Showing posts with label Bi Jean Ngo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bi Jean Ngo. Show all posts

Monday, July 16, 2018

Much Ado About DelShakes

By Mike Logothetis


Before the proverbial curtain rose on Opening Night, Delaware Shakespeare Managing Director Matt Sullivan gushed over the “strong team” of actors in Much Ado About Nothing – the 16th annual summer production for the company.  Although probably biased, Sullivan’s assessment was right on the money: The cast makes this show fantastic.

The cast of Much Ado About Nothing. Photo by Alessandra Nicole.
In her directorial debut with "DelShakes," Bi Jean Ngo pairs Barrymore Award-winning actress Krista Apple (Beatrice) with J Hernandez (Benedick) to lead the merry company of players in the Bard’s lively war of wits between the sexes.  But kudos also go to supporting players like Melissa Fuhr (Balthasar), Eric Mills (Don Pedro), Hannah Van Sciver (Dogberry), and Jo Vito (Claudio).  Each actor embraced the assigned role and excelled in the portrayal.

Apple’s interpretation of Beatrice was at once stern and biting, but also vulnerable and emotive.  While the proudly single Beatrice enjoys a “skirmish of wits” with any man or woman, she revels in squaring off against the formidable bachelor Benedick.  Along with his sharp tongue, Hernandez mesmerized the patrons at Rockwood Park with subtle body language and mannerisms which made his turn as Benedick wonderful.  In the same vein, Van Sciver seized the secondary role of the constable Dogberry and had the audience in the palm of her hand.  (All the while, her character probably couldn’t tell you which hand was left, right or wrong.)

The interplay and timing between the actors is exceptional and Ngo set a good pace for the action.  As the play is one of the few in the Shakespeare canon where the majority of the text is written in prose, the actors have more flexibility in their deliveries.  I credit Ngo with allowing her cast to explore the text and pauses between words, sentences, and themes.  There is a modern feel to the centuries-old script.

Ngo is a recipient of the F. Otto Haas Emerging Artist Barrymore Award and is a founding member of PAPA (Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists).  She most recently received the Fox Fellowship Foundation Award for Artist with Extraordinary Potential from TCG (Theatre Communications Group).

Michael Hahn composed all-original music for this production and Dixon Li choreographed lively dance numbers which fill the stage.  The music is a nice touch and adds great feel to the action or entr’acte.

The physical stage is an asymmetric multi-level space with a backdrop of ribbons which brings to mind a Renaissance event.  Kevin Meehan described the design as “Baz Luhrmann [meets] sexy Etsy wedding.”  The nooks and crannies of the theater set into the trees at Rockwood allow for ample hiding spots in key scenes.  The action moves seamlessly from left to right and from up to down.  It’s quite dynamic.

The plot of Much Ado About Nothing revolves around love, trickery, honor, misunderstanding, hope, deed, and misdeed.  Will Claudio win the fair hand of Hero (Claris Park) even though Don John (David Pica) plots against the union with help from Borachio (Robert Mora) and Conrade (Justin Bowen)?  Can Leonato (Michael Fuchs) find a man worthy to tame his headstrong niece Beatrice?  “6th and lastly,” will the law of Messina, romantic love, and the morality of God triumph?  It’s a Shakespearean comedy, so I think you can probably guess the answers, but maybe not the hysterical proceedings.

The part of the good Friar Francis will be played by a rotating cast of local faith leaders from the Delaware community, including Rabbi Michael Beals of Congregation Beth Shalom, the Rev. Edwin Estevez of Grace Methodist Church, the Rev. Roberta Finkelstein of the First Unitarian Universalist Church, the Rev. Emma Horn of First Presbyterian Church – Newark, Dr. Todd Townsend of The Resurrection Center, and David Savage, a lay leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Wilmington area.  Rev. Brian Lewis of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church may have a secondary calling as a Shakespearean actor by the way he performed his duties on Opening Night.

General admission to the festival is $20.  Tickets are $18 for seniors (65+), and active military (and their families).  Student tickets are $16.  Children age 5 and under are free.  Every Sunday is “Family Night,” with special activities before the performance and free admission for children 12 and under, when accompanied by an adult.  

To buy tickets, go to www.delshakes.org or purchase at the door.  Curtain is at 7:30 from Wednesdays through Saturdays and at 6 on Sundays.  Gates open at 6:15 p.m. for pre-show entertainment and picnics Wednesday through Saturday and at 4:45 p.m. on Sundays.  The festival concludes its summer run on July 29.

Attendees are invited to bring their own chairs, blankets and picnic baskets to Rockwood Park.  A limited number of reserved lawn chairs are available at each performance.  These “Saved Seats” are set up in premium locations in the first row of the “lawn chairs” section, behind blankets and low-backed beach chairs.  Reservations must be made in advance and cost $40.  The concession stand features picnic-appropriate sandwiches and snacks from Janssen’s Market and wine sold by the bottle in the Swigg Festival Wine Shop, as well as soft drinks, candy and Delaware Shakespeare t-shirts.

The new Delaware Shakespeare VIP Tent provides a place for groups of 10 or more to gather with clients, colleagues, and friends before the show.  Wandering Bards will visit each tent plus greet the patrons by name from the stage.  VIP Tent packages can be customized to include catered picnics, wine, reserved seats and more. 

The 2018 Delaware Shakespeare season will include two full productions – the current Summer Festival (Much Ado About Nothing) and a fall Community Tour (The Merchant of Venice) from October 24 through November 18.  The fall run will end with two ticketed performances at OperaDelaware Studios on November 17 and 18.

My recommendation is to “suffer love” and make plans to go to Rockwood.  Get there early to snag a good spot and enjoy the short pre-show modern comedy loosely based on Much Ado About Nothing.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

DelShakes' "As You Like It" Tours Community ...and We Like It!

Danielle Leneé as Rosalind and Bi Jean Ngo as Celia.
Photo by Allessandra Nicole.
Courtesy of Delaware Shakespeare.
By Mike Logothetis

The Globe Theatre in London became world renowned by staging William Shakespeare’s histories, tragedies and comedies upon its wooden planks. Shakespeare was a shareholder in the Globe, which meant the more people he got into the building, the more money he made. The Globe became iconic and drew patrons from far and wide to see The Bard’s latest (brilliant) play.

Delaware Shakespeare’s superb production of As You Like It does not have a permanent home like The Globe. Instead, the merry troupe of actors, musicians and staff are traversing Delaware this fall bringing The Bard to locations not typically hip to his iambic pentameter.

Delaware Shakespeare launched its Community Tour last year with Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Community Tour productions play in non-theatrical settings such as multipurpose rooms, cafeterias, gymnasiums and even prisons. The production values are scaled for those spaces, with live music, minimal sets and whatever lighting is available. The year’s production is performed with a cast of eight actors and a musician, which allows for some creative multi-role casting. (In fact, the performance of As You Like It uses an audience member reading from a script to play Hymen in Act V.)

Producing Artistic Director David Stradley told me he looks for spaces that can hold a seated audience between 40 and 120 people in a four-sided arrangement. Stradley stressed that Delaware Shakespeare searches for communities which may be underserved by the arts and whose residents might find difficulty traveling to Rockwood Park for its annual Summer Festival.

The Community Tour is not just making stops, but introducing Shakespeare and the world of live theater to many people who’ve never experienced its wonders. I was pleased to see the actors welcome everyone who entered the cafeteria at Groves Adult High School in Marshallton. Cast members introduced themselves, who they would play, what we might expect, plus exchanged simple pleasantries. In this way, the space became very accessible.

As You Like It follows its heroine Rosalind (Danielle Leneé) and her cousin Celia (Bi Jean Ngo) as they flee the court of Duke Frederick (J Hernandez), who is Celia’s uncompromising father. The pair put on disguises and escape into the nearby Forest of Arden along with court fool Touchstone (Adam Altman). 

 Meanwhile, Rosalind’s suitor Orlando (Trevor William Fayle) has also fled into the woods to escape his exploitive brother Oliver (Jeffrey Cousar). The two lovers cross paths, but Orlando cannot recognize the inspiration for his many romantic poems. A variety of memorable characters also exist in the forest, notably the melancholy traveler Jaques (Liz Filios) who capably utters one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches (“All the world’s a stage/And one man in his time plays many parts”).

As previously mentioned, there are only eight actors playing the 20-odd roles in As You Like It. It’s marvelous to see Cousar and Hernandez play hot-tempered and then mild, love-struck men in the same production. Altman shined as loyal servant Adam as well as energetic and animated Touchstone. Merri Rashoyan filled four roles (and two genders) skillfully, with her Phebe being a highlight. Only Leneé (Rosalind) and Fayle (Orlando) played one part apiece — but those are meaty parts!

As in any Shakespearean comedy, there is misdirection and love and misplaced blame and redemption — all done wonderfully in this production. A nice touch to the show were the small musical interludes by Joe Trainor (guitar/drum) and Filios (ukulele/accordion). After the show, Trainor told me that Shakespeare had sprinkled partial couplets and text into the script of As You Like It. As no record of a musical score existed, Trainor took it upon himself to compose period pieces to enhance the audience experience. Kudos!

Director Madeline Sayet keeps the pacing brisk and encourages her actors to use the full space. The cast plays to all directions, which connects the action to the audience.

Highlights of the show included the gymnastic wrestling contest between Orlando (Fayle) and Charles (Rashoyan); the ludicrously beautiful facial expressions of actress Bi Jean Ngo; the combined energy of the troupe; the cleverly made trees of Arden; and all those glorious words. If not for Shakespeare’s turns of phrases and rhythmic patterns, his 400-year-old plays would just be old dusty scripts. For instance, Rosalind’s advice on love to Phebe is simply beautiful and timeless.

If, as Rosalind says, “Love is merely a madness,” then I hope newcomers to The Bard fall madly in love with his works, starting with Delaware Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

The autumn Community Tour of As You Like It takes place in venues throughout Delaware from October 25 through November 12. Performances at Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution, Howard R. Young Correctional Institution and Ferris School for Boys are not open to the public. Admission is free with RSVP at info@delshakes.org or 302.415.3373. 

There will also be three ticketed performances ($15-$100) from November 10-12 at OperaDelaware Studios.