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Tip Of The Hat To The Bard

The dynamism of improv is exhilarating, except when it flops. Yet, traditional theater can feel a bit, well rehearsed. There’s something in between, something experimental, something that has me as excited as a puppy, and that’s Tony Pisculli’s take on King Lear, Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing at the 13th annual Shakespeare Festival.

After running three of the Bard’s plays each year and completing the canon last year, Pisculli, who co-founded the festival, had to get creative. He has a team of actors, each appearing in all three, all-female plays.


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'Edward III' with Kelsey Baehrens, and Paul Yau as the title character Photo by Brad Goda

Here’s the hitch. He gave the actors a sheet with only their lines and cues. Rather than rehearsing nightly and going over their lines together to gain an overall familiarity with the script, with blocking and with each other, Pisculli had them practice their individual lines and then brought them together for minimal rehearsal time as a group. Wherefore came this bright idea?

“The (process) is close to original stage practices,” notes Pisculli. “In Shakespeare’s day, they didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, and they also didn’t make copies of the scripts. That was largely piracy prevention.

They didn’t want copies floating around where other playhouses could get ahold of them, so actors only got their own lines and cues.”

The actors may not have rehearsed as a whole much, but they kept busy workshopping this unusual style, practicing creating blocking on the fly, picking up cues, learning the language. Basically, the actors have some understanding of their roles, but their context isn’t created until their fellow actors walk onstage.

“It’s a perfect blend of improv and traditional scripted plays,” says Pisculli, who has a decade of improv under his belt. “Improv has this raw, immediate quality, but it can be hit or miss. Here, we’re going to hopefully capture (the best of both dramatic forms) paired with the beauty of Shakespeare’s language.”

The jousting won’t only be verbal, what with Pisculli being known for his sword-play. He promises plenty of physical comedy, with a good dose of servant-beating.

Another method of keeping his shows fresh has Pisculli casting a wide range of ability levels, with veterans like Betty Burdick and Ann Brandman working alongside energetic newbies.

“It creates a fun chemistry with the experienced actors mentoring the younger actors,” he says. “Another thing is, we have experienced actors taking the top roles in the plays, but no one is capable of playing three leads.”

So the audience will see choice actors take on some messenger-type roles and novices take on some heftier fare.

In addition to Pisculli’s plays, the fest will present its first non-Shakespeare play in festival co-founder R. Kevin Garcia Doyle’s She Stoops to Conquerby Oliver Goldsmith, who came along 200 years after Shakespeare.

“It’s a comedy of manners,” says Pisculli. “R is absolutely fantastic with comedy, and he’s got an incredible cast. It’s going to be hilarious.”

Finally, there’s an apocryphal play, Edward III — meaning its authorship is in question, though many now consider the writer to be Shakespeare. It’s directed by longtime Shakespeare Fest actor and community theater director Jason Kanda.

“He’s doing something fascinating with it,” says Pisculli. “Some of the characters have avatars, so the character is voiced by one actor but played on stage by dancers.”

One thorn in Shakespeare plays is that they can run three to four hours. To lighten the load on his cast and to keep his audience from getting antsy, Pisculli has pared his plays down to a tight 90 minutes each.

the TICKET stub

July 18-27 ‘She Stoops’
Aug. 8-17 ‘Edward III’
Aug. 21, 24, 29 ‘King Lear’
Aug. 22, 27, 30 ‘Taming’
Aug. 23, 28, 31 ‘Much Ado’

Where: ARTS at Marks Garage
Cost: $10-$20
More Info: hawaiishakes.org

Rollin’ With Leiber And Stoller

Sound like fun watching a cast of talented actor-singers, individually and in unison, bust through a list of 40 songs, bringing the lyrics dramatically to life? That’s what Manoa Valley Theatre and director Brad Powell are giving us with Smokey Joe’s Cafe (through Aug. 3, manoavalleytheatre.com). The repertoire is by duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. We’re talking fun oldies: Poison Ivy, Spanish Harlem, Stand By Me.

The nonet (troupe of nine) come in and out of doors, up and down ladders, in ever-changing costumes. And looking at the playbill, you know what song is coming next, you just don’t know which of the actors is going to sing it or what colorful spin this talented crew will put on it. Alison L.B. Maldonado is hard to take your eyes and ears away from when she comes out with her deadpan expression, singing flirty, tongue-in-cheek numbers like Don Juan and Some Cats Know. Smokey Joe’s dishes up a lot of powerful singing (Derrick Brown, Lelea’e “Buffy” Wong, Alison Aldcroft), serious cuteness (Jonathan Causey, Katja Berthold) and passionate talent (Ethan Okura, Sheldon Gomabon, Miguel Pa’ekukui).