The incredibly testy, life-changing relationship between a disheartened Shakespeare professor and her unmotivated student drives the humor and poignancy of John Murrell’s intimate, relatable two-hander “Taking Shakespeare,” a highlight of Canada’s 2013 Stratford Festival currently receiving a terrific Midwest premiere at the Loft Theatre courtesy of the Human Race Theatre Company.
Set in a non-descript town on the ground floor of an old house, attractively realized with disheveled, lived-in finesse by designer Dan Gray, “Taking Shakespeare,” delicately directed with atmospheric acuteness by Shakespeare devotee Aaron Vega, is primarily fueled by a very impressive cast, certainly one of the best assembled on the Loft stage this season. Johanna Leister as the seasoned, critical and concerned Prof and Jon Kovach as 24-year-old slacker Murph are a marvelously well-matched duo, meticulously, and at times, breathtakingly uncovering the beauty, mystery, rage, and significance of “Othello,” one of the Bard’s deepest, most complex plays, without forgetting the importance of connection and the subtlety of executing scenes with realistic impulses.
Over the course of five strenuous, enlightening weeks (lighting designer John Rensel and sound designer Jay Brunner expertly mark the moody passage of time), Prof educates Murph on the Bard’s fascinating intricacies while also revealing truths behind the politics and professionalism of academia. The stern yet droll Leister, sustaining a wonderfully agitated discontentedness, dynamically engrosses. In fact, she is specifically mesmerizing in the dramatic moments which stir emotions. In addition to bringing power and vulnerability to Prof’s reflections on her upbringing and a serious crush that left an indelible imprint which hasn’t subsided, she masterfully interprets Shakespeare’s challenging, illuminating language. Trust me, when Leister steps into Othello’s shoes late in Act 1, a pulsating moment of epiphany for Prof and Murph, the descriptive passage “Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore. Be sure of it. Give me the ocular proof…” will linger in the recesses of your mind. By and large, don’t be shocked if the drive and fervor within her tremendous portrayal conjures memories of one of your memorable, unabashedly passionate teachers and the invaluable lessons learned.
Likewise, Kovach, returning to the Race following a 2012 appearance in “Band Geeks!,” is equally captivating. His perfectly awkward, nonchalant aura strikingly dissipates as Murph, attempting to regain some inkling of goal-driven maturity having particularly disappointed his mother, one of Prof’s former students, advances to a better understanding of the Bard’s intentions. Due to the magnetic credibility of Kovach’s excitable evolution, it’s easy to root for Murph’s success and his future potential, particularly as he grows more confident in his textual debates with Prof and gets to the heart of what “Othello” truly means not only on the page but within his soul.
“Taking Shakespeare,” a reminder that the Bard’s legacy extends far beyond his use of iambic pentameter, would have flowed better as a one-act and has an ambiguously forced conclusion, but it’s easily one of the most absorbing, pleasantly surprising new plays you’re likely to see this spring.
“Taking Shakespeare” continues through May 3 in the Loft Theatre of the Metropolitan Arts Center, 126 N. Main St., Dayton. Performances are Wednesday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Tuesday at 7 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m. Act 1: 65 minutes; Act 2: 35 minutes. Tickets are $35-$45, but discounts are available. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com or www.humanracetheatre.org.
DMM has 2 pairs of tickets to giveaway for some lucky winner to see this show. Like and share this post and fill out the entry below to enter our random drawing. Feel free to leave a comment below to convince the judges to pick you. We’ll name a winner Sunday night. [form 55 “DMM Contest Entry – Generic”]