Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Shakespeare Casserole With World's Stage

World's Stage's DESIRE IS DEATH in patchwork at Villa Terrace

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The work of William Shakespeare is a lot of fun. Yu can say what you want about the complexities and the brilliant use of the language and the carefully constructed plots and such, but the bottom line is that the man's work is a lot of fun. It wouldn't've survived all these years if it wasn't. 

 

The work speaks to actors of all levels of experience with countless mutations and endless room for interpretation. This is because at its heart, it's about the nature of storytelling. Stick to the plot and you're telling a rather nice story with some very solid dialogue . . . some of which has become poetic cliche. 

 

The problem with the work comes in when someone is trying to paste together a series of scenes from Shakespeare's work and patch  them together under a theme. It takes the exact kind of precision that Shakespeare had in his best moments to cobble together various scenes into a single, cohesive show.

 

The World's Stage Theatre Company attempts to do precisely this with Desire Is Death . . . it's a tribute to love of various kinds that plays out through various scenes and sonnets performed by a group of young actors. The selections vary from the more obvious sonnets to some of Shakespeare's lesser-known stuff. It all plays out in a beautiful space in the appallingly beautiful Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum. 

 

Though the space is beautiful, the selections fail to move more often than they do. Some of the selections seem exceedingly obvious . . . the balcony scene from Romeo & Juliet? Really? Of course people are going to be expecting that scene in a selection of romantic work from Shakespeare, but it's so cliche that there's really no way to bring it to the stage and make it feel fresh. I would like someone to prove me wrong here, but I haven't seen a decent staging of this anywhere. The best anyone can expect in staging it is to have it resonate through the rest of a full production of the entire tragedy. It would take a toweringly inspired pair of actors to stage this thing as a standalone and make it feel fresh. And that didn't quite happen here. 

 

As it was with R&J, so it was with taming of the Shrew . . . and, for that matter Richard III. Same actress for all three. Normally quite a good actress. Uninspired performances here thoguh, although she did manage an interesting Lady Anne in an exceprpt from Richard III, but here she was playing opposite a Richard played largely by a cain and a limp. I'm prtty sure both were attached to an actor, but I don't know . . . I suppose I could check the program to find out who it was if I really wanted to . . . 

 

Worse perhaps than any of these was a scene from the far darker end of the theme of love. . . the "Get thee to a nunnery" exchange between Hamlet and Ophelia. It was fully prefaced by "to be or not to be." I've commented on that one before . . . it's such a beautiful soliloquy that speaking reading or even hearing the thing feels filthy and ugly. Drag your eyes across the text and it shatters into a million pieces. Ifninitely fragile. There's really no way to do the thing and make it work because its just too beautiful. (Although . . . mind still working in terms of the show I saw Saturday night, I would really like to see Angry Young Men's Spazbot puppet doing it: "To function or not to function: That is the query. Whether it is defaulted in the mainframe not to abort the glitches and viruses of exceeded RAM or to initiate procedures . . . " and so on . . . )

 

Not that it was all exceptionally bad. In fact, to be fair, none of it was really intrinsically bad. It was just uninspired. And part of that probably came on my end. This was my fourth show in four  days. I may not have had much enthusiasm aside from the fact that I had the opportunity to see a show with my wife for the first time in a couple of weeks. 

 

Some of it did feel inspired, though. There are some really, really good performances here. Andrew Parchman makes a couple of appearances for instance. Wow . . . can we pass some kind of Milwaukee ordinance that requires any professional production of Shakespeare in town to have this guy in a major role? He is perfect for Shakespeare. The intensity . . . that guy could read random tweets from The Weather Channel and make them sound overwhelmingly dramatic. Here he's given Othello contemplating homicide and Ferdinand hauling wood. Very cool stuff. 

 

Allie Beckman puts in a charmingly powerful performance as Cleopatra. She's got the right kind of poise for this kind of show . . . she slides right into the middle of some particularly involved bits of plotting and makes the scene work strikingly well. It's the type of thing that the best screen actors can do and she does it really, really well. This and a couple of other scenes kind of make me wish there was a full production attached to it. 

 

Another instance of that was Grace DeWolff as Lady Macbeth . . . my wife and I ran into her before the show. Not having looked at the program, I asked her what she was playing. True to form with the whole superstition thing, she said I'd find out later. Superstition or not, it was a fun performance. She blends her own personality with the character to turn a performance that really makes me wish there was a full production to go along with it. She seems to have interesting insights into the character that would be cool to see on a larger scale.

 

And there was at least one scene that worked amazingly well as a standalone. On the walk out to the car my wife asked me "who was that guy who looked like Desmond from LOST? He was good." That would be Rob Maass. I've seen  him onstage enough times  to be able to say that he's more or less good if not great in everything I've seen. Here he lent a crafty complexity to the emotional desires of Angelo making a business proposition to Isabella in Measure for Measure. After that scene, I wanted a feature-length play about Angelo.   

 

Really, it's just fun to go see a show in the space. It's a nice little prelude to Medea with Fools For tragedy later on this summer. The space worked really well for this type of show as well. Sit in the right spot facing the courtyard and you'll see actors milling about . . . likely running lines in their head. The front courtyard of the Villa Terrace is probably the most beautiful backstage area imaginable. 

 

Desire Is Death  runs through June 13th at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum. For ticket reservations, call Ann at 414-278-8295.

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