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"Shakespeare as it should be. OST is hammering out a new tradition…first rate entertainment."

-- Orlando Weekly

Plays and Events

20th Season (2008 - 2009)

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Kiss Me, Kate Wittenberg
The Glass Menagerie PlayFest! The Harriett Lake Festival of New Plays
If You Give a Moose a Muffin Much Ado About Nothing
The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge The Merchant of Venice
The Velveteen Rabbit  

September 17 - October 12, 2008

By Samuel and Bella Spewack
Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter

"It's curtain time and away we go!
Another op'nin of another show!"

Love, comedy and confusion thrive behind the scenes of a Broadway-bound musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. In Cole Porter's musical masterpiece, quarrelling couples swat and swoon as they navigate through the
satiric, witty, and sensual score with such classics as "Too Darn Hot," "So in Love" and "Brush Up Your Shakespeare!" Featuring local singing talent Michael Andrew.

Kiss Me, Kate
"Patterson makes the dashing Fred comically larger than life, and as an actor he's not afraid to look dopey, which adds considerably to his charm. Tafler is a sedate, high-toned Lilli, and the show's funniest moments occur when she finally can suffer in silence no longer and erupts into the hilarious 'I Hate Men.' Watching her pummel Patterson this way and that is a lesson in comedy from two not-so-old pros." -- Elizabeth Maupin, ORLANDO SENTINEL

Kiss Me, Kate

Porter and the Spewack's understood the basic problem with selling Shakespeare -- no one today can follow the convoluted Elizabethan grammar without a few years as an English Major. They short circuit the problem by placing "Taming of The Shrew" as a modern backstage musical comedy. You can keep the characters, update the motivation, clarify the language, and best of all, make the jokes funny again.

Fred Graham (Patterson) writes, directs, and stars in this musical Shrew. He's taken it to Baltimore for a shakedown and the hope of some big bucks financing. He plays Petruchio, and inexplicable casts his cranky ex-wife Lilli Vanessa (Tafler) as Kate. They may or may not still be in love, but he sends a corsage to blonde bombshell playing Bianca, Lois Lane (Barathy). Dresser Hattie (Fredena J Williams) accidently gives it to Lilli, and their reunion turns into real life stage combat. Lanes "real" boyfriend Bill Calhoun (Andrew) sticks a bad mafia gambling debt on Graham, and that drags in the comic relief, First and Second Gangsters (Bob Dolan and Brandon Roberts). Graham co-opts them into blustering Lilli to stick around, but she trumps with he own new boyfriend General Howell (David Chernault). He doesn't last long; she needs to ditch him so we can have a happy ending and a big blow out number.

Despite some audibility problems with Mr. Patterson and the opening number "Another Op'nin') this Kiss Me Kate is slick and well produced. Bert Scott's colorful set slides between Padua and backstage Baltimore with the easy of any Broadway production, and chorographer Lea Andrew keeps the cast in motion, particularly the on stage Dance Captain Timothy Ellis. I would have likes to see Michael Andrew with another solo; he's stuck with the afterthought song "Bianca." That's sort of a sub theme -- two of the best songs in the show "Too Darn Hot" and "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" really have nothing do with the plot, they just appear with what I call "Musical Comedy Logic." Still, it IS Cole Porter, so they're part of why you came in the first place, and some of the actual plot moving songs are just as worth while. If nothing else, drop by for the stage fighting and the best full up adult spanking fantasy sequence ever put on the legitimate stage.

SMOOCHIN' THE SHREW: Orlando Shakes starts season with sweet love

Full disclosure: I performed in Kiss Me, Kate some years ago in my high school's senior-year musical. I didn't get the lead. Drat! But our director gave me lots of chorus work. Years later, I performed the show's principal tunes in several Cole Porter revues. So the melodies have been spinning around my head for decades, and I have been known to break out into refrain. Before entering the Orlando Shakespeare Theater's current production, my wife cautioned me, "No singing along." Drat, again!

Musical theater fans consider the 1948 opus, with book by Sam and Bella Spewack and music and lyrics by Cole Porter, to be one of Broadway's greatest treasures. The original production, starring Alfred Drake as Fred Graham (the egocentric producer, director and ham actor) and Patricia Morison, as Lilli Vanessi (the tempestuous leading lady), ran for more than a thousand performances and was the first Broadway cast recording to be released on a long-playing vinyl disc. An MGM movie version in 1953 paired Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson, and a well-regarded 1999 Broadway revival starring Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie became a multiple Tony Award--winner.

The show's plot is designed around a play within a play. Fred's theater troupe is staging a musical version of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, and as the story unfolds, we learn that the backstage lives of its main characters mirror their onstage personas. Fred/Petruchio and Lilli/Kate are warring spouses, and Bill/Lucentio and Lois/Bianca are a pair of flirtatious and misbehaving second bananas. But the yarn is largely secondary to Porter's sometimes-jaunty, sometimes-lyric score, as well as his propensity for the most outrageously erudite verses. Who else would have had the audacity to rhyme "puberty" with "Schuberty," or "Sanka" with "Bianca"?

The Orlando Shakespeare Theater company, under the stage direction of Patrick Flick and the musical direction of Charles Johnson, serves the show admirably, tearing into Porter's jazzy tunes with aplomb and giving its comic moments their due. Steven Patterson cuts a fine figure as the put-upon Fred, who must guide his thespian charges through opening night while keeping Lilli from walking out of the show mid-act. Patterson doesn't have quite the mellifluous baritone called for in the part, but still manages to sell his numbers via his superior acting chops. Jean Tafler is a more accomplished vocalist and, as Lilli, comes closer to the true Porter prototype.

Dana Barathy, as Lois, scores in the show-stopper "Always True to You in My Fashion," and Bob Dolan and Brandon Roberts do their Damon Runyon--like best as the gangsters hired to squeeze Fred into paying a gambling debt he doesn't actually owe. Special mention must go to Andrew Cao, who brings the second act alive with his energetic performance in choreographer Lea Andrew's most lively dance number, "Too Darn Hot."

Though not a perfect rendition of the beloved musical -- occasionally the principals lack the emotional commitment that the love stories require, and the production numbers, while adequate, do not always bring down the house -- OST's season-opening foray into the Porter oeuvre is welcome and appealing. And it is so much better than my school memories. Drat, yet again!
Showtimes Sponsors

Margeson Theater

- Wed & Thurs: 7 p.m.

- Fri: 8 p.m.

- Sat: 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

- Sun: 2 p.m.

- Previews: Wednesday, Sept. 17 & Thursday, Sept. 18 at 7 p.m.

- Senior Matinees: Wednesdays, September 24 at 2 p.m.

- Post-show Talkback: Thursday, October 2

Darden Foundation
Dean Mead
The Prast Family
The Ginsburg Family Foundation,
John & Rita Lowndes and Garritt & Debbi Toohey
in honor of their 25th Wedding Anniversaries

Preview Video
Dramatis Personae

- Fred Graham/Petruchio: Steven Patterson*
- Lilli Vanessi/Kat: Jean Tafler*
- Lois Lane/Bianca: Dana Barathy*
- Bill Calhoun/Lucentio: Michael Andrew*
- Ralph/General Howell: David Chernault*
- First Gangster/Aide to Katherine: Bob Dolan*
- Second Gangster/Aide to Katherine: Brandon Roberts
- Harry Trevor/Baptista: Bob Lipka
- Hattie: Fredena J. Williams*
- Pops/Padua Priest: Forrest "Frosty" Respess
- Paul/Ensemble: Andrew Cao*
- Dance Captain/Gremio/Flynt: Timothy Ellis*
- Hortensio/Riley: Jose Luaces*
- Ensemble/Gregory: Desiree Bacala
- Stagehand 1/Cab Driver/Nathaniel: Andrew Knight
- Stagehand 2/Driver/Phillip: Michael Beaman
- Wardrobe Lady/Ensemble: Amanda Wansa
- Inn Waitress/Ensemble: Ingrid A. Marable
- Ensemble: C. Maggie Young

- Lilli Vanessi/Kate: Desiree Bacala
- Lois Lane/Bianca: Amanda Wansa
- General Howell/Ralph/Stagehand 1/Cab Driver/Nathaniel: Nathan Gregory
- First Gangster/Aide to Katherine: Kyle Crowder
- Second Gangster/Aide to Katherine/Paul: Andrew Knight
- Hattie: Ingrid Marable
- Pops/Padua Priest/Harry Trevor/Baptista: Israel Scott
- Flynt/Dance Captain/Gremio/Riley/Hortensio: Michael Beaman
- Stagehand 2/Driver/Phillip: Brad Roller
- Wardrobe Lady/Singer/Haberdasher/Ensemble/Inn Waitress: Brittney Rentschler
- Bill Calhoun/Lucentio: Michael Gill
- Bass: Bobby Brennan
- Percussion: Marty Morell
- Piano: Charles Johnson
- Reed: Erik Cole
- Reed: Dave MacKenzie
- Synthesizer: Steve McKinnon
- Synthesizer: Chris Endsley
- Trombone: Claire Courchene
- Trumpet: Don Johnson
Production Team
- Director: Patrick Flick*
- Musical Director:
Charles Johnson
- Assistant Musical Director:
Amanda Wansa
- Choreographer:
Lea Andrew*
- Fight Choreographer:
Jim Helsinger*
- Fight Captain:
Jose Luaces*
- Scenic Design:
Bert Scott**
- Lighting Design:
Joseph P. Oshry**
- Costume Design:
Jack Smith
- Sound Design:
James Cleveland & John Valines
- Sound/Design Engineer:
Marshall Simmons
- Dance Captain:
Ingrid A. Marable
- Stage Manager:
Amy Nicole Davis*
- Assistant Stage Managers:
Emily Harvey & Philip Richard II
- Light Board Operator:
John Nichols
- Wardrobe:
Phillip Giggey & Elise Holt
- Microphone Wrangler:
Nathan Gregory
- Follow Spot Operators:
Israel Scott & Kyle Crowder
*Denotes a member of Actors' Equity Association **Denotes a member of United Scenic Artists

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October 15 - November 16, 2008

By Tennessee Williams

"She lives in a world of her own—
a world of little glass ornaments."

In this American classic, a young son longs to escape his mother's badgering while he worries about the future of his lame, shy sister. A wonder of poetry, William's seminal work draws us into a fl oating state of memory, failed
expectations, love, hope and heartrending desolation. The Glass Menagerie glitters and refl ects with a haunting delicateness that will fix your gaze and move you to tears. Featuring Anne Hering.

CUTTING SAD FIGURES: Family dysfunction at its most melancholy

Tennessee Williams' award-winning play The Glass Menagerie is an American classic, familiar to anyone who has taken an introductory high-school drama class over the last half-century. With its simple plot and small cast, it is a staple of community theaters all over the country, and because it offers plum roles, it likewise graces the stages of numerous professional regional companies each season. It has been revived a half-dozen times on Broadway since its 1945 premiere and sparked several movie and TV versions.

The melancholy "memory play" was Williams' first theatrical success, and the story of the Wingfield family of St. Louis remains his most autobiographical rendering. The playwright speaks through the character of Tom Wingfield, the hard-working and dutiful son of Amanda, a faded flower of the Old South, who is desperately trying to hold her family together in the wake of the Depression. Tom's father is an absent ne'er-do-well who abandoned his kin years ago -- a telephone-company employee who "fell in love with long distances."

Rounding out the familial dramatis personae is the character of Laura. Loosely based on Williams' own beloved sister, Rose, Laura is a shy, crippled girl who shuns others, preferring to spend her time listening to old phonograph records and playing with her collection of delicate glass sculptures -- her glass menagerie.

Tom and Amanda scrap and wrestle with one another's conflicting desires -- Tom desperately wants to leave his tedious warehouse job and strike out on the road to adventure; Amanda wants him to settle down and continue to provide for the family. Still, they do agree to help Laura meet a suitable young man, a "gentleman caller," who might lift her out of herself, provide her with lifelong security, and assuage their own guilty feelings concerning her unhappiness and unsuitability for a normal life.

Eventually, Tom invites a fellow worker over for dinner. Jim is a sweet and friendly young man who was an acquaintance of Tom and Laura in high school. Most of the play's second half follows the tender and fateful conversation between the shy girl and the former big man on campus. Although he's attracted to Laura, when Jim reveals that he is unavailable as a suitor Amanda's plans come crashing down, and the family's tenuous dynamic is altered forever.

Director David Lee has assembled an excellent cast for this production, and the Orlando Shakespeare Theater's version of Williams' masterpiece is a touching and faithful rendition. Anne Hering is brilliant as Amanda, moving seamlessly from the sympathetic and loving mother to the screeching harridan who finally chases Tom, played sensitively by Jim Ireland, from the family fold. Katherine Michelle Tanner is a lovely and affecting Laura, and Brad Roller is charming and personable as Jim.

Handsomely staged on Bob Phillips' intimate and ghostly set, Orlando Shakes' Glass Menagerie evokes the play's poignant portrait of a loving family searching for the "Spartan endurance" needed to overcome life's sad disappointments.

A 'Menagerie' of illusions made real
Elizabeth Maupin, ORLANDO SENTINEL

The delicate sound of rain falling on city streets slips into your consciousness as the melodies of 1930s jazz fade from your ears. In Orlando Shakespeare Theater's sensuous production of The Glass Menagerie, the hint of a song and the cast of a shadow shape your view of the troubled Wingfield family of St. Louis, Mo. And the bond that ties together those haunted souls -- a bond you can nearly reach out and touch -- makes this production one that lives on in your ears and eyes and skin.

Tennessee Williams' 1944 drama, his first great success, has had countless productions over the years, and many of them have made much of the feel, both lush and spare, of his prose. Where this staging succeeds is in the way director David Lee and his actors have balanced the ripeness of the metaphors in Williams' "memory play" with their forceful depictions of four authentic people. Tom and Amanda, Laura and Jim don't live in a metaphor; they move through a cramped apartment in the rain.

You see that in Jim Ireland's idiosyncratic portrait of Tom, the play's narrator (and semi-autobiographical stand-in for the playwright), the would-be poet serving his time in the back reaches of a shoe warehouse to support his mother and sister. With his corrosive voice and a sure manner, Ireland plays a more damaged, jaded Tom, a man who is clearly looking back at the family of his youth but one who still feels, with painful clarity, the anger and the frustration he faced.

You see it in Katherine Michelle Tanner's sweetly self-involved Laura -- both frail and as ferociously unshakable as any Wingfield would be -- and in Brad Roller's goofy, upbeat, oblivious Jim.

And you see it, most of all, in Anne Hering's powerhouse of an Amanda, a woman who is laughable one minute and pitiable the next. Hering plays this archetype of the overbearing mother as a bully, yes, but also a raw nerve, a woman so anxious and tightly wound that she can't help what she does.

This Amanda isn't a monster: She's a woman who loves her children beyond all else. And you feel that in the quiet moments between her and Tom, when they seem to put aside all the defenses they have built.

Williams' play, of course, is about manufacturing illusions: Amanda is the one who uses those words as a weapon, but everyone here is living in a kind of dream. The strength of Orlando Shakespeare's production is in the way it immerses you in that illusion, but it never lets you succumb. The rain is pretty. But it's still rain.

Showtimes Sponsors
Goldman Theater

- Wed & Thurs: 7 p.m.

- Fri & Sat: 8 p.m.

- Sun: 2 p.m.

- Previews: Wednesday, Oct. 15 & Thursday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m.

- Senior Matinees: Wednesday, October 22 at 2 p.m.

- Post-show Talkback: Thursday, October 1

Darden Foundation
Harriett Lake

Preview Video
Dramatis Personae

- Amanda Wingfield: Anne Hering*
- Tom Wingfield: Jim Ireland*
- Laura Wingfield: Katherine Michelle Tanner*
- Jim O'Connor: Brad Roller

- Amanda Wingfield: Amanda Wansa
- Tom Wingfield: Michael Beaman
- Laura Wingfield: Desiree Bacala
- Jim O'Connor: Nathan Gregory
Production Team

- Director: David Karl Lee
- Scenic Design: Bob Phillips**
- Lighting Design: Kevin Griffin
- Costume Design: Denise R. Warner
- Sound Design: Bruce Bowes
- Stage Manager: George Hamrah*
- Assistant Stage Managers: Alyssa Howard & .Annastacia Miller
- Light Board Operator: Lillian Huzway
- Wardrobe: Alison Braun

*Denotes a member of Actors' Equity Association **Denotes a member of United Scenic Artists

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October 25 - November 22, 2008

Adapted by Bob Dolan
Based on the book by Laura Numeroff

A follow up to last season's incredibly successful If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. If a moose comes to visit you might offer him a muffin to be polite, but he'll probably want some jam on it...and so begins another chain of never-ending events!

Showtimes Sponsors
Margeson Theater

- Sat: 2 p.m.

- Sun: 4:30 p.m.

Bright House Networks

Preview Video
Dramatis Personae

- Moose: Kyle Crowder
- Boy: Nathan Gregory
- Mouse: Amanda Wansa
- Mom: Brittany Renschler
- Pig/Little Girl: Desiree Bacala
- Animal Control Officer: Israel Scott

Production Team

- Director: Bob Dolan
- Stage Manager: Philip Richard II
- Assistant State Managers: Emily Harvey & Andrew Knight
- Set Design: Robin Watts
- Lighting Design: Amy Hadley
- Sound Design: Britt Sandusky
- Costume Design: Mel Barger
- Wardrobe: Brittany Kugler

*Denotes a member of Actors' Equity Association **Denotes a member of United Scenic Artists

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December 3 - 28, 2008

By Mark Brown

"The papers are calling it the trial of the century!"

It's one year after A Christmas Carol and Scrooge has returned to his miserly ways. He's putting the Ghosts of Christmas on trial for kidnapping and assault! This hilarious twisted tale of Christmas was a giant hit during its world premiere and hailed by Elizabeth Maupin of the Orlando Sentinel as "gleeful, exhilarating, delightful, splendidly Christmasy." Don't miss it! Featuring Philip
Nolen and playwright Mark Brown.

Produced by special arrangement with

Originally produced by the Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival
Orlando, FL on December 3, 2004, Jim Helsinger, Artistic Director


"...plenty of hilarity to be had in this production." -- Elizabeth Maupin, ORLANDO SENTINEL

AFTER GHOSTS COME LAWYERS: Scrooge gets his day in court

Holiday season has its own set of laws. Lights must go up, trees must be trimmed, and stockings must be stuffed. When venturing out on family escapades, one must be certain to visit Santa at the mall, take in some version of The Nutcracker, and sit through yet another treacly evening of A Christmas Carol, straining to stay engrossed as Tiny Tim blesses us all and Ebenezer Scrooge embarks upon his yearly character transformation from miserly miscreant to St. Therese of Lisieux.

And while no one would suggest severely cutting back these traditions, even in this season of our recessed content, there is a way out for those folks, like me, who can no longer abide the immersion in overdone Dickensonian sentiment but still wish to include a theatrical paean to the Christmas spirit in his or her holiday plans: Go see The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge at Orlando Shakespeare Theater.

Now there is somewhat of a Catch-22 involved here, because in order to enjoy the immense pleasures of playwright Mark Brown's witty and comical sequel to the Scrooge saga, it is necessary to have at least a passing knowledge of the characters and story line of the original. But really, is there anyone over the age of 10 who is unfamiliar with the rattling chains of Jacob Marley's perdition, the three ghosts of Scrooge's paranormal nightmare or the sweet sadness of the Cratchit family? I thought not.

So, armed with these visions, what a treat to witness the year after, when Scrooge, who has seemingly come to his senses, sheds his giddy and preternatural happiness, and hauls into court all those who have frightened, threatened, kidnapped, tricked and/or browbeaten him into becoming the anti-Ebenezer, all bubbly, bright and absurdly generous. That includes Marley himself and the diaphanous spirits of Christmas past, present and future. The resulting trial is a fun-filled romp of droll role reversals and inverted attitudes wherein the do-gooders get their comeuppance and misanthropy gets its due.

Director Jim Helsinger's cast is absolutely wonderful. Joe Vincent, as Scrooge, is cocky, imperious and unapologetic. His entire opening statement to the court is curt, succinct and right on the money: 'Bah humbug!' Brown (whose script was workshopped by OST for a 2005 world premiere) does admirable double duty as Solomon Rothschild, the puffed-up, pompous lawyer defending his ethereal charges, and Ron Schneider is more than a match for the dueling attorneys as the overbearing judge. J.D. Sutton, Desiree Bacala, Nathan Gregory, Anne Hering and Brad Roller round out the cast, playing multiple parts with panache and superb comic delivery. Kudos, as well, to the production staff, especially costume designer Kristina Tollefson for her imaginative array of adornments.

Here's hoping that The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge becomes a yearly tradition that, while not replacing Dickens' heartfelt original, at least serves as its hilarious complement.

Showtimes Sponsors
Margeson Theater

- Wed & Thurs: 7 p.m.

- Fri & Sat: 8 p.m.

- Sun: 2 p.m.

- Previews: Wednesday, Dec. 3 & Thursday, Dec. 4 at 7 p.m.

- Senior Matinees: Wednesday, Dec. 17 & Tues., Dec. 23 at 2 p.m.

- Post-show Talkback: Thursday, December 18

- Added Performance: Tuesday, December 23 at 7 p.m.

Darden Foundation
Holland & Knight
Geller, Ragans, James, Oppenheimer & Creel
AT&T Real Yellow Pages

Preview Video
Dramatis Personae

- Scrooge: Joe Vincent*
- Marley/Bob Cratchit: J.D. Sutton*
- Fred/Christmas Future: Nathan Gregory
- Christmas Past/Fan/Belle: Desiree Bacala
- Solomon Rothschild: Mark Brown*
- Judge Pearson: Ron Schneider
- Mr. Connolly, the Bailiff: Brad Roller
- Mrs. Dilber/ Mrs. Cratchit/Miss Wainwright/Translator: Anne Hering*


- Scrooge: Kyle Crowder
- Marley/Bob Cratchit/Mr. Connolly, the Bailiff: Andrew Knight
- Fred/Christmas Future/ Solomon Rothschild: Michael Beaman
- Christmas Past/Fan/Belle: Brittney Rentschler
- Judge Pearson: Israel Scott
- Mrs. Dilber/Miss Wainwright/Translator: Ingrid Marable

Production Team

- Director: Jim Helsinger
- Scenic Design: Bob Phillips**
- Lighting Design: Bert Scott**
- Costume Design: Kristina Tollefson**
- Sound Design: Bruce Bowes
- Lighting Design Assistant: Nathan Szewczyk
- Costume Design Assistant: Grace Trimble
- Stage Manager: Amy Nicole Davis*
- Assistant Stage Managers: Emily Harvey & Alyssa Howard
- Sound Board Operator: Lillian Huzway
- Light Board Operator: Ingrid Marable
- Wardrobe: Phillip Giggey & Elise Holt

*Denotes a member of Actors' Equity Association **Denotes a member of United Scenic Artists

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January 17 - February 22, 2009

Adapted by Patrick Flick
Based on the book by Margery Williams
Music and Orchestration by Amanda Wansa

"When a child loves you for a long, long time...then you become Real." So says the Horse to the Velveteen Rabbit in Margery Williams' famous and much-loved literary classic.

Showtimes Sponsors
Margeson Theater

- Sat: 2 p.m.

- Sun: 4:30 p.m.

Bright House Networks

Preview Video
Dramatis Personae

- Velveteen Rabbit: Desiree Bacala
- Boy: Andrew Knight*
- Nana/Fairy: Brittney Rentschler
- Skin Horse/Doctor: Michael Beaman
- Soldier/Rabbit 1: Kyle Crowder
- Model Boat/Rabbit 2: Ingrid Marable

Production Team

- Director: Brandon Roberts
- Stage Managers: Emily Harvey & Alyssa Howard
- Set Design: Vandy Wood
- Lighting Design: Amy Hadley
- Sound Design: Britt Sandusky
- Costume Design: Denise R. Warner
- Wardrobe: Alison Braun

*Denotes a member of Actors' Equity Association **Denotes a member of United Scenic Artists

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January 21 - February 15, 2009

By David Davalos
PlayFest Premiere!

"I noticed you admiring my skull.
Well, not my skull, but my skull."

This sprightly and hilarious battle of wits features university colleagues Dr. Faustus (a man of appetites), versus Martin Luther (a man of faith), and their struggle for the soul of young Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, a youth struggling not only with his beliefs but also with his tennis game! Come hear the story behind the story of Hamlet in a highly entertaining and humorous exploration of reason versus faith. Featuring Eric Hissom and Jim Helsinger.

WITTENBERG was originally produced by the Arden Theatre Company,
Terrence J. Nolen, Producing Artistic Director, Amy Murphy Managing Director
in Philadelphia, PA


Amusing repartee keeps 'Wittenberg' on point
Elizabeth Maupin, ORLANDO SENTINEL

You've got to feel sorry for a guy like Hamlet. He just can't make up his mind.

Like every other college student, he's got to make a choice. Should he major in theology, under the Augustinian monk Martin Luther, a man torn apart by the dictates of the church? Or should he study a newly coined thing called psychology under Dr. John Faustus, a man who preaches a little looser way of looking at the world?

The student prince's quandary is the crux of the matter in Wittenberg, David Davalos' hyper-literate new comedy, which places a pre-Hamlet Hamlet in the middle of a 16th-century intellectual furor. That Davalos can turn Luther into a funny guy says a lot for a play with more on its mind than bringing Shakespeare's prince back down to earth. That Davalos' play is also a crowd-pleaser says much for director Matthew Pfeiffer's rollicking production for Orlando Shakespeare Theater, where two familiar figures -- artistic director Jim Helsinger as Faustus, and audience favorite Eric Hissom as Luther -- can be said to be holding court.

It's Davalos' idea that there must have been something special about Wittenberg, the German university where Shakespeare famously sent Hamlet and which the playwright Christopher Marlowe, Shakespeare's contemporary, linked with Faust. This version of Wittenberg is a happening place -- Faustus making like Bob Dylan at a saloon called the Bunghole, Hamlet sweating over an impending tennis match against a guy named Laertes, Luther hopped up on a new brew called coffee. Luther rails against the church's mercenary tendencies, but he still says God is the answer; Faustus' counsel is to question everything. What's a poor prince to do?

Scenic designer Bob Phillips has placed the play in a spartan (call it Lutheran) setting, a nearly empty stage with countless pages of antiquated writing -- shades of Luther's 95 Theses -- tacked around the proscenium. The focus here is on words, and how they fly: Faustus calls the Bible "one hell of a book," and there's lots of talk about being or not being, going on or giving up. Somebody asks Faustus what he is rebelling against, and he answers, "Whaddya got?"

Davalos loves his philosophy as much as his pop culture, and Wittenberg can seem at times too wordy by half. But the comedy carries you through, and the play is enlivened by two terrific performances, Helsinger's as the free-and-easy Faustus and Hissom's as the anxious, pent-up Luther.


If there's a poignant, unanswered question in the Bible, it's Pilate's dismissive "What is Truth?" Truth might be any number of things -- if it only covers demonstrable facts, then only science and Logic can encompass it, and we define Faith out of existence. If, however, Truth is handed down from a Higher Power and not subject to human audit, then the use of logic and experiment only approximate truth with PowerPoint slides and cryptic mathematics. Yet, I have an internet connection and a telephone without wire. Clearly neither definition is quite right, and the entire argument fits into the gel cap of "Wittenberg." Arguing for God is constipated and uptight Dr. Martin Luther (Hissom) and his battle against the corruption of a distant Pope Leo. The secular humanist in this bout is skeptical Dr. Faustus (Helsinger), a man prone to free thinking, free love and passing out mind altering substances like Coffee and Voltaire. The measure of these two poles is athletic Hamlet (Robidas). Unable to decide between the competing camps, he votes independent until greater forces than Truth remove him from philosophy and thrust him into Realpolitk. By the Davalos scale, debating Truth boils down to counting the angels break dancing in a microchip. .

Both Helsinger and Hissom took some serious haircuts to prepare for the show, but they whip out chemistry based on a decade of collaboration on various Orlando Shakes projects. They wink at us while winging tungsten tipped fighting stars at each other on stage. Guest actor Robidas provides the skeptical and obdurate outsider -- he claims to seek knowledge, but when the mental sparring takes too much energy, a good game of Codpiece Tennis is more to his taste. This is clearly a Guy Show, but a female energy floats through the show via Sara Ireland. Barmaid, Courtesan, and Virgin Mary, she's the modern feminine ideal: a strong, independent professional with her own income and birth control devices. You might fall in love with her until she shows up next to you in bed tomorrow morning.

Alternately sacred and profane, subtle and snarky, "Wittenberg" lectures, heckles, and makes you consider the beliefs you hate and question the ones you thought worth dying for. Some of the jokes are blunt and easy (how many takes on "To be or not…" can you write?), others dark and obscure enough to require a parochial education and an advanced degree in Semiotics. Author Davalos clearly did his home work, and he addresses the strengths and failing of both camps while enlighten us about "How the Lutherans Discovered Coffee", "Why Does God Let Puppies Die?" and generally lecturing on the Practical Limits of Knowledge. You might worry about Sarbanes-Oxley or String Theory or Dark Matter, but if God created the heaven and the earth then Truth is the work of man, and it's a work in progress. Try to do your part -- fund a particle accelerator or edit a Wikipedia entry.
Showtimes Sponsors
Goldman Theater

- Wed & Thurs: 7 p.m.

- Fri & Sat: 8 p.m.

- Sun: 2 p.m.

- Previews: Wednesday, Jan. 21 & Thursday, Jun. 22 at 7 p.m.

- Senior Matinees: Wednesday, Jan. 22 & February 11 at 2 p.m.

- Post-show Talkback: Thursday, February 5

Darden Foundation
Harris Harris Bauerle Sharma Eminent Domain Lawyers
A. Brian Phillips, P.A.
Special Thanks to: Guitar Center, Dave Dickinson,
and Elizabeth Morse Genius Foundation

Preview Video
Dramatis Personae

- John Faustus, M.D., J.D., Ph.D., Th.D: Jim Helsinger*
- Hamlet, Prince of Denmark: Zack Robidas
- Rev. Fr. Martin Luther: Eric Hissom*
- The Eternal Feminine (Gretchen/Helen/Mary/Lady Voltemand): Sarah Ireland*

- John Faustus, M.D., J.D., Ph.D., Th.D: Kyle Crowder
- Hamlet, Prince of Denmark: Nathan Gregory
- Rev. Fr. Martin Luther: Brad Roller
- The Eternal Feminine (Gaia/Gretchen/Helen/Mary/Lady Voltemand): Amanda Wansa
Production Team

- Director: Matt Pfeiffer*
- Scenic Design: Bob Phillips**
- Lighting Design: Kevin Griffin
- Costume Design: Mel Barger
- Sound Design: Bruce Bowes
- Stage Manager: Stacy Renee Norwood*
- Assistant Stage Managers: Annastacia Miller & Philip Richard II
- Light Board Operator: John Nichols
- Wardrobe: Elise Holt

*Denotes a member of Actors' Equity Association **Denotes a member of United Scenic Artists

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January 23 - February 21, 2009

"...new works by recognized and up-and-coming playwrights...high-quality acting and directing, and scripts with a lot of potential..."
-- Elizabeth Maupin, theatre critic, Orlando Sentinel

PlayFest is a 10-day celebration packed with dynamic new play readings, workshops, panel discussions and keynote addresses from nationally recognized playwrights. The mission of PlayFest is to celebrate and cultivate new plays, nurture new playwrights, and introduce the community to new theatrical voices. This is a rare opportunity for you to participate in the creative process. Many of our readings have returned as full productions, including Opus, Around the World in 80 Days, Every Christmas Story Ever Told, The
Island of Dr. Moreau
, Robinson Crusoe, and Crime and Punishment.

Showtimes Sponsors

Harriett Lake
Orange Country Arts & Cultural Affairs
Orlando Weekly

Keynote Event
Another Side of the Island
Adapted from Shakespeare's "The Tempest"
By Olympia Dukakis, Margo Whitcomb & Gregory Hoffman

Friday, January 30 at 7:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, January 31 at 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Margeson Theater
$25 VIP Seating; $10 Regular Seating

Another Side of the Island re-imagines Shakespeare’s The Tempest in a surprising, often hilarious, and deeply affecting fantasy. When a woman of power is at the center of this story, set in motion by vengeance, the events look very different. Set on an island of the imagination where anything is possible and gender-bending is the norm, Prospera conjures a magical tempest that brings her former enemies to shore. At last, she restores her rightful claim to the throne of Milan, insures her daughter’s future and learns timeless lessons of love, the thirst for power and aging. With music ranging from gospel to funk and a highly theatrical style, this re-imagined classic is at once uproarious and profound.
Full Productions
By David Davalos
January 21 - February 15
Wednesdays, Thursdays at 7 p.m.
Fridays, Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.
Goldman Theater
In this sprightly and hilarious battle of wits, university colleagues Dr. Faustus and Martin Luther struggle for the soul of young Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Come hear the story behind the story of Hamlet in a highly entertaining and humorous exploration of reason versus faith. Featuring Eric Hissom and Jim Helsinger.
The Velveteen Rabbit: A New Musical Family
Based on the original story by Margery Williams
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Patrick Flick
Music and Orchestration by Amanda Wansa

January 17 - February 22
Saturdays at 2 p.m.
Sundays at 4:30 p.m.
Margeson Theater
Adapted for the stage, this new musical version of The Velveteen Rabbit remains true to the original children's classic story by Margery Williams and is set in the simpler America of the early 20th Century. Let the Orlando Shakespeare Theater ignite your child's imagination with classic children's theater!
The Velveteen Rabbit
Special Events

Panel Discussion
What is the Role of a Director in New Play Development?
Sunday, Jan. 25 — Noon -1:30 p.m.
Mandell Theater
Join us as directors, writers and actors discuss how directors directly contribute to the development of new plays.

Play-in-a-Day Selection
Sunday, Jan. 25 at 1:30 p.m.
Mandell Theater
Orlando International Fringe Festival Artistic Director, Beth Marshall, and Associate Director of PlayFest, David Lee, lead the charge to select actors, writers and directors for Play-in-a-Day. Come watch the fun!
Monday, Jan. 26 — 7 - 9 p.m.
Margeson Theater
Play-in-a-Day returns! Local and national writers, directors and actors join forces to create six ten-minute plays in just 24 hours.

Fringe 101
Sunday, Jan. 25 at 2 - 4 p.m.
Dr. P. Phillips Patrons' Room
How to Produce Your Fringe Show with Orlando International Fringe Festival Artistic Director, Beth Marshall.

Master Class with Olympia Dukakis
Wednesday, Jan. 28 at 6 - 9 p.m.
Mandell Theater (Audit Only — Limited Seating)
Olympia Dukakis leads a master class in scene work using Orlando Shakespeare and UCF MFAs and Interns. This is your chance to audit an acting class with this Oscar-winning actress!
Fringe 102
Sunday, Feb. 1 at 2 - 4 p.m.
Patron's Room
How to Tour Your Fringe Show with Orlando International Fringe Festival Artistic Director, Beth Marshall.

The Chimes
By Kevin Christopher Snipes
Saturday, Jan. 24 at 8:15 - 10:15 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 25 at 2:15 - 4:15 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 31 at 3 - 5 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 1 at 8 - 10 p.m.
Mandell Theater
On the eve of World War II, four boys in a New England boarding school are brought together by their love of Shakespeare and torn apart by the approaching war.


Missing Celia Rose Drama
By Ian August
Saturday, Jan. 24 at 3:30 - 5:30 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 25 at 7:30 - 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 31 at Noon - 2 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 1 at 5:15 - 7:15 p.m.
Mandell Theater
After the Civil War, a small town harmoniously integrated its freed slaves. But when a young white boy uncovers the secret behind the disappearance of the minister's wife, his discoveries change the town forever.
By Kathleen Cahill
Sunday, Jan. 25 at 5:15 - 7:15 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 1 at 5:30 - 7:30 p.m.
Goldman Theater
Charm is a magical dance through the life of the writer and women's rights activist Margaret Fuller, which focuses on a brilliant imagining of Ms. Fuller's personal life. As our hearts are pulled into her personal passions, we are given a first-hand view of her robust and complex relationships with the writing and philosophical giants of her time -- Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, and others.
The Ghosts of Sleepy Hollow
By Eric Hissom
Saturday, Jan. 24 at 2:30 - 4:30 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 1 at 5:30. - 7:30 p.m.
Studio B
A haunting retelling of this classic American tale. You'll laugh your head off! When you're not too busy being TERRIFIED!
The Ghosts of Sleepy Hollow
Notre Dame de Paris
Based on Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (English title)
Adapted by Suzanne O'Donnell

Saturday, Jan. 24 at Noon - 2 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 1 at 2:45 - 4:45 p.m.
Studio B
Notre Dame de Paris is based on characters and events in Victor Hugo's masterpiece The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The Cathedral is both the setting and a catalyst as Hugo's iconic characters play out their tragic fates.
Notre Dame de Paris
The Queen's Physician
By John MacNicholas
Sunday, Jan. 25 at 8 - 10:30 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 31 at 8:15 - 10:45 p.m.
Studio B
A depiction of an errotic power struggle in the court of Queen Elizabeth I involving her Jewish physician, Roger Lopez, and her young lover, Essex. Watch these historical figures dissect heroic loyalties, conflicting in a world poisoned with defeated love, fear of Hispanic dominance, and religious fanaticism.
The Queen's Physician
By John Biguenet
Friday, Jan. 23 at 7:45 - 9:45 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 27 at 6:15 - 8:15 p.m.
Studio B
Set four months after the flood, a white man and his teenage son made homeless by Katrina rent half of a shotgun double from an African-American woman, whose own father has lost his house in the Lower Ninth Ward and moved in with her. These four New Orleanians, white and black living under one roof, try to rebuild their lives in a city still in shambles. Seething racial tensions bubble to the surface when love blossoms.
The Tragedy of John Wilkes Booth
By Chris Gavaler
Sunday, Jan. 25 at 5 - 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Jan. 29 at 7:30 - 10 p.m.
Studio B
Macbeth, Hamlet, Marc Anthony—John Wilkes Booth played Shakespeare's greatest tragic heroes, and in an afterlife encore, he remains trapped in those roles as he relives his plot to kill the President.
The Tragedy of John Wilkes Booth
Yankee Tavern
By Steven Dietz
Saturday, Jan. 24 at 5:30 -7:30 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 1 at Noon - 2 p.m.
Studio B
A young couple is caught in a web of conspiracy theories surrounding the 9/11 attacks, when in an instant outlandish hypothesis becomes dangerous reality as critical facts continue to emerge.
Yankee Tavern
Orlando Opera Presents...
The Dark Lady of the Sonnets
Music by Philip Hagemann
Libretto by the Composer
Based on the play by George Bernard Shaw

Friday, Jan. 23 at 8:15 - 10:15 p.m.
Thursday, Jan. 29 at 7:15 - 9:15 p.m.
Mandell Theater
It's nearly midnight, around the year 1600, on the terrace of the Palace of Whitehall. A beefeater is standing guard outside Queen Elizabeth's quarters. Shakespeare slinks onto the terrace for a rendezvous with his Dark Lady. Instead he encounters the pensive queen, who hides her identity. Shakespeare feels romantic sparks when the mysterious woman shows a flair for poetic speech. A word thief, he is quick to jot down usable phrases. Intrigue and worse break out when the Dark Lady arrives. But at the end the queen suggests a secret collaboration with Shakespeare on a play for which she has a working title, "Twelfth Night."
The Dark Lady of the Sonnets
Women Playwrights' Initiative Presents...
The Galt Regency
By Judith Montague
Tuesday, Jan. 27 at 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 31 at 2:15 - 4:15 p.m.
Goldman Theater
Edith Bolling Galt Wilson was the second wife of President Woodrow
Wilson, marrying him shortly after the death of his first wife. She was
known as "the Secret President," because in 1919, the President had a stroke that left him partially paralyzed and severely disabled. The Galt Regency tells the compelling story of Mrs. Wilson during these years of Wilson's prolonged illness, when she very strictly controlled access to the President, decided which if any government matters should be presented to him, and kept even his closest advisors away from her husband and in the dark about the severity of his condition. The actions of this strong and formidable woman left those close to the President wondering who indeed was running the country.
The Galt Regency

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March 11 - April 25, 2009

By William Shakespeare

"I would rather hear my dog bark at a crow
than a man swear he loves me."

The Bard's comic genius reigns as a dynamic couple engages in a war of wits. Beatrice and Benedick are ranked among Shakespeare's most dazzling characters, and almost before we know it we are caught up in their merry
war over love that leads to marriage. Full of deliberate confusions and mistaken identities, this brilliant comedy glitters with quick repartee and the bright Mediterranean sunshine of Italy.


Orlando Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing"
Elizabeth Maupin, ORLANDO SENTINEL
Set a story to the sounds of Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, and you'll almost never go wrong.

Set one of William Shakespeare's comedies -- let's say Much Ado About Nothing -- to Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, and their happy-go-lucky natures feed off one another, as if Maxene, LaVerne and Patty were having a big bash of a party and Bing, Beatrice and Benedick just happened to drop in.

That's the contented feeling you get from director Dennis Delaney's Much Ado, a show so light on its feet that it seems to have danced onto the Margeson Theater stage. Much Ado isn't a musical, but it feels like one, and any actual music you hear is icing on the cake.

This may be the most grounded of Shakespeare's comedies: There are no fairies and goddesses, no teenage lovers wandering off into the woods — just a pair of sweethearts who have been hurt too many times, and another pair for whom heartbreak is new. Maybe that's why, in this Orlando Shakespeare Theater production, the post-World War II setting seems apt. You feel the sorrow of what has just ended and the promise, too, of better days ahead.

Beatrice and Benedick are said to be engaged in "a kind of merry war," but the start of this production shows them none too merry. Marni Penning's Beatrice and Darren Bridgett's Benedick freeze when the other steps into view: These are two people who really believe they detest each other, and it takes all the manipulations of the entire Sicilian town of Messina to set the lovers straight.

Meanwhile, you get to know the two of them from the way they interact with others -- Penning's Beatrice a bright, warm-hearted, stubborn woman, Bridgett's Benedick a hapless but loyal and capable man.

Penning makes a wonderfully vivid Beatrice, and Bridgett, while not as profound as the character might be, uses his physical dexterity to work wonders: Never has there been such a lovably silly Benedick as this.

They're surrounded by a terrific group of principals -- Armistead Johnson as a naive young Claudio with a grin as wide as the Mediterranean; Steven Patterson as the grave, gentlemanly Don Pedro; Joe Vincent as a genial Leonato; and Anne Hering as a vivacious Ursula.

Brittney Rentschler makes less impression as Hero, the comedy's wronged heroine. But Kyle Crowder is a relaxed villain, and Chris Mixon, making his Orlando Shakes debut, is a delicious Dogberry, as stupid, combative and perpetually affronted as the worst assistant principal you've ever met.

The warmth of the production's atmosphere may be tempered a bit by some of the women's costumes, which do no favors to the actresses in them. But the lively sound design adds heaps, and maybe every show set in the late 1940s should have such a lush, movie-theme-song version as Michael Andrew's take on "Hey, nonny, nonny."

Certainly every one should have, as this one does, a balky fountain, a bouquet of what look like turnip greens and a pair of lovers who are allowed to be both foolhardy and wise. Real life should be so lucky.

Much Ado About Nothing

History tells us that it took awhile for the Allies to get their act together before making considerable and finally successful progress against their Axis enemies on the battlefields of World War II. The same may be said of Orlando Shakespeare Theater's current production of the Bard's romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing, which has been set by director Dennis Lee Delaney in the countryside of post--World War II Italy. This production starts off flat-footed, but ultimately finds its marching shoes and emerges as a victorious parade of high comedy, subtle wit and ferocious wordplay.

While it may be somewhat unusual to hear the voice of Bing Crosby crooning under the scene changes of a Shakespeare play, Delaney's choice of time and place is as pitch-perfect as the singing of actor Andrew Knight who, as the servant Balthazar, delights us with the Act 1 song based on the poem with the line "Hey, nonny, nonny." (The song was written by Michael Andrew and is backed up by a quartet of 1940s-style singers who sound as authentic as the 78 rpm disks in musical archives.)

Once again the Shakes offers up an ensemble of utterly competent and articulate veteran performers, including Steven Patterson as Don Pedro, Joe Vincent as Leonato and Chris Mixon as Dogberry. These actors imbue their characters with intelligence, passion and, when necessary, the appropriate measure of buffoonery. In fact, the entire cast is as close to perfect as any I have seen of late.

Much Ado's dramatic and romantic tensions largely depend upon the actions and motivations of its main pair of lovers, Benedick and Beatrice. So the success of the play naturally falls upon the shoulders of the performers who inhabit these two pivotal roles, and it is safe to say that in Darren Bridgett and Marni Penning, director Delaney has found two generals capable of leading their troops to a well-deserved triumph. Both actors have a way of making dialogue eminently understandable, their inner desires succinct and revealing, and their conflicts both personal and universal. And while Bridgett can utilize his entire rubbery body to convey his emotional turmoil, Penning can do the same with a tilt of her head or the widening of an eye.

Much Ado is not a play "about nothing." In this delightful rendition, the comedy proves to be an affectionate treatise on romantic love and humanity's eternal desire to pick up the pieces of broken relationships and battered dreams.

Showtimes Sponsors
Margeson Theater

- Wed & Thurs: 7 p.m.

- Fri & Sat: 8 p.m.

- Sun: 2 p.m.

- Previews: Wednesday, March 11 & Thursday, March 12 at 7 p.m.

- Senior Matinee: Wednesday, April 1

- Post-show Talkback: Thursday, April 23

Darden Foundation
City of Orlando

Preview Video
Dramatis Personae

Don Pedro & His Supporters
- DON PEDRO: Steven Patterson*
- BENEDICK, companion to Don Pedro: Darren Bridgett*
- CLAUDIO, companion to Don Pedro: Armistead Johnson*
- BALTHASAR, a Singer, attendant on Don Pedro: Andrew Knight

Don John & His Supporters
- DON JOHN, his bastard Brother: Kyle Crowder
- BORACHIO, in the employment of Don John: Nathan Gregory
- CONRADE, in the employment of Don John: Brad Roller

Members of the House of Leonato
- LEONATO, Governor of Messina: Joe Vincent*
- ANTONIO, brother to Leonato: Bob Dolan*
- BEATRICE, niece to Leonato: Marni Penning*
- HERO, daughter to Leonato: Brittney Rentschler
- MARGARET, waiting gentlewoman: Desiree Bacala
- URSULA, waiting gentlewoman: Anne Hering*

Townspeople of Messina
- DOGBERRY, leader of the Watch: Chris Mixon*
- VERGES, partner to Dogberry: Bob Lipka
- GEORGE SEACOAL, member of the Watch: Israel Scott
- HUGH OATCAKE, member of the Watch: Michael Beaman
- A SEXTON: Kyle Crowder
- FRIAR FRANCIS: Chris Mixon*
- Attendants, Soldiers: Israel Scott, Michael Beaman, Andrew Knight


- Benedick/Don Pedro/Leonato: Michael Beaman
- Claudio: Brad Roller
- Verges/ Dogberry/Friar Francis/Borachio: Andrew Knight
- Beatrice/Margaret: Amanda Wansa,
- Don John/Sexton/Antonio: Isreal Scott,
- Hero: Brit Cooper
- Ursula: Ingrid A. Marable,
- Conrade/Balthasar/Watch/George Seacoal/Soldier/Attendant/Oatcake/Boy: Brendan Rogers

Production Team

- Director: Dennis Lee Delaney***
- Assistant Director: Andy Felt
- Scenic Design: Bob Phillips**
- Lighting Design: Bert Scott**
- Costume Design: Kristina Tollefson**
- Sound Design: Bruce Bowes
- Original Music: Michael Andrew
- Music Coach: Amanda Wansa
- Stage Manager: Amy Nicole Davis*
- Assistant Stage Manager: George Hamrah*
- Production Assistants: Emily Harvey, Alyssa Howard, Annastacia Miller & Philip Richard II
- Sound Board Operator: Lillian Huzway
- Light Board Operator: Mary Heffernan
- Wardrobe: Phillip Giggey & Brittany Kugler
- Additional Costume Shop Staff: Chantry Banks, Monica Gibson, Corey Schreck & Debbie Warner

*Denotes a member of Actors' Equity Association **Denotes a member of United Scenic Artists

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March 18 - April 26, 2009

By William Shakespeare

"The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth as"

A mysteriously melancholy rich man, a dashing young lover in need of cash, a moneylender with reasons to seek revenge, and a witty young woman with a knack for disguise. These are the elements of Shakespeare's sparkling and troubling tragicomedy. This thoughtprovoking mixture of comedy, steely-eyed satire, compassion, poetry, and the perpetual struggle between mercy and justice has intrigued audiences for more than four centuries.


Orlando Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice"
Elizabeth Maupin, ORLANDO SENTINEL
Wherever it goes, it seems, The Merchant of Venice creates tumult.

A school board in Ontario bans the play. A production in Tel Aviv causes a commotion. But whether Shakespeare was anti-Semitic in The Merchant of Venice is only one of the troubling aspects of the play, which moves from romantic comedy one moment to tragedy the next. You may be stymied trying to categorize what may be the most puzzling of all Shakespeare's works. In Orlando Shakespeare Theater's production, you'll also know you've seen something profound.

No doubt, Shylock is one of the most reviled creatures in all literature -- a Jewish moneylender more taken with his ducats than his daughter, driven to extract from the merchant Antonio his "pound of flesh" to pay a debt.

Of course, anti-Semitism was rampant throughout Europe in Shakespeare's day, so The Merchant of Venice is a product of the times. And maybe, as many modern interpreters think, Shakespeare was both playing to his audiences and creating a more nuanced, disturbing view of a vilified man.

That's the vision behind director Jim Helsinger's vivid production, which sets up the dichotomy between Christian and Jew in its first moments and returns to it wrenchingly at the last. Helsinger doesn't shrink from the sunniness of Merchant's romantic comedy — the comical pursuit of wealthy young Portia by fortune-hunters far and wide, the sweet-tempered love story between her and the smitten Bassanio. But what shakes you in this production is the play's pure nastiness -- the slurs heaped upon Shylock, the hatred with which he fights back.

It's more shocking still to realize that the same characters who respond to one another so lovingly (and who look so gorgeous in designer Denise Warner's silks and velvets) can see Shylock as something less than human. Antonio, so loyal to Bassanio, spits on Shylock; Portia speaks famously of "the quality of mercy" but is merciful only when it's convenient.

Marni Penning brings the same down-to-earth spirit to Portia that she does to Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing: Her Portia may be self-pitying, but she's also smart, and she leaps to action more quickly than any man. Armistead Johnson is a stalwart Bassanio, and Steven Patterson's forceful Antonio hints at sorrows within.

Most affectingly, Joe Vincent plays off the hateful and hated in Shylock: There is almost nothing admirable about this man, but everything about him is human. Vincent never draws back from contradiction. And his penultimate moments, when he gives up his tallis and his yarmulke, are heartbreaking in the extreme.

There are lots more fine performances -- especially Chris Mixon as a hilarious Launcelot Gobbo, a slightly smarter cousin to his Dogberry in Much Ado.

But what stays with you is not the silly or sweet but rather the challenging. There's an underlying uneasiness in Orlando Shakespeare's production, a part that nags at you long after the play has ended. If theater exists to throw you off balance, this company is doing its job.

The Merchant of Venice

Orlando Shakespeare Theater director Jim Helsinger has been tasked to act as a virtual stitching master for the company's production of The Merchant of Venice, a work he describes in the program as a "tapestry" of "comedy, tragedy, religious and racial intolerance, and romance." Tapestry is a kind term for a play whose hodgepodge construction more resembles a Bollywood film extravaganza than a thematically congruent dramatic narrative.

For by turns Merchant is a serious work about the nature of anti-Semitism, a silly roundelay of lovers' quarrels and childish intrigues, a sober exploration of the subjects of justice and mercy, and a cartoonish fairy tale peopled with comic caricatures and fantastic plot contrivances. That Helsinger mostly manages to overcome the daunting challenge of knitting these disparate designs into anything resembling a coherent evening of theater is a testament to his skill. It's also a testament to his cast's proficiency in hemming together the play's mismatched swatches and embroidering over some holes in the tale's fabric.

Key to the evening's success is the powerful performance of Joe Vincent as Shylock, the rich Jew of Venice whose hatred of those who have maligned him and his "tribe" for generations is as deeply rooted and malignant as theirs is of him. Highlighting his separateness from the Christian community in which he must toil and survive as an eternal outsider, Vincent sports a slight Eastern European accent; his faint Yiddishkeit is in sharp contrast to the clipped and proper English of the rest of the ensemble.

While Vincent must labor under the story's heavy weave, Marni Penning (as Portia, a rich heiress who later doubles as the young lawyer who confronts the vengeful Shylock in court), is free to sport more diaphanous garments. Beautiful, giddy and love-struck, her character charms and connives, giving Merchant most of its lighthearted and enjoyable moments.

Armistead Johnson is personable and sympathetic as Bassanio, the play's third most important personage, as he attempts to maneuver gracefully between his friendship with Steven Patterson's Antonio (the merchant of the title) and his romance with Portia, but is a bit too earnest in his portrayal. This agreeable young performer needs to modulate his temperament and learn to employ the subtler weapons in his actor's arsenal.

While The Merchant of Venice is a tricky work because of its complex threads, the Shakes has tailored it to as good a fit as can be expected.

Showtimes Sponsors
Margeson Theater

- Wed. & Thurs.: 7 p.m.

- Fri & Sat:. 8 p.m.

- Sun: 2 p.m.

- Previews: Wednesday, March 18 & Thursday, March 19 at 7 p.m.

- Senior Matinee: Wednesday, April 22

- Post-show Talkback: Thursday, April 2

Darden Foundation
Keating & Schlitt, P.A. Attorneys and Counselors at Law
Carlton Fields Attorneys at Law
Comfort Suites

Preview Video
Dramatis Personae

The Islands of Venice
- Antonio, a merchant of Venice: Steven Patterson*
- Solanio, a merchant: Michael Beaman
- Salerio, a merchant: Kyle Crowder
- Gratiano , friend to Bassanio and Antonio: Darren Bridgett*
- Lorenzo, in love with Jessica: Andrew Knight
- Basanio , friend to Antonio, suitor to Portia: Armistead Johnson*
- Leonardo , servant to Bassanio: Nathan Gregory
- Gaoler: Nathan Gregory
- Servant of the Court: Isreal Scott
- Duke of Venice: Bob Dolan*

The Island of Belmont
- Portia , a rich heiress: Marni Penning*
- Nerisa , her waiting-gentlewoman: Anne Hering*
- Rosalind, servant to Portia: Amanda Wansa
- Stephana , servant to Portia: Ingrid A. Marable
- Prince of Morocco, suitor to Portia: Isreal Scott
- Prince of Arragon, suitor to Portia: Nathan Gregory

Ghetto Nuova -- A Venetian Island containing the Jewish Ghetto
- Shylock, a rich Jew: Joe Vincent*
- Jessica , daughter to Shylock: Brittney Rentschler
- Tubal, a Jew, friend to Shylock: Bob Lipka
- Launcelot Gobo, servant to Shylock, later Bassanio: Chris Mixon*

Masked Servants and Magnificoes
- Bob Dolan*, Andrew Knight, Bob Lipka, Chris Mixon*, Amanda Wansa, Ingrid A. Marable, Brittney Rentschler


- Gratiano/Priest/"Silver" Servant/Duke of Venice/Solanio: Brendan Rogers
- Bassanio/Bauta Magnificoe/"Lead" Servant/Tubal/Lorenzo/Magnificoe/Salerio/ Leonardo/Gaoler/Prince of Arragon: Brad Roller
- Launcelot Gobbo/"Gold" Servant: Nathan Gregory
- Antonio: Michael Beaman
- Portia/Nerissa: Desiree Bacala,
- Bauta/Prince of Morocco/Officer: Kyle Crowder
- Jessica: Brit Cooper, Rosalind
- Magnificoe/Stephana: Brook Haney

Production Team

- Director: Jim Helsinger
- Assistant Director: Andy Felt
- Scenic Design: Bob Phillips**
- Lighting Design: Bert Scott**
- Costume Design - The Merchant of Venice: Denise R. Warner
- Sound Design: Bruce Bowes
- Original Musi: Amanda Wansa
- Text and Vocal Coach: Eric Zivot
- Assistant to Text and Vocal Coach Mary Kate Dwyer
- Music Coach: Amanda Wansa
- Stage Manager: Amy Nicole Davis*
- Assistant Stage Manager: George Hamrah*
- Production Assistants: Emily Harvey, Alyssa Howard, Annastacia Miller & Philip Richard II
- Sound Board Operator: Lillian Huzway
- Light Board Operator: Mary Heffernan
- Wardrobe: Phillip Giggey & Brittany Kugler
- Additional Costume Shop Staff: Chantry Banks, Monica Gibson, Corey Schreck & Debbie Warner

*Denotes a member of Actors' Equity Association **Denotes a member of United Scenic Artists