Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermissions

William Shakespeare is not everyone’s cup of tea, but his work has well outlasted him and is being produced regularly throughout the world so, he must have done something right. His stories are timeless and can relate to anyone in any era which is what, I think, helps the longevity of his work. The comedies are my personal favorite, but, that’s just me, and Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s latest offering, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is on top of my list so, I went in with lofty expectations. However, this production, Directed by Gerrad Alex Taylor did not disappoint in any way.

Elana Michelle as Hippolyta and Michael Toperzer as Theseus. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Briefly, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a fanciful triste through the city and wood of ancient Athens. A young woman, Hermia, is betrothed to one noble man, Demetrius, while in love with another, Lysander, who just so happens to be in love with her. Bring in Helena, who is in love with Demetrius, but the feelings are not mutual. Enter the Fairy King, Oberon, and Fairy Queen, Titania who are having their own lover’s quarrel, and a sort of practical joke including dew from a certain plant that makes a person fall in love with the first person they see after waking up. Throw a little troublemaking imp named Puck in the mix and you have a farcical comedy that has lasted hundreds of years… for good reason.

Designing a set for an outdoor setting can be challenging but Daniel O’Brien’s Set Design is impeccable as it is simple. Not calling for much in the way of scenery, O’Brien has managed to turn this small corner of space in the midst of “ruins” of a building at a historic park into the solid and larger than life Athens, as well as a blissful and fanciful forest in which fairies and imps romp, all with the opening and closing of two large canvases. It works beautifully with the piece and adds great value to the production as a whole.

Jose Guzman as Nick Bottom and Alana Michelle. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

For Costume Design, Heather C. Jackson chose to keep it traditional with colorful flowing robes and sashes that work extremely well for this traditional setting. Her design is well thought-out and the ensemble seems comfortable in their wardrobe which helps the overall performance of the piece. It’s apparent she’s familiar with the both the era and the fanciful theme and it shows in her impeccable design.

Gerrad Alex Taylor take the reins as Director of this production and it couldn’t be in better hands. His choice to use a traditional setting is wise and takes everything back to basics. So many companies like to adapt and modernize Shakespeare’s work (which I’m all for), but it’s good to see that the traditional setting still works and works brilliantly. Taylor has a strong comprehension of the material and his whimsical and fantastic vision is clear in every scene. The pacing is on point and the staging is engaging every step of the way. Taylor also takes on double duty as Fight Choreographer and he hits the nail on the head with this aspect, as well. Each fight is finely tuned and exciting making for an overall delightful experience. Kudos to Gerrad Alex Taylor for a superb production.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention that the entire ensemble did their part and performed with 100% effort. It’s easy to see this cast is comfortable with each other and their chemistry is second to none.

Michael Toperzer as Oberon and Elana Michelle as Titania. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Michael Toperzer as Oberon and Elana Michelle as Titania shine in these roles, as well as their takes on the characters of Theseus and Hippolyta. Their interaction with and off of each other draw the audience in and Toperzer and Michelle portray the complex relationship between Oberon and Titania beautifully and with confidence making for intense and engaging performances from both.

Christine Watt as Peaseblossom, Abigail Funk as Cobweb, and Sydney Thomas as Mustardseed are the perfect complement to Elana Michelle’s Titania and these three play their characters to the hilt. They, too, work well with and off of each other to create a tight circle that moves the dialogue and story along nicely. All three actresses are well rehearsed and well suited for their roles.

The story revolves around two couples, mainly, and Nina Marti and Rafael Sebastian portray Hermia and Lysander, the two forbidden lovers. Marti is a firecracker and as the script states, “…she’s fierce, even though she’s little.” and that’s exactly what she is. Marti has a tight grasp on the text and performs it effortlessly while Sebastian, too, portrays Lysander with just the right amount of innocence and a young man’s lust making for commendable performances from both.

The Fairies Dance. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

The other unfortunate couple, Demetrius and Helena, are portrayed brilliantly by Nick Fruit and Kate Forton. Though their characters start out as anything but a couple, through a little bit of magic and luck, they end up happily joined. Fruit plays the uppity Demetrius well with confidence and grand gestures but also understands and does well with the slapstick that is required of the character. Likewise, Forton is stellar in this role. She completely embodies this character and it’s easy to see the love and passion she has for this character and the piece as a whole. She has a strong stage presence and gives a natural, seemingly unscripted performance that makes her a highlight in this production. Fruit and Forton work well off of each other and their timing is flawless making for a delightful and strong performance, overall.

Imani Turner as Puck. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Young Imani Turner, still in high school, tackles the role of Puck, the little trouble making imp who doubles, at times, as narrator of this story. This young actor is a true talent and his instincts and natural ability are apparent as he portrays this comedic character with just enough mischief for him to irritate but with a mix of a bigheartedness, one cannot help but like this character. His delivery and comedic timing is on point and I’m looking forward to seeing more of his work in the future.

The Athens acting troupe, also known as The Rude Mechanicals consist of Colin Connor as Peter Quince, Brenden Edward Kennedy as Francis Flute, Tim Neil as Snug, Owen Halstad as Robin Starveling and the casting of these gents is superb. All of them comedians and the performance of their featured part, the play within a play called Pyramus and Thisby will have you rolling in the isles. It can be seen as the play that goes wrong, and it was one of the most enjoyable moments of theatre I’ve encountered this season. Connor, Kennedy, Neil, and Halstad show off their comedic timing and slapstick abilities impeccably and have the audience roaring with laughter. This crew is certainly a highlight of the production.

Iman Turner as Puck and Michael Toperzer as Oberon. Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

Another member of this troupe is standout Jose Guzman as Nick Bottom. Seemingly a vain and obtuse character, Guzman plays Nick Bottom to perfection. Guzman has a complete grasp of the text and plays it over the top, but not so over the top as to be annoying… just the right amount. Guzman is a force to be reckoned with onstage with a strong stage presence and a natural comedic ability. You can’t miss him in any scene he is in whether he is speaking or pantomiming in the back and his delivery is spot on. He’s certainly one to watch in this particular production and I can’t wait to see future performances from this actor.

Final thought…A Midsummer Night’s Dream is not a show you want to miss this season. The production is top-notch in every aspect and the setting couldn’t be more picturesque. From the scenery to the staging to the performances, this production of a Shakespeare favorite will not disappoint and makes for an absolutely delightful evening of theatre. The thought and care that went into this performance is apparent and the actors, who are giving 100% of their effort and passion, make this a successful retelling of this classic comedy that will have you doubled over, laughing, and engaged every step of the way. Get your tickets now!

This is what I thought of Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream will play through July 29 at The Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park, 3655 Church Rd, Ellicott City, MD 21043. For tickets, call 410-244-8570 or purchase them online.

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Review: A Christmas Carol at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
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Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with one intermission
Bah Humbug! It’s a phrase familiar to most who know the story of old, crotchety Ebeneezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The story teaches many lessons including compassion, empathy, and love, especially around the holidays. So, it’s popular story and has been adapted countless times for both stage and film so, there’s always a risk that most of the theatre companies in any particular area will rush to present their own version of this staple of the holiday season. With about 15 productions going on in Baltimore at the same time, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company has joined the fray to mount their latest production of A Christmas Carol, adapted and Directed by Founding Artistic Directory Ian Gallanar, with Music Direction by Grace Srinivasan, Choreography by Nellie K. Glover, Set and Lighting Design by Daniel O’Brien, and Costume Design by Kristina Lambdin, giving a traditional look at this classic with a good old Baltimore twist.
Set and Light Design by Daniel O’Brien is simple, but impressive. A bit minimal as it is a unit set but using various set pieces to represent times and places makes for an efficient design to help move the story along and O’Brien’s attention to detail for each well-chosen piece gives the production a more authentic feel all around. His Lighting Design is also a well though-out design as it sets the mood for each scene adding a little creepiness when needed as well as bringing a particular brightness to the more lighthearted scenes.

Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit RED team

Tiny Tim (Vivian Klepper) and Bob Cratchit (Scott Alan Small) take a stroll in the snow on Christmas Day. Photo: Jean Thompson


Kristina Lambdin’s Costume Design are nothing less than superb. Her attention to detail and craftsmanship is top notch, taking the audience back to the Victorian era with its layers and subdued, earthy colors. Each character was dressed appropriately and seemed to be as comfortable as can be in the style making for a very intelligent, authentic design.
Choreography by Nellie K. Glover is delightful and upbeat for the numbers requiring dance and merry-making. In numbers such as the Fezziwig party scene, Glover keeps the chorography engaging and in the style of the era in which the production is set, adding to the authenticity of the entire piece. The cast seems to have a blast performing the choreography making for a fun, energized performance.
Grace Srinivasan’s Music Direction is admirable as we are treated to traditional carols such as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Coventry Carol,” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” that fit very well with this production. Srinivasan has this ensemble singing in harmony and has well-chosen featured vocalists. There is actually a very good balance of music in this production and Srinivasan’s work adds value to this production.
Scrooge and Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Elliott Kashner) reveals to Ebenezer Scrooge (Gregory Burgess) that few people will remember him fondly after his death because he has been so miserly. Photo: Jean Thompson


Founding Artistic Director Ian Gallanar wears the hats of both Director and Adapter of this production and, overall, it’s a good showing, but it does have it’s flaws. First off, setting the story in Baltimore is endearing and charming indeed, but the reminders of this in what seems every other line can get taxing and give the appearance of trying too hard. He didn’t change the time, just the place and because of that, it frankly doesn’t change much. Spouting out Baltimore street names and places is more like filler rather than important to the story line making the script seem a bit trite. He may have been a little more successful by keeping the story in tact, completely. As for his Direction of the production, it’s commendable keeping this large cast in sync, but the staging is a little flat. For instance, the fateful meeting between Scrooge and the Ghost of Marley is very lackluster and moves along at a snail’s pace, as do other scenes. Most of the performances are admirable with a well-cast, dedicated ensemble, but the staging and script somewhat hinder some of the phenomenal talent onstage. Overall, pacing was okay, but transitions were a bit clunky and slowed the flow. That being said, it’s clear Gallanar has a good comprehension of the story and the message it sends as well as a good understanding of these characters. The audiences are definitely entertained, but a little more work on the text and staging would do well for this production as a whole.
Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, Scott Alan Small takes on the role of Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s gentle and compassionate clerk and Gabriel Hoch tackles the role of the ill, but positive Tiny Tim. Small gives an admirable performance but it does fall a bit flat throughout. He has a good grasp of the character but is stiff and scripted throughout. However, he has good chemistry with this ensemble and is confident onstage. Gabriel Hoch, one of the many children in this production also gives a good showing and is a good fit for this role and understands its importance, giving a good sympathetic spin on this character. When it comes to the many children in this production, all seem to be simply going through the motions – reading their lines and moving to their marks. A little more work with the children may have benefited their performances just a tad.
Ghost of Christmas Past

The Ghost of Christmas Past (Ashly Fishell-Shaffer) enjoys Scrooge’s memories of his Maryland childhood. Photo: Jean Thompson


There are quite a few ghosts or spirits in this production and Keegan Cassady takes on the role of The Ghost of Jacob Marley and, though he portrays a very creepy ghost, the performance seems called in but this may be because of the staging. For such an important scene, I wanted more from The Ghost of Jacob Marley, not just a walking around banging chains. It looks great, and Cassady does what he’s supposed to do in being scary, but he could step up the intensity.
Ashly Fishell-Shaffer portrays The Ghost of Christmas Past, Larry Malkus takes on the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Elliot Kashner performs the silent role of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Fischell-Shaffer gives a fantastic, whimsical portrayal of the Ghost of Christmas Past and gives the character a good balance of empathy and sternness that the character requires to help Scrooge remember better times, as well as not so happy times that shaped him into the man he is. Larry Malkus is a dominant, confident Ghost of Christmas Present and gives a strong performance as the traditionally robust and hearty character.
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Fred Scrooge (Elliott Kashner) invites his uncle Ebenezer Scrooge (Gregory Burgess) to dinner and offers a gift, which Scrooge declines. Photo: Jean Thompson


Elliott Kashner does take on the shadowy role of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, but he is a highlight of this production as Fred, Scrooge’s young, hapless, and congenial nephew. Kashner gives a committed and strong performance as the counter to the curmudgeon old Scrooge and keeps up his energy throughout the production. A featured scene, a Christmas party along with his wife, Dorothy (Alana Michelle), Topper (Bart Debick), and Caroline (Kate Forton), is natural with a good chemistry between all of the actors. Forton gives a particularly humorous performance of a young girl who’s had a little too much egg nog.
Two standouts in this production are Larry Malkus as Mr. Fezziwig and Kathryne Daniels as Mrs. Fezziwig. This scene during a point in Scrooge’s past is always a high-energy, upbeat scene and Malkus and Daniels take it to the hilt. They both give strong, energetic performances with a natural flare that make these characters likable from the moment they step onstage.
Fezziwig Dance

Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig (Larry Malkus and Kathryne Daniels) kick up their heels during an office party with employees Young Scrooge (JC Payne), George Wilkens (Bart Debicki) and others (Lauren Engler and Elana Michelle) among the revelers. Photo: Jean Thompson


Gregory Burgess is superb as Ebeneezer Scrooge and has a tight grasp on this character and what he’s all about. His transition from the beginning of this story to the end is seamless but noticeable, as it should be. He has a strong presence and a great command of the stage making him an ideal Ebeneezer Scrooge. There are a few curious choices he makes portraying this character such as a screeching yelp I believe is supposed to be comical but comes off more jarring than anything and a tendency to over-act with large, sweeping gestures and exaggerated facial expressions. Regardless, Burgess portrays this popular, well-known character with a natural ease and succeeds in transitioning Scrooge from a stingy, heartless old man to a loving, compassionate being who has really learned the meaning of Christmas and the love of your fellow man.
Final thought… A Christmas Carol is a timeless tale that can be challenging to give an overall fresh look. Some adaptations are successful, some are so-so, and some are downright painful. I’d put this production at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company in the middle category of so-so. Don’t get me wrong… the production itself is quite good and the audiences seem to enjoy it immensely. Most of the performances were top-notch and dedicated, the costumes were on point, the music selections are appropriate and well-rehearsed, the Set Design is spot on, and all technical aspects of this production work nicely together. The problem lies in the script and the attempt to bring Baltimore into the equation. This story is such that it can be set anywhere, but the setting is not so important as the lesson taught and being reminded that we are in Baltimore every five minutes got downright annoying. We get it. We’re in Baltimore. It’s cute and it helps the audience make a connection, but sometimes it’s best to air on the side of moderation. As stated, overall, it is a well put-together, focused and, even though there are about fifteen other productions of A Christmas Carol happening in the area, this is a production, aside from a few minor flaws, worth checking out during the holiday season.
This is what I thought of Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of A Christmas Carol… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
A Christmas Carol will play through December 23 at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, 7 South Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-244-8571 or purchase them online.
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Review: Julius Caesar at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
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Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 45 minutes with two 10-minute intermissions
It seems that today, politics rule the airwaves and television screens. Something is always happening and no matter what, there are people who are unhappy or vehemently disagree with whatever’s going on. Well, it’s good to see some things never change (of course, I’m being sarcastic) and people have been following and fighting over politics since we were first able to form our own thoughts. Of course, people have been writing about politics and current events for as long as we could write, as well, and Chesapeake Shakespeare Company‘s season opener, William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Directed by Michael Tolaydo, with Set Design by Audrey Bodek, Lighting Design by Michael Lonegro, Sound Design by David Crandall and Costume Design by Kristina Martin, gives us a glimpse into The Great Bard’s view of ancient Roman politics and how they handled things. Certainly one of Shakespeare’s classics, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company has managed to pull this piece into the 21st century and presents it in a way that is easy to follow and enthralling making it one of the best productions of this piece that I’ve seen yet.

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Ron Heneghan, Caitlin Carbone, Briana Manente, Michael P. Sullivan, Lesley Malin, Mehul Gulati, Vince Eisenson and Mary Coy. Photo by Robert Neal Marshall.


Audrey Bodek’s Set Design is minimal but absolutely breath-taking. She uses her space wisely and keeps the to traditional Shakespearean design with the balcony and all that, but her choice of gold coloring to cover this set works well and fits nicely with the piece. Her artistic ability is apparent with the random but beautiful cross-section pattern that make up the railings and coverings that are subtle but make up the perfect background.
Costume Design by Kristina Martin is quite appropriate, and, though fashionable, breezy, and fun, you won’t be seeing any togas on this stage. All attire is modern business attire or modern casual and all of the actors seem rather comfortable in their wardrobe. Though using a traditional design for a Shakespeare work is all well and fine and, of course, works, it’s nice to see that Martin uses an updated design that is just as effective, if not more effective in bringing a modern day audience to a better understanding of the piece.
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Octavia (Caitlin Carbone), who is Caesar’s heir, and Mar Antonia (Briana Manente), who is Caesar’s loyal supporter, will avenge the death of Caesar. Photo by Robert Neal Marshall.


Lighting and Sound Design by Michael Lonegro and David Crandall, respectively, work in tandem and create a superb atmosphere throughout the piece. Each scene is lit just about perfectly and each sound is deliberate and spot on. It’s worth noting the storm lighting and sound is some of the best I’ve seen in any production. Both Light and Sound Design blend so well into the production, one doesn’t notice them directly, which is exactly what an audience is supposed to do, but when you notice it… it’s on point and adds an authenticity to the production.
Michael Tolaydo takes the helm of this production of Julius Caesar and he knows exactly what he wants and executes it beautifully. He has a definite comprehension of the text and the way he tells this story is easy to follow even for those who are not familiar with the work of William Shakespeare. The care he took with the modern day theme while staying true to the text is apparent and his casting is top-notch. While a piece like this can be drawn out, the pacing for this piece is spot on as Tolaydo keeps the action moving smoothly, with purpose.
IMG_7389 Brutus face off with Cassius

Following the assassination, as civil war erupts, Brutus (Ron Heneghan) quarrels with Cassius (Vince Eisenson) as soldiers look on (Molly Moores, Seamus Miller, Lesley Malin). Photo by Robert Neal Marshall.


Moving on to the performance of this production, the entire ensemble works well together and each actor seems understands his or her role and how they fit into the piece. With such a large cast (even with folks doubling or tripling roles), it’s a lot to keep track of, but that’s the beauty of it… you don’t have to! Whether a supporting or leading player, each gives 100% effort and dedication making for a quite an entertaining evening of theatre.
Among the many supporting players, Kathryne Daniels, who takes on various roles, including a couple of Senators and a Poet, is a joy to watch because of her versatility and apparent grasp of each contrasting character she plays. This lady knows her stuff and gives us her all.
As Portia, the dutiful but strong willed and intelligent wife of Marcus Brutus, Caitlin Carbone knocks it out of the park with strong, confident performance as does Imani Turner as Lucius, another supporting, but rather important character as personal servant to Marcus Brutus. Turner gives a dedicated performance and gives this character purpose.
CAESAR_by RNM_Caesar arrives to meet Senators on the Ides of March

On the Ides of March, Julius Caesar (Michael P. Sullivan) arrives to meet with senators including Metellus Cimber (Lee Conderacci) and Casca (Mary Coy). Photo by Robert Neal Marshall.


Keith Snipes and Mary Coy tackle the roles of Cinna and Casca, respectively, and both actors are great assets to this production. Snipes, with his booming, clear voice and great stage presence gives a pristine performance while Coy, who has a clear understanding of the text and her character, gives a confident, distinct portrayal of a conflicted, but determined conspirator.
Mar Antonia, one of the leading characters and loyal friend to the unfortunate Julius Caesar, is portrayed by Briana Manete and she gives a stellar performance of this sly, clever character. Manete plays this character as the one you love to hate. The character is full of pure politics and plays all the angles she needs to accomplish her goals and Manete plays the role with a snarky quality that takes her performance to the hilt. She comfortable and confident, making her a definite highlight in this production.
Rounding out this remarkable cast Michael P. Sullivan as Julius Caesar, Vince Eisenson as Caius Cassius, and Ron Heneghan as Marcus Brutus. These three gentlemen carry this piece beautifully and emote all of the emotions of anger, sadness, and even love that the characters require.
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(clockwise) VInce Eisenson as Cassius, Michael P. Sullivasn as Julius Caesar, and Briana Manente as Mar Anotnio. Photo: Robert Neal Marshall.


Sullivan, as Caesar, seems to have a good grasp on this character and carries his pseudo-humbleness nicely and this character’s confidence is well portrayed. He has a strong stage presence and his delivery is near flawless making for an overall worthy performance.
Eisenson, a highlight of this production, takes the role of Caius Cassius and makes it his own. The conflict is clear in his gestures and delivery making for a very believable character. His comprehension of the text is apparent and he articulates the lines clearly and with confidence making the dialogue easy to follow. His brooding quality and good chemistry with his fellow actors, especially Heneghan, adds to this character making for an excellent performance.
Lastly, Ron Heneghan tackles the gut-wrenching role of Marcus Brutus, the best friend, but loyal Roman who must decide between his love for a person or his love for a country. Heneghan captures these emotions and tribulations perfectly in this thoughtful and well-played performance. He’s completely comfortable with the character and his confidence in his choices of subtle gestures, clear, intonated delivery of dialogue, and chemistry with his cast make his portrayal seem effortless and makes him a standout in this production.
Final thought…Julius Caesar is a classical piece presented in a very modern style that is easy to follow, well-paced, and fantastically entertaining. With original text, the performances are rich and spot on and the technical aspects of light and sound just adds to this phenomenal production. The actors are well versed in the text and have a good comprehension of both character and story. Whether your familiar with the work of William Shakespeare or experiencing it for the first time, you will easily follow this timeless story and you will not be disappointed. Run, don’t walk, to get your tickets now!
This is what I thought of Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of Julius Caesar… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Julius Caesar will play through October 29 at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, 7 South Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD 21202 For tickets, call the box office at 410-244-8570 or purchase them online.
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