Theater : The play's the thing: Shakespeare at the Playhouse
This is a Shakespearean hors d'oeuvre, with all its plot twists and deceits, all its iambic pentameter laments and death rattles, served in teaspoons, thoughtfully administered and easily digestible.
The result of a creative collaboration between two Island theater regulars, Chelsea McCarthy and Nicole Galland, the Shakespeare for the Masses series at Vineyard Playhouse is a classy, intimate romp - a perfect sampling. Presented as animated staged readings, it is a minimal production (usually lasting about an hour)propelled forth with maximum energy.
The small stage remains empty, but for a line of folding chairs on three sides of the stage, a bottle of water waiting near each. Downstage is a row of music stands used to hold the scripts in loose-leaf binders. No scenery; except for the mandated wooden swords, no props; and except for the occasional plumed hat or crown, no costumes.
Ms. Galland, a novelist as well as a director, perches on a high stool stage left as the narrator, Folio. With a delivery as informal as an exchange between friends, she sums up the characters, background, and plot, and when the occasion requires it, she adds sound effects. She is her own version of the host of Dancing with the Stars, introducing, interpreting what's about to happen, and moving things along.
In the opening performance of the series earlier this month, "Othello," Ms. Galland as Folio began with explanations of "the Moor of Venice," Othello's background, and the dynamic among the play's characters. After describing some of the perks of Othello's privilege, she concluded, "That's how kick-ass Othello is." When she announced that this and that scene would be skipped, she shrugged and said, "Nothing much happens," and another time explained, "It was very boring, so we cut it."
But none of the asides or peripheral informality dilutes the experience of Shakespeare's work. It is serious business, and calling it a staged reading - because the actors clutch the pages of their highlighted scripts - does not convey the fervor of the production, or prepare the audience for the theatrics - the duels, the swooning, the passionate couplings.
This weekend, a large cast assembles for the Shakespeare for the Masses production of "Antony and Cleopatra." We will learn that Mark Antony (Mac Young) is courting Cleopatra (Amy Sabin) and neglecting the protection of the eastern Roman Empire, and angering Octavius Caesar (Molly Purves). When Antony succumbs and marries Octavia, Caesar's sister, there is hell hath no fury to come. Add mounting political tension, lots of lust, and yes, suicides.
The seasoned cast includes Chris Kann, Liz Hartman, Xavier Powers, Jamie Alley, Katharine Pilchner, Jill Macy, and Chelsea McCarthy - names familiar to Vineyard audiences. They will fill the Playhouse with drama and angst, with the illusion of battles won and lost, with the machinations of deceits and contrivances.
And as it all unfolds, the audience becomes part of the equation. Things will happen. An actor will make an early entrance, yet the audience will maintain its collective attention. A script may be dropped, pages missing, a prop could be misplaced - all the glitches that come with an ambitious task are likely. No matter. The clever actors, who seem to enjoy the experience along with the audience, will hustle and respond, and the audience, part of the intimacy and fully invested in the exercise, will move forward in kind.
Shakespeare for the Masses: "Antony and Cleopatra" 7 pm, Vineyard Playhouse, Vineyard Haven. Directed by Chelsea McCarthy, Nicole Galland. Also Oct. 17. $5 suggested donation. 508-696-6300; vineyardplayhouse.org.