Tuesday, April 29, 2014

SHAKE 38 • Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis honored the Bard's 450th birthday with Shake38 last week, a five day festival with various companies staging all of Shakespeare's plays. The plays were performed in a variety of locations around the city -- everywhere from coffee shops to backyards -- all free. The festivities began with a wreath laying at the Shakespeare statue in Tower Grove Park on Wednesday morning.

Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble had a couple of plays on offer, starting with "The Merry Wives of Windsor" playing out at the ruins in Tower Grove Park. This presentation, directed by Mollie Amburgey, featured Carl Overly as a smooth, pimp Falstaff, deciding to court two rich women in town -- Mistress Ford (Rachel Tibbetts) and Mistress Page (Ellie Schwetye), hoping to gain some financial footing. This feisty, condensed version streamlined the focus to Falstaff and the Mistresses and their husbands, Master Page and the disguised Master Ford (Stephanie Amoroso and Jared Sanz-Agero).
The rest of the cast was rounded out by Michael Amoroso (Writer/Sir Hugh Evans/Fenton), Payton Gillam (Mistress Quickly), Daniel Blackwell (Slender), Rachel Hanks (Pistol), Cara Barresi (Nym), Annie Garea (Anne Page), Ryan Lawson-Maeske (Doctor Caius), Mollie Amburgey (Shallow) and the adorable beagle Polly as Simple. There was a nice crowd Saturday afternoon, and the ruins at Tower Grove provided a beautiful setting.

Slightly Askew's second offering came later that night in a candlelit backyard production of "Haunted Hamlet" -- perfect for those with short attention spans, where only the spooky bits with ghosts and murders were read. With Tonya Darabcsek as Hamlet, Carl Overly as Horatio, Michael Amoroso as Marcellus & Polonius, Mollie Amburgey as Francisco & Gravedigger # 2, Ellie Schwetye as Ghost & Gravedigger # 1 and Rachel Tibbetts as Barnardo & Gertrude, it was pretty awesome, complete with a fire pit, smores, hot dogs and libations. I mean, you just can't beat that really, and many folks stayed long after the last specter had disappeared into the night.

Photo credit: Rick Forrestal
Sunday afternoon, R-S Theatrics staged "Romeo and Juliet", presented by Blind Pigs at the COCA Black Box theatre. This tale of doomed young love featured Casey Boland as a youthful and headstrong Romeo, and Beth Wickenhauser as a sweetly sincere Juliet.

In addition to these two, this polished production, directed by Christina Rios, included some excellent performances -- relatable and squeezing out individual characteristics in great fashion. In addition to a very entertaining Mark Kelley as Mercutio and Sarajane Alverson as a humorous Nurse -- as only Alverson could do, there was Khnemu Menu-Ra and Suki Peters, the stern and nicely paired Capulets, John Wolbers as the good Friar Lawrence, Paul Cereghino as a hot-headed Tybalt, Dennis Folwarczny as the serious Prince Escaluswith, with Aaron Dodd as Paris, Mark Abels as Montague, Ben Ritchie as Peter and Pete Winfrey as Benvolio rounding out the cast.

Photo credit: Rick Forrestal
In this, another streamlined presentation, scenes were separated by quick fades to black, with splendid costume design by Liz Henning, lighting design by Nathan Schroeder, text coaching by Wolbers and fight choreography by Todd Gillenardo. Nothing like being in a cozy theater space in the front row with some sword fighting going on!

I wish I had been able to see more, and Shakespeare admittedly intimidates the crap out of me, but this showcase of his plays takes the intimidation factor out of it, and just makes it fun, and is a wonderful lead up to the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presentation of "HENRY IV" and "Henry V", coming in May to Forest Park's Shakespeare Glen. Don't miss it!

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