The American Shakespeare Center’s 2014/2015 tour Method in Madness is coming to the University of Alabama on Sunday, March 1st to perform Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Details are here. Some of our graduate students recently attended Method in Madness shows in Birmingham, and I want to share their impressions of the great work ASC is doing.
ASC’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Cumberland School of Law, 2/14/15
The American Shakespeare Center’s touring production of Much Ado About Nothing hoists the audience out of Shakespeare’s Messina and drops us, bell-bottoms and all, at a disco somewhere between Love Boat and An Officer and a Gentleman.
Here we witness the “merry war” between Beatrice and Benedick set to a soundtrack of brass and bravura. The accompanying spectacle is fully of heady effusiveness. In suitably irreverent style, the cast takes up the revelry of Shakespeare’s language and recontextualizes it with a little glitz and a lot of guts. What we end up with is a celebration of Shakespeare’s playfulness—the ASC’s Much Ado is a touch campy and a dash cartoonish, and the actors embody this conceit with aplomb.
Stephanie Holladay Earl’s Beatrice is by turns acerbic and sassy. Without sacrificing any of the character’s assertiveness, she balances Beatrice’s defiance of early modern social norms with a tenacious sense of humor. Her performance, ultimately, is both engaging and charming.
As Benedick, Patrick Earl tempers swagger with a boyishness that emerges into maturity as the play progresses. He plays the commitment-phobic soldier with hyperbolic bravado, and through the transition from lothario to lover, Earl’s Benedick remains eminently likeable.
Doubling abounds in this cast, and the actors rise to the task with impressive versatility. Susie Parr effervesces as Hero, while Andrew Goldwasser and Stephen Brunson are riotous as Dogberry and Balthazar, respectively.
This reimagining of Much Ado owes much of its success to its distinctly twenty-first century comic delivery. In a Messina of powder blue suits, Gilligan’s Island slapstick and KISS-themed masquerades, it’s the counterbalance of fond nostalgia and optimistic silliness that gives the ASC’s production its (considerable) charisma.
ASC’s Doctor Faustus at the Cumberland School of Law, 2/14/15
Though Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is probably the most well-known Elizabethan play outside of Shakespeare, the drama is not often performed by modern theatre companies. Staging the battle for its protagonist’s eternal soul, the play asks significant questions about heaven and hell, fate and free will, knowledge and power. These questions were addressed cleverly, and in many cases effectively, by the American Shakespeare Center’s production of Doctor Faustus as part of their Method in Madness tour. The company tackled a difficult and ambitious text yet managed to produce a play was both entertaining and thought-provoking.
By following the “basic principles of Renaissance theatrical production”, the ASC ensures that the strength of its offerings lies primarily in the performances of its actors—and the actors in Doctor Faustus did not disappoint. Andrew Goldwasser delivered a magnetic performance as the titular doctor who, seduced by the promises of necromancy, sells his soul to Lucifer for twenty-four years of all the knowledge and power he could desire. Stephanie Holladay Earl played his devilish companion Mephistopheles with the perfect balance of charm and control, wit and wickedness. By interacting with the crowd throughout the play, Earl, Goldwasser, and the other actors quickly pulled the audience into the production, making them complicit in Faustus’s “hellish fall.” A second strength of this particular production was the sophistication of its visual effects, despite the restrictions of the company’s limited touring equipment. These effects were especially apt in conveying the horrors of hell: the use of fire in the production was both dramatic and impressive, and the movement of faceless devils, twisting and contorting in brown body suits, was surprisingly eerie and effective. Comprised of nuanced performances and stunning visual effects, the ASC’s Doctor Faustus was a compelling production of Marlowe’s most enduring tragedy.
~Emily Pitts Donahoe
You can find photos of ASC’s recent shows (and food truck experiences!) at their Tumblr. As always, if you have any questions about our upcoming events, feel free to contact Nic Helms via wordpress or at nrhelms at crimson.ua.edu.