Theatre Review: “Now is the Winter of Our Discontent.”


Note: This review was posted on the KC Stage review system.

“Shakespeare in Love & War: The Histories”, written by William Shakespeare, directed by Alan Tilson. Produced by Shakespeare XPosed (part of the KC Fringe Festival). First produced 2011. (Seen July 24, 2011.)

This is the toughest part of writing reviews. I like Alan Tilson, the man behind Shakespeare XPosed (and Shaittie Shakespeare). He’s a great guy who has stage presence and knows his stuff. I had missed his previous Shakespeare Fringe Fest outings, and I had made it a point to make him a top priority this year as a result. But in the end, I didn’t care for this year’s outing, and since I like him, I’m having a hard time writing up my thoughts as to why.

“Shakespeare in Love & War: The Histories” is a series of 16 monologues from Shakespeare’s history plays, and ending with one sonnet. According to the Fringe description, it “chronicle life’s ups & downs in love and war”, and “the acting style is highly illustrated”. He had readily admitted beforehand that there was no real rhyme or reason as to what monologues he chose or the order in which he performed them, and I’m curious why he went with Henry’s “Once more unto the breach, dear friends” speech, but not the St. Crispen’s Day speech.

Alan Tilson. Photo by Richard Sutton.

And while it’s true, there’s nothing connecting Shakespeare’s various speeches from the different shows, I would like to think you can still put them into some order that follows a general story arc: start with your ones that are at the beginning, prologues and back story; lead into your contemplation ones that typically are in the middle of the play; go into the ones that are all ‘let’s go get them!’; and end with ones that reflect on what we just saw.

And that leads into my first issue with this presentation. Tilson also stated that the monologues, by themselves, may not make sense to the viewer, and so has his tech person read the basic setup that’s in the program in between each monologue. And yes, if you’re not familiar with Shakespeare, you may be a little lost as to what’s going on, but if you’re an accomplished actor, you should be able to give enough in your presentation to where little setup is needed. The lights up/lights down in between each monologue, with applauding after each one, got a little old after a while.

My biggest issue, however, is that each of these monologues were performed pretty much the same: Henry’s rallying of the troops was presented with the same character and gestures as the chorus setting up the scene in Henry V and as Richard II talking about the divine right of kings. I was hoping for an acting explosion, a multi-character acting tour de force going from one situation to another, with barely a hint of space between the two. What I got was more a recitation of monologues.

Thankfully, as mentioned before, Tilson knows his stuff, and so the Shakespeare itself was presented very well. However, it could’ve been much more. I’m sorry, Alan — I really am.

“Shakespeare in Love & War” has three more performances. For more information, visit the KC Fringe Festival website.

Read all of my Fringe reviews here