British, Not Brilliant

Director Barbara Lowery entices generally good performances from the cast, but she stages the piece with an awkward and contrived hand, leading the actors to move excessively and often without purpose. That said, the cast itself isn't bad at all, which is why Shades at least earns its single star. Adam Ohren as Allan is a bit stiff, but mostly likeable and honest. Joi Staton does an admirable job bringing to life the mother from Hell. In the most substantial role, Ellen Beck as Pearl grows on you. She may have a tendency to overdo it when given the chance (and this script is bursting with opportunities), but at the same time she's believable and often quite touching. Beck reminds me of Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino during their best moments: hyperactive emoting leavened with enough skill to make you suspend disbelief.

Now it's time to bestow my star rating on the production company, the Florida Shakespeare Festival. Despite the group's expressed desire for quality and professionalism, the Shades opening night deserves the dreaded black hole. Before the show began, audience members were reassigned or allowed to change to different seats, which was partially responsible for the show's being delayed more than 30 minutes. And the intermission lasted more than a half-hour. I wouldn't mention these if it weren't the third time I've experienced opening-night chaos at this venue.

Artistic director Rose McVeigh recently asked me how her theater company might be improved. In addition to correcting the problems cited above, I would add this: Choose plays that enlighten and entertain, and don't hesitate to enlist the services of an experienced dramaturg (or literary manager) in making those choices. Everyone benefits when wise counsel initiates the selection of contemporary dramas of the highest quality.

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