TRINITY SHAKESPEARE FESTIVALAs You Like It / Macbeth
Texas Christian University
COMPANY OF PLAYERS
Caleb Mills Stewart
AS YOU LIKE IT
Director ? TJ Walsh
Scenic ? Clare Floyd DeVries
Lighting ? Tristan Decker
Sound ? Bill Eickenloff
Combat - Eric Domuret
Composer ? Alan Shorter
Costumes ? Aaron Patrick Turner
Stage Manager ? Leigh'Ann Andrews
Director ? Stephen Fried
Scenic ? Brian Clinnin
Lighting ? Michael Skinner
Composer/Sound ? Toby Jaguar Algya
Combat - Eric Domuret
Costumes ? Aaron Patrick Turner
Stage Manager ? Leigh'Ann Andrews
Reviewed Performance: 6/10/2011
Reviewed by Clyde Berry, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
For those unfamiliar with the Trinity Shakespeare Festival , their mission is "to produce the work of Shakespeare with clarity, creativity and conscience". Now in their third year their formula of running two productions in repertory seems to be doing just that and doing a solid job of it. The logistics of producing two shows with the same cast in different venues simultaneously is no easy feat but TSF succeeds in slick production values, local and national talent, and engaging storytelling.
This year's offerings are Macbeth and As You Like It. Folks may recall from high school the plot of Macbeth ? an ambitious couple plot to murder a king and seize the crown, only to devolve into guilt and paranoia. As You Like It concerns the efforts of a love struck Orlando to win the hand of his Rosalind.
T.J. Walsh directs As You Like It with a steady and skilled hand. The story moves quickly and the lengthy first act flows by without one realizing it. With characters running the extreme emotional archetypal gamut-- miserable, lovelorn, flirtatious, etc?it would be hard to make the multiple sets of lovers feel equally important/
developed and belong to the same world. But Walsh and his cast succeed and succeed big. Each story is satisfyingly concluded without being rushed or feeling overdone. Comedic, philosophical and thoroughly engaging ? this is a good production for a Shakespeare novice to expose them to all of Shakespeare's devices.
Physically the production is lovely and well thought out. Clare Floyd DeVries creates a living pastoral painting on stage, with a frame-mini proscenium upstage, and very realistic looking birch trees sneaking downstage towards the audience. A few angled platforms allow multiple playing levels. This, in combination with Tristan Decker's lighting design (and some moving projections) create a beautiful palate of colors on stage as well as a grounded reality on which the comedy will play out. Alan Shorter's music enhances the visual with appropriate emotional undertones without overdoing it.
The ambient noises and effects by Bill Eickenloff are also quite nice. The last addition to the visual layers are Aaron Patrick Turner's costume designs; beautiful period gowns, stylish jackets, and military uniforms all fit nicely and perfectly cement the solid scenic elements with the mobile and energetic cast.
Equally moving but in a completely different mood is Stephen Fried's hand in directing Macbeth. His traditional production has a few surprises that will delight the bardophile while still providing all the essential elements to engage a first timer. Particularly impressive are the refreshing takes on the "big speeches" and the character arcs both within scenes, acts, and the play as a whole - a satisfying journey that maintains an intense, weighty, tone.
Brian Clinnin's unit set consists of a stone floor complete with puddles, pebbles, rock piles, and a real tree on one side of the stage (It did require some audience leaning in a few scenes, it was noticed, to get a clear view). An upstage arch provides an area that functions as a cave, doorway, or hallway as needed. A scrim fills the space above this versatile space that is quite effective for a variety of looks with a few surprise visual elements in key scenes. In combination with Michael Skinner's lighting the appropriate dank oppressiveness pervades the audience like the pre-show haze.
The music and soundscape provided by Toby Jaguar Algya is subtle, smart, and quite good. Without intruding, it provides an excellent accent to scenes without shooting for melodrama.
Aaron Patrick Turner's costumes, again, are well planned. With more doubling in this show than in AYLI he succeeds in a variety of visual looks that clearly distinguish a performer in multiple roles. The dark leathers and muted colors blend into the mood of the piece while not making a person disappear into the set. While there was one cursed necklace that constantly broke throughout the evening in both acts, it is no easy feat to deal with blood, dirt, and makeup changes on a cast that is not wigged and needs to switch from person to person several times, so this one problematic piece stands out against all the other details that succeed. The witches' contacts, for example, are a nice touch.
Eric Domuret's fight choreography is impressive considering several large fights take place amidst smoke and in low lighting. A cast must be very confident to run with weapons near an audience and still execute realistic moves. The larger scenes are more cleanly executed than some of the smaller bits within the acts (some earned a gasp or two around the audience for perhaps being a bit graphic, hence the signage around the theater) but while bloody, vicious, and "mean" they serve this production well. It is nice that the fights don't play out in a predictable manner but have some twists as well.
Due to the quick turnaround to get two shows staged the cast is asked to come to rehearsals off-book. It is clear from the solid delivery that these folks understand what they are saying and manage to sound like "real people" to those not used to hearing "Shakespearian". The entire company (save two) appears in both productions. To see only one show is to miss out on half the fun, versatile talent, and point of having a Festival .
Jonathan Brooks is thoroughly charming as Orlando in AYLI. Rare is it that an audience is actually rooting for the lovers to get together but there were actual cheers when Orlando finally achieves his goal. With excellent comic timing the moony Orlando slouches and pines away before proudly proclaiming his love and plastering poetry throughout the forest. In contrast, his Malcolm in Macbeth is measured, logical, and strategic. In fact, a scene in the second act between Malcolm and MacDuff is arguably one of the best in the show. Thoroughly convincing in both shows, Mr. Brooks is a talented performer. Look for a cameo from his nephew in Macbeth.
As Jaques in AYLI, Jakie Cabe plays the melancholy lovable grump. Think of him as Much Ado's witty and wordy Benedict having a bad day. Cabe also plays Ross in Macbeth. Equally good in both productions, Jaques gives Cabe much more of a chance to shine, taking us on Jaques' emotional journey to stay resolutely dissatisfied with courtly life and eventually join a religious order. Cabe delivers the oft taught "Seven Ages of Man" monologue with perfect poise and grace. His balanced choices are well paired with his lovely singing voice heard several times throughout the production.
A veteran of TSF, David Coffee is a jewel in the festival crown. An absolutely masterful Shakespearian comic, it was delightful to watch him show his serious side as the doomed Duncan in Macbeth as well as two other smaller roles. Each character is his own individual, down to the voice and physical stature. As Touchstone in AYLI Coffee stands out in all his scenes perfectly punctuating the text with pauses, gestures, business, and cleverness. His energy is infectious and one laughs just to see him enter on stage knowing something good will happen.
Richard Haratine delivers a refreshing Macbeth. A challenging role full of those famous speeches overanalyzed in schools, Haratine has an insightful new spirit in the role. Physically his eyes convey uncertainty in decision making as twitchy hands further enhance his nervous energy. Vocally, his choices clearly delineate Macbeth's progressing ambition and eventual cocky paranoia. He is in the moment, making decisions, instead of delivering verbal poetry for its own sake. While no one cheers for Macbeth it is the interest Haratine creates in his character that keeps the audience engaged.
Wearing multiple hats in both productions, Tim Hystad is certainly put to work. As Banquo in Macbeth, Hystad is surprisingly passive, both vocally and physically. His Banquo does not seem like a seasoned soldier or person of clout, as everything said seems to be full of doubt and worry. However, once killed, the ghost of Banquo is d*mn creepy. It would be nice to see that presence in the living Banquo. Still, the capable Hystad flexes his character muscles in AYLI successfully as Adam and Sir Oliver Martex with solid results.
Robert W. L. Krecklow serves as Corin in AYLI and the Porter in Macbeth. As Corin Krecklow is folksy and friendly, good qualities in a shepherd priest, as well as convenient. His Porter is less successful. Krecklow seems to play the Porter scene (in which a drunken porter is summoned from sleep by knocking on the castle door) strictly for laughs. While the text is humorous his performance is outside of the scene's circumstances. Instead of a release of tension from the previous scene's drama the audience is jarred into wondering how this connects to the story. Sometimes less is more.
As Lady Macbeth, Elizabeth Mason is well paired with Haratine. Mason also has a fresh take on her character which makes the audience really listen to the speeches that Shakespeare fans can quote. The words have a new life, and create a satisfying new arc for the character across the show. Her subtle transformation is different and pulls folks in to see how the dynamic between the two will play out. While unexpected, it is quite intriguing. In AYLI, in the role of Celia, Mason completely transforms herself into a giggling lady of the court. Playful, bubbly, and possessing an entirely different energy Mason proves she has the chops to achieve.
As the witches in Macbeth, Kelsey Milbourn, Sophie Smith, and especially Morgan McClure, are impressive. The ensemble work is very tight and the physical characters are committed to with devotion. As a unit the naughty ladies perform ritualistic movements, finish each other's sentences and are a very cohesive and freaky unit. The scene with Hecate is especially chilling. Playing other roles in AYLI the ladies all do well, with McClure's flip to the amorous Audrey to be the largest change. Playful, and a comic that can keep up with Coffee, it would be great to see McClure have more to do next year.
As You Like It's main lady spends most of her time in disguise. This is not a problem for Trisha Miller who navigates the pants role easily. It is on her shoulders that the success of AYLI rests and Miller delivers. She perfectly portrays Rosalind's eagerness, confusion, and affection, making the language natural or appropriately awkward when disguised as a boy. In a turn for the more dramatic she also plays Lady Macduff in Macbeth with moving results. A capable and engaging performer, it is easy to see why she's back for a third year.
The amazing new find for TSF this year is Alex Organ and if they have any sense, they'll bring him back. As Macduff in Macbeth his scene in which he learns the fate of his family is absolutely heart-wrenching and believable. There was not even a sniffle to be heard as the audience waited with anticipation what Macduff would do next. Organ's rage builds to a very satisfying confrontation with Macbeth. Another skilled performer, his Oliver in AYLI is completely different and Organ proves he can play the lighter lover as easily as the beleaguered father.
Caleb Mills Stewart is solid as Bleeding Captain in Macbeth and opens the show with the right tone. Brandon Sterrett is the utilitarian of the Festival this year as multiple roles in Macbeth- Donalbain and a nasty assassin. Gabriel Whithurst nails the role of Silvius in AYLI playing the lanky put-upon shepherd eager to win his lady.
In smaller roles the ensemble is quite good at producing multiple characters, especially in Macbeth. Matt Morris, Brice Barnard, and Mitchell Stephens navigate smaller roles with ease and polish.
The Trinity Shakespeare Festival has a very solid third year full of a very talented troupe without any weak links in performance or production. As the big budget Shakespeare in town it is worth the ticket price. Twice.
Macbeth and As You Like It
Texas Christian University
Buschman Theatre and Hays Theatre. Festival runs through June 26, 2011; performances rotate in repertory.
For tickets: trinityshakes.org
email: boxoffice at trinityshakes dot org
Adults $25, Seniors/TCU Staff $15, Students $10
Reduced price dates available. See website for details.