BWW Review: Boulevard's Delightful TAKING SHAKESPEARE Explores Human Sadness
In the inviting ambiance of Plymouth Church, Boulevard Theater's endearing Taking Shakespeare resonates with the heartbeats and sorrow inherent in classic literature, especially William Shakespeare's Othello. John Murrell's recent play presents a new perspective on this iconic tragedy in the church's Graham Chapel, a perfect backdrop for an old apartment where a tenured professor lived for more than thirty years. When she's asked to tutor a new college student, the two character production match wits between the young Murph, Jake Konrath, alongside the women English professor, Amy Callahan.
These two souls meet unexpectedly because Murph believe he "can't understand Shakespeare" and rarely exceeds his mother's expectations--- a mother who also holds a dean's chair at the college he attends and who was a previous student of the professor. Comparisons to parent and child become inevitable while this clever and touching intergenerational comedy intermingles hearts and minds despite any age difference.
At Murph's mother's request, he cajoles this particular professor to tutor him in a class on Shakespeare, whose plays Murph has trouble reading while he claims the titles are "too long," and the character's names difficult to pronounce. Together the two "scholars" decipher the timeless humanity, finding Murph's heartbeats through reading the poetry in Shakespeare's Othello. Two emotional connecting actors, Konrath and Callahan, create a believable, humorous and warm tutoring scenario throughout the evening. where student and teacher ultimately face their demons with renewed optimism in part due to Othello's overwhelming sorrow.
The profound treachery and sadness develop in Shakespeare's play by the pair reading the script out loud to each other, which adds to the structure of the Murrell's play and presents an entertaining element for the audience grappling with the tragedy: Othello murders his Desdemona in jealously because Iago betrayed his commander, and consequently, his wife. Iago's wife, Amelia exposes her shame and betrayal, too. She bears the great pain knowing her husband caused her friend Desdemona's death, and so Amelia dies alongside her friend.
When not one character in Othello can live with their sorrow or shame, the Professor and Murph discuss how one human may "not have half that power to do me harm, as I do to be hurt" and "time can be a riddle," with the power to give as well as take. These differing perspectives present Shakespearean treasures filled with new insight for these two people at different stages at life, yet facing similar turmoil to the direction those lives will take. David Flores and Mark Bucher co-direct a sensitive production illustrating the humor and priorities in a meaningful modern life, including academia, portrayed by Murrell and Shakespeare, his timeless tales ever worth revisiting.
As these two compatriots discover, sadness might actually be a friend, one unfamiliar and when acknowledged, the incentive to change current circumstances may follow. Audiences might rethink and better understand how this often malaligned emotion develops one's humanity, in the present and over time whether young or old.
Once again, Boulevard presents a delightful, fresh and warmhearted evening where two generations find common ground in place of dissension from a classic, centuries old Shakespearean tragedy seen through new perspectives. Thoroughly appreciate this Midwest premiere in the serenity of a chapel to contemplate a play where two people discover the heartbeats of their humanity, renewed souls placed side by side while sharing Shakespeare.
The Boulevard Theater presents John Murrell's Taking Shakespeare at the East Side Plymouth Church through March 25. For performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please call 414.744.5767 or boulevardtheatre.com.