Saturday, July 25, 2009

Behind Every Great Shrew

(all photos by Matt Kabel)

It's been quite a joy to be part of the ARTFARM family's production of "The Taming of the Shrew." Even though I have acted on stage in various productions over the past 2 decades, I have probably learned more about the craft of theater in the last year, first working with and observing Jeff Allen and Jerry Winters on "Hamlet" in October '08 and this summer with director Joni Weisfeld.

Watching Ms. Weisfeld, one realizes she knows the script as well as (if not better) than her cast. From day one, she had a vision of the play that both worked with and against the misogyny of the story. Finding one's inner animal and allowing it to inform your characterization i.e. Kate (the Shrew) is a wildcat, Petruchio is a gorilla, etc. At first, some of the actors (including this writer) had problems with this concept but the director had patience (and faith) and the results have been quite entertaining.

The cast of 13 includes 4 Equity actors (meaning they belong to the Actors' Union) and many others with years of training and performing experience. It's been quite educational watching Marcella Trowbridge (pictured above) and David McCamish (left) work on their roles. They have consistently been the first on the set every day, working on their (very physical) "fight scene." Marcella literally puts her entire body into this performance - to watch her prepare and perform each night is inspirational. David has spent hours just on swinging from the rope on the sie of one of the platforms, making sure he lands in the right spot and does not hit anyone or hurt himself. He has worked with Lars Selberg (Vincentio) and myself on our short spat (I get bowled over by Lars) to make sure the hit looks convincing, the fall looks right and neither one of us gets hurt. We go over the scene every day to make sure it "plays" correctly - it happens in an instant yet it will ring false if the fight looks "staged." David's list of accomplishments is many and varied and, on top of all of that, he is a fine and gentle person.

Watching Jackie Coleman (Bianca), Brian Jennings (Gremio), Ken O'Brien (Lucentio) is a real treat. They have performed together for ARTFARM in the past and have so much fun on the set that it never looks like a job. Ms. Coleman is now District Artistic Director for the Hartford Public Schools. Jennings has worked in many productions in the area, teaches in Hartford, and has also taught in Cape Town, South Africa. Annie DiMartino (Biondello) has a great amount of experience, working on stages all over the United States and currently is the Director of Education for Long Wharf Theatre. She has truly captured her inner parrot for this part. Jaime Arena (Curtis/Widow) originally only had the role of Curtis, the beleagured servant of a seemingly mad Petruchio and then took over the role of the widow (who only appears in Act V) when someone had to bow out. The transition is seamless and points not only to her extensive theater training but also her abundant talent. Debra Walsh (Grumio) has such a physical role playing Petruchio's servant and "best friend" (think Snoopy but more rugged) - like others in the cast, she teaches acting in Hartford (in the Theater Department of the Greater of the Performing Arts) and also works with the Hartbeat Ensemble. Hartbeat is based in Hartford and its goal is to create new works that challenge the status quo and make theater accessible beyond the barriers of class, race or gender." Kevin Dechello (Hortensio) is an intense actor, having performed in many of the Bard's plays as well as in the forthcoming movie, "idiot Kings." Kyle Minor (Baptista) is a busy actor, director, playwright, free-lance writer and father of 4. His c.v. is long and filled with great roles, such as Sir Toby Belch in "Twelfth Night", and has directed such diverse plays as "The Laramie Project", "Into the Woods" and "H.M.S. Pinafore." The afore-mentioned Lars Selberg spends as much time behind the curtains as in front, working on lighting design. In fact, he and his wife are currently on the Midletown Teen Theater production of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast", to be performed July 31 - August 2 at Middletown High School.

I've saved Mara Lieberman for last (pictured here with Kevin Dechello - she's on the left.) Mara's another member of the cast with great credentials as an actor, director, production assistant and educator. No one has worked harder in this production than Mara. She has such a physical part (Tranio), pretending to be a man for most of the play - Shakespeare loves strong women who can fool people into believing they are men. Tranio is cunning and smart and will do anything for her master (Lucentio) including hustling Bianca's father for her hand in marriage. Tranio does her best to be one of the guys and Mara has great fun playing this role.

Hats off to the great band (Joseph Getter, Mick Bolduc, and the irrepressible Tim Gaylord) and the hard-working sound crew (Chris and Chris, not related, and sound designer Michael Miceli.) The "behind-the scenes" work of Sophie House (stage manager), Taryn Glasser (assistant stage manager), Amanda Klause (administrative intern) and Kristy Johnson (assistant director) has been consistently strong and supportive. Christian Milik's costume designs have been clever, kooky, and, in my case, quite comfortable.

One cannot forget all the work done by Dic Wheeler and Marcella. ARTFARM has been their dream (almost) from the day they met. They are educators, entertainers, environmentalists, activists, and an integral part of the Middletown landscape. Even though he's not in the play, Dic has worked extremely hard behind the scene (imagine how few plays Shakespeare would have written if he also had to write grant proposals) and is always supportive of the cast and crew.

What a treat for me to watch and work with such great people. We appreciate the people who have come out to the Grove at MxCC, even when the weather has been iffy (we have only used the "rain space" once) and love the performers who have opened every night. Sunday's Eco-Festival is fun and informative. Making magic takes a lot of hard work, committed people and community support. All that has come together this summer to create "The Taming of the Shrew."

Pre-show concerts start at 6 p.m. and the play commences at 7. The Eco-Festival runs from 4 - 6 p.m. For more information, go to

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