Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Romance takes center stage at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey


Whitney Maris Brown as Viola de Lesseps and Jon Barker as Will Shakespeare. Photo credit: Jerry Dalia.

Opening this past weekend at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey was Shakespeare in Love, the romantic comedy based on the Oscar-winning screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard and adapted for the stage by Lee Hall.

At the outset, I must admit to not being a fan of the film, with the exception of the participation of the fabulous Judi Dench as the Queen. However, particularly if you share that opinion of the film… let me stress that this production in the hands of director Bonnie J. Monte is an absolute gem.

As we have come to expect from Ms. Monte and the STNJ….Shakespeare in Love (a/k/a Shakespeare Lite) is outstanding in every area from costumes, set, music, props, lighting, and, of course a spot-on cast. The equal of any production either side of the river (ok…most). The play has adulterous love, rousing sword fights, mistaken identities, nasty backstage intrigue and more.

The superior cast includes several of our favorite performers, veterans of both the STNJ and NYC ….Jon Barker, Ames Adamson, Edmond Genest, Anthony Marble and David Andrew MacDonald.

Jon Barker is impressive, as always, as poor Will Shakespeare. Poor in that when we meet him at his desk at the opening, he is suffering from a massive case of “writer’s block” which has contributed to his dire financial position. He’s overdue with his new play—Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter !

STNJ_SIL_1Salvation comes in the form of advice from his great contemporary Christopher Marlowe (Anthony Marble photo right) and the amorous attention of a beautiful noblewoman, Viola de Lesseps (Whitney Maris Brown). Lady Viola is to marry a titled fortune hunter, Lord Wessex (Marcus Dean Fuller).

One very big problem, she is in love with a man far below her station….a man of the theater! (you may have already guessed that their love inspired Shakespeare to change his play to Romeo and Juliet…his best-loved play.

STNJ_SIL_6Lady Viola (photo right) has a love beyond Will Shakespeare. It is the theater….and not only as a patron, but as an actor. However, in the 1600s London it was a forbidden area for a woman. By royal decree, no woman was permitted to appear in a play. The penalty was severe… a loss of a theater’s charter. This does not deter our Lady who disguises herself as a young man, Thomas Kent, to audition to be an actor. “He” naturally wins the part of Juliet.

The Queen, we must mention, is a fan of the theater…. particularly, if the play contains a dog! No dog …means her pleasure is severely diminished!


  Pictured (left to right): Javon Johnson as the Queen’s Guardsman, Erika Rolfsrud as Queen Elizabeth I, Colin McPhillamy as Tilney, and Whitney Maris Brown as Viola de Lesseps.

Meantime back at the castle: Viola, betrothed to Lord Wessex, must appear before Queen Elizabeth for permission to marry Lord Wessex. Once obtained she is obligated to honor the royal decision. The plot thickens when Will accompanies Viola and Wessex disguised as Viola's chaperone-"Miss Wilhelmina . . . gowned and bonneted." Before Viola’s departure to the American colonies with Wessex, she plays Juliet to Will's Romeo. The Queen is in attendance, and settles that Romeo and Juliet does indeed illustrate the "very truth and nature of love." (Photo (left to right): Javon Johnson as the Queen’s Guardsman, Erika Rolfsrud as Queen Elizabeth I, Colin McPhillamy as Tilney, and Whitney Maris Brown as Viola de Lesseps. Photo credit: Jerry Dalia.)

Enough of the plot, to go further would spoil your enjoyment. This is a light hearted, fun production once again confirming that the STNJ is a New Jersey treasure. The same can be said of artistic director Bonnie J. Monte.

In fact, we give Ms. Monte the last word: ‘“We’re very excited to be the first company in our region to bring this wonderful theatrical gift to our audience. This is the kind of play, as was the film it’s based on, that has something for people of all ages. It is a glorious conglomeration and celebration of history, imaginative fiction, music, romance, comedy, high and low wit, companionship, and the sublime mystery of the act of artistic creation. We are thrilled to bring it to life for what will hopefully be a broad and diverse audience.”

The excellent cast of 20 includes: Ames Adamson as Fennyman, who finances the plays and Edmond Genest is Mr. Henslowe the producer at the Rose. Both deserve special recognition. They give standout performances. The duo has a clever discussion about theater: Henslowe: “Mr. Fennyman, let me explain about . . . the theater business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.” Fennyman “So what do we do? Henslowe “Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.” Fennyman “How?” Henslowe” I don't know. It's a mystery.”

Special note about Ames Adamson, save the Queen (Erika Rolfsrud), he clearly wins the “best dressed’ honor.

The other key players are: David Andrew MacDonald as imposing Richard Burbage the lead actor and owner of the Curtain Theatre; Colin McPhillamy as the stern Lord Chamberlain (another great outfit); Aurea Tomeski as the faithful Mistress Quickly, the wardrobe mistress to Lady Viola; and Seamus Mulcahy as the young actor wannabe and traitor John Webster.

Rounding out the cast: Julian Blake Gordon; Ryan Halsaver; Javon Johnson; Spencer Lackey, Garrett Lawson, David H. Littleton; Quentin McCuiston; Patrick Toon; and Joelle Zazz.

The key part of Spot is played to perfection by the Boston Terrier, Dublin Delancy McFinnigan. The program notes that “he enjoys working with Jon Barker.” (ok, we didn’t say he was “spot-on”)

Ms. Monte’s creative staff includes: Denise Cardarelli production stage manager; Brian Clinnin scenic designer; Nikki Delhomme costume designer; Julie Foh dialect consultant; Kris Kukul music director; Danielle Liccardo period dance consultant; Steven Rosen lighting designer; and Rick Sordelet fight director.

Purchase tickets at The F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre located at 36 Madison Avenue, Madison,by calling the Box Office at 973-408-5600 or by going online at

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey offers various cost-saving opportunities, including $15 student rush tickets, which are available 30 minutes prior to each performance, with a valid student ID, and a limited number of Pay What You Can tickets for every performance on a first come, first serve basis. Season Memberships are also available and provide significant cost savings.

Special Performances:

For the same price as a regular ticket, the Symposium Series performances offer a post-show discussion with the cast and artistic staff. For Shakespeare in Love, the symposia will be held following the Tuesday, October 24 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, October 28 at 2:00 p.m., and Saturday, November 4 at 2:00 p.m. performances.

On Saturday, October 21 at the 2:00 p.m. matinee, there will be an Audio Described and Open Caption performance. One hour prior to the matinee, there will be a half-hour sensory seminar at the Theatre. Former company member Kristen Gongora will be the audio describer.

The Know the Show pre-show talks are offered free-of-cost. Prior to the show, an artist from The Shakespeare Theatre presents a pre-performance talk providing background information and an inside perspective on the production. This program is free with the purchase of a performance ticket, and for Shakespeare in Love will be held on Thursday, October 26 at 7:00 p.m., with the show beginning at 8:00 p.m. The Know the Show talk will be broadcast live on the Theatre’s Facebook page so patrons can watch and interact live from home on their electronic device.



Pictured (left to right): Javon Johnson as Lambert, Ames Adamson as Fennyman, Ryan Halsaver as Fennyman’s Henchman, and Edmond Genest as Henslowe.

STNJ_SIL_4. Pictured (left to right): Aurea Tomeski as Lady de Lesseps, David H. Littleton as Sir Robert de Lesseps, Whitney Maris Brown as Viola de Lesseps, Marcus Dean Fuller as Lord Wessex, Joelle Zazz as A Lady, and Jon Barker as Will Shakespeare.


  Pictured in foreground (left to right): Edmond Genest as Henslowe and Jon Barker as Will Shakespeare.


  Pictured in foreground (left to right): Marcus Dean Fuller as Lord Wessex and Jon Barker as Will Shakespeare with ensemble.

. Photos by: Jerry Dalia.

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