BWW Reviews: All-Star Roster Brings the Bard to Fenway Park

BWW Reviews: All-Star Roster Brings the Bard to Fenway Park

Shakespeare at Fenway

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's presentation of Shakespeare at Fenway, Friday, September 19, 2014; Directed by Steven Maler, Featuring scenes from plays by William Shakespeare; Production Manager, Jo Williams; Production Stage Manager, Conwell S. Worthington III; Lighting Designer, Brian J. Lilienthal; Sound Engineer, Brian McCoy; Master Electrician, Ian King; Wardrobe Supervisor, Emily Rosser; Props Master, Ian Thorsell

CAST (in alphabetical order): Bianca Amato, Jenna Augen, Marianna Bassham, Kersti Bryan, Peter Cambor, Larry Coen, Christian Coulson, Seth Gilliam, Rupak Ginn, Jason Butler Harner, Will LeBow, Neal McDonough, Paul Melendy, Kerry O'Malley, Mike O'Malley, Rick Park, Maryann Plunkett, Jay O. Sanders, Zuzanna Szadkowski, Max von Essen, James Waterston; Band, The Mill Town Rounders (Joy Walsh, David Walsh, Don Shulsinger, John Harper, Josh Olivier Mason); Keyboard Accompanist, Timothy Steele

The Commonwealth Shakespeare Company came up with an all-American way to throw out the first pitch for its 20th anniversary season with an epic evening of William Shakespeare's greatest hits, staged atop the Red Sox dugout at Fenway Park. Artistic Director Steven Maler drafted a winning lineup of players from home and away to replace the regulars like Ortiz, Pedroia, and Bucholz, with Othello, Petruchio, and Macbeth. Not only was this the first live theater event held at Fenway, it was the first time that women were among the heavy hitters taking the field.

Tom Werner, Chairman of the Red Sox, introduced the evening by reciting (with tongue in cheek) an eye-opening series of quotes from Shakespeare's works which left no doubt that baseball has been around longer than we thought. In harmony with the location, all of the actors in the opening scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream wore Red Sox jerseys or sweatshirts and most seemed to have distinctive Boston accents. Werner was the first in a parade of top-tier reps from local organizations and sponsors who were given the microphone to outline the scenes. Among those enjoying the spotlight were Michael Keating from The Boston Foundation, Anita Walker of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and Babson College President Kerry Healey.

Maler welcomed the crowd, looking back to recap some of the achievements of CSC, but also looking ahead to the 2014-2015 season, and broke the news that next summer's offering for Shakespeare on the Common will be King Lear. The glitterati and the uncharacteristically chilly night faded into the background once the show was under way. Not even a persistent (false) fire alarm during the nunnery scene from Hamlet could draw much attention away from the polished performances of the stellar cast. Kudos to Christian Coulson (Hamlet) and Kersti Bryan (Ophelia) for soldiering on without missing a beat, even as sirens wailed in the distance. Despite limited rehearsal time, these pros knew their lines and each of the pairings looked as if they had been working together for weeks, not hours.

Highlights included James Waterston (Benedick) and Bianca Amato (Beatrice), having previously played opposite each other in Private Lives at The Huntington, reuniting for some delicious verbal banter from Much Ado About Nothing; Marianna Bassham (Viola) and Kerry O'Malley (Olivia) reprising a scene from this past summer's Shakespeare on the Common production Twelfth Night; and a bloody moment from Macbeth with Maryann Plunkett and Jay O. Sanders. In all, there were ten scenes selected from a mix of eight comedies and tragedies, as well as Dorchester native Neal McDonough (Band of Brothers, Desperate Housewives) reciting a sonnet to his wife on his cell phone, and the Mill Town Rounders from Maynard joined Jason Butler Harner for a rousing bluegrass take on "O Mistress Mine," a song by the Louvin Brothers with lyrics from Twelfth Night.

Kerry O'Malley schooled the fans on Shakespeare's connection with Broadway musicals before singing a lovely rendition of "So In Love" from Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate (based on Taming of the Shrew) and a snazzy solo of a song normally performed by a trio, "Sing for Your Supper" from Rodgers and Hart's The Boys From Syracuse (based on The Comedy of Errors). Timothy Steele provided keyboard accompaniment for O'Malley and later for Max von Essen's beautifully-sung offerings, "Were Thine That Special Face" (Kiss Me Kate) and "Something's Coming" from the Romeo and Juliet-inspired West Side Story (Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim).

The gents from A Midsummer Night's Dream returned to close out the program in grand, comedic style. Headliner Mike O'Malley played the part of Lion and exhibited a fearsome roar, Will LeBow brought life to the Wall, and Peter Cambor tried to keep everyone focused as Peter Quince, the leader of the troupe. Holding a lantern aloft, Paul Melendy cracked up the audience with his severe Boston accent ("lantin"), and Larry Coen chewed the scenery as Pyramus, but the award goes to Rick Park for his dour facade, his falsetto speech, and his unusual fashion sense as Thisbe. Actually, all of the performers who came out to help Maler and CSC celebrate deserve awards (additional cast members were Zuzanna Szadkowski, Rupak Ginn, Jenna Augen, and Seth Gilliam), as do the thousands of supporters of the arts who braved the cold. It was great to be present for a big win at Fenway Park.

Photo credit: Nile Hawver (Rick Park, Larry Coen)

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From This Author Nancy Grossman

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