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Experimental Shakespeare with UWM's Peck School of the Arts

Apr. 18, 2017
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Othello. Much Ado About Nothing. At first glance, this cross section of Shakespeare’s body of work doesn’t have many similarities: One is a sweeping tragedy, the other ends in two weddings. UW-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts places these two works in conversation with each other in a performance series titled “Faith and Jealousy: The Responsibilities of Love,” and draws out common themes that may spark new ways of thinking about these plays.

The interest factor lies primarily in the style: Five actors play all the parts in Othello, six do the job for Much Ado and each of these casts serves as the technical crew for the other’s show. A row of plain silver chairs sit in a row far upstage, surrounded by objects, a rack of hats and a drum that all hold enticing promise of waiting to be drawn in as tools of the story. Each play begins with a parade in which the actors introduce themselves as their multiple characters, snatching off one hat and donning another, or changing physicality to denote a switch.

The cast of Much Ado does a fair job of lifting the words and wit off the page to spar with each other; Samuel Robinson, Rachel Meldman and Austin Lepper as Don Pedro and the matchmakers, and Andrew Montano as Benedick, are in their element with the physical comedy of a fun-to-watch scene as Benedick falls into a trap to help him admit his love.

The Othello ensemble is gritty and sincere; the invisible ties between each character vibrate and hum with life through well-acted relationships and vigorous fights. Chris Westmoreland is captivating as Iago, navigating the role with humor and calm confidence. In a fascinating piece of direction from director Bill Watson, Iago and Emilia (Mary Jo Perez) busy themselves for several scenes with the act of physically creating Othello and Desdemona’s bed from materials previously used onstage.

The technical elements are few; there is little to focus on but the actors and the words. Both casts have undertaken an intriguing experiment in storytelling. At moments both struggle to keep the experiment from overwhelming the story itself; overall, the characters are clear, as is the draw to these students’ telling of Shakespeare’s beloved narratives.

The show runs through April 23 at Kenilworth Five-O-Eight, 1925 E. Kenilworth Place. For tickets, call 414-229-4762 or visit uwm.edu.


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