Where can you find one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies, most passionate “problem plays,” and most famous tragedies, performed with conviction and flair? At the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Academy for Classical Acting (ACA) at The George Washington University, that’s where. It’s a summer Shakespeare festival!
ACA Director Alec Wild has increased the number of plays in repertory to three. The entire graduating class is featured in these productions and a very talented group they are. Not only that, but they are directed by some of our best directors: Aaron Posner, Timothy Douglas, and Craig Baldwin, who directed the Hamlet Free for All starring Michael Urie which closes this Sunday. These actors have just completed a year of intensive training in classical acting. Their skills are fresh, and their mastery of the language is breathtaking.
Show One: As You Like It directed by Aaron Posner
Aaron Posner is known as a playwright (JQA, Stupid F***king Bird, The Chosen) and director (most recently King John at the Folger Theatre). It is a delight to see one of Shakespeare’s most beloved plays directed by Posner, with these committed and audacious actors.
The usurper, Duke Frederick (Michelle Eugene) has banished his brother, the good Duke Senior (Melissa Macleod), to the magical Forest of Arden. There, in the words of the wrestler Charles (Joseph Delguste), the travelers “fleet the time carelessly as they did in the golden world.” Eugene’s Duke Frederick, dressed in black, is ferocious and commanding; Mcleod’s Duke Senior, sporting a jean jacket, seems to be enjoying her pastoral interlude.
Our heroine Rosalind (Gracyn Mix), Duke Senior’s daughter, is also banished by Duke Frederick, who fears she has become too popular. Duke Frederick’s daughter Celia (Katie McDonald), who is Rosalind’s best friend, accompanies her to the forest. Our hero Orlando (Samuel Adams) has been threatened by his jealous brother Oliver (John Zoitos) so Orlando is in Arden too, on the run with his devoted retainer, Adam (Greta Boeringer). Orlando bests the wrestling champion Charles (Joseph Delguste), and Rosalind falls instantly in love with him, and he with her.
Posner’s production is visually and dramatically imaginative. The costumes are eclectic and the setting well utilized. McDonald’s Celia and Mix’s Rosalind make a charming pair of friends. Celia, who spends most of the play NOT in love, metaphorically rolls her eyes at Rosalind’s effusions over Orlando. Rosalind, famously, disguises herself as a boy, Ganymede. Mix’s performance is revelatory. Her insight is that as a male, Rosalind is truly a different person. In male attire, she can be less self-conscious about her behavior. Instead of smugly “teaching” Orlando how to love her, as some Rosalinds do, she amuses him, and he becomes more relaxed with her. She is always on the move, occasionally dashing across the stage like a rocket. Adams is an appealing Orlando, whether starving in the woods, or writing bad poetry, or looking suspiciously at Ganymede (maybe he’s….a girl?). McDonald’s Celia and Zoitos’ Oliver are hilarious as they fall in love at first sight.
Renea Brown, as a female Jaques, gives a magnetic performance. She portrays the many contradictions in Jaques’ character with unusual honesty and brisk humor. Rachael Small is captivating as Silvius, whose desperate love for Phoebe (Charlotte Vaughn Raines) leaves her frequently in tears.
This As You Like It is a highly entertaining romp
Orlando: Samuel Adams
Adam: Greta Boeringer
Jaques: Renea Brown
Touchstone: John Michael Cox
Good Lord/Bad Lord/Jacques DuBois: Natalie Cutcher
Charles/Good Lord: Joseph Delguste
Duke Frederick/Good Lord: Michelle Eugene
Audrey: Allison Husko
Duke Senior: Melissa Mcleod
Celia: Katie McDonald
Rosalind: Gracyn Mix
Phoebe: Charlotte Vaughn Raines
Amiens/Corin: Jeff Raab
LeBeau/Good Lord/William: Tro Shaw
Silvius: Rachael Small
Oliver: John Zoitos
Show Two: Measure for Measure directed by Timothy Douglas
Director Timothy Douglas is known for Gem of the Ocean at Round House Theatre and Spunk at Signature Theatre. Measure for Measure, in which a woman is pressured to submit sexually to save the life of her brother, has new relevance in the #MeToo era.
The play is anchored by two powerhouse performances, by Melissa Macleod as Isabella, whose purity and integrity are sorely tested, and John Zoitos as Angelo, who finds himself in the grip of overwhelming desire.
Duke Vincentio (Tro Shaw), who rules Vienna, announces that he is departing for a time of privacy and reflection. He puts Angelo, known for his strict morality, in charge to improve the atmosphere, which has become licentious and unrestrained. The Duke, in the guise of a Friar, remains in town and attempts to be a positive influence on events. Shaw is impressive in this difficult role.
John Michael Cox, a marvelously comic Touchstone in As You Like It, displays another side of his talent as Claudio, Isabella’s brother, who has been condemned to die for getting his fiancée Juliet pregnant. Samuel Adams as Escalus tries manfully to keep Angelo’s extreme impulses in check.
Rachael Small is wonderfully entertaining as Pompey, (no, not that Pompey). Jeff Raab is first-rate as Lucio. Measure for Measure has an eloquent heroine in Isabella, beautifully played by Macleod. John Zoitos’ Angelo is an insightful portrait of a man in torment, who takes out his neuroses on everyone around him.
A thoughtful investigation into the dynamics of power and sex, Measure for Measure is a compelling production.
Escalus: Samuel Adams
Mariana/Francisca/Others: Renea Brown
Claudio: John Michael Cox
Isabella: Melissa Mcleod
Provost/Others: Katie McDonald
Mistress Overdone/Elbow/Barnardine: Gracyn Mix
Lucio: Jeff Raab
Duke Vincentio: Tro Shaw
Pompey/Juliet/Others: Rachael Small
Angelo: John Zoitos
Show Three: Macbeth directed by Craig Baldwin
This Macbeth, which is the finest I have seen, passes like a dream. All the actors are extraordinary. The sound, costumes, visual images and lighting combine to create a mesmerizing whole. The movement work is lovely and original. The Three Witches, Michelle Eugene, Allison Husko, and Charlotte Vaughn Raines play many roles, with great success. More importantly, the production explores political questions deeply relevant to today.
Joseph Delguste is a striking Macbeth. There is his initial reluctance; his persuasion by his seductive wife (Natalie Cutcher); and then the killing of Duncan, after which he is virtually dead. The magnificent poetry he and Lady Macbeth speak alternates with the desperate whispering of conspirators. Both are continually equivocating and lying. Cutcher is a superb Lady Macbeth, from her initial cold practicality until her final breakdown. We see the couple’s relationship worsen as they deteriorate emotionally. Macbeth becomes more and more heartless. Lady Macbeth, who begins by calling in the night, at the last must always have a light near her.
Greta Boeringer has a deep, frightening voice which is perfect for Hecate. She wears what look like devil horns. The three witches initially wear simple black costumes with their hair in braids. Where blood is spilt, a kind of red powder is thrown into the air.
And then there are the sounds. There is a terrifying whispering which seems to come from above. There is music; or is it the wind? We hear the hooting of owls and the soft cries of birds.
This Macbeth is an enthralling production of a great play.
Hecate/Seyton/Others: Greta Boeringer
Lady Macbeth: Natalie Cutcher
Macbeth: Joseph Delguste
Witch 3/Duncan/Macduff/Murderer/Others: Michelle Eugene
Witch 1/Malcolm/Porter/Murderer/Fleance/Lady Macduff/Others: Allison Husko
Witch 2/Sergeant/Ross/Banquo/Others: Charlotte Vaughn Raines
Lighting Designer: Max Doolittle
Costume Designer: Julie Cray-Leong
Composer/Music Director, As You Like It Jeff Raab
Sound Designer, Macbeth: Craig Baldwin
Fight Director: Robb Hunter
The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Academy for Classical Acting Graduating Class 2019:
Samuel Adams, Greta Boeringer, Renea Brown, John Michael Cox, Natalie Cutcher, Joseph Delguste, Michelle Eugene, Allison Husko, Melissa Macleod, Katie McDonald, Gracyn Mix, Jeff Rabb, Charlotte Vaughn Raines, Tro Shaw, Rachael Small, John Zoitos.
Congratulations to all involved.
Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Academy for Classical Acting at the George Washington University presents its 2019 Rep Season (with performances of As You Like It, Macbeth, and Measure for Measure) from July 8-26, 2019 at GWU’s Theatre XX, 812 20th St NW, Washington, DC. Purchase tickets online.