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Ensemble's Shakespeare and Autsen scenes delightful


MIT Shakespeare Ensemble.

Scenes by Shakespeare

and Jane Austen.

March 2, 3, and 4 in 34-101.


AN EVENING OF RANDOMLY chosen theatrical scenes often proves to be just that -- random in both selection and quality. Even if the scenes are from several works by the same author, it still takes an extremely talented troupe of actors to make their program seem like more of a whole rather than bits and pieces haphazardly strung together. Fortunately for the MIT community, the MIT Shakespeare Ensemble are such a troupe, as their "Mostly Shakespeare" evening of scenes revealed.

As the title suggests, the program did not consist entirely of Shakespearean scenes; a selection from Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice was also performed. Adapted by Wendy Cothran '89, the scene was innovatively presented, with Cothran playing the dual roles of the narrator and Elizabeth Bennet. Since Austen naturally had not provided stage directions, Cothran's role as narrator was essential; she read pertinent passages from the book and deftly switched from role to role, describing Elizabeth's actions and then performing them. Both she and Charles Roburn '91 were the very images of Elizabeth and her suitor Fitzwilliam Darcy, their costumes rich and elegant and their Victorian speech impeccable.

Two scenes from Shakespeare's historical plays flanked Pride and Prejudice, Henry IV, Part 1 (I, ii) and King John (IV, i). Both were remarkably well-performed, with Lindasusan Ulrich '91 as Falstaff, Joseph Vanderway '89 as Hubert, and Harry Teplitz '91 as Arthur the outstanding players. Ulrich's Falstaff was superlative, raucous and roguish, the performance made all the more notable by the fact that she was a woman playing a man's part.

The program weakened after the histories, as Cothran and David Poeppel '89 directed a dull and incoherent As You Like It (I, iii). There was no apparent reason to begin the scene with Celia and Rosalind (Mary Ann Loria W '89 and Ulrich) clowning to Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" as it was obvious from the first few lines of dialogue that the two were best friends. The casting of Julio Friedmann '88 as the Duke seemed another drawback since he never really connected with any other character on stage. Even Ulrich, so charming as Falstaff, could not completely relate to Friedman as she had with Loria or her previous companions in Henry IV.

As for the famous balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet (II, ii), the Shakespeare Ensemble should have made better use of room 34-101. Admittedly, a lecture hall is not a proper stage by any stretch of the imagination, but there was a balcony present in the room, nullifying the need to use classroom tables and chairs as a makeshift balcony. On the night I attended, there was no one sitting near this balcony to impede the progress of the scene, but even if the room had been full, placing Juliet in the audience could only have served to interest the audience more in the proceedings. The actors made do with the shoddy equipment they were given, but Greg Swieringa '91 (Romeo) still looked decidedly ridiculous spouting love poetry to a girl standing on a table.

The two scenes from Macbeth (I, vii and II, ii) with Eric Sven Ristad G and Cothran as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth were far superior to the sadly hindered Romeo and Juliet. Ristad's Macbeth tended to fade away whenever Lady Macbeth spoke, but this seemed logical and not at all a flaw when one considered the manipulative, overpowering nature of the other character.

The other tragic scene performed was Hamlet (V, i), in which David Poeppel '89 was superb as the title character. The fundamental debate in the play is whether or not Hamlet is faking his madness, and Poeppel left the answer appropriately ambiguous. The scene requires a deft touch with black comedy, especially when dealing with the two joking gravediggers, and director Andrew Borthwick-Leslie '87 provided one.

Troilus and Cressida (V, ii) finished the evening's program with its depiction of the inconstant affections of Cressida (Andrea Leszek '91). Narrator/Greek chorus Thersites (Vic Tulli '91) offered wry, engaging surtitles on the blackboard concerning Cressida's three suitors (JERK, SAP, and SELF-AGGRANDIZING FOOL) and his own character (GOD HIMSELF). The scene was a strong ending to a largely successful program, one which could only have been improved by allowing the Shakespeare Ensemble the well-deserved luxury of a real stage.