Bawdy Shakespeare Spoof Stumbles Brilliantly

“The Beard of Avon” is great Winter Fare but tough for summer

  By Libby Hughes

Put your tongue in both cheeks because this is a wild ride at the expense of William Shakespeare. The Cape Playhouse in Dennis took a gamble on this bawdy piece of imitation of the great bard himself. On opening night, the balconies were unfilled and patrons were leaving at intermission. Nevertheless, “The Beard of Avon” by Amy Freed is a brilliant piece of acting (and writing) by the cast of nine. Let’s hope it has nine lives and can survive the two week run because the Playhouse needs to keep its coffers full.

                        Sets and Costumes take bows

julietmills1The set and costumes take bows front and center. Set Designer Richard Chambers is back with his deft professional touch. The impressive semi-Gothic trestles are the mainstays for changing the sets. The costumes by Janine Marie McCabe are rich and opulent in mochas, tangerines, gold, shimmering silvers, burgundy taffeta, and green malachite velvets.—all in accurate Elizabethan style.  Juliet Mills is on right in this photo by Kathleen A. Fahle.

San Francisco playwright Amy Freed is facile with language and plot. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her play “Freedomland.". A friend of hers was planning to write a serious academic book about who wrote the works of Shakespeare—Marlowe, Bacon, or the Bard himself. Freed decided to exploit her friend’s idea and use a bit of buffoonery to tackle the same subject matter. She does it with all the tricks of Shakespeare—mistaken identity, class snobbery, love, lust, and pride of authorship. It takes two and a half hours of intense listening to do it and for summer patrons that is just too long. This is perfect fare for a winter’s evening, but a tad fatiguing for entertainment on a summer’s night.

                        Brilliant ensemble of actors

brentharrisandiankahn1Nevertheless, the nine actors were brilliant in using every ounce of energy and acting ability to pull off this bawdy spoof. Director Russ Treyz extracted the best from these actors. The pace never fell at any point. Each actor created a cameo part for himself or herself. Ian Kahn developed a whole range of appealing traits and moments for his Will Shakespeare. Equally skilled was Brent Harris as the talented and neurotic Edward De Vere. Andy Phelan had the delightfully challenging roles of Dunderbread and Lady Lettice. John R. TiIllotson was a strong John Hemmings and Lord Burleigh. Jeremy Webb made Henry Wriothesley a fawning eunuch to De Vere in contrast to his strong Earl of Derby. Arnie Burton had a splendid sense of timing and comedy as Henry Condel and Sir Francis Bacon. Although Brad Bellamy didn’t make his characters of Old Collin and Sir Francis Walsingham as broad as the other actors, it worked.  On right are Brent Harris and Ian Kahn

The two women in the show had different roles. Grace Gonglewski gave bold contrast to her role as Anne Hatheway, Shakespeare’s wife, and the rollicking strumpet she played to win back her husband’s passion for her. Renowned actress Juliet Mills provided pithy elegance and earthy wit to Queen Elizabeth.

Christopher Chambers has improved in his lighting techniques, except for a couple of spotlight misses or maybe the actors failed to find the spots!.

To witness an amazing piece of acting, “The Beard of Avon” won’t disappoint.  The show runs from July 31 to Aug, 12. Performances are Monday through Saturday at 8:00pm. Matinees are Wednesdays at 2:00pm. Saturday 8/5 at 4:00pm; Thursday 8/10 at 2:00pm. Cape Playhouse is located at 820 Route 6A, Dennis. Call 508-385-3911 for reservations.

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