Student Shakespeare at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 2007-8

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Student Shakespeare at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 2007-8 This review discusses seven productions by the What You Will Shakespeare Company in Urbana and Champaign, Illinois: Henry VI, October 5-6, 2007. Directed by Kenneth Nazarian. The Merchant of Venice, February 21-23, 2008. Directed by Maggie Gottlieb. Ricbard II, November 9-10, 2007. Directed by Jackie DiOrio and Eryka Waggoner. The Changeling, November 30-December 1, 2007. Directed by Alan Walworth. All's Well that Ends Well, February 28-March 1, 2008. Directed by Ken Nazarian. Hamlet, April 4-5, 2008. Directed by Liz Dampf and Annelise Morris. The Tempest, April 25-26, 2008. Directed by Caitlin Megginson and Brian Falbo. This review also discusses two productions by the University of Illinois Department of Theatre: Henry IV, Part 1, February 28-March 9, 2008. Directed by Norma Saldivar. Measure for Measure, March 27-April 6. Directed by Robert G. Anderson.

In 2007-2008, the productions of What You Will Shakespeare Company, a University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign student club, and the productions of the same university's official theater department highlighted the ease with which, and diverse ways in which, Shakespeare has been adopted for expressions of youth culture. What You Will continued its tradition of highly provocative gender casting, which has made it locally famous for its habitual disruption of both liberal and conservative expectations, with the only thematic continuity of its company vision being the celebration of the "shrew" and the fulfillment of her will. In short, its approach has epitomized the Fantasy life of the loveable (but not necessarily likeable or "nice") middle-class, middle-west college woman. The UIUC theater department, despite staging an all-female production of Henry IV, Part I, focused on the idealization of work and the process of acting, a process both grueling and exhilarating (more often, it seemed, the former than the latter). In other words even their emotional release was always strictly disciplined and controlled, and there was absolutely no time in this strict schedule for shrews of any gender or persuasion, let alone a celebration of their rule.

The cheerfully licentious What You Will season started off with an exuberant scream, with the highly ambitious and successful conflation of director Kenneth Nazarian's Henry VI, Parts I, II, and III, compressed into a three-hour production with a cast of only eleven actors. However, this condensing was a minor alteration when compared to the female gendering of Richard of York. This York (Anni Morris) was not merely a woman warrior but a gorgeous shrew; costumed in a form-fitting red satin gown of the late medieval period, her long, dark, curling hair was ornamented with her house emblem of the white rose. The stage persona of this dazzling York was highly reminiscent of Lady Macbeth: ambitious, determined, hungry for power, vicious, and with wicked habits if not entirely wicked intentions. However, while York was a shrew, she was a shrew who empowered the men around her, especially her sons. In comparison, the tall, willowy, blond Cynthia Bangert's Warwick was staid, honorable, and dependable, effects accentuated in her more middling-sort costume, a long green dress coming just above her ankles, with a green lace-up bodice and half-skirt over a black underskirt, her two knife-like weapons tidily tucked away, when not in use, in the back apron straps of the overskirt. Bangert's Warwick, while still the "King Maker," lacked the viciousness of Morris's York. Her Warwick seemed more intent on assisting her lover, the future Edward IV, than on reveling in authority's intoxicating personal effects. These traits were her major faults.

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The production also employed women playing men as men, such as Reignier (Elizabeth Dampf), and Prince Edward (Caitlin Megginson), casting that worked to emphasize the very feminine demeanors of York and Warwick even more. …