Theater Review: Artists’ Ensemble offers weekend of new plays

By Edith McCauley
Theater Critic

The reading of three new plays Oct. 21-23 by local playwrights at Artists’ Ensemble’s New Play Café gave audiences the opportunity to appreciate their talents and to interact with them following the readings.

Before the demise of New American Theater, readings of new plays was a part of their season. That this opportunity is again available is most commendable.

The Shakespeare Conspiracy, based on a book written by Ted Bacino, focuses on the controversy concerning the extensive works of William Shakespeare. Rufus Cadigan co-authors the play, and the dialogue details the theory that it was Christopher Marlowe who actually wrote the plays and sonnets attributed to Shakespeare.

The timeline of 40 years includes conversations among Marlowe (David Jacobs), Thomas Walsingham (Michael Palmendorf), Francis Walsingham (David Gingerich), William Shakespeare (Andy Pollock), Henry Wriothesley (Jamie Button), and the outstanding Maunder (Barry Nyquist). Jessica MacDonald directs with her knowledge and expertise.

Almost since the time of Shakespeare’s death, books and research papers have been written finding flaws in his background, education and travel experiences that give credibility to the theory that he was incapable of the extensive output with which he was ascribed.

Bacino and Cadigan continue to pursue venues for their play.

The Right Thing, written by Ken Staaf, is a beautifully-told story of family life in Rockford. It was not until nearly the end of the evening that the actual truth dawned on me. Barry Nyquist is Ernie, a Swedish immigrant coming to Rockford as a teen-ager, finding work in a local factory, marrying his wife Hilda (Pat Staaf) and raising his family. It is nearly 50 years later, and he is disabled with the ills of old age — diabetes, life in a wheelchair, and eventually a stroke. As with so many of his generation, the expression of emotions is almost impossible. His two sons, Eddie (Jamie Button) and John (John Chase), try valiantly to make connections, but it is almost impossible.

Linda Abronski directs Staaf’s amazing play. The emotional heartbreak brings tears to our eyes, and we find that every experience so aptly described in the play, we have lived through.

Jeeves Takes a Bow Sunday afternoon brought a familiar touch of humor with Margaret Raether’s play based on the work of P.G. Wodehouse. Our English hero, Bertie Wooster, has come to New York City, and friend Binkie (Andrew Harth) arrives to complicate his life. A musical comedy, Naughty Natalie, starring Mariah Thornton as Ruby LeRoy, is a new twist in Raether’s repertoire. Set in the 1930s, Prohibition further adds a new aspect to the plot.

Linda Abronski’s direction kept everyone using appropriate dialogue, and the bit of music at the end written by Tim Anderson and Raether added a new touch.

Local actors achieving national renown …

Usually cast as Jeeves, Gary Wingert is playing at Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago in The Great Chicago Fire. In looking through my reviews, I discovered I had seen the same work with Gary starring in 1999. I hope it will be on my Chicago list before it closes in December.

The arrival of the Oct. 10 New Yorker brought more news. Friend, E. Faye Butler, is currently starring in Alice Childress’ Trouble in Mind on Washington’s Arena Stage and receiving rave reviews. A controversial work, Trouble in Mind is about race, for sure, but a white person’s antebellum view of it: “head rags and whittlin’.”

This is E. Faye Butler personified … “‘I want to be an actress!’ Wiletta says over and over again. The play is about how she can’t be, not in 1957, not here. But she refuses to leave the stage. Or to listen to her director … she’s the last woman standing, as sturdy as a dream.” — Reviewer Hilton Als in The New Yorker.

From the Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2011, issue

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