Encore Michigan

ESR opens fifth season with ‘Will On The Water: Flashback 2021’

Review August 06, 2021 Paula Bradley

PORT Huron, Mich.–After more than 500 days in live performance limbo, Enter Stage Right returns to the stage this week with Will On The Water: Flashback 2021.  The opening of this show also marks the fifth anniversary of the company’s home at The Citadel Stage in Port Huron.

Amid the ever changing landscape of recommendations and requirement for public gatherings and performances, director and producer Regina and Brian Spain decided to put a different spin on their annual summer Shakespeare production: instead of performing an entire work of Shakespeare, they selected favorite scenes from plays they have produced over the last ten years. Thus, audiences are treated to portions of the tragedies Romeo and Juliet, King Lear and Macbeth, plus the comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The large cast comprises nearly all regulars to the ESR stage, each playing multiple roles. Most of the cast are reprising roles they have played in past productions, and many of the roles are played by different cast members on different dates.  Director Regina Spain explains this “multiple coverage” method of casting has given them the most flexibility to cover quarantines and absences with the least disruption to rehearsals and performances.  It also gives them the ability to offer stricter health protocols for Sunday performances, allowing an opportunity for more vulnerable audience members to enjoy the live performance.

Will On The Water: Flashback 2021 opens with a scene from Act III of Romeo and Juliet, when Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio encounter rivals Tybalt and Petruchio, with disastrous and tragic results. The scene is heavy on insults, and incorporates plenty of fatal sword fighting.

The next segment of the show stitches together several scenes from King Lear, which begins with an aging King dividing the lands of his kingdom among his three daughters. Two of them, Goneril and Regan, respond with self-serving flattery of their father, but the third, Cordelia, responds harshly and is banished for her honesty.

When we next see Lear, he is showing signs of descent into depression and madness. After being subjected to the influence of his two daughters, he rushes out into an intense storm and argues with the thunder and lightning.

The tragic drama climaxes when Lear’s advisor has his eyes put out for being an alleged traitor. The body count accelerates from there: most of the remaining main characters meet their demise by swordfight, poison, suicide, execution, and a broken heart.

The audience then becomes witness to the opening scene of Macbeth, during which three witches concoct a disgusting potion, then drink it and deliver a mysterious prophecy to Macbeth as he returns home from a victory in battle. The scene is not long, but is heavy on the creep factor as the witches practice divination.

Saving the best for last, the audience is treated to the lighthearted trickery and wit of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as the cast performs abridged scenes from two of the play’s three intertwined storylines.  First, we meet a troupe of players rehearsing a play to be performed at a wedding feast.  The players are woefully lacking in any real dramatic talent, but what they lack in talent they make up for with enthusiasm. 

Then we meet the woodland fairies in the midst of a practical joke. Fairy king Oberon enlists the help of his mischievous sidekick Puck to put a love spell on fairy queen Tytania, with whom he has been quarreling. Puck takes advantage of Bottom, one of the unsuspecting players, by turning him into an ass and making him the object of Tytania’s instant adoration.  Bottom enjoys the devotion of the fairies until Oberon releases Tytania from the spell, and Puck releases Bottom from being an ass.

The story finishes with a presentation at the wedding of the play the players have been rehearsing; it is so spectacularly bad that the wedding guests practically beg them not to continue.  Of the four works featured, Midsummer translates the best to individual scenes that can be enjoyed separately from their full scripts.

It is difficult to condense any of Shakespeare’s hefty works into a succinct summary, as they involve extensive lists of characters, complex intertwining plots, intrigue and mistaken identities.  So in choosing scenes to highlight, factors such as character intensity and humor become more important than simple exposition of the plot.

For example, because the scene from Romeo and Juliet offers very little context in regards to the plot, audience members without the benefit of having seen Romeo and Juliet before may be confused as to who the characters are—who is one whose team, so to speak.  Fortunately, the dramatic combat is enough to draw in even the uninitiated, and justifies its inclusion in this retrospective.

Several cast members are very adept at translating the rhythmic Elizabethan English of Shakespeare’s dialogue into the cadence of natural speech that the audience can relate to; this is best exhibited by Marty Garavaglia (King Lear, Macbeth, Theseus), Leah Gray (Romeo, Foole, Puck), Madison Roush (Kent, Tytania) and the very funny Stewart Reed (Gloucester, Banquo, Bottom).

Other aspects of note:  the sword combat scene near the end of King Lear between Luke and Breezy Wallace (theatrical combat instructors and choreographers) is short but compelling; and the lighting (Colie Gottschalk) subtly enhances the mood of each scene.  If I could change one thing, it would be to lower the volume slightly of the thunder during the storm scene, to allow more focus on Lear’s awareness of his own decline.

(Future performance dates may include an additional scene entitled “Shakespeare Says” that was not included in the performance reviewed here.)

Is WOTW: Flashback 2021 a flawless representation of Shakespeare’s work? Of course not.  But it offers enough dramatic intensity and humorous fun to satisfy those interested in the Bard’s work.  While not precisely inappropriate for young viewers, this show would be best appreciated by teens and older.

Will On The Water: Flashback 2021 is playing at The Citadel Stage in Port Huron through August 22, 2021.

Week of 5/23/2022

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