Theater Review: Cardenio

Brooklyn College’s Theatre Department held a wedding party – featuring the marriage of Anselmo (Matt McGill) and Camila (Sara Fallon Moran) – as part of Stephen Greenblatt and Charles L. Mee’s play Cardenio. Directed by Brooklyn College alum Stephen Kaliski, this play focuses on a wedding party for a happy couple on their weekend away in Umbria, Italy. The performance, which ran from Nov. 17 To Nov. 19, and took place in 307 Roosevelt, transformed a former gymnasium into a fun, dramatic weekend away for all those in attendance – and, of course, was full of hijinks.

The play focuses on all of the things that make Shakespeare great – in fact, it even bases part of its premise on Shakespeare on multiple levels. The abundance of Shakespeare-inspired references and plot devices remain clear – mismatched lovers, secret plans of seductions, lots of sex jokes, and a play-within-a-play.

This story becomes even more “meta” when the groom, Anselmo, entertains a surprise visit by his parents, Luisa (Maria Wood) and Alfred (Walter Petryk). The couple, a middle-aged, theater-obsessed duo, is set on doing a production of a lost Shakespeare play, Cardenio, during the wedding party, and have even brought along an old college friend of Anselmo’s, Susana (Katherine George), to cinch the plan. Petryk and Wood have wonderful stage chemistry, and they perform with liveliness, energy, and over-the-top joviality – the parents, a role often cast off in plays that focus on youth, here get performed unforgettably. George’s Susana has a soft-spoken, gentle quality of someone adamantly trying to do right by herself and overcome her broken past. While George’s performance at times got overshadowed by the flashy gestures and shouts of other cast members and the musicality of the production, her quiet, thoughtful Susana stuck out as an interesting, well thought-out interpretation.

Add to all of the previous hijinks the opening scene of Cardenio, where Anselmo attempts to convince his best friend, Will (Alex Scelso), to seduce his new bride in order to prove her faithfulness, and you have one hell of a dramatic drama-within-a-drama, based on (arguably) the greatest dramatist of all time.

In this production of Cardenio, the acting and ensemble-style performance shines. Scelso, McGill, and Moran all interact with each other in ways endearing, duplicitous, and hilarious. Scelso, particularly, easily allows the audience to follow along on the romantic journey of his character, even when the script seemed to rush it along. McGill’s dramatic, confused, and enraged moments during parts of the climax render a delightful character and provide full entertainment. Lighting designer Chris Cancel Pomales and set designer of Paihsin Shih bring the flavors of Umbria, and the atmosphere of a wedding party, alive beautifully. Music developed by sound designer Edrick Subervi, which wafts in and out of the performance during its most theatrically heightened scenes, heightens the mood and tone of the piece smoothly, adding to the play’s own musicality. However, there were moments during the opening night performance where the music spilled over the actors’ lines, making them difficult to hear. The costumes, designed by Nelly Reyes, remain fitting and serve the roles of the play well.

The staging, done in a thrust-style arrangement, made for an intimate experience, although it felt the front-area staging was superfluous and that the actors inherent desires were to perform to the audience sitting on either side of the stage, and backs were often turned towards the small front section. A great cast of both major and supporting roles enhanced the staging and the environment as well, thanks in large part to Kaliski’s directorial style, which felt open and energetic.

Kaliski’s directing, which allows for each actors’ skills to have moments in the spotlight, creates the exact feeling of a wedding party inherently. It also grants the entire cast an equal share of what makes this production such an entertaining piece of theatre. Simonetta (Cristina Pitter) sings like a canary in between her moments of unrequited flirtation and longing, and her acting pulses with vigor and emotion. Simonetta’s husband, the chef Melchiore (Dante Jayce), shouts like a wrestling announcer with conviction. He adds new layers to the phrase, “PASTA!” during a Bacchanalian campy scene that stands out as one of the most crazed yet memorable scenes. At moments this scene almost becomes too crazed, losing its wit and charm in a large, grouped orgasm-style shouting scene that involves the humping of a tomato plant. However, though this over-the-top campiness at times felt it would take an audience out of the play, generally the layers of double-entendre, wit, and charm remained in tact.

An attention-grabbing addition to the ensemble, Doris (Bree Klauser), an uninvited sister of Camila, reeks havoc and steps on proverbial toes as she stomps around the stage, unsure why everyone hates her when she opens her mouth. Her portrayal of Doris is delightful, a shameless character full of conviction and hatred for the institution of marriage.

Another spotlight-stealing character, Rudi (Miles Butler), the Albanian refugee, carpenter, and closeted-ham-actor, proved one of the most memorable, hilarious, and enjoyable performances of the evening. Butler’s energy leaks through his pores and trips off his Albanian accent from the moment he first wanders on stage, carrying lumber well-placed on his body to look like an erection, to the curtain call. Perhaps one of the most entertaining scenes of the night occurs when Butler’s Rudi, determined to play both the roles of an evil villain and a woman (after disdaining over his costume for the “Cardenio” performance at the wedding party, for which he must where a dress). Rudi puts on a one-man-show of part of the “Cardenio” play, speaking the lines of “Dorothea” in high falsetto and going so far as to attempt to drag himself, in a capture scene, as two different characters, away.

The other unhappy couple, Sally (Carolina Do) and Edmund (Dennis O’Leary-Gullo) in the scene also provides a great contrast to the performances of Camila, Anselmo, Will, Simonetta and Melchiore. While both actors, respectively, performed admirably, the script short-changes these characters, and it would have been enjoyable to entertain their journey more thoroughly.

Overall, this production of Cardenio serves as one of the most genuinely enjoyable, entertaining, wholly developed, and certainly hilarious productions done at Brooklyn College in long while. The production, while initially given the challenge of performing in Roosevelt, overcomes it with gusto, reminding the audience that love, friends, and theater, are ultimately projects of passion and imagination.

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