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These articles were prepared for the June 27, 2001
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
For Princeton Rep, Shakespeare on Hold
Did somebody say "Macbeth"? According to
lore, this famous curse will bring bad luck whenever it is uttered
in a theater — unless it be to the murderous character himself.
Area theater lovers were asking the question this week when they
that the 2001 Princeton Rep Shakespeare Festival season, previously
announced to begin Thursday, June 28, has been put on hold, hiatus,
or perhaps canceled.
Going into its seventh season, the company will revert to its previous
"Shakespeare in the Square" events, with two performances
of "As You Like It" scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, August
25 and 26, at 2 p.m., on the Green at Palmer Square.
Last summer’s free Shakespeare festival, held for the
first time at Community Park North Amphitheater off of Route 206,
featured 16 performances each of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream"
and "The Taming of the Shrew" and garnered excellent reviews.
Princeton Rep reports that the season drew an audience that totaled
more than 12,000. And therein lies the rub.
The amphitheater, with a capacity of 450, is set in Community Park
North and Pettoranello Gardens. The Princeton Recreation Board, the
park’s landlord, has denied Princeton Rep permission to use the
this year and cites parking, traffic, electrical supply, and liability
among the problem issues.
"We have a hit. Shakespeare is wanted in this community,"
says executive producer Anne Reiss. "But we were told, `You were
too successful.’ We are extremely disappointed that we cannot
on the tremendous momentum that built throughout last summer’s
"They did a tremendous job last year, but it was very much an
impromptu event and there was not enough electricity, lighting, size,
and scope for the scale of the theater productions they were putting
on," says James Roberts, director of the Princeton Recreation
Department. "They managed to pull it off with great success, but
it indicated to us that there is a substantial amount of improvement
that has to take place before we can actively accept something of
that size and scope."
"The issue at hand is whether or not that park is large enough
to handle the scope of what Princeton Rep is proposing. We are not
sure whether or not we’re going to make any improvements. We have
to do the research on what we would have to do to bring the park up
to a certain standard of safety and how much that would cost,"
he says. "It’s a double edge sword, the better they do, the more
people come, and this park site is just not very big."
Roberts says a $60,000 line item in the capital budget has been set
aside "to lay the groundwork for the Recreation Department and
the Shakespeare Festival to go out and see what sort of improvements
meet their demands but do not detract from the esthetics of the
The cost of the improvements, however, is unrelated to whether or
not the board deems the site suitable to return the festival there
in the future.
Reiss says she is "especially concerned that our audiences and
funders realize we exhausted all possibilities for alternative outdoor
spaces in the Princetons to host a full summer of Shakespeare."
Fleet Bank has funded this programing "from the beginning,"
says Reiss. "We could not have gotten out to Pettoranello in 2000
without them." The group’s steering committee and board want it
to return to Pettoranello.
Reiss says the group has "aggressively attempted to locate and
negotiate alternative outdoor venues" that could tide it over
during the renovation process. Of the nine locations that the company
investigated — including Carnegie Center, the Bristol-Myers Squibb
campus, and Westminster Choir College — none proved viable.
University has been helpful but, as Reiss is quick to point out, 104
outside organizations use the university’s facilities during the
"We’re still going to be producing this summer. We’re not going
away. We continue to hope that we will be able to do a full production
of `As You Like It’ in August. We may possibly have to go indoors
to do so," adds artistic director Victoria Liberatori.
"Since its founding 15 years ago, Princeton Rep has been nomadic,
not out of choice, but out of necessity," says Liberatori. The
group has presented at the Arts Council of Princeton, in Princeton
University, and with site-specific productions. In 1995 the group
began working with David Newton, vice president of Palmer Square
who, they say, "helped us grow the festival." But the group
then outgrew the Palmer Square space. "We thought last year that
the Community Park Amphitheater site would become our home base."
In a statement published on its website, the Rep offers
an optimistic interpretation of the decision: "To preserve the
natural beauty and integrity of the amphitheater and in respect of
the hard work of the Pettoranello Garden volunteers, the Princeton
Recreation Board and Princeton Rep Shakespeare Festival jointly agreed
to address ways to better accommodate the public. The Princeton
Board anticipates Princeton Rep Shakespeare Festival’s return to
Park North in the summer of 2002."
The Princeton Recreation Board requested that Princeton Rep submit
plans for the improvement of the Community Park North Amphitheater,
including infrastructure renovations, such as the installation of
a stage and an upgraded electrical supply system. Designer Lisa
of Broadmead Design, a member of the Princeton Rep steering committee,
and her husband, architect Ralph Lerner, dean of Princeton’s
School, volunteered to present renovation plans to the Recreation
Department for consideration.
"This [the plans] came to us three weeks ago, but we haven’t had
time to look at it," says Roberts. "This is not a good time
for us; we have new programs beginning every day through the end of
He says that at a monthly meeting in the near future (perhaps August,
September, or October) the eight-member joint Recreation Board,
both borough and township, would "evaluate cost versus the good
of having Shakespeare in town and weigh it against environmental
If the board recommends the improvements, cost estimates and bids
would be requested. Whether or not improvements would be ready for
the 2002 season, says Roberts, "depends on the size and scope
Another element of the controversy relates to the 13 acres of the
park that have been taken over by the Pettoranello Foundation, a
group that has rebuilt the Pettoranello Garden section of the park.
"They are concerned," says Roberts, "and their concerns
are similar to ours. Nobody can think of anything negative to say
about Shakespeare, Shakespeare outdoors, nor the group that’s
it. But we are landlords of the park and we have to be careful."
Princeton Rep’s Shakespeare Downtown Education Workshops for children
from Princeton and surrounding areas, as well as for children from
St. Patrick School in Jersey City and from Martin House Learning
in Trenton, will take place from July 10 to August 10 on the Princeton
University campus and culminate with an August 17 presentation. (Call
609-921-3682 to register).
Roberts says his message to the group in essence is this: "We
love what you do, but we’re not sure there’s a suitable site in
for what you want to do."
— Nicole Plett
The New Jersey Shakespeare Festival is off to a merrily
complex and geometric start with "Comedy of Errors," one of
the Bard’s earliest plays. The most delightful conceit of this
is the homage that set designer Charles Townsend Wittreich Jr. pays
to M.C. Escher, the Dutch graphic artist known for his mesmerizing
spatial illusions and geometric patterns (known as tessellation) seen
in his internationally popular lithographs and woodcuts.
Fans of Escher will immediately recognize the tribute that the setting
pays to Escher’s woodcut "Waterfall," with its skewed
structure, impossible stairs, ladders, levels and platforms that lead,
as often as not, to nowhere as they do to somewhere. For added mirth
there, the set includes decorative designs inspired by the lithograph
"Liberation," with its birds in flight. This is not to imply
that your eyes (often dazzled by lighting designer Heath Hansum’s
enhancements) will be more entertained than your ears which have only
to listen to a mere 1,778 lines in this, Shakespeare’s briefest play.
Escher, like Shakespeare, never made claim to being a mathematician,
but like the Bard, toyed with the illusions created by intricate
(read that psychological as well as material). Certainly the
inane complexity of Shakespeare’s "A Comedy of Errors" is
perfectly suited to the world of Escher, in which what you see at
first, is not necessarily all that there is to see. This farce-comedy
deals with two sets of identical twins and the errors of identity
that ensue. Happily there are few errors of comedy to be found in
the staging by Brian B. Crowe, who is making his festival mainstage
debut. Crowe, whose psychologically probing adaptation of
(and what was found there)" for the Festival’s Other Stage, was
admired by this critic in 1999, is not taking any such investigative
approach to the Bard’s silliest of situation comedies.
This is the first production of "The Comedy of Errors" at
the Festival since 1993 when artistic director Bonnie J. Monte
a fondly remembered Fellini-esque version. As Crowe introduces the
citizens of Ephesus, one can perceive them as wind-up figurines
in a large cuckoo clock, each programmed to follow courses both
and frenetic as devised by forces beyond their control, and each
costumed in riotously colored 19th-century regalia by designer Amanda
Whidden. Even as the pace and activity takes precedence and supersedes
the plight of individuals, there is an ample taste of identities in
the making. As expected, the play’s convolutions conspire toward more
confusion. Indulge them, as they are conspicuously, impressively and
aggressively generated with more vigor and vitality in the second
half than in the first half.
The acting is not about to get lost in the maze under Crowe’s
control, as artfully precise as was silent film director Mack
commands to the Keystone Cops. A series of madcap misadventures ensues
following the arrest in Ephesus, of Egeon (William Metzo), a merchant
of Syracuse who was separated during a shipwreck from his wife and
one of his infant twin sons 18 years before. Clark Carmichael is
as the increasingly perplexed Antipholus, the lost twin, who has grown
up and married Adriana, renowned for her venomous clamors. In full
throttle, as Adriana, Veronica Watt doesn’t spare us either the
or the jealousy of nature. That they live next to the best little
bordello in Ephesus doesn’t help their relationship. Sue Brady gets
plenty of laughs as the French-accented (no apologies to Maurice
needed) lusty courtesan.
With a clarion-like voice and a glare that suggest anything but
Corinne Edgerly is standout as Antipholus’ mother Emilia (Corinne
Edgerly) and long-missing wife of Aegeon who has since become an
in a neighboring priory. Antony Hagopian, who may remind you of Danny
Kaye, is a comical amalgam of perplexity and frustration as the other
twin, also named Antipholus, who has remained single up to the point
where the play begins. Both, however, are masters to identical twin
servants, played with complementary impish impudence by Kevin
and Tony Finn. Full of airs and regal attitudes, Michael McKenzie
makes a good impression as the Duke of Ephesus who is holding Egeon
for ransom because of some silly feud between the cities. When Egeon’s
son arrives with his servant, in the same town where his brother and
servant live, they become victims of mistaken identity.
All ends well as the amorous and available Antipholus (you know, the
one from Syracuse) finds love with Adriana’s surprisingly unruffled
sister Luciana (sweetly played by Amanda Ronconi). True enough that
this play is short on characterization but long on verse speeches.
But Crowe’s conceptual ideas are sound and they resound like polished
acts in a three ring circus.
— Simon Saltzman
F.M. Kirby Theater, Drew University, Madison, 973-408-5600. On the
Web: www.njshakespeare.org. $18 to $41 Through July 1.
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