Sunday, April 27, 2014

Shakespeare's Birthday: Celebrating a New Troupe and a New Theater

            The Bay Colony Shakespeare Company celebrated its first year by putting on a Shakespeare variety show last weekend with music, singing, laughter, soliloquoys, death scenes, and a few grand tragical passions.
            The new regional theater company began as a collaboration between two strong professional actors who happen to live on the South Shore, Neil McGarry and Ross MacDonald. A company of talented young and middle years actors appears to have sprung up around them. This summer they will perform three plays in repertory in the new performing arts center in downtown Plymouth; a repurposed church called The Spire. If you've got a huge tower on Main Street, might as well flaunt it.
            My wife and I lived a long time in Plymouth Center before moving a decade ago to get closer to Boston. We didn't see a lot of theater there and seldom caught a whiff of Shakespeare (though occasionally local affairs brought to mind canonical titles such as "Much Ado About Nothing" or "A Comedy of Errors"). So the prospect of serious theater in downtown Plymouth strikes me as a major step up.
            Saturday night's gala showed off the talents of a lot of the company's performers, with MacDonald and McGarry taking a couple turns in memorable moments from the playwright's ouevre, but leaving plenty of stage for the others. Young Ross Magnant played a compelling Hamlet (a role taken by McGarry in the company's first "Hamlet" last summer; it's on this year's bill as well) to Elizabeth Hartford's Ophelia in the "Get thee to a nunnery!" 'mad' scene. A quartet of young ladies sang "Sign No More" (from "Much Ado," also on the docket this summer). Tom Grenon performed the "If you prickest me do I not bleed?" soliloquy from "Merchant of Venice." James Bocock spoke the Romeo side of the famous tomb scene in "R&J."
            With old tomes on the stage about her Poornima Kirby performed a scene from "Doctor Faustus," which to my knowledge Shakespeare did not write. McGarry spoke a speech from "Sir Thomas Moore" -- the single page, McGarry told us, that Shakespeare penned in that collaboration. The speech is an apposite warning against the jingoistic urge to banish foreigners (or 'strangers' in 17th century vernacular) from your land. How would you like to be in their shoes? Moore asks in effect.
            Meredith Stypinski sang the opening verse to "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" though I wish she'd been given scope to do the rest of this highly amusing take on the Shakespeare curriculum from the Cole Porter musical comedy "Kiss Me Kate." Stypinski and Cameron Gosselin then gave a rousing pas de deux from "Taming of the Shrew."
            MacDonald tore up the hall in the murder scene from "the Scottish play" (as McGarry referred to it) with Erica Simpson as his cold-blooded Lady. He also performed the prison soliloquy from "Richard II," delivering high intensity readings in both these famously demanding roles.
            Then McGarry and Poornima Kirby took on one of my favorite scenes in the whole canon, the crucial dialogue in "Much Ado About Nothing" between the sparring partners Beatrice and Benedick in which they confess their love -- previously cast as mocking rivalry -- but only after Beatrice rages over the injustice done to her friend and utters a wish that someone would stand up for her honor by challenging her accusor. If I were a man, she says, "I would eat his heart in the market place." At this point Benedick considers all that's at stake and when he decides to cowboy up, things suddenly get very real between them.
            Three plays this summer: Macbeth, Much Ado, and Hamlet. I can't wait.