Showing posts with label Danielle Leneé. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Danielle Leneé. Show all posts

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 or 302.415.3373. 

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

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Powerful Show, Powerful Message from DTC

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.

White Guy on the Bus proves to be a bold step forward for Executive Director Bud Martin and the rest of Delaware Theatre Company (DTC). While DTC has tackled difficult themes over the years at its cozy theater on the Wilmington Riverfront, this play deals with several serious and challenging topics. In 2016, the Delaware Theatre Company began actively pursuing a path to make the theater a more welcoming place where all stories can be experienced. 
Robert Cuccioli and Danielle Leneé. Photo by Mobius New Media.

Simply put, this is a story that you should experience.

Philadelphia playwright Bruce Graham shines a harsh light on problems in our society –race, class, poverty, privilege, violence, crime, retribution, public education and marginalized lives – in his latest play White Guy on the Bus. Graham’s fearless and incisive play takes a no-holds barred look at hidden and no-so-hidden racism within all of us. Martin’s forthright direction paired with Paul Tate DePoo’s simple yet effective set design subtly complement the actors and story.

The play opens with a middle-aged married couple talking about their respective jobs and the people they deal with on a daily basis. Ray (Robert Cuccioli) is a well-to-do financial manager while Roz (Susan McKey) teaches English at a public school in a blighted neighborhood of Philadelphia. They appear to be a nice, cultured, white couple living on the Main Line with few major worries and an eye toward early retirement.

Their surrogate son Christopher (Jonathan Silver) and his recent bride Molly (Jessica Bedford) join them to sip wine casually on the patio until Roz talks wryly about the racial hostility in her predominantly black school. Students often call her a “white bitch” to her face, which shocks Molly. Meanwhile, Christopher is eager to expound on his doctoral thesis concerning male African-American images in television advertising. He is an outsider looking in, but truly feels he can turn his thoughts on race portrayal by the media into a meaningful doctoral project.

This opening conversation is relatively light, but the subsequent scenes grow deeper, darker, and more complex. We get background information like how Christopher became part of the older couple’s life, how Ray takes pride in his analytical skills (he’s a “numbers man”), and how Roz is helping a 10th-grader learn how to read. But each scene between the four white characters delves into racial discussions where differing opinions and theories are debated.

Sandwiched between these suburban episodes are scenes aboard a city bus where Ray befriends a young black woman named Shatique (Danielle Leneé). She is a nursing student and a single mother who is barely surviving life, but has hope for the future. Ray and Shatique strike up a rapport on their weekly bus rides together. But where exactly are they going?

It is gradually revealed that their destination is a prison where Shatique’s brother is incarcerated. So why is Ray riding the bus?

The plot twist that comes in the closing scene of the first act is alarming. Simply put, the audience is shocked into a new reality. What has transpired to this point must be reevaluated and fully processed before the story can reach a meaningful conclusion.

The drama is intensified in the second act where the story and the dialogue focus on human nature and racial prejudice:

Ray: You know what the problem is with the death penalty in this country?

Shatique: It’s disproportionately given out to black folks?

Ray: Yep. I’m serious. We target the wrong people – wrong crimes. If they had dragged Bernie Madoff into Central Park and hung him from the neck till he was dead – and broadcast it live on CNN in high def – we wouldn’t need the SEC. Nobody’d get out of line on Wall Street ‘cause they’d be scared sh*tless.

White Guy On the Bus
 aims for social realism and will take you out of your comfort zone with its topics and language, but it is not difficult to follow or watch. Graham’s pithy and direct dialog allows the excellent cast to address the issues head on. There are no metaphors or complex symbolism. What the audience sees is five actors speaking their characters’ minds with conviction and, at times, bravado. They believe what they say because they’ve lived it – or observed it from their unique perspectives. Idealism, appearance, and reality mix. Ray is perfectly gentlemanly until he suddenly isn’t. Shatique has moral sensibility until an indecent proposal is proffered.

The play grants the audience a poignant ending, but one not wholly satisfying to each character. The story begs for post-viewing discussions and the Delaware Theatre Company wisely prepared for that.

The DTC staff had undergone an intensive equality, diversity, inclusion and social justice training prior to this production. The training examined issues of privilege, allyship and diversity with the lens of better providing the staff with the necessary tools to run the Community Discussions that follow every performance. DTC encourages patrons to reflect on White Guy on the Bus after the curtain lowers. These open forums offer an opportunity for the audiences to discuss and relate their experiences to each other. Attendees can feel safe asking difficult questions about the topical references that can be made in their life or community.

There will also be a special Panel Discussion on Race, Equality and Education co-sponsored by DTC and Teach America on Saturday, February 11, at 4:30pm.

The performance schedule of White Guy on the Bus is: Wednesdays (2:00pm), Thursdays (7:00pm), Fridays (8:00pm), Saturdays (2:00 & 8:00pm) and Sundays (2:00pm) through Sunday, February 19. Tickets are $20-65 for both evening and matinee performances. White Guy on the Bus runs approximately 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission. Delaware Theatre Company is located at 200 Water Street in Wilmington.