Garden Variety Shakespeare Reviews Archive

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All's Well That Ends Well at Garden Variety Shakespeare
Reviewed September 16, 2000 by Leonard Jowers

     Garden Variety Shakespeare has set this one in the Patio Theatre at the old Clark Theatre at Caldwell Park there on Hatcher Place.  When you go to see it, you'll not see throngs in the park.  The Patio Theatre is enclosed and has chairs for seating; however, it is still out of doors.  Here in September, you'll probably want to take a sweater even for the 5pm performances.
     I have read Charles and Mary Lamb's synopsis of All's Well That Ends Well, but I must confess I never read the actual work.  I found the play to be very enjoyable.  The production appeared to be true to Shakespeare, the plot is an interesting one, and this abbreviated rendition even maintained the major subplots.  The sound system was working properly, and the players projected well, so it was a very comprehensible production in spite of Saturday traffic.
     Everyone in the cast contributed well to the performance.  There was much in it with which to be entertained.  You will be entertained especially by Jared Rausch as Parolles, John Wright as Lafew, and Spencer Simpson as Lavatch the Clown.  Regina Harbour as the Countess delivers a kind countess to a debauching son Bertram (Tom Hood), and Jim Harrison delivers an excellent King of France.  The story is about the love of Helena, ably played by Lucie Irene McLemore, for Bertram.  The main storyline is exposed by Helena, the Countess, Bertram, and the King.    Alicia Johnson as Diana and Pam Cooper as her mother, the Widow of Florence, assist Helena to bring it to a happy conclusion.  Other supporting actors were Nick Crawford, Ben Liverman, Chris Carr.  No one dies and all is well in the end.
     If you like Shakespeare, I do not believe that you will be disappointed by this one.  I personally hope that Garden Variety will keep the presentations in the park so that we, the audience, do not have to sit in chairs.  But the production is good.  The ticket for this one is 7$, but under 16 is still free.


Hamlet at Garden Variety Shakespeare
Reviewed July 22, 2000 by Frank Thompson

     I must confess that I attended GVS' production of Hamlet with some skepticism. Having seen several truly bizarre "concept" productions of Shakespeare's plays, I have become a fairly jaded purist. Although I still enjoy and prefer a more traditional approach to The Bard of Avon, director Clark Vines' innovative and enjoyable Hamlet has forced me to admit that sometimes a new take on a classic can work and work well. Vines has artfully trimmed the excess dialogue in what is arguably one of Shakespeare's more lengthy and ponderous plays. Running time is under two hours, and yet the story and essence of this great tragedy remain intact and powerful.
Set in an insane asylum, this Hamlet casts the Melancholy Dane as a world-weary administrator, filled with anger towards his uncle/stepfather, a prominent doctor in the institution. It's a slight stretch of belief to assume that by murdering Hamlet's father, Uncle Claudius has taken Daddy's place on the medical staff, but it's an easy jump to make, (made even easier by a convincingly sinister turn by Leonard Jowers as Claudius.)
     Ginny Loggins also shines as Gertrude, Hamlet's mother (also a doctor in the asylum).  Loggins proves that she can perform tragic, serious roles just as easily as the comic roles for which she is locally celebrated. Especially gripping is her death scene (not to ruin the surprise, but's a tragedy,okay?)   Loggins brings a true tortured fervor to Gertrude; her death a humanizing moment which casts her previously cool, professional demeanor in a new light. 
     As the inmate/love interest, Ophelia, Elizabeth Ellis shows tremendous range and control as an actress. Her insanity is clearly defined, yet she never resorts to caricature. The self-destructive character of Ophelia is artfully physicalized by the placement of bloody bandages on Ellis' wrists, and this small detail is most effective in enhancing her already outstanding performance. 
     In other roles, John Eccles as Polonius and Steven Ross as Rosencrantz add professionalism and talent to the production.  Eccles, with his rich baritone (and authentic accent) reminds one of John Barrymore or Peter Cushing, while Ross takes a hilarious concept (I won't spoil the surprise) and plays it to the hilt. 
     One particularly memorable "cameo" moment comes with director Vines taking the stage as the gravedigger...clad in a most appropriate "Comic Relief" t-shirt. His few moments with Hamlet and the remains of Yorick are priceless.
     And what of Hamlet himself? In the title role, Clay Boyce does a magnificent job of capturing the rage and internal conflict of this most famous angry youth. As an actor, Boyce has tackled perhaps the most difficult of Shakespeare's roles with skill and aplomb. His physicality and speech both create the image of an adolescent, yet (as with Ellis' Ophelia) he never allows himself to sink into caricature petulance. Boyce is an adult playing an angry kid, and he does it masterfully.  Other high points included the fight scene, which was most realistic, and the ever-interesting maladies of the inmates. Throughout the play, the mental patients of the asylum sit and twitch, fidget, twirl hair, and generally display signs of dementia, sometimes even venturing into the audience area. Watch these guys...they're good and they're consistent. I noticed one young woman who had made the interesting actor choice of having her character think she was a cat. For no less than fifteen minutes, this actress clawed at the air, bathed, groomed, curled, and generally behaved as a cat. Little touches like this, no doubt at Vines' direction, separate performances of this high quality from the merely amateur.
     Now for the bad news..the new GVS location in Caldwell Park, while better than the bug-riddled amphitheatre at The Botanical Gardens, is still not ideal for outdoor theatre. The high level of traffic, both pedestrian and automotive, proved somewhat distracting, and the lack of any directional sound barriers left a few lines muddled and lost. These are, however, very minor problems, and do not distract from a very artful and enjoyable performance. Vines and GVS should be proud. On a four-star scale, I would give Hamlet 3 1/2 stars.

  Birmingham Weekly, July 22, 2000 by Ward & Martha Haarbauer.


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