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Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010

Off the Wall, Carte Blanche Add to Shakespearean Mix

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This past weekend the Boulevard Theatre’s intimate All’s Well That Ends Well joined Shakespearean productions by two other studio theaters to add to a Bard-filled month in Milwaukee. Off the Wall Theatre presented Macbeth and Carte Blanche Studios produced Much Ado About Nothing.

As of this writing, all but two performances of Off the Wall Theatre’s Macbeth have sold out. This epic tragedy, possibly Shakespeare’s most popular play, personally connects to Off the Wall audiences in a production that is designed to amplify the space’s intimacy. Director Dale Gutzman’s contemporary, militaristic production design adds an interesting touch, but his over-rendered sound design detracts from the drama, with cinematic scoring that often clashes with the performance.

Jeremy Welter (making his first onstage appearance in a gas mask) is at his best in the title role when Macbeth begins to lose his grip on reality. It’s a portrayal that recalls his performance as Hamlet in a recent Off the Wall production. Gutzman’s instincts as producer and director help certain moments shine. A memorable, stylish appearance by Lisa Golda as one of the witches is among the elements that make the show worth seeing.

By contrast, Carte Blanche Studios’ Much Ado About Nothing is much more traditional. Tastefully classical elements like Elizabethan costuming and set design complement a well-executed performance by nearly the entire ensemble.

This show by Carte Blanche director Jimmy Dragolovich is less ambitious than Gutzman’s Macbeth, but ultimately it’s more satisfying because he makes the acting interesting. Jordan Gwiazdowski portrays an awkwardly vain, comically vulnerable Benedick destined to fall in love with the stunning, charming Beatrice (Emily Craig). Dragolovich has worked with most of the ensemble for several recent shows, and they have developed a rapport that is brimming with vitality. Notable performances from the edges of the script include Michael Keiley as a high-energy, humorous Dogberry and the brilliant, physical comedic instincts of Liz Whitford as Margaret. 

Carte Blanche Studios’ Much Ado About Nothing and Off the Wall Theatre’s Macbeth run through March 7. 

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