Tag Archives: Voices Found Repertory

Butterfly Monarch

photo by Alexis Furseth

by Jeff Grygny

He holds out his hand, perfectly confident that a glass of wine will instantly be there. His royal purple suit is set off by a glittering yet tasteful crown.He’s vain, preening, and he knows that he’s God’s chosen regent on Earth. He’s Richard II, the King of England: he really does wield absolute power. And he’s fine with that. Unfortunately, his self-esteem is inversely proportional to his governing skills.

It’s understandable why Shakespeare’s history plays, like Richard II, should be so seldom performed (first time in my memory for this one!). They’re full of wordy politics that generally  boil down to squabbles between hereditary rich guys: not exactly themes that raise the modern pulse. But in this honest, stylish, and highly entertaining production by Voices Found Repertory, the play comes alive, and even seems weirdly pertinent for a time when tech billionaires challenge each other to fistfights, and a grifter would-be dictator commands the loyalty of great swaths of a supposed democracy.

Director Hannah Kubiak’s frothy interpretation owes as much to Noel Coward as to Holingshead’s Chronicles. Her choice of a Roaring 20’s setting is inspired: with skillful extra-textual actions and vocalizations, you can feel the “anything goes” giddiness—just before things get all too real. Even Richard’s throne is painted with an art deco peacock. And you’ve probably never seen an over-the-top fight scene set to the Charleston before!

As customary in Voices Found shows, there’s no performance below journeyman level, and every player is crystal clear, in diction as well as in character and motivation. We might not grasp every detail of the feudal machinations, but we always know what’s going on in the relationships. This gives us a precious opportunity to see Shakespeare exploring themes and tropes we know from his more famous plays.

In the title role, Kyle Connor is at the center of it all and  at the top of his game. His Richard foreshadows Lear’s grandiosity, Richard III’s compulsive oversharing, and Hamlet’s self-conscious ponderings, in a high-wire act between comedy of manners and vertiginous political peril. Connor’s Richard winks, glowers and swans about the stage hilariously, often winning laughs just with a well-timed vocal coo. This fabulously histrionic monarch hogs every scene: when learning of a wronged lord’s rebellion, he calls on England’s wildlife and very earth to defend his anointed right (it doesn’t go well); when abdicating to his rival, he stages a little tug of war with the literal crown; then calls for a mirror and shatters his own reflection This is all great stuff: it probably came right out of the Chronicles, but it could just as easily be a Monty Python routine.

photo by Alexis Furseth

While Richard is sucking the oxygen out of every room, Connor is supported by a sturdy cast who do the heavy narrative lifting as his sycophants, rivals, and enemies. Scott Oehme-Sorensen and Stefan Kent do another Pythonesque turn as a pair of gardeners opining about the doings of the high and mighty. Faith Klick gives Richard’s nameless queen a poignant presence, not least in their surprisingly touching farewell. But overall, this is history as farce, and we just can’t look away from the wreckage.

Reportedly, when the Earl of Essex was plotting to depose Queen Elizabeth, he paid Shakespeare’s company to play Richard II to warm the people to the idea of a coup (it didn’t work). Now, in a time when coups and attention-hogging leaders are in the daily headlines, it’s oddly comforting to know that England got itself into such massive messes and managed to come through. But as Richard’s deposal led to the bloody violence of the Wars of the Roses, it’s also a sobering reminder that coups are always a nasty business— and that rule by drama is seriously overrated.

In Richard II, Voices Found gives us the precious opportunity to appreciate the timeliness of a rarely-seen classic, with a fresh and respectful, but not reverential, take that reveals the play as a minor  tragicomic masterpiece and a fascinating peek into the mind of a great playwright.

 Voices Found Repertory presents

Richard II

by William Shakespeare

Playing through September 3


Kids These Days

photo by Alexis Furseth

by Jeff Grygny

Voices Found Repertory gives young theater artists the precious opportunity to challenge, and be challenged by, the great works of the past. In their earnest, no-frills production of Romeo and Juliet, currently playing at the Interchange Theater Co-Op, we can see this pas de deux of old and new in action, and it’s the tension that makes the performance engaging.

It’s like a TV show set in a theatrical universe where the social norms are patriarchal, but the Prince is a stern woman in a ball gown, the street toughs crack Elizabethan puns and duel with knives, but everyone displays the body language and emotional registers of 21st Century Americans. First-time director Phillip Steenbekkers has coached his actors to understand exactly what they’re saying and why they’re saying it; to discover the human hearts beating within the 400 year old words, and translate them into characters contemporary audiences will understand. This is how theater should work, isn’t it?  Aside from occasional whisperiness, the casts’ diction is good; Shakespeare’s lines aren’t naturalistic, but they make them sound natural, while creating characters that we can easily relate with. Most impressively, the artists ask deep questions about this most famous of love stories. Plain vanilla boy-girl romance isn’t much in vogue these days: this production looks hard at its two young lovers and comes up with its own answers.

Amber Weissert plays Juliet as a fourteen-year-old, a choice accentuated by her little girl outfit. She accents her frustrations with very relatable adolescent roars. At  the same time, she’s sensitive enough to deliver some of the greatest poetry ever written, and seems enchanted by the words coming to her as she paces on that balcony. Similarly, Max Pink’s Romeo seems to enjoy just being Romeo: he’s an affable presence, perhaps more British cool than Italian fire, but with a fevered imagination that impels him to reckless deeds. The overall effect is to present these two kids as driven more by the idea of being in love than by actual passion, or god forbid, horniness. Instead, this play’s emotional core is in its platonic relationships: Romeos’ friendship with his bros Benvolio and Mercutio; the mutual affection between Juliet and her nurse.

photo by Alexis Furseth

As Juliet’s father, Kyle Conner presents a high-strung control freak prone to rage, but hardly a villain. Liv Mauseth’s Nurse is a fabulous American take on a timeless character: the kind of woman who can go teary with sentiment and then bellow off an order in the next breath; Josh Decker has a great time bringing high goofball energy to the role of  Mercutio, playing with out-there vocal dynamics and antic gesticulations. As the Prince, Faith Klick’s soft voice carries more authority than any angry shouting. And in the role of the classic Shakespearean clown, Hannah Kubiak runs off with many a scene as a buffoonish servant to house Capulet.

In his classic study of courtly love, the scholar Denis De Rougemont suggested that modern attitudes toward romance were forged in a literary cult of medieval troubadours who found mystical transcendence in an overheated (and frankly, not very healthy) tango between sex and death. This isn’t a mood we entertain much today: pop psychology and the zeitgeist warn us not to invest too much emotional energy in just one person. Voices Found’s Romeo and Juliet shows us this modern view of romance. Rather than a passion for the ages, it shows us two self-dramatizing kids whose tragedy amounts to a spontaneous lark gone south. Poetry is gorgeous, but dangerously seductive. Not as grand a vision, perhaps, but certainly in tune with our current mood of reduced expectations.

Voices Found Repertory  presents

Romeo and Juliet

by William Shakespeare

playing through May 28