Saturday, Feb. 20, 2010

Balanced Shakespeare

Carte Blanche and the art of juggling a satisfying production.

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Somewhere around intermission last night, the full reality of seeing a third Shakespeare show in less than a month finally hit me. Looking back, it occurs to me that itís actually pretty rare to have three different productions of three different Shakespeare plays open in Milwaukee the same month. Boulevard Theatreís Allís Well That Ends Well, Off The Wallís Macbeth and Carte Blancheís Much Ado About Nothing all have overlapping runs. With some of the difficulties which had beset the Boulevardís show opening weekend and Off The Wallís over-rendered production design, it was nice to finally see a really well-balanced production with Carte Blanche last night.

The great thing about Shakespeare is that there are a great many elements to any script. And even a truly bad production (which I donít think Iíve ever seen) would likely still have some elements about it that keep it from being a total disaster. The challenge for a really well-polished production is to make all of the elements work with relatively little dull, boring, poorly-executed dead weight. (With so many elements at play, invariably something is going to come across poorly.) Carte Blancheís Much Ado does a really good job of meeting this challenge, effectively executing the best all-around staging of a Shakespeare play Iíve seen since the APTís Comedy of Errors this past summer.

Directtor Jimmy Dragolovich does a really good job of putting together a show with few significant flaws. It may not be as ambitious in scope as Gutzmanís Macbeth at Off The Wall and it may not be a fearless Mark Bucher staging of one of Shakespeareís least popular plays, but thereís something to be said for putting together a solid, entertaining production of a classic, popular romantic comedy. This is exactly what Cart Blanche manages with its latest production. The action is paced remarkably well. Nearly everyone in the cast works remarkably well together and nearly everyone here has an opportunity to make an individual impression.

The ensemble that Dragolovich is working with has remained relatively constant over the course of the past several Carte Blanche productions and the ensemble has really begun to develop a rapport that serves the play particularly well. Actors have settled comfortable into various types of roles and havenít been typecast for long enough to get boring or tedious. Michael Keilly is as fun as Dogberry as he was I a similarly crazy comedic role in Carte Blancheís The Producers. Michael Traynor plays Don Pedro with a charismatic poise that served as an interesting youthful edge to his performance as Max Bialystock in The Producers and the Emcee in Cabaret. The most pleasant surprise here was a brief bit of physical comedy between Liz Witford and Amber Smith. Witfordís got really good instincts for physical comedy and it was nice to see her have an opportunity to explore that a bit here . . . particularly with Smith, who puts in a typically impressive performance here as well . . . this time having an opportunity to play a more traditional romantic heroine as Hero. The group Dragolovich is working with here is quite young, which is kind of refreshing. If Dragolovich can maintain the bulk of this group for another coupl of years, itíll be interesting to see how the theatre will progress in that time.

A review of Carte Blancheís Much Ado About Nothing runs in this weekís Shepherd-Express.The show runs through March 7th.

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