Workshop Theater’s Will A Thon 2016 Review – Shakespeare a la Carte
The “Will A Thon” is a theatrical event presented by the Workshop Theater of New York City that began in 2004 by Charles E. Gerber and his late wife, Carol. Gerber conceives and directs the event, creating a delicious smorgasbord of Shakespeare’s works, including scenes from the plays, and many sonnets. Before the event I wondered how this could be done in a way that would not feel disjointed, confusing, and unsatisfying. Now that I have experienced the “Will A Thon,” I can marvel at this achievement.
But first a note of disclosure: I am not a Shakespeare fanatic. It is with some embarrassment that I make this admission because I am a playwright myself. I do enjoy Shakespeare but I don’t go out of my way to see the plays or read them. In fact, I don’t remember many of the plots of the plays I have seen. (Except for the major tragedies.) For this reason it seemed to me at first that I was not a great choice of reviewer. But half way through the performance I realized that I was actually the perfect person to review. I was entertained, moved, and impressed hearing scenes from plays I was not familiar with, quite an accomplishment on the part of the producers and actors. (Not to mention the writer!)
It’s hard to improve on the Bard. But what the “Will A Thon” does is ingenious: it mixes and matches the Bard’s works in a way that creates a new and different experience, much in the way a medley does.
- We hear the prologues from “Henry V” and “Romeo and Juliet,” but we hear them side by side. Called “Dueling Prologues,” one actor speaks a few lines, then the other actor speaks a few lines. At first it is disconcerting. But then I started to experience it more as music than language. Each few lines from one prologue, punctuating the lines from the other.
- We experience a beautiful, seductive dance routine at the start of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” accompanied by “Yearning,” a jazz classic by Oliver Nelson.
- “Advice to the Players,” from “Hamlet,” is performed by the troop as they pass a basketball to each other. The timing of the ball’s movement accentuated the timing of the language. This was fun to watch as it was quite a feat of timing. In addition to knowing the lines, the actors had to manage the basketball. Tossing the ball at the wrong time would be the equivalent of striking a downbeat where it did not belong.
And speaking of the actors, what an accomplished, professional group! The amount of dedicated time invested was obvious. Having to inhabit different characters, often for very brief scenes, one after the other, is not easy. It wasn’t until later, when I thought about the show, that it occurred to me that they had done this. “Effortless” was the only word that came to mind.
Letty Ferrer’s nurse, from Romeo and Juliet is wonderfully “schleppy,” loving, and critical. RebeccaJohnson’s Juliet, learning that her cousin Tybalt killed her Romeo, is movingly confused, horrified, and simultaneously relieved.
The final dramatic piece from Act 3, Scene 3 of “Julius Caesar”, was extraordinary, performed by John Warren Weber as Mark Antony. When the words are as famous as “Friends, Romans, countrymen…” there is much to live up to. This actor made the speech his own. His Mark Antony was enraged, sly, and bereft all at the same time. This kind of complex emotion is confusing to feel, no less to act out.
Charles Gerber’s passion for and deep understanding, or “feel” for Shakespeare is what gives this event its foundation. His choice of works, the order in which he offers them, and the music he picks, are carefully considered. He wisely finishes both acts with “greatest hits.” As he says, “Shakespeareis not Algebra 3,” though it can seem that way when we are introduced to it in school and subsequently see it performed. This event has unexpectedly awakened an interest in Shakespeare that I am actually now excited to pursue. And so I thank Gerber and his actors and look forward to next year’s ”Will-A-Thon.”
For more information about the Workshop Theater’s Will-A-Thon 2016
Photo credit:CHARLES JEFFREYS