Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Brandywiners and DE Shakespeare Co

The weather has been unkind to open air theater this week. We had the opportunity to attend both The Brandywiners' “Camelot” at Longwood and Delaware Shakespeare Company's “Twelfth Night" at Rockwood Mansion Park. On starry, starry summer nights their productions are treats for the senses and live theater, but each succumbed to inclement weather on their opening weekends.

The Broadway opening of Camelot was in 1960. After initially faltering at the box office, the show became a notable hit after it was publicized that the show's original cast album was favorite bedtime listening in the White House of President John F. Kennedy. Forever afterward, the name "Camelot" has been associated with the Kennedy administration.

The group with me at Longwood was particularly impressed with Ted Harting's King Arthur. While in real life Harting could be Erin Cates Smith's (Guenevere) father, the May-December differential was believable owing to the politics of arranged marriages between European royals. Perhaps dying his hair would have brought the two together a farthing more in stage years.

We empathized with Harting's strong portrayal of an insecure, self-doubting king thrust into the responsibility.

Smith's soprano voice and lilting, insouciant air as The Queen was perfect for a character who loves her king in spirit but loves his best friend in more earthy ways. That rift is discovered by the evil Mordred and rends all the good Arthur's Round Table to wrought.

Jeffrey Chapman as Lancelot was as strong vocally as any “Lance” that has trod the voluminous Longwood stage, but the chemistry between him and Guenevere was as unlimber as his jousting pole, used with dexterity versus less talented and less self-absorbed knights. Sir Pellinore (Tom Cates) was great comic relief and is emerging as one of the best character actors in the region.

With the mission to make “CAM-E-LOT...a more congenial spot” in terms of developing darkness, the decision for an 8:30 curtain was made. The first act was not over until 10:10; making for a long night.

Til August 1. or (800) 338-6965.


Great credit must be extended to Molly Cahill Govern, artistic director of Delaware Shakespeare Festival. She and her society of passionate volunteers have had all the right moves since their 2003 premiere.

They persuaded NCC Exec Chris Coons to allow the group use of Rockwood Mansion as their venue and then bring along The Greenery as their caterers for picnicking; they stage a show orientation an hour before curtain to acclimate those lesser students of Shakespeare to the night's proceedings; they instituted a comedy pre-show (by Acting Apprentices) to warm us up and they even have Shakespeare-themed arts and crafts for children.

Aisle Say remembers my parents taking me to The Brandywiners when we sat on blankets, as guests do presently with DE Shakespeare.

Another sign of a growing reputation is the outreach to trained actors from around the region. The company has reached out to a number of Villanova U theater grads and the quality is exhibited on stage. Also, they have been accepted into the prestigious Philly area Barrymore Awards.

Govern said they their attendance last year reached 2,500, sure to be exceeded this year if Saturday night's crowd is any indication. Aisle Say suggests they connect with DE Theatre Co. Their product is comparable to that of the latter group.

'Til August 1. or at the door. Curtain at 7:30 but come an hour early for the orientation. It will further your understanding.

1 comment:

Paul Lewis said...

Agree that DSF is doing it right, and the pre-show enhances enjoyment of the Bard.
Regarding Longwood, it's regrettable that their very late curtain is surely keeping families away from some family-friendly shows. The next generation needs to see the lively arts!