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Classical work seems to turn away people, including myself sometimes. I rarely find a piece that I can connect to. It has happened, but rare. What is also rare is finding a group that is just passionate about classical work that everything they have is put into the text. Well, I believe I have found a company that does this and makes me fall in love with classical work. The Classical Actors Ensemble is a company that focuses on classic work and they are currently doing two shows in repertory: "Arden of Faversham" and "Much Ado About Nothing". According to the program, the company wanted to explore "both sides of the coin" and do two shows that are opposite from each other in style. Certainly, an interesting concept. I was able to see the shows for myself...

In a sexy, dark noir stylization, "Arden of Faversham" by Anonymous had me at the edge of my seat. I went in knowing nothing about the play, and I think the theming was extremely appropriate. If you don't know the story, it mostly follows a woman named Alice Arden as she tries to kill her husband so she can be with her lover, and all of the failed attempts that happen along the way. It's a play written with enough intrigue that keeps you wanting more. And it's a perfect show to highlight some amazing talent.

Samatha V Papke was a stand out in the main role of Alice Arden. She brought depth and a charged energy to a role that could easily have been played with an attitudinal wash: a villainess much like the Evil Queen or Lady Macbeth. Yet, I could watch her and see her character develop and think in real-time and it kept the character from growing dull and boring. Another person I must applaud is Jacob Hooper who played the role of Micheal, the servant to the Ardens and helper in the eventual murder of his master (sorry, spoilers). What struck me about his performance the most is the usage of his voice. He brought it up into his nasal cavity and had a dialect to go with it. It gave his character an uncertain and timid air, which fit his character perfectly.

The other show being presented by Classical Actors Ensemble is "Much Ado About Nothing" by William Shakespeare. I must admit, this is my favorite play by Shakespeare, so I had high hopes for this production, especially after watching "Arden of Faversham". And let me say, this is my favorite production of the play that I have seen so far. And I have seen a lot of productions of it. I was smiles all the way through, mouthing lines along with the characters. Now, the text may not have been new to me, but the production felt like a breath of fresh air.

This biggest "breath" came from Mike Tober, who played Don John "the bastard brother". This character is often played in a dull, brooding way; one that can get tiresome. However, Mr. Tober played the character in such a way that was reminiscent of Jafar or Scar from the Disney movies. He was delightfully dubious and now, personally, Don John (and his henchmen who acted along with this choice) cannot be played another way.

And, of course, I must give praise to Kaija Pellinen and Joseph Papke who played Beatrice and Benedick respectfully. My favorite thing about these characters is the bite they both have. It's so much fun watching these people engage in the "merry war betwixt" them. Papke and Pellinen brought the bite for these characters. I fell for both of these characters instantly and cannot wait to see these actors in other works.

If you want to see theatre that keeps you on the edge of your seat or makes you belly laugh like nothing else, go see these two plays being put on by the Classical Actors Ensemble. You can tell the amount of heart that went into these productions, it shows tenfold through the work of every actor in them.

"Arden of Faversham" and "Much Ado About Nothing" is playing at The Lab Theatre until September 22nd.

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From This Author Braden Joseph