not Saul Elkin’s Shakespeare in Delaware Park. “Measure” has just opened a several-week run, the second and last play of its 38th season. Brian Cavanagh directs a willing cast, all eager to make sense out of this circuitous tale of justice, mercy and forgiveness mixed with what theater historians call “sexual unease.” The story – the original version – is this: The Duke of Vienna is dismayed with the behavior of his townsfolk. Crime is rampant. Whores and pimps rule the streets. The place is in moral decay. The Duke, dismissing his own lax leadership in all this, takes a break and leaves his post in the hands of his Puritanical deputy, Angelo.

Mistake. Iron-fisted Angelo – a guy who would “scarce confess that his blood flows” – enforces some long-neglected laws. One of them is sure to cause havoc: an anti-fornication statute. Any hanky-panky before marriage was to be punishable by death.

Young Claudio gets pretty Juliet “in trouble” and thus he’s arrested, jailed and sentenced to die in a blink. Angelo, in colorful terms, cites that Claudio has been “groping for trout, in a peculiar river.” The lad’s sister, Isabella, novice nun, is recruited to plea to Angelo for Claudio’s life. Angelo says he’ll change his mind only if Isabella sleeps with him and this causes multiplots to unfold including the old Elizabethan “bed trick,” Angelo duped, comeuppance achieved, marriages all-around, happy endings of a sort, peace restored.

The Duke, by the way, never really left town. Disguising himself as a monk, he watched goings-on from the shadows (a busybody, Lucio, called him “The Duke of Dark Corners”). And it is he who is behind all the deal-making, recognizing hypocrisy gone amok, chuckling and charading and watching people squirm at their plights. It’s no wonder that The Duke has been reviled by “Measure” audiences.

Well, all of this has been transferred by director Cavanagh to the gun-totin,’ g-droppin’ town of Vienna, Texas, with its saloon, livery stable and general store. The Duke is now The Sheriff. The story is the same, though punctuated with sagebrush philosophy and “Blazing Saddles” humor, and there are country songs, too. Loner Angelo, for example, explains himself on “My Rifle, My Pony and Me.” Isabella, distraught, warbles “Don’t Fence Me In.” These are inspired Cavanagh moments. “Measure” could use more of them. The cast does its best with all of this: Matt Witten is Duke/Sheriff; Ray Boucher provides much fun as streetwise Pompey; Susan Drozd is lovely Isabella; Patrick Moltane, a conflicted Angelo. Plus Steve Petersen, Brian Zybala, Sheila Connors, Todd Fuller, Larry Smith, Geoff Pictor, Diane Curley and Zak Ward, excellent as conniver Lucio.

Director Cavanagh has said that “Measure for Measure” “doesn’t have a lot to it.” Not true. A sarcastic, maybe bitter Shakespeare has a lot to say about some serious topics and there are some beautiful passages. You’ll have to listen carefully to hear them amid drawl and twang. The play always needs to be tweaked, updated and adapted. But not damaged.

Norrie Epstein, a Bard researcher, once wrote that “With the possible exception of Jesus, Shakespeare has caused more foolishness and brilliance than any other human being.” Unfortunately, this cowpoke “Measure for Measure” is top-heavy on the former.

Ted Hadley

Copyright 1999-2013 – The Buffalo News copyright-protected material.

Shakespeare in Delaware Park turns ‘Measure for Measure’ into a musical western

Putting a fun spin on Shakespeare’s ‘Measure for Measure’

Matt Witten as Duke at Shakespeare at Delaware Park's production of Measure For Measure during dress rehearsal on Sunday, July 21, 2013.  (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)Matt Witten as Duke at Shakespeare at Delaware Park’s production of Measure For Measure during dress rehearsal on Sunday, July 21, 2013. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

By Colin Dabkowski | News Arts Critic | @colindabkowski | Google+

on July 25, 2013 – 12:01 AM, updated July 25, 2013 at 12:29 AM

Tonight, Shakespeare in Delaware Park will open its second show of the 2013 season with a cheeky, musically inflected take on Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure.”

Unlike its popular and straight-ahead run of “Hamlet,” which was as faithful as possible to Shakespeare’s setting and most of his text, this historically troublesome comedy will stray much further in time and place: all the way from Vienna, Austria, to the lawless border town of Vienna, Texas.

Director Brian Cavanagh, who helmed a fast-paced and engrossing production of “The Merchant of Venice” in 2011 and has long served as SDP’s lighting designer, decided to have a little fun with the play after reading through the difficult and sometimes plodding text.

“I don’t think there’s an unbelievable story here. It’s a good story, but it’s not Hamlet, it’s not MacB,” he said, following the theatrical superstition that you don’t say the name of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” in the vicinity of a theater. “It’s kind of a light story told in a hard way. So I said I want to keep all the basic story so people understand why we’re there, but all around the edges we should make it interesting so people understand and we can keep them entertained all through it.”

To that end, Cavanagh tightened up some of the language and some extraneous bits and pieces of exposition and dialogue. He’s added in some cowboy slang and lingo to place the play firmly in its new Wild West context. And, perhaps most significantly, he’s added six musical numbers to the show in order to amplify the Wild West mood.

The songs, like a version of “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” will serve as accents to the action rather than plot elements, and they’re not meant to be big production numbers. Few of the cast members are trained musical theater performers, Cavanagh added, which works for the sort of tossed-off nature of the songs.

“It’s kind of a comic relief in between scenes, and all of them are Western songs, either just Americana songs or from Western movies,” he said. “There really is no rhyme or reason, I just thought they fit.”

The play, in Cavanagh’s version, tells the story of a sheriff (Matt Witten) who hightails it out of his corruption-ridden town and leaves control to his deputy (Patrick Moltane). The deputy, who is law-abiding to a fault and ignores the advice of his wise old confidant Escalus (Peter Peterson), sentences the otherwise law-abiding citizen Claudio to death for getting his fiancee pregnant before they tied the knot. Claudio’s sister, the nun-in-training Isabella (Susan Drozd), cannot convince the deputy to relent. Fortunately for all involved, the duke returns to town disguised as a friar, and helps devise a scheme by which the deputy is forced to release Claudio from his death sentence.

After Cavanagh read through the play a few times at the request of SDP founder and director Saul Elkin – a grueling endeavor, he said – he decided a fun and rather radical treatment was the right approach.

“When I hit Saul up with that, about it being a Western, he said, ‘Are you sure about this?’ And I said, ‘Well, no, but I think it’s an interesting way to go,’ ” Cavanagh said. “When I finally got through it many times, I thought, I can see it’s kind of laborious, it’s kind of long and draggy for not a very big ending.

“Everything gets a little sinister and heavy and then at the end everybody’s let off and everybody’s happy. It doesn’t have a lot to it, I don’t think. So that’s why I made some changes.”


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