Showing posts with label Arden Shakespeare Gild. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arden Shakespeare Gild. Show all posts

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Revel in the Open Air with Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night"

By Mike Logothetis

The Arden Shakespeare Gild is continuing its over-100-year tradition of homegrown performances with the classic comedy Twelfth Night. One of the most popular and enduring of Shakespeare’s comedies, Twelfth Night invites the audience to the Mediterranean resort of Illyria where mischief runs rampant. Set in “fairly modern times,” the usual elements of a Shakespearean comedy appear: twins, mistaken identity, cross-dressing, love, revenge and plenty of clever wordplay.

But what sets this production apart from the talent and the play itself is the natural setting. This is Shakespeare being performed in the actual Forest of Arden. What can top that?! (Padded seats on the wooden benches might improve matters. Hint: Bring a cushion. And maybe some bug spray.) The audience is introduced to the entire cast as the actors enter from “The Field” singing Over The Hills – the marching song of the Arden Players. (The music doesn’t end at the procession.) 

The cast of Twelfth Night. Photos courtesy of Arden Shakespeare Gild. 
This year’s production features the stellar duo of Kerry Kristine McElrone (Olivia) and Michelle Jacob Stradley (Viola), who are reprising their roles from a 2006 City Theater Company production of Twelfth Night. Director Mary Catherine Kelley observed that “these two actresses did their homework years ago; both are dedicated to the text and to clarity and to the pure fun of the comedy. It’s truly a pleasure to watch them.”

The story begins as Viola arrives on the shores of Illyria following a shipwreck. She is distraught as she fears her twin brother Sebastian (Colin Antes) has drowned. With the aid of the ship’s Captain (Tom Wheeler), she disguises herself as a young man under the name Cesario, and enters the service of Duke Orsino (Jason Fawcett).

Orsino is enchanted with the fair Olivia, who is mourning the recent deaths of her father and brother. Olivia refuses to entertain romantic suitors, be in the company of men, or accept marriage proposals from anyone until seven years have passed. Orsino decides to employ Cesario as an intermediary to profess his love for Olivia. However, Olivia falls in love with the messenger Cesario, setting herself at odds with her promise to remain temporarily celibate. In the meantime, Viola has fallen in love with Orsino, creating a misguided love triangle.

Stradley says, “This time around, I’m enjoying exploring how Viola navigates the relationships that arise from her new life in Illyria – from her love interest [Duke] Orsino to the lovely but confused Olivia.”

Olivia (Kerry Kristine McElrone)
Orsino and Cesario
(Jason Fawcett & Michelle
Jacob Stradley.)
When McElrone and Stradley are on stage together as Olivia and Cesario, the dynamics crackle. Shakespeare’s words flow freely and the actresses’ nimble physical movements help relay both the romantic and duty-bound natures of their differing efforts. You can almost see McElrone’s heart flutter as she absorbs the mere presence of the stately Cesario.

McElrone comments that she is “playing [Olivia] with the idea that Cesario makes her lose control; before, the control was there leaving little time for real emotion.”

In a subplot, Olivia’s unruly uncle Toby Belch (Dan Tucker) and silly Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Henry Moncure III) drink and carouse late into the night at Olivia’s residence. In a great bit of comedic irony, the drunken revelers wake the house singing Hold Thy Peace. Olivia’s pompous steward Malvolio (Rob Hull) chastises them, which initiates a plot for revenge against him. Toby, Andrew, and house servants Maria (Elizabeth Varley) and Fabian (Petra DeLuca) team up against Malvolio with the help of the fool Feste (Liam Freeh).

Moncure and Tucker play off each other brilliantly as a pair of old drunks trying to keep the good times rolling. The pair provide most of the physical comedy in the show, but others certainly hold their weight – just watch the boxing match between Cesario and Aguecheek.

The conspirators convince Malvolio that Olivia is secretly in love with him by planting a romantic letter written by Maria in Olivia’s handwriting. Malvolio starts acting out the laughable contents of the letter to impress Olivia, who is shocked by the disturbing changes in him. Olivia leaves the apparently mad Malvolio in the care of her staff – the conspirators – who imprison him.

Meanwhile, Viola’s twin brother Sebastian has been rescued by Antonio (Will Bryant), a sea captain who previously fought against Duke Orsino. Taking Sebastian for Cesario, Olivia asks him to marry her, and they are secretly wed in a church. Later, Cesario and Sebastian’s joint appearance in the presence of both Olivia and Orsino evokes confusion because of their physical similarity. At this point, Viola sheds the guise of Cesario, reveals her identity, and is reunited with her twin brother.

The play ends in a declaration of marriage between Orsino and Viola plus it is learned that Sir Toby has married Maria. Malvolio swears revenge on his tormentors and stalks off, but Duke Orsino sends Fabian to placate him. All’s well that ends well, right?

It should be noted that certain scenes include original music and period songs, often sung by Freeh. The night closes with a celebratory song and dance by the entire company. Sam Arthur, Megan Murphy King, Sarah McIlvaine, and Lisette Walker provide the live soundtrack for the performance.

A member organization of the Arden Club, the Arden Shakespeare Gild is dedicated to including everyone with an interest in Shakespeare, both as audience and as participant. The Gild produces one of Shakespeare’s plays each summer in the open-air Frank Stephens Memorial Theater in Arden. Each winter the members direct a Young Actors Workshop for kids from age 6 through high school. The Gild also sponsors lectures, readings, and social activities throughout the year.

Remaining performances are June 16, 21, 22, and 23 at 8:00pm, plus a matinee on Sunday, June 17, at 2:00pm. The shows take place outside at the Frank Stephens Memorial Theater (aka The Field Theater) adjacent to the Arden Village Green. 

Performances move to Gild Hall in the event of rain. Call 302.475.3126, Mailbox 4 to reserve your tickets or go to for online ordering. Prices are $10 for members, $12 for general admission, and $5 for children 12 and under. The Sunday matinee costs $7 across the board.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Spending a Midsummer Night in Arden

By Guest Blogger, Mike Logothetis
Mike Logothetis grew up in North Wilmington, performing in school and local theater productions. He lives in Newark, but you can find him wherever the arts are good.

This June, the Arden Shakespeare Gild continues its 100-year tradition of homegrown performance with one of the most popular and enduring of The Bard’s comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. While the production was slated to play outside in “The Field,” rain unfortunately moved the show inside Gild Hall on the night of my review. While no essence or execution was compromised, I wish I could have witnessed the sprite-ly fairies dancing in actual grass among the magical woods of Arden. I couldn’t imagine a better setting for this play…honestly!

But inside the cozy confines of Gild Hall, the audience was introduced to the entire cast as the actors entered the theater singing Over The Hills, which is the marching song of the Arden Players. An accompaniment of lute/mandolin and flute offered a musical arm to the production and added depth to certain scenes.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream invites the audience into three distinct spheres: An enchanted forest, a noble court in Athens where two sets of lovers prove that “the course of true love never did run smooth,” and the workaday world of a semi-professional acting troupe. In proper Shakespearean style, these three worlds eventually collide with hilarity, wit, and romance.

The play consists of several interconnecting plotlines – linked to a celebration of the wedding of ruling nobleman Theseus (Lee Jordan) to Hippolyta (Jessica Jordan) – and run simultaneously through the outlying forest.

The play opens with Hermia (Emma Orr) being in love with Lysander (Colin Gregory Antes) and resistant to her father Egeus' (Christopher Wright) arrangement to marry her off to Demetrius (Henry Moncure IV). Enraged, Egeus invokes an ancient Athenian law before Theseus, whereby a daughter must marry the suitor chosen by her father or face death. Theseus offers her another choice: lifelong chastity outside of matrimony. Strong-willed Hermia dislikes both options.

In a parallel plot line, Oberon (Lee Jordan), king of the fairies, and Titania (Jessica Jordan), his estranged queen, have come to the forest outside Athens. The mischievous Oberon calls upon “shrewd and knavish sprite” Puck (Kirsten Valania) to help him formulate a magical essence derived from a rare flower. When the concoction is applied to the eyelids of a sleeping person, that person falls in love with the first living thing he perceives upon waking. Oberon hopes that he might make Titania fall in love with a beast of the forest and thereby shame her back under his influence. It should be noted that the in-life married couple of Lee and Jessica Jordan have wonderful on-stage presence and chemistry.

Meanwhile, Lysander convinces Hermia to elope, which she confides to friend Helena (Jessica Fields). Desperate to win the love of Demetrius, Helena tells him about the plan and he follows the lovers into the woods with plans of killing Lysander. Not wanting to miss her chance at love, Helena chases Demetrius, who rebuffs her attempts at wooing him away from Hermia.

Secretly observing Demetrius hurling cruel insults at Helena, Oberon orders Puck to spread some of the magical potion on the eyelids of the young Athenian man. Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius and administers the juice to the sleeping Lysander. Coming across him, Helena wakes him while attempting to determine whether he is dead or asleep. Lysander immediately falls in love with Helena. Oberon sees Demetrius still following Hermia and becomes enraged. When Demetrius goes to sleep, Oberon sends Puck to get Helena while he charms Demetrius’ eyes.

Upon waking, Demetrius sees Helena and now both young men are in avid pursuit of her. However, she is convinced that her two suitors are mocking her, as neither loved her originally. At this juncture, Jessica Fields brings Helena’s confusion and anger to the forefront in several engaging arguments and rants. She started as a subservient maiden, but roared to life as a dominant woman using choice couplets and deft body movements to pull the audience towards her sympathies – a strong performance.

Of course, Hermia is now at a loss to see why her lover has abandoned her. The four quarrel with each other until Lysander and Demetrius become so enraged that they seek a place to duel to prove whose love for Helena is greatest. Oberon orders Puck to keep Lysander and Demetrius apart and to remove the charm from Lysander so Lysander can love Hermia again, while Demetrius will continue to love Helena.

All the while, Peter Quince (Henry Moncure III) and his fellow “Mechanicals” Nick Bottom (Dave Hastings), Francis Flute (Gene Dzielak), Robin Starveling (Sean McGuire), Tom Snout (Tom Wheeler), and Snug (Allan Kleban) plan to put on a play for the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. Bottom, who is playing the main role, is over-enthusiastic and wants to dominate others by suggesting he play three key roles himself. Dave Hastings shines in his role of Bottom and steals most scenes he’s in. Quince sets rehearsal for a clearing in the forest. (Where else?!)

At rehearsal, bombastic Bottom is noticed by a hidden Puck who transforms his head into that of a donkey. Titania, having received the love-potion, is awakened by Bottom’s singing and immediately falls in love with him. She lavishes him with the attention of her and her fairies, in which he revels. After some time Oberon releases Titania, orders Puck to remove the donkey's head from Bottom, and arranges everything so Helena, Hermia, Demetrius, and Lysander will all believe they have been dreaming when they awaken in the morning.

Theseus and Hippolyta arrive and wake the sleeping lovers, who are now properly coupled. Egeus demands and arranges a group wedding in Athens, which would be a perfectly acceptable way to end A Midsummer Night’s Dream; however, Shakespeare gives his audience a good deal more in the form of a “play within the play” performed by Quince’s men.

Back in Athens, Theseus, Hippolyta and the four lovers watch the six actors perform the tragedy Pyramus and Thisbe. The performers are so terrible playing their roles that the guests laugh as if it were meant to be a comedy. The audience in Gild Hall laughed mightily throughout the show, but this micro-play had us all in stitches.

After all the other characters leave, the excellent Kirsten Valania as Puck “restores amends” and suggests that what the audience experienced might just be a dream. If it was, it was a good dream.

Director Tanya Lazar muses: “It is always the language that draws me to a play selection – and A Midsummer Night’s Dream has some of Shakespeare’s most lyrical lines. For instance, Duke Theseus speaks of the ‘lunatic, the lover and the poet’ as one being, and Lysander mourns the loss of his true love with, ‘So quick bright things come to confusion’. I was also drawn to a comparison between Midsummers, a comedy, and Romeo and Juliet, a tragedy. Indeed, the ‘play within the play’ performed by the Mechanicals is a new and often hilarious take on that revered tragedy.”

The cast also included Eric Merlino as Philostrate plus Alexandra Rubincan, Olivia Hayward, Julien Eppler, Sophia Eppler, and Amalia Slattery as assorted fairies. I would be remiss to omit the wonderfully witty and informative call to intermission – read in rhyming iambic pentameter.

This year’s production is a salute to the talented veterans who have performed in Arden for many years and a nod to the next generation of actors who continue this grand tradition.

A member organization of the Arden Club, the Arden Shakespeare Gild is dedicated to including everyone with an interest in Shakespeare, both as audience and as participant. The Gild produces one of Shakespeare’s plays each summer in the open-air Frank Stephens Memorial Theater in Arden. Each winter the members direct a Young Actors Workshop for kids from age 6 through high school. The Gild also sponsors lectures, readings, and social activities throughout the year.

Remaining performances are June 22, 23 and 24 at 7:30pm. The shows take place outside at the Frank Stephens Memorial Theater (aka The Field Theater) adjacent to the Arden Village Green. Performances move to Gild Hall in the event of rain. Call 302.475.3126, Mailbox 4 to reserve your tickets or go to for online ordering. Prices are $12; $5 children 12 & under.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Lear Fills Arden's Village Green with Tragedy (and Comedy)

By Guest Blogger Carol Van Zoeren
Carol is a 40+ veteran of community theater and a retired chemist and retired from being a middle manager at DuPont.

 James Kassees (Kent), Kerry Kristine McElrone (Goneril) &
Greg Tigani (Lear). Photos: Pete Lounsbury Photography.
It’s not summer unless I see some Shakespeare outdoors. Thankfully, our area offers two great opportunities every summer: Delaware Shakespeare Festival at Rockwood in July and the Arden Shakespeare Guild, now performing King Lear in North Wilmington. 

Greg Tigani (Lear) &
Lily Ozer (Cordelia).
King Lear has always been one of my favorites. I’m sure it dates back to my college days. I’d read a few plays and, well...meh. But freshman year, my professor showed us a video of the NYC Shakespeare in the Park production. When that sexy bad boy Edmund  the breeze billowing his rakishly long hair  bellowed “Wherefore bastard, why base”…um…I was…ah…let’s just say “undone.” 

Shakespeare on the page ain’t nothin’ compared to Shakespeare on the stage! And Arden’s production certainly delivers! Full disclosure: I’m friends with a lot of the people involved, and I know how talented they are. Director Mary Catherine Kelley has a dream cast, and my expectations were high. 

Robert Tietze (Edgar),
James Kassees (Kent),
Greg Tigani (Lear) &
Tim Donovan (Fool)
I consider Shakespeare productions a success if I learn, if I see, if I feel, something new, different and/or deeper than I had before. This production took me deeper into the heartbreak the characters inflict upon one another. I saw how Goneril’s and Regan’s deceitful natures poisoned everyone they touched and eventually, each other. I saw how crushed Gloucester was to realize he had placed his trust in the wrong son. I saw how Lear crumbled when he realized that words of love mean nothing. And I saw the helpers – Kent, Edgar, Cordelia  all of whom had to remove themselves from this poisonous atmosphere, whether geographically or by disguise, to protect the ones they loved. 
Emma Orr (Regan).

And more down to earth, in my 40+ years of community theater, I’ve always felt that the hallmarks of a really good production are how deep is the bench, how good is the chorus, are the smaller roles just throwaways, or are they fully fleshed out? I’d never thought about Goneril’s and Regan’s husbands, but for the first time I saw them. And I saw the huge difference between them. 

OK, logistics. Arden's Frank Stephens Memorial Theater is directly under the flight path of the Philly airport. In addition, there was a fireworks display going on somewhere nearby. The cast adjusted admirably, increasing the volume when there was aural competition. But how fabulous to have these “natural” sound effects for “Blow winds and crack your cheeks”?

My only serious logistical quibble was a certain shakiness with lines. Not because I know the play inside and out – I don’t. But being an actress myself, I recognize the full cast "deer in the headlights" look when you don’t know when, what, or how your next cue is going to come. Maybe this will get better later in the run.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Exalting Arden's Richard II

By Guest Blogger, Christine Facciolo
Christine holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Music and continues to apply her voice to all genres of music. An arts lover since childhood, she currently works as a freelance writer.


I have to admit: Richard II has never been one of my favorite Shakespearean plays.  Sure, it’s got all the elements: psychological interest, pageantry and beautiful verse.  But this is also a play where even a gardener talks in rhymed couplets and uses his trade as a moral allegory for good government.  And its principal theme — the divine right of kings —is a concept few, if any, Americans can grasp.  And since we almost never get to see Richard do the deeds that so many unite to oppose, the aristocrats’ complaints appear petty and trivial—much ado about nothing, except maybe greed.

Luckily, this production by the Arden Shakespeare Gild dispels all doubts with this compelling and cogent production.

Greg Faber is simply splendid as Richard.  Physically slight and soft-spoken, Faber portrays a king so convinced of his own regalness that he has become completely devoid of compassion and removed from the needs and desires of his subjects.  He dismisses Gaunt’s death with a pert “So much for that” then seizes his lands.  He exhibits a callousness borne not of intended malice but of breeding, which makes his deposition all the more engaging.  We see him gamely trying to bear the crown’s responsibilities in the first half, but find him having much more fun when forced to relinquish it. Throughout the entire performance, Faber never loses a center — every utterance and gesture is well-conceived.

In a play with so few women, Melissa Kearney as the Queen and Linda Kimmelman as the Duchess of Gloucester make strong impressions with their limited stage time.  Kimmelman as the widowed Duchess of Gloucester delivers a fiery and impassioned condemnation.  Patti Allis Mengers strikes a fine balance between humor and horror as the Duchess of York.

The production features many noteworthy performances.  Henry Moncure III is convincing as the tormented Duke of York, a traditionalist who is loyal to the crown and deeply upset by any treason against it.  Dan Tucker is a standout condemning Richard as the dying John of Gaunt then doubling as the Richard loyalist Bishop of Carlisle.  The dispute between Bolingbroke (David Hastings) and Mowbray (Lee Jordan) is sharp and fiery, giving us insight into Bolingbroke’s political machinations. The juxtaposition of his character with Richard’s striking.

The costuming is traditional and the accompaniment by the Shepherd’s Pipes reinforces the medieval atmosphere.  This is a powerful production reveling in some of Shakespeare’s most vibrant and intellectually stimulating verse.  The strong, capable cast under the direction of Tanya Lazar engages the audience from the play’s uneasy opening to its sudden and bloody end.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Shakespeare Under the Stars

By Guest Blogger, James Kassees
James Kassees is a copy editor and proofreader for local marketing communications firm Aloysius Butler & Clark and has been involved in area theater for more than 30 years. A native Wilmingtonian, James lives in the city with his beautiful wife Barb.

Shakespeare’s As You Like It has everything you could want in a play — banishment, wrestling, romance and, of course, cross-dressing. I n the story, a mean brother wants to kill his uppity younger brother, who stood up to him. So the younger brother, Orlando, flees to the forest of Arden, where he runs into a young shepherd named Ganymede. Only Ganymede is really Rosalind in disguise; she was banished by the mean Duke Frederick, who also banished his older brother, the imaginatively named Duke Senior. Still with me? Also living in the forest are the court jester Touchstone, the melancholy Jaques, and various attendants, wenches and faithful old servants. All good fun to watch — and great fun to perform.

The Arden Shakespeare Gild is presenting As You Like It this summer. Arden, an artsy little hamlet north of Wilmington, was founded in 1900 by Philadelphia sculptor Frank Stephens and his architect friend Will Price. Stephens named the utopian village “Arden” after the forest that everyone flees to in As You Like It, and laid out the outdoor theater before he built his house. He even played Touchstone in an early production. So Arden’s tradition of performing Shakespeare’s works was established right from the start.

In 2000, to celebrate the village’s centennial, the Gild selected As You Like It and set the action in 1900. Now the Gild has decided to do the show every ten years. So here we are — a bunch of engineers and psychologists and realtors who enjoy the challenge and the fun of making Shakespeare’s words come to life. By bringing our different experiences to our characters and to the story, we try to make sure that each production — in fact, each performance — is unique.

Character and story are the main concerns of our director, Mary Catherine Kelley (aka MC). She makes us ask ourselves: What do I mean when I say my lines? What do I want? How do other characters react? And how does what I say and do fit into the overall story? MC’s job is to make sure every line and every scene add up to a cohesive story that draws the audience in and pulls them along to the end.

Come see As You Like It and find out how much fun Shakespeare can be in an intimate little theater nestled in the forest of Arden. Show dates are June 18, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25 and 26.