REVIEW: As You Like It (Chicago Shakespeare)


An ardent Arden blooms beautifully


Orlando (Matt Schwader) surprises Rosalind (Kate Fry) with a kiss after she and Celia (Chaon Cross) praise his wrestling victory at Court, in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's 'As You Like It'. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Chicago Shakespeare Theatre 
As You Like It
Written by William Shakespeare 
Directed by
Gary Griffin
at CST’s
Courtyard Theatre, Navy Pier (map)
thru March 6  |  tickets: $44-$75  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Through disguise or intrigue, Shakespeare’s driven lovers test each other until they finally earn their fifth-act wedding. In As You Like It, an unconquered forest is the neutral playground for the romantic reconnoiters that will bind the exiled lovers Rosalind and Orlando. In this shelter for simple innocence, artificial privilege defers to natural merit.

The shepherdess Phoebe (Elizabeth Ledo) falls in love with Ganymede (Kate Fry), unaware "he" is actually Rosalind in disguise, in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's As You Like It. Photo by Liz Lauren.If love, joy or melancholy were to vanish from the world, you could reconstruct them from Shakespeare’s merriest and wisest comedy. The play’s genius is its artful dispersion of the good and, later, bad characters from the corrupt court to the enchanting trees of Arden. There the Bard imagines the perfect play–and proving ground for Rosalind, strategically disguised as the bisexual cupbearer Ganymede, to test her Orlando by teaching him how to woo the woman he takes for a man.

Sensing how Rosalind’s high spirits and good humor could overwhelm even this teeming forest, Shakespeare balances her natural worth against the snobbish clown Touchstone, the darkly cynical Jaques and the sluttish goatherd Audrey. By play’s end every kind of attachment–romantic, earthy, impetuous and exploitive–is embodied by the four (mis)matched couples who join in a monumental mating.

All any revival needs to do is trust the text and here it triumphs. Vaguely set in the Empire era, Gary Griffin’s perfectly tuned three-hour staging moves effortlessly from the artificial wood façade of the bad Duke’s cold palace to Arden’s blossom-rich, Pandora-like arboreal refuge. Over both the city and country hangs a mysterious pendulum, tolling out the seconds without revealing the time.

Disguised as the young man Ganymede, Rosalind (Kate Fry, center) listens to Orlando (Matt Schwader) unwittingly proclaim his love for her as Celia (Chaon Cross) looks on in amusement, in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's 'As You Like It'. Photo by Liz Lauren.

But then time stands still here: The refugees in these woods have been displaced by the pursuit of power. Very good, then: It gives them all the more leisure for four very different couples to reinvent love from the inside out with all the unmatched and dynamically diverse eloquence that the Bard could give them,

Griffin is an actors’ director and he’s assembled an unexceptionable ensemble as true to their tale as their wonderful writer could wish. Though a tad older than Orlando is usually depicted, Matt Schwader delivers the non-negotiable spontaneity of a late-blooming first love. Above all, he’s a good listener and here he must be: Kate Fry’s electric Rosalind fascinates with every quicksilver, gender-shifting mood swing, capricious whim, resourceful quip or lyrical rhapsody. Fry also plays her as postmaturely young, a woman who was happy enough to be a maiden but won’t become a wife without a complete guarantee of reciprocal adoration. All her testing of Orlando as “Ganymede” is both flirtatious fun and deadly earnest. It would be all too easy to watch only her throughout and see this again for the other performances.

Kate Fry as Rosalind (Ganymede) and Matt Schwader as Orlando in William Shakespeare's 'As You Like It', directed by Associate Artistic Director Gary Griffin at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Photo by Peter Bosy.The contrasting characters are a litany of excellence, with even the supporting actors attractive despite any lack of lines. Kevin Gudahl’s noble exile of a banished duke, Matt DeCaro’s elaborately evil one, Phillip James Brannon’s flippant and almost anachronistic clown Touchstone, Chaon Cross’ pert and well-grounded Celia, Patrick Clear’s dignified bumpkin, Steve Haggard’s infatuated Silvius and Hillary Clemens as his less than adorable Audrey, Dennis Kelly’s venerable Adam—these are masterful portrayals drawn from life as much as literature.

Shakespeare’s most brilliant creation is the anti-social Jaques, who darkly balances the springtime frolic of Shakespeare’s unstoppable love plots. Oddly social as he waxes with misanthropic melancholy, Jaques is cursed to see the sad end of every story: He can never enjoy the happy ignorance beginning and middle. Ross Lehman gives him the right enthusiastic isolation. He’s dour but never dire.

Arden is a forest well worth escaping to and never leaving. The most regretful part of the play is happily never seen, when this enchanted company must return from these miracle-making groves to the workaday world. But that’s just how the audience feels leaving the Courtyard Theatre, reluctantly relinquishing so much romance.

Rating: ★★★★

Celia (Chaon Cross), Touchstone (Phillip James Brannon) and Rosalind (Kate Fry), disguised as the young man Ganymede, celebrate their arrival in the Forest of Arden, in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's 'As You Like It'. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Chaon Cross as Celia, Kate Fry as Rosalind, and Matt Schwader as Orlando in William Shakespeare's As You Like It, directed by Associate Artistic Director Gary Griffin at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Photo by Peter Bosy


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REVIEW: Bristol Renaissance Faire (Kenosha)


Renaissance Entertainment Productions presents
Bristol Renaissance Faire
12550 120th Avenue, Kenosha, WI  (map)
Weekends thru September 6th, 10am-7pm
Tickets: $9-$20, $3 for parking |  more info

reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

If all the world’s a stage, the Bristol Renaissance Faire is one huge play. Everyone who visits it instantly becomes a part of the pageant if not the drama. Now in its fourth decade, this gargantuan historical fantasy, defying its name, celebrates the past–from the Middle Ages through the 17th century. This very imaginative, sprawling village [#Beginning of Shooting Data Section]
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fair conflates Renaissance revelry, knightly jousts, courtly dances honoring Gloriana (Elizabeth I) and her new suitor, the Duc d’Anjou, and the 200 skilled craftsmen who create blown glass, heraldic shields, alchemy, horoscopes, dulcimers, leatherwork, pottery, Tudor tapestries – and Budweiser. It all happens in a richly wooded glade that could easily pass for an English hamlet if you don’t look too hard at the signage that surrounds you on all sides.

Straddling the state line (just off Interstate 94), Bristol’s blast from the past is nothing if not theatrical, even scripted. Elizabeth’s flirtatious courtship with her “French frog” wooer (you’ll hear a lot of Francophobic mutterings as you converse with her courtiers) is as choreographed as the pavanes, galliards, corantos, and passepieds performed in her palatial patio. Drummers pound their skins in scary synchronicity. The speeches at the daily tournament are carefully rehearsed, as any state occasion would require.

But there’s audience interaction too as mud beggars hustle the crowd or sassy braggarts encourage patrons (often themselves festooned in historical costumes) to hurl ripe tomatoes at their insulting pusses. The carnival-style booths provide small-scale contests in archery and hatchet throwing. The signature performances this year include the riotously funny Swordsmen (Doug Mumaw and David Woolley), the delightful New Minstrel players, Adam Winrich’s fire whipping show, a Kid’s Kingdom that features “Cutlass Cooking” classes, Moonie the Magnificent’s juggling and ropewalking, a Punch and Judy puppet show, a demonstration of the royal falcon’s predatory prowess, even a lesson in Tudor etiquette at Lady Ettie’s Tea Time.

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But the biggest show among these delightful distractions is the daily joust for the favor of Elizabeth. In a field of glory, armored knights on horseback practice feats of equestrian daring in order to be narrowed down to two valiant warriors (one a crowd-mocking villain). These mounted athletes will move from wielding spears while on saddles to slashing swords when finally on their feet. As full of false bluster as any championship wrestling match, it all ends, two hours later, with a daily duel to the death (the apparent horror of which I was lucky enough to miss seeing).

My last visit to the Faire was two decades ago–so I was unprepared for how much it had expanded under the new ownership of Renaissance Entertainment Productions that took over in 1990. There’s now a swordsmenRenaissance ship permanently docked at a man-made pond, two elephants available for riding, an absolutely irresistible petting zoo, and at least five stages for itinerant musicians, hucksters, buskers, fops, and acrobats. Strangely, considering the periods covered, I saw no wandering nuns, monks, friars or jesters but perhaps they had time-traveled to a different entertainment on opening weekend. A glaring but very useful anachronism is the RenQuest, the Faire’s live action fantasy-play game that tests role-playing skills in all three dimensions. This year’s final chapter of “The Bloodtharken Trilogy” completes the story of the struggle between the brave and noble order of the Sun and the chaotic and dangerous Lunar Tribe.

As much as American Players Theatre further north, the Bristol Renaissance Faire also provides a worthy service by giving Chicago and local actors and street performers half a summer of semi-gainful employment and, better yet for future reference, exposure of their crafts, skills and styles. But that’s what a fair is supposed to do as it markets the past to the future.

For information call or call 847-395-7773.

Rating: ★★★★

REVIEW: Cherrywood (Mary-Arrchie Theatre)

Party on, Dude!



Mary-Arrchie Theatre presents
Cherrywood: The Modern Day Comparable
Written by Kirk Lynn
Directed by
David Cromer
Angel Island Theatre, 735 W. Sheridan (map)
through August 8th  |  tickets:  $13-$22  |  more info

reviewed by Katy Walsh

Fliers announce ‘Party Tonite for anyone who wants a change.’ Mary-Arrchie Theatre presents the Midwest premiere of Cherrywood: The Modern Day Comparable.  A foursome decides to host a party. They have three kinds of chips, an array of music, bottles of booze and a shots of… milk? In response to their fliers, the guests arrive and fill up the house. The usual party suspects are all present. Free loading crashers. Whiny girl. Depressed divorced guy. Unwanted neighbor. Gaggle of gals in bathroom line. P.D.A. couple on the dance floor. Hot shirtless guy. Person continually announcing ‘I’m wasted.’ Sporadic drunken wrestling. It feels, looks and sounds familiar except with a couple of twists: Somebody brought a gun. Everybody has been drinking wild wolves’ milk. People are opening boxes of their secret desires. Cherrywood: The Modern Day Comparable is a virtual reality party experience without the pressure to mingle or the aid of a cocktail.

In a large living-room-like space, the audience seats encircle the action. Closely matched in numbers, the 50+ wallflowers watch the 49 performers party. It’s such a tight fit that I needed to move my purse before a guy sat on it. Director David Cromer has gone fire-code-capacity to create an authentic party.

The proximity blurs the fourth wall completely in deciphering between the party gawkers versus goers. I consciously refrain from shouting out an answer to ‘name a good band that starts with the letter ‘A’.’ It seems like a jumbling of improv mixed in with scripted lines. Crediting playwright Kirk Lynn with some of the best lines, it’s existentialism goes rave with the ongoing philosophy ‘if you want something different, ask for it.’ Lynn writes dialogue describing cocktail banter as ‘question-answer-it-doesn’t-always-happen-like-that’ mockery. One character describes herself with ‘everything I do is a form of nodding. I want to break my neck to stop nodding.’ In a heated exchange, the neighbor jabs, ‘you remember the world? It’s the room outside the door.’ It’s genuine party chatter. Some conversations are playful. Some are deep. Some just don’t make any sense. Clusters of people are sharing philosophical drunken babble throughout the room. A gunshot brings the house of strangers together in a communal bonding alliance.

For the theatre goer looking for a break from classic plot driven shows, Cherrywood: The Modern Day Comparable is performance art. It is a ‘Party Tonite for anyone who wants a change.’ For those who wonder what Chicago actors and designers do off-season, this is an opportunity to fly-on-the-wall it. If you’ve anticipated they hang out together and party, this would be your imagined drunken haze. The who’s who of storefront theater is boozing it up. It’s a Steep, Lifeline, Dog & Pony, House, Griffin, etc. reunion bash, and man do they know how to party!

Rating: ★★★

Running Time: Ninety minutes with no intermission

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Review – “Los Desaparecidos” (The Vanished)

Babes With Blades has never believed in playing it safe, and this can certainly be seen in the final production of their 10th Anniversary season – the world premiere of Barbara Lhota’s Los Desaparecidos (The Vanished).  The germination of the play all started from a rather cool playwright competition: entrants were presented with the painting “Duelo de Mujeres” (The Duel of Women), and instructed to create a play with the painting as inspiration.  Out of over 20 entries, the winning playwright, Barbara Lhota, has created a raucous and sexy world where women gladly take up the sword for fun and heroism (though set in 16th-century Spain, the play seems to not be of any time-period).  Using many Shakespearean devices, Los Desaparecidos explores the impact of family ties, societal pressures, and unexpected love in the lives of two sisters.  Los Desaparecidos is ultimately about how the power of love can triumph over intolerance. 

Pros: The performances are exemplary – so full of passion and athleticism, that it leaves one exhausted.  The three powerful leading women – Stephanie Repin (Diana), Meghan Martinez (Isabel) and Rachel Stubbs (Eliana) – truly shine in their roles. 

Cons: At times the pacing seems to falter, though it quickly rights itself throughout.   Ending is a bit implausible.

Summary: Take a cast of passionate actors, throw in a fun script, season it with spicy sword fights and taboo romances, and – if such a thing suits you – you end up with a swashbuckling time at the theatre. 

Rating: «««    

Production: Los Desaparecidos (The Vanished)
Playwright: Barbara Lhota
Director: David Woolley
Featuring: Stephanie Repin (Diana), Meghan M. Martinez (Isabel), Rachel Stubbs (Eliana), Sean Patrick Leonard (Eduardo), Lisa Herceg (Marisol), Paul E. Martinez (Frederico), Mercedes Rohlfs (Lucilla), Morgan Manasa (Zania), Dustin Spence (Father Roberto, The Man), Libby Beyreis (Servanct), Ryan Christopher Zarecki (Servant), Gregory M. Larson (Antonio)
Design Team: Tina Bernacchi (Asst. Director/Dramaturg), Leigh Barrett (Lighting), Alex Braatz (Sound), Anders Jacobson (Scenery), Michelle Julazdeh (Costumes), Libby Beyreis (Fight Captain), Sean Patrick Leonard (Makeup Effects)
Technical Team: Kjerstine McHugh (Stage Manager), Amy E. Harmon (Producer), Gillian N. Humiston (Assistant Producer), Alison Dornheggen (Marketing)
Coming next: Land of the Free by Mark Burns, directed by Beth Cummings – Fall 2008
More info:

Diana (Stephanie Repin) and Antonio (Gregory M. Larson) fall in love

Diana (Stephanie Repin) and Antonio (Gregory M. Larson) fall in love  

 Diana (Stephanie Repin) faces Eliana (Rachel Stubbs) in single combat in Babes With Blades\' \

Diana (Stephanie Repin) faces Eliana (Rachel Stubbs) in single combat in Babes With Blades’ “Los Desaparecidos (The Vanished)”

Diana (Stephanie Repin) and her sister Isabel (Meghan M. Martinez) work through a disagreement

Diana (Stephanie Repin) and her sister Isabel (Meghan M. Martinez) work through a disagreement!!

Frederico (Paul E. Martinez) and Isabel (Meghan M. Martinez) try to have a child in Babes With Blades\' \

Frederico (Paul E. Martinez) and Isabel (Meghan M. Martinez) try to have a child

Isabel (Meghan M. Martinez) and Diana (Stephanie Repin) work through a disagreement in Babes With Blades\' \

Isabel (Meghan M. Martinez) and Diana (Stephanie Repin) work through a disagreement

Isabel (Meghan M. Martinez), Eliana (Rachel Stubbs), and Diana (Stephanie Repin) meet in Babes With Blades\' \

Isabel (Meghan M. Martinez), Eliana (Rachel Stubbs), and Diana (Stephanie Repin) meet in Babes With Blades' "Los Desaparecidos (The Vanished)"

Servants Marisol (Lisa Herceg) and Eliana (Rachel Stubbs) gossip in Babes With Blades\' \

Servants Marisol (Lisa Herceg) and Eliana (Rachel Stubbs) gossip amongst themselves