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Shakespeare & Love wraps up an artistically successful summer run with stand-out performances.

THE BASICS:  This second summer of Covid, this summer of 2021, the Shakespeare in Delaware Park (SDP) company is about to wrap up their 46th season of offering a pair of free outdoor productions.  Earlier, their June-August offering of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S WALK used about an acre of Delaware Park as a natural stage.  The July-August show, SHAKESPEARE & LOVE has been traveling throughout Western New York bringing a variety of Shakespearian love scenes and sonnets to diverse neighborhoods, stages, and seated (bring your own chair) audiences.  As of this writing, there are two “seats” available for the final performance 8/21 at 7:00 p.m. at the Diamond Hawk Golf Course, 255 Sonwil Dr, Cheektowaga, NY 14225.  However, even if sold out it might be worth it to send a frantic email to info@shakespeareindelawarepark.org but don’t telephone and don’t just show up.  Runtime: One hour, ten minutes, no intermission, followed by the traditional actors passing of the hat.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Four actors, two men and two women, perform scenes from Shakespeare’s plays ROMEO AND JULIET, TWELFTH NIGHT, AS YOU LIKE IT, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, and, in a surprise to many, RICHARD III !  And there were several sonnets, of the Sonnet 18 “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” variety.  It is always a delight when an organization actually lives up to its Mission Statement, and for SDP it is: “Shakespeare in Delaware Park is a not-for-profit professional theatre company that provides free, high-quality public theatre to enrich, educate, and entertain diverse audiences through the works of William Shakespeare.”  Yup.  That’s what they do.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:  I’ll get to the four actors in a moment, but right away I felt the sure hand of longtime director Saul Elkin, the founder of the organization and their current Artistic Director.  It wasn’t only the direction that worked, though, it was the material, adapted for this production by Grace Aroune (who is also SDP’s Education and Outreach Coordinator) and Saul Elkin, and the amusing set-ups for the scenes.

In my “day job” as a classical music radio host I have to set up an average of five pieces of music every hour and I can tell you, it ain’t easy when you’re speaking to an audience with a wide range of backgrounds. The set-ups for the love scenes as written by Aroune and Elkin were short, funny, and offered just the right amount of information for what was to follow.  I was impressed.  Again, not easy, but they made it seem so natural.

And, of course, regardless of the script, it ultimately comes down to the actors, and these four delivered.

Ricky and Kiana in Shakespeare Love source Ricky Needham on Facebook

Kiana Duggan-Haas is making her performance debut at SDP but audiences might remember her as “Sive” in the play SIVE at Irish Classical Theatre Company (Artie Award Nomination, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play).  You can see a photo of her in that role and read my Five Buffalo review of SIVE in Buffalo Rising here.

Gabriella (Gabby) McKinley is a Staten Island native and recent graduate of Buffalo State College’s BA Theater program with big plans of “someday opening her own theater company working with underserved populations in her hometown” and we’re lucky she’s still in Buffalo after graduation. You can listen to a conversation with this firecracker on “Theater Talk.”  While still a student she had a number of professional roles around town and was simply outstanding as “Shug Avery” in a recent Buff State performance of THE COLOR PURPLE.  McKinley can be seen next month as “Guinevere “ in Lerner Lerner & Loew’s CAMELOT which runs at MusicalFare from September 15 to October 17, 2021.

West Side Story – Ricky Needham as Tony

I was surprised to find out that Ricky Needham, whom I’ve seen in theaters all across town, was just now making his debut with Shakespeare in Delaware Park!  I got a kick out of seeing Needham here in the “balcony scene” of ROMEO AND JULIET remembering his “balcony scene” as “Tony” (the modern day “Romeo”) in WEST SIDE STORY in 2019 at MusicalFare.  Hopefully we won’t have to wait two years to see him out there again but all we can say now is “Keep checking here.

You can definitely make plans to see Needham in Donna Hoke’s play LITTLE WOMEN…NOW at Road Less Traveled Productions in April 21 to May 15, 2022.

Dan Urtz often plays younger roles at Theater of Youth or else “oddball” roles such as “Not Dead Fred” in SPAMALOT over at the Kavinoky, and, case in point, Urtz will soon be reprising? picking up where he left off before the pandemic? the role of “Jason” and his evil puppet “Tyrone” at Road Less Traveled Productions in HAND TO GOD November 4 through December 12, 2021.  Read my rave review from March, 2020 here in which I wrote: “I admit I was not ready at all for this breakout performance by Urtz. Standing ovations are such a normal part of curtain applause that they don’t really mean what they used to. The standing O that Urtz received at the end was, trust me, hand to God, from the heart.”

Dan and Gabby in Shakespeare Love source Ricky Needham on Facebook

Well, once again I admit I was not ready at all for his skill (and silky baritone voice) at playing Shakespeare roles.  His “Richard III” scene with Gabby McKinley was, to me, another breakout.

As Shakespeare contemporary John Donne wrote “No man is an island” and no play is mounted without the hard work of a large group of off stage artists, who in this case were Choreographer: Terri Vaughan; Stage Manager: K Gorny; Assistant Stage Manager: S. Abel-Smith; Costume Designer: Ken Shaw; and Sound Designer: Tyler Furniss; with Executive Managing Director Lisa Ludwig and Executive Assistant/Office Manager as always rolling up their sleeves to make sure that things go smoothly.

As we all struggle to contain Covid-19, I’m not sure that I miss shaking hands with people all that much; elbow bumps are fine with me, but I do miss printed playbills.  Reading a virtual playbill on my phone during a performance seems rude.  Having said all that, both the on-line playbill here and the “Family Friendly Guide” here are, as always, beautifully produced.  Even if you missed the performances, you might want to check them out, if only for the word puzzles and the fun facts.  Fun Fact: The word “LOVE” appears 2, 191 times in the complete works of William Shakespeare.

Photos courtesy SDP

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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