The WILL-A-THON 10th Anniversary Bard-Stravaganza!

This is the tenth year that WorkShop Theater Company has commemorated Shakespeare's birthday with Will-A-Thon, a theatrical event conceived and directed by Charles E. Gerber that celebrates the contributions of the Bard. Somehow or other I'd never managed to get to any of them over the years, so I made a point of being on hand for the opening night of this 2013 edition. Will-A-Thon is pretty ambitious this year, consisting of a program of scenes, speeches, and soliloquies (the evening I attended, repeated on Wednesday and Friday); a second program of songs, love scenes, and sonnets (Tuesday and Thursday), and, for one night only (Saturday), an evening with Richard Easton, featuring reflections and scenes performed by the ensemble and the distinguished Tony-winning actor.

The presentation I saw bears the title "Will's Way," and it's a more than two hour exploration of some of Shakespeare's "greatest hits," so to speak: a revue of mostly famous moments from the canon, performed by a dozen actors of varying ages and levels of experience. Audiences unfamiliar with the plays may be lost, as no contextualization or background is provided. But if you know the work as well as I do (not ALL that well, but I've certainly seen my share of productions over the years), you won't have any trouble realizing what's going on or remembering how these scenes fit into their plays.

For me, the appeal of the evening was to see actors stretch and take on a variety of plum assignments. Jonathan Weber, a young actor with strong stage presence, gets perhaps the choicest roles, performing as both Romeo and Hamlet in a couple of scenes each, as well as portraying Aumerle (from Richard II), Lysander (Midsummer Night's Dream), and Prince Hal (Henry IV, Part 1). The graveyard scene (with Timothy Scott Harris as the First Gravedigger) most whetted my appetite for Weber to essay the Melancholy Dane (and I hope he will); there's a viable Romeo in his future as well.

Letty Ferrer steals the first Romeo and Juliet scene (sans Weber) as the Nurse; we see her later as the Countess in a vignette from All's Well That Ends Well (probably the least familiar moment in "Will's Way") where she shares the stage with the very capable Helena of Julie Grega. And Dee Dee Friedman makes a fine foil for Ferrer as Lady Capulet in that early scene, and then gives us a formidably driven Lady Macbeth just a few moments later. Similarly, Harris also takes the roles of Leontes in The Winter's Tale and Salerio in The Merchant of Venice. It's interesting to watch these actors demonstrate their range.

The Maestro himself, Charles E. Gerber, also has three appearances in the show: as Shylock (performing his most famous speech), as Falstaff (amply padded), and, most delightfully, as Egeus in the opening scene of Midsummer, nonsensically prepared to sacrifice his daughter's life if she won't marry the man he has chosen for her.

Others on stage include WorkShop veteran David M. Mead (as Macbeth, Antony, Polonius, and others); Kevin Stanfa (Richard II, Horatio, etc.); Rebecca J. Johnson (Celia, Hermia, Ophelia); Rebecca Smithee (Helena in Midsummer, etc.); Lidia Ornero (Juliet); and Carol Henning (Hippolyta, Cleopatra).

The second act begins with the only scene that is taken out of its original context: Hamlet's Advice to the Players is rendered as a kind of acting game, with the entire company taking part. It felt spontaneous: it served as an interesting reminder of the joy and challenge of working on this material. Gerber does his actors well in giving them lots of opportunities in this evening, and lovers of Shakespearean verse will find moments to savor at Will-A-Thon.