There is, admittedly, something somewhat ludicrous about sitting in the rain and watching actors play Shakespeare. There is something gloriously ludicrous about actors acting in the pouring rain for an audience of four. Someone once said ``the show must go on.'' The Sons of Thunder took him literally.
And so the show went on. And, oddly enough, the rain, rather than detracting, cemented a peculiar bond between the audience and the players, a we're-all-in-this-together-so-anything-goes mood. The show went on. It was a little show, unpretentious and unassuming, but a thoroughly entertaining way to spend a rainy day.
It began with the players crouched in a huddle, randomly tossing out Shakespearean names: Ophelia... Titania...Romeo... and the list went on. It's incredible how much information is packed into each of those names -- associations and impressions from previous readings and performances. Then the players moved from batting about names to batting about lines and snippets of dialogue, generally focusing on a theme (the weather provided a good starting point, and another early theme was love). The sense of packed recognition became heightened, as the audience recognized and remembered old friends among the Shakespearean texts, calling to mind other images from the plays to flesh out the lines offered.
The feeling was indeed that of a dream (or ``Reverie'' as the title puts it), in which familiar elements jostle together in unexpected but fascinating ways -- a dream well-captured by the informal, free-associating nature of the piece. The seven actors (Ian Reed, Suzanne Hayes, Munro Bonnell, Ian Gould, John Mazurek , Jennifer Wagman and Karla Nielson) functioned beautifully as an ensemble, clearly enjoying the improvisational format.
The second half of the performance, however, lost a large part of the improvisational quality that made the first half so much fun, as the actors went into longer, formal ``set pieces'' that felt like scene-study or audition pieces. They showcased the acting talents and range of the company -- particularly impressive were Karla Nielson and Munro Bonnell -- but seemed completely unconnected. More successful was a series of short scenes of acrimonious love that segued from The Taming of the Shrew to As You Like It, to A Midsummer Night's Dream, revelling in the many variations on a similar theme.
As the rain grew heavier, the actors wetter, and the ground slipperier, the actors gave new meaning to the term ``rain-pace,'' as they raced through the Pyramus and Thisbe scene from Midsummer, laughing, and just trying to get the damn thing over with. And the audience laughed along, just as wet, enjoying the race.
(One warning: Be sure to have a Riverside Shakespeare handy when you get home, to find those pesky lines that you know you know, just can't quite place, and will drive you insane until you ferret them out.)
Copyright 1996 Sarah Stevenson
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