Showing posts with label David Stradley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label David Stradley. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

DelShakes' "Romeo & Juliet" Community Tour Commences

Wilfredo Amill plays Romeo in Delaware Shakespeare's Community 

Tour of Romeo & Juliet. Photo courtesy of Delaware Shakespeare.
By 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.


The Delaware Shakespeare Community Tour returns this autumn with a touching performance of Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare’s classic tale of teenage love gone horribly wrong.

Community Tour productions play in non-theatrical settings such as multipurpose rooms, homeless shelters and gymnasiums. The production values are scaled for those spaces with live music, minimal sets and whatever lighting is available. In this way, the tour exposes live theater to many people who’ve never experienced it.

Producing Artistic Director David Stradley looks for spaces that can hold a seated audience between 40 and 120 people in a four-sided arrangement. Stradley says that the audience will “...never feel the power of Shakespeare’s vital romantic tragedy more immediately than in our Community Tour production, where every audience member is within ten feet of the performers.”

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 performs for very diverse audiences and the cast reflects that diversity. African-American actor Wilfredo (Freddy) Amill plays Romeo opposite Argentine Sol Madariaga as Juliet. The two have real chemistry as “star-cross'd lovers” whose feuding families make their budding romance taboo.

Romeo and Juliet is a well-known tale of two dreamers awakening to love in a world trying to tear them apart. Director Lindsay Smiling has instructed his cast to be passionate and physically show their feelings, while speaking Shakespeare’s famous words. He has extracted stellar performances from all the actors without them appearing to overstep their roles.

The excellent Cameron DelGrosso plays a spirited Mercutio – riding a crest of bawdy independence until his best friend Romeo settles him down with tales of his budding love. DelGrosso expertly shows that fraternal loyalty and elan are imbued in Mercutio.

Tai Verley also shone as the wise, but dutiful, Nurse to Juliet. Verley was stern when required, but ultimately loving and devoted to her charge.

As previously mentioned, Amill and Madariaga display tenderness toward each other while showing resolve to make their future together a reality. Both are easy to watch and place the audience quickly on their side – the side of true love.

The multiple fight scenes were well choreographed (Jacqueline Holloway) on the small set with only two pieces of scenery. The audience felt right on top of the pithy swordplay. In the same vein, the dance during the party at the house of the Capulets made it feel like the stage was a bigger space than it was. Both were clever illusions.

Cassandra Alexander, Newton Buchanan, J Hernandez, and Maria Konstantinidis round out the top-notch cast, who often play multiple roles.

The Community Tour of Romeo and Juliet takes place in venues throughout Delaware from October 23 through November 17. (Performances at Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution, Howard R. Young Correctional Institution, Sussex Correctional Institution and Ferris School are not open to the public.) 


Admission is free with RSVP at info@delshakes.org or 302.415.3373. There will be two ticketed performances ($18-25) on November 16 and 17 at The Siegel Jewish Community Center. These performances have only 125 tickets available for each show. The running time is approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes with one 10-minute intermission. 

Information can be found at https://delshakes.org/community-tour/.

“A thousand times good night!”

Sunday, October 28, 2018

DelShakes' Community Tour Delivers Art with a Message

By Mike Logothetis
Photo by Alessandra Nicole.

Photo by Alessandra Nicole.
The Delaware Shakespeare Community Tour returns this autumn with a lively performance of The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare’s multi-layered drama about the corrosive impact of anti-Semitism and xenophobia. It’s a timely choice, as the instances of hate speech and hate crimes have risen in recent times (up 57% per the Anti-Defamation League's 2017 audit).

Community Tour productions play in non-theatrical settings such as multipurpose rooms, homeless shelters and gymnasiums. The production values are scaled for those spaces, with live music, minimal sets and whatever lighting is available. In this way, the tour exposes live theater to many people who’ve never experienced it.

Producing Artistic Director David Stradley 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 challenges in traveling to Rockwood Park for its annual Summer Festival.

The Community Tour performs for  diverse audiences, and the cast reflects that diversity. African-American actor Kirk Wendell Brown plays the role of Shylock. In the October 2018 issue of JVoice Monthly, Stradley wrote that “...this [casting] choice was made, in part, to encourage audiences to consider other population groups who may be treated in similar ways to how we see Shylock treated.”

If you don’t know the story, The Merchant of Venice is a tale of a Jewish moneylender (Shylock) who is subjected to hate speech by members of the Christian majority in Venice, Italy. To his great dismay, his daughter Jessica (Michaela Shuchman) deserts him and elopes with Lorenzo (Wilfredo Amill), a Christian. Over the course of the play, Shylock is systematically separated from his faith, family, wealth and status. You can’t help but feel for the man who is humiliated and defeated by a rabble-rousing majority.

Stradley, who also directs The Merchant of Venice, wants to engage the community in a conversation about ensuring that “those who are perceived as different are not treated unjustly.” In the program, audience members will find questions to consider and historical context related to anti-Semitism. Each program has one of four colored stickers which asks a unique question to stimulate thought. For instance, “How do people come to hold prejudiced beliefs?” and “What would you do if you saw someone being treated badly just for being different?”

A structured conversation about the impact of prejudice and stereotyping occurs immediately following each performance. At the Christina Cultural Arts Center, many topics were covered by a wide range of audience members moved by the actions in the play. Stradley was the moderator and kept the discussion moving.

A topic that dominated the post-production discussion was empathy 
 a major theme of the play. The nine-player cast does a wonderful job showing both sides of humanity using love and hate to embrace or ostracize those they consider deserving. As Gratiano, Cameron DelGrosso spits venom at Shylock, but is a hopeless romantic around his fair Nerissa (Tai Verley). Liz Filios’ Portia is a passionate woman waiting for a loving man (Bassanio/Newton Buchanan) to win her hand, but her tenderness takes a dark turn when she tips the scales against Shylock in a court where he feels he deserves justice.

In disguise as young lawyer Balthazar, Portia argues before the duke/magistrate for mercy 
 a sentiment Shylock believes strengthens his case against Antonio, but actually weakens it: “The quality of mercy is not strained…[Mercy] is enthroned in the hearts of kings; It is an attribute to God Himself…in the course of justice none of us should see salvation. We do pray for mercy.”

But is it true mercy for the agrieved or a ruling in favor of the establishment?

It’s no secret that The Merchant of Venice is one of Shakespeare’s most divisive plays. Depending upon who has his hands on the text, The Merchant of Venice has been used both as a treatise against anti-Semitism and as propaganda to disparage Jewish people, further cementing them as outcasts.

In the end, the production and post-performance discussions hope to shine a light on the painful damage inflicted upon a minority by mob rule. By exploring the themes in The Merchant of Venice, Delaware Shakespeare hopes to “...[highlight] our shared humanity [and] find steps to mend tears in a broader social fabric.” (JVoice Monthly, October 2018)

In the midst of these heavy themes, there is an excellent play! Considered a comedy in its time, The Merchant of Venice has meaty roles, and the Delaware Shakespeare troupe does exceptionally well. You’ll laugh at Lancelot (Emily Schuman) as well as question his motives. You feel the pain and anguish of Antonio (Gregory Isaac) as he realizes his bond of “a pound of flesh” may need to be paid. The pacing and delivery keeps the action moving in the tight confines of theater in the round. The play delivers on many fronts and is a treat for all ages.

The autumn Community Tour of The Merchant of Venice takes place in venues throughout Delaware from October 24 through November 18 
— check delshakes.org for full details. (Performances at Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution, Howard R. Young Correctional Institution and Sussex Correctional Institution are not open to the public, however.) 

Admission to all other performances is free with RSVP at info@delshakes.org or 302.415.3373. There will also be two ticketed performances ($15-25) on November 17 and 18 at OperaDelaware Studios, which have only 125 tickets available for each show.

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.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

DelShakes' Pericles on Tour --- A Perfect Choice

Jamal Douglas (Pericles/Ensemble) and 
Bi Jean Ngo (Thaisa/Ensemble) perform at the
Achievement Center of the Wilmington HOPE Commission. 
Photo by Alessandra Nicole.
By Christine Facciolo

Pity the director that has to stage a production of Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre


Dramaturgically speaking, it’s a train wreck. In fact, scholars agree that the play was largely written not by the Bard but by a collaborator — and a hack at that. The plot is a meandering one that includes an incestuous king, two tempests at sea, marauding pirates, a maiden sold into a bordello and a reunion between said maiden and the father who thought her long dead. And if that’s not enough, there’s also a reunion between that self-same father and the wife he also thought long dead. Little wonder it’s so rarely performed.

But for David Stradley, it was the perfect choice. Stradley is producing artistic director of the Delaware Shakespeare Festival, which is smack-dab in the middle of a statewide community tour that has already taken it to some pretty unconventional venues, including the Ferris School for Boys and the Sunday Breakfast Mission in Wilmington as well as the Stockley Center in Georgetown. The company is also slated to perform at the Delaware Psychiatric Center and the Baylor Women’s Correctional Institute.

It’s all about life’s journey and how we cope with everything life throws at us, Stradley told the audience prior to Sunday’s matinee performance at the Delaware History Museum in downtown Wilmington. Those who persevere will, like some of the characters in the play, reap the benefits. He noted how well that theme resonated with some of the at-risk populations the company has visited.

The plot goes like this: Pericles must flee for his life from the murderous King Antiochus. After being shipwrecked, Pericles finds his true love, the beautiful Princess Thaisa, who isn’t long for this life — or is she? The action spans fourteen years, but the ensemble, as omniscient narrator, keeps us abreast of Pericles’ hectic escapades throughout the Eastern Mediterranean.


L-R: Trevor Fayle (Lysimachus/Ensemble), 
Jamal Douglas (Pericles/Ensemble), Danielle Leneé 
(Helicanus/Ensemble, in background), 
J Hernandez (Cleon/Ensemble), 
Corinna Burns (Dionyza/Ensemble). 
Photo by Alessandra Nicole.
Stradley tackles this omnishambles of a play with a cheeky production that features wit and zest. Ashley SK Davis supplies an amazing fight scene executed with precision by this acrobatic ensemble. David Meyer provides a minimalist set that supports the action but is portable and readily adaptable to the venue. Musician/composer Joe Trainer effectively set the mood, creating tension and underscoring the theme. Cast member Ruby Wolf’s violin provides a very pleasant, if unexpected, addition.

The performers are first-rate. Bi Jean Ngo shows versatility playing an oily assassin and the noble and sublime Princess Thaisa. Danielle Lenee imbues Helicanus with a quiet and stately grace. Ruby Wolf imparts a common-sense wisdom to the pluperfect Marina. Corinna Burns and J Hernandez are all grace and gratitude as Dionyza and Cleon which contrasts wonderfully with their turns as the Pandar and Bawd for which Hernandez dons an appropriately godawful red wig. Jamal Douglas as the titular hero must deliver a more restrained performance but does occasionally cash in on the silliness with revealing facial gestures.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre may not be a perfect piece of theater, but it’s good entertainment and it does deliver an important message of perseverance to anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of one of life’s curve balls. And that’s most of us.




Sunday, July 17, 2016

DelShakes' The Comedy of Errors Delivers Madcap Fun Under the Stars

By Guest Blogger, Ken Grant
The Comedy of Errors stage at Rockwood Park. Photo by Alessandra Nicole.

Ken Grant has worked in Delaware media, politics and marketing for 25 years. He and his Lovely Bride enjoy Wilmington's arts and culture scene as much as they can. 

Before the Stooges and the Marx Brothers, there was The Comedy of Errors.

The play, one of William Shakespeare’s earlier works, is a madcap, slapstick, double mistaken-identity romp.

True confession: While driving to the opening night performance at the beautiful Rockwood Mansion, this reviewer asked his Lovely Bride to pull up the play synopsis on her smartphone and read it to him. Arguably, to offer a written synopsis of the play will lead to frustration and confusion for both writer and reader – The Comedy of Errors simply must be experienced.

And the experience with this cast and musicians under the direction of David Stradley is delightful, fun and surprising.

Luke Brahdt and Brendan Moser play the identical twins – both named Antipholus – separated at birth by shipwreck.
Chase Byrd and Sean Close play the identical twins – both named Dromio – separated at birth by shipwreck.


(L-R): Brian Reisman (Dromio of Ephesus), Luke Brahdt (Antipholus
of Ephesus), Abdul Sesay (Officer). Photo by Alessandra Nicole.
Go back and re-read those last two sentences, and you’ll see why a written synopsis can be confusing and frustrating.

[Quick side note]: If you are a high school English teacher who only has your students read Shakespeare’s plays, please stop. Allow the students to experience the power, comedy, drama, tension, fullness, beauty, grittiness and even the silliness of Shakespeare through a live performance or even a video – you will help to shape a better future for all of us. [End of side note.]

The performances by this cast are wonderfully over-the-top, the dialog is downright musical, and the choreography has all of the fun of slapstick with none of the pain.

Everything about this comedy supports the creativity and innovation that is associated with the Delaware Shakespeare Festival: a long runway for a stage with doors on wheels; colorful lighting, costuming that is at once colorful and useful (remember, two sets of twins – the costumes really help in keeping the whole thing straight); and a jazz trio – saxophone, bass, percussion – that perfectly sets and elevates the tone throughout the performance.

If you're ready for a lighthearted, fun, engaging evening, you'll want to get these tickets, pack your lawn chairs or picnic blankets and come out to Rockwood Mansion. Oh, and read the signs on the sidewalk on the way up; there’s some great information there that will make the show that much more enjoyable.

The Comedy of Errors runs for 13 performance this month, Wednesday to Saturday at 7:30pm with gates opening at 6:15pm for preshow entertainment and picnics. Sunday performances begin at 6:00pm (gates open at 4:45pm). No shows are scheduled for Monday or Tuesday nights, although Tuesday, July 26 is a rain date, if needed.

The fourth annual Janssen’s Market Picnic Contest – in which patrons bring their best spreads to compete for the coveted Picnic Contest trophy and bragging rights – will take place on Saturday, July 23. General admission to the festival is $18 (some of the most affordable live theater tickets around). Tickets are $16 for seniors (65+), and active military (and their families), with identification. Student tickets are $14. Children 5 and under are free at every performance.

Every Sunday is Family Night, with special activities for children 12 and under admitted free with a paid adult admission.

See www.delshakes.org.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Bard Meets the Tomahawk Man

By Guest Blogger, JulieAnne Cross
JulieAnne is a Wilmington-area do-gooder, specializing in public relations, communications and events, with a focus on the dining industry. Her first arts job was in the opera industry two decades ago, and she famously states that her “only talent is pushing pencils.”

Delaware Shakespeare Festival’s annual “Shakespeare/Poe, Readings from the Dark Side” began its two-week run on October 16. The fourth annual event has expanded the series’ reach with a 10-show run, with each of the three distinct, historic locations Rockwood Mansion (Wilmington), Read House (New Castle) and the Stone Stable (Odessa)  set for a limited capacity of 30. I have attended past readings at Rockwood, and can attest that the Victorian setting creates a perfect mood for the gothic-themed selections, and no doubt the colonial settings do the same.

The selections for the hour-long reading included some works familiar to returning patrons, but the theme was newly expanded to include gothic literary royalty: Ann Radcliffe and Mary Shelley.

  • Opening of The Black Cat – Edgar Allan Poe
  • Macbeth – William Shakespeare, Portions from Act 1 Scene 1 and Act 4 Scene 1
  • The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radcliffe, Excerpt from Volume 2, Chapter 6
  • Cymbeline – from Act 2 Scene 2
  • Portions of The Pit and The Pendulum – Poe
  • Richard II – Richard monologue from Act 3 Scene 2
  • Portions of The Invisible Girl – Mary Shelley
  • Annabel Lee – Poe
  • Shakespeare or Poe? Audience Quiz
  • The Raven – Poe
  • Hamlet/Raven Mash-up (You have to hear this one to appreciate it!)
  • The Tempest – Caliban Monologue from Act 3 Scene 2
The handful of readings that repeated from 2014 were, in my opinion, critical to the series theme. It just wouldn’t be a Poe reading without the melodic (and short) Annabel Lee and it wouldn’t be Halloween season without The Raven and the Wyrd Sisters from Macbeth making an appearance. I was shocked to learn my companion had never heard Poe’s haunting love poem, but not surprised that it made an impact.

The readings from new authors were well received. The Invisible Girl gave me the kind of willies one gets from a supernatural story, whereas The Mysteries of Udolpho recalled the kind of terror Julia Roberts’ character experienced in Sleeping with the Enemy. Invisible in this case carries both a literal and metaphoric meaning that will be familiar to feminist sympathizers.

The cast consisted of James Kassees, Danielle Lenee, Matthew Mastronardi, and Megan Slater, with Mastronardi accompanying on the cello. Mastronardi’s arrangements and original compositions, including sound effects, were only applied to a handful of the readings, but to terrific effect, particularly Poe’s The Pit and The Pendulum (my favorite Poe story, which, admittedly, I failed to read in favor of the Vincent Price movie version).

David Stradley (who directed the production and assembled the readings) cleverly breaks up the longer readings using the four diverse voices, and the individual cast members effectively project multiple characters in rapid succession when called for.

The guest experience was enhanced with the offering of a hot, mulled cider. I was pleased to have a chance to stretch my legs, despite there being no intermission, thanks to a quiz-off between another patron and me; we took turns listening to a line of text and guessing whether it was Shakespeare or Poe.

My 14-year-old son has attended readings before, but this was my husband’s first reading. The pace is quick, and it would be a great entrée into theater for most newbie patrons. As far as children, the content is no scarier than Scar or Ursula or Jafaar, and regularly exposing a young mind to the linguistics of centuries past may make high school Shakespeare assignments easier. I strongly encourage you to buy a ticket for the mini-goth, zombie lover or emo baby in your life – the Hamlet/Raven Mash-up should be right up their alley.

Other than a generally excellent setting, there are no lighting effects, which could be interesting in future years. The nearby parking was full, ostensibly due to activity in an adjacent building, but there is a convenient drop off point for passengers, and handicap spaces were still available nearby.

DelShakes puts on similar events around Valentine’s Day, with a “Shakespeare + St. Valentine” program planned for 2016. I’m glad the format fits with other holidays. Otherwise, I’d be awaiting the fifth annual Halloween-time reading like a kid anticipating, well, Halloween.

Some tickets remain available for late October dates. Click here to order.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Celebrating the Spooky Holiday with Shakespeare & Poe

By Guest Blogger, Bradford Wason. Brad is the Founder and Director of 23rd & 5th Design Group and currently works with DMG Marketing in Greenville. He is also on the faculty of Delaware College of Art & Design, and is an ardent Wilmington Arts & Culture supporter.


DSF's actors add the appropriate "flair" to
the macabre tales by Shakespeare & Poe.
As fall fast approaches, the nights grow colder, and with it we enter the Halloween season. Traditionally, Halloween means ghosts and ghouls, masks and candy, or hayrides. But if you're looking to experience an intimate evening in the dark side of theatre, the Delaware Shakespeare Festival (DSF) has all the mirth and matter you'll need this season. Ghosts, spirits, witches and haunting stories are included, in this mash-up of William Shakespeare plays and poems and short stories of Edgar Allen Poe. This format uniquely blends the two together in one fascinating macabre journey, as narrated by DSF veterans Caroline Crocker (A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Two Gentleman of Verona), Adam Darrow (The Two Gentleman of Verona), James Kassees (A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Two Gentleman of Verona), and a newcomer to DSF, Clare O'Malley.  

After its debut hit in 2012, The Shakespeare/Poe - A Night of Readings from The Dark Side returns, traveling to the gothic halls of Rockwood Mansion, the galleries of the Newark Arts Alliance and the grandeur of the Read House & Gardens in Old New Castle. As DSF Producing Artistic Director David Stradley said, "Our summer Festival audiences come from all over the area; so this year, we decided to share this fun evening in venues throughout New Castle County. I think each will bring its own interesting energy to the night."

I couldn't agree with him more, having thoroughly enjoyed the 30-seat, sold-out performance Saturday night at the Read House. The evening of readings runs just over an hour, which made for a excellent late dinner and conversation to follow.

The readings are compiled and directed by Stradley, who does a masterful job weaving the works into a continuous piece. The evening ebbs and flows, from dramatic delivery by James Kassess in The Fall of the House of Usher (Poe) to the "excited sensations" narrated by Clare O'Malley in The Masque of the Red Death (Poe). Not to be outdone by the dark short stories and poems of Poe, Adam Darrow and Caroline Crocker bring to life the juxtaposition of Poe's The Masque of the Red Death in an excerpt of Macbeth (Shakespeare), Act 3, Scene 4, where the tortured Macbeth is visited by the ghost of Banquo.

I appreciated the narrative notes and short quips added by the cast to lighten the mood and provide background. Although the evening is rooted in macabre storytelling — such as an excerpt from Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, or Poe's The Raven — it provides more humorous moments, such as the Hamlet/Raven Mash-up read by the Ensemble. The audience gave a good chuckle to fill out the room as the evening ended with Caroline Crocker's narration of the Caliban Monologue – Act 3, Scene 2, from The Tempest (Shakespeare).

"Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet aires that give delight and hurt not."

If you're looking to enlighten and indulge your senses, this short, intimate evening by the Delaware Shakespeare Festival is not to be missed! ONLY at www.delshakes.org.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Enthralled by "Two Gents"...of the DelShakes Variety!


Guest Blogger Tizzy Lockman is a near lifelong Wilmingtonian — taking breaks in her teens & 20s to study and live abroad. She has a BA in film and linguistics from New York University, and works as a media producer and nonprofit program manager. While raising an active daughter, Tizzy's hobbies include working with local schools, youth work, nonprofit board service and various community activism and events. She LOVES live music and theatre, but never gets to see as much of it as she would wish.

Balmy midsummer evenings are chockfull of outdoor offerings for culture seekers, alongside our neighbors and those giant dragonflies. And during this theatrical off-season, amidst such a variety of concerts and music festivals to choose from, the Delaware Shakespeare Festival (DSF) has emerged as summer's un-missable entertainment option.  Now in their 11th year, it seems DSF has hit their stride, adeptly combining old classical ways with their own traditions, professionalism with a refreshing spirit that meets the needs of mid-July crowds of Shakespeare lovers.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona may be unlikely to rank in the Top Ten of the casual Shakespeare fans most familiar titles — I know that, for me, it was a play I'd never seen or read before last Saturday’s opening night. And this lack of expectation is likely to give the performance a bit of an edge for audience members similarly new to the story.  One of Shakespeare's earliest comedy works, the play is surprisingly light and accessible, while managing not to spare any tricks of adventure, humor or depth.

DSF brings Two Gents to life with a cast that is remarkable in its youthfulness and professionalism. Allowing the language of Shakespeare to slip off their tongues with natural tones as if it were the latest slang, and their physical characterization to keep every word understandable to the modern ear.The four romantic leads in particular (Adam Darrow as Proteus, Brandon Pierce as Valentine, Clare Mahoney as Julia, and Emilie Krause as Silvia) are perfectly suited to portray the story of the frivolity of young men and women at crossroads, about to launch themselves towards their futures. Centered around a pair of charming best friends — the ambitious Valentine and the romantic Proteus — we meet them as the two are taking steps in different directions, the latter focused on love and the former on establishing his status in society.  But being a comedy, wires are soon to be crossed...

The comedy itself isn’t Shakespeare’s most perfect — some of the twists late in the plot beg a forgiving audience — but the cast has done such a fine job of shaping the characters they play throughout the early scenes, that makes it easier to take the leap with them and accept the surprising and outlandish decisions that make up the final act. It is a play devoted to themes of betrayal and infidelity, the foibles and madness of youth.  The four primary characters develop over the arc of the performance, at great credit to the actors. Proteus and Valentine change the most remarkably. Proteus transforming from a guileless youth to calculating deviant, and the initially cynical Valentine becomes the lost and lovelorn one. In the end, both are stronger for their evolution. Instead of seeming ridiculous, you can read their actions, such as Valentine forgiving Proteus for his plentiful indiscretions, as heroic and instructive.

Where there are gentlemen (and women) there must be servants, and the show provides a Downton Abbey-esque parallel set of players in these roles. Far from standing in the shadows of their masters, these character are broader, and the standout comedians of the night.  In particular are Speed (Max Cove), Launce (Griffin Stanton-Amiesen) and Lucetta (Caroline Crocker). They move along the action and give us breaks from it; and the inclusion of Crab the dog (played during my performance by the scruffy Prince) brings with it levity and familiar sweet laughs (along with the tension of having an animal on the live stage).

The simple staging, unadorned apart from a bouquet of colorful umbrellas, allows these performances to shine. Different this year from the past several is the flipping of the theatre — the Rockwood house to our backs, the audience is gazing down into the park, with trees as a backdrop, and entrances visible at the periphery. When the sun set at my showing, the footlights brought the set into vibrant color and cast the well-blocked figures' shadows large against the backdrop of the trees.  It was enchanting. The sound system was clear as a bell — a notable improvement from past years for which they deserve to be praised.

The Delaware Shakespeare Festival has used its past decade to develop some great traditions: Entrances from the crowd that make you feel as if you've happened upon the action, and the cast makes a hasty exit from their bows to line the path where the audience exits. It’s a reversal in which the audience feels it is being given the utmost respect by the stars they’ve spent the past hours watching.

All in all, a charming cast portraying a fun story in a bucolic setting — our local Shakespeare seems to get better with each passing year. The large and appreciative audience at my show seemed to agree; a third had attended three or more DSF performances, and more than half were brand new to the experience. One mutual happiness, indeed!