Sunday, May 25, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of The Compleat Wrks Of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) at Parkside Players by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of the play The Compleat Wrks Of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)  at Parkside Players was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Compleat Wrks Of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)
Parkside Players
Grace Lutheran Church (103-05 Union Turnpike, Forest Hills, NY)
Reviewed 5/24/14

The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (also known as The Compleat Wrks Of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)) was written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield, founding members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company (a three-man comedy troupe that takes long, serious subjects and reduces them to short, sharp comedies). The play was first performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1987 and later played at the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly Circus, London, where it ran for nine years. It has become one of the world's most popular shows and is notable for holding the (self-proclaimed) world record for the shortest-ever performance of Hamlet, clocking in at 43 seconds, as well as the fastest performance of Hamlet backwards, at 42 seconds.

The play is a frenetic, fast-paced comedy in which three actors present abridged versions of all of the works of William Shakespeare in one gigantic and entertaining parody with modern cultural and local references, improvisation and audience participation thrown in.  The book does not fully commit to presenting abridged versions of all of William Shakespeare's works but it does give a broad overview of those works dwelling on plays, scenes and characters ripe for parody and satire. All the parts in the production are performed by Kevin Schwab (The Scholar), Nili Resnick (The Aesthete) and Johnny Young (The Third One), who refer to each other by their real names. The play opens with The Third One giving a brief biography of The Bard he took off Wikipedia (not an authoritative reference source, for those who don't know it), which conflates William Shakespeare's life with that of Adolf Hitler. 

The first act starts with an abridged version of Romeo & Juliet. Sometimes the actors perform as if they were Bill & Ted, the 1980s time traveling slackers from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Other times, they alter a line for comic effect, such as saying "a nose by any other name would still smell" instead of "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet". When Romeo swears "by yonder virgin", he looks at an audience member and says "No, I don't think so!" and when Juliet takes Romeo's dagger to kill herself, it is only one-inch long, to which she says, "that's Romeo!". Afterwards, Titus Andronicus is performed as a cooking show, Othello is performed as a Rap Song once The Third One is made aware that Shakespeare's "Moor" refers to a Black Man and not to the mooring of ships, and finally, The Histories are performed as a football game with the Crown replacing the football. The sixteen Comedies are blended together and performed as one play. The Tragedies and Apocrypha are also handled in brief form with emphasis on Macbeth, The Scottish Play.

The second act focused primarily on Hamlet ending with the 43 second version and the 42 second backwards version. The play within a play in Hamlet was performed by The Cherry Danish Puppet Theatre. I don't want to ruin the ending for you, but in the 3 second version of Hamlet, everyone just dies all at once.

I was very impressed with the performance of Kevin Schwab, who wore many hats and is an impressive, talented and charismatic actor. I particularly enjoyed his impersonation of Paul Lyndius (i.e. Paul Lynde). He also had a few other good lines. When The Third One said "He comes before me!", Kevin Schwab responded, "I am sorry to hear that!". When, as Romeo, he kissed a reluctant Third One as Juliet in drag on the lips, he responded, jokingly, "that was totally worth it". Finally, when he couldn't find "a big strapping man" in the audience to play Ego on stage, he said, "that explains a lot!". Mr. Schwab even pulled out his "Little Willie" and showed it to the audience. Nili Resnick and Johnny Young more than held their own throughout the production. Their funniest interaction was when Mr. Young referred to a line in one of Shakespeare's plays where money was borrowed from "an old Jew". Ms. Reznick objected and Mr. Young changed the line to "a young Jew", which apparently satisfied her.

I highly recommend this fun, entertaining show. It can equally please those who love Shakespeare who will appreciate all the erudite references as well as those who have never read Shakespeare and hate serious theatre. My only criticism is that this production seems to have been intentionally cleansed to make it a PG version of the play instead of the R rating presentation this show deserves. Had three men performed the various roles instead of two men and a woman, there would have been more opportunities for cross-dressing and homoerotically charged exchanges between characters in "hetereosexual" relationships, which would have been more faithful to the all-male casts of original Shakespeare productions in which young men played most of the female roles due to the fact that women were forbidden to act on stage. That is simply not possible in a PG version with Ms. Reznick and Mr. Young in the cast. Nevertheless, no audience member will leave without feeling they got their money's worth, which is good since it is made very clear in the beginning of the play that there would be "no refunds".

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of Night Must Fall at Douglaston Community Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of the play Night Must Fall at Douglaston Community Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Night Must Fall
Douglaston Community Theatre
Zion Episcopal Church Parish Hall (243-01 Northern Blvd., Douglaston, NY)
Reviewed 5/2/14

Night Must Fall was written by Emlyn Williams (born George Emlyn Williams in Pen-y-Ffordd, Mostyn, Flintshire in northeast Wales). It opened in London with Emlyn Williams in the lead role of Dan in 1935. There were two film adaptations of the play: one in 1937, with Robert Montgomery playing Dan, and one in 1964, with Albert Finney as Dan. There was a National Actors Theatre's revival of the play on Broadway in 1999 at the Lyceum Theatre with Matthew Broderick in the lead role. In this Douglaston Community Theatre production of Night Must Fall, Gary Tifeld successfully portrays the duplicitous nature of Dan, the charming Welsh bellhop who used to work at The Tallboys Hotel, who endears himself to the unbearable, rich and controlling Mrs. Bramson, an apparent invalid convincingly played by Marilyn Welsher. The play is set in 1935 at Forest Corner, Mrs. Bramson's bungalow in Essex.

Within the first two minutes of the play, The Lord Chief Justice informs us in a voiceover that two people have been killed and that the appeal of the murderer from the sentence of death has been denied. The play has been universally advertised as a "psychological thriller" with the implication it is a whodunit. While it is true the identity of the killer is not formally revealed until the end of the play, the audience has little doubt not only who the killer is but also who the second victim is going to be. The first victim is a Mrs. Chalfont, who we never see but who we learn was a guest at The Tallboys Hotel before she went missing. Night Must Fall is not, in my opinion, a "psychological thriller" nor is it a "whodunit" so if you are coming to see this play with that expectation, you will be very disappointed.

Night Must Fall would be more accurately titled Five Foolish Women and Emlyn Williams wrote the female characters in a manner that perpetuates the very worst stereotypes of women. First we have Dora Parkoe, a bumbling, half-witted, simple-minded maid, who allows herself to get impregnated by the charismatic Welsh bellhop Dan. Kelly Schmidt does a good job portraying the innocent nature of Dora and has a strong stage presence. Next we have Mrs. Bramson, whose original plan was to convince Dan to marry Dora but after meeting him, is enchanted with his charm and hires him as her Caretaker, soon confiding in him regarding the whereabouts of her money and treating him as "the son she never had." The con job he is pulling never seems to register on her radar screen and her pride and ego blind her to the fact that Danny is a cool and calculating liar who is totally indifferent to Dora, the future mother of his child. Marilyn Welsher successfully brings out the evil in her character and no one is sorry when she gets her just reward. Mrs. Terence, the plainspoken, feisty housekeeper and cook, is pretty certain there is a murderer in the house but when asked why she just doesn't leave, answers that the villagers are relying on her for the latest gossip. Laurie Dentale does a good job exhibiting the many facets of this character. The first victim, Mrs. Chalfont, is revealed as an older, married woman of stature, who constantly demanded sex from the lower-class Dan when he worked at The Tallboys. The fifth foolish woman was Mrs. Bramson's penniless niece, Olivia Grayne, who almost immediately senses the artificiality of Dan's exaggerated amiability and suspects he is putting on a facade to hide something sinister yet she becomes increasingly attracted to him especially when he exhibits aspects of his darker side. Annette Daiell successfully carries off the challenging task of showing both the intelligent nature of this character and the psychological disorders that cause her to fall in love with a serial killer, even if it means risking her own life. Rounding out this fine ensemble cast was Cathy Cosgrove, who played Nurse Libby; Joe Pepe, who was Inspector Belsize; and Dan Bubbeo, who portrayed Hubert Laurie, Olivia's would be suitor. All handled their roles extremely well.

If you come to see Night Must Fall looking for the psychological complexities of the Five Foolish Women, you will not be disappointed. Dan, on the other hand, was far less interesting to me. He is simply a charismatic con artist and a murderer, who is most likely insane. This production of Night Must Fall features a very talented cast and offers the audience an opportunity to experience this classic play for a reasonable price. You will also learn that not everyone stores hats in hat boxes. Sometimes a glued hat box can prevent you from seeing what it contains and also stop you from seeing what might be looking back at you from inside.  

Upcoming productions of Night Must Fall will be on Sunday, May 4th and Saturday, May 10th at 2:00 p.m., Friday, May 9th & Saturday, May 10th at 8:00 p.m., and Friday, May 16th & Saturday, May 17th at 8:00 p.m.; $17.00 for Adults, $15.00 for Seniors & Students with ID. Call 718-482-3332 to reserve your seats. Douglaston Community Theatre is the oldest active theatre company in Queens County, having been founded in 1950.