REVIEW: Taking Shakespeare

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I’ve talked about my desire to better appreciate William Shakespeare and his plays – and my commitment to see more of them. I know that I’m not alone in not fully understanding – or even liking – that ancient language and trying to grasp the story being told in spite of the foreign nature of it.

So, when Human Race Theatre announced they were producing a show called TAKING SHAKESPEARE I rolled my eyes and thought it would be a bore of a play. But I read the description and I saw the cast and I was very interested.

Johanna Leister plays an aging professor of English who has been recommended as a tutor for a non-traditional freshman, “Murphy,” played by Jon Kovach.  It also happens that his mother is the Dean of Humanities – and therefore the boss.  And it also just so happens that the play that needs tutored is “Othello,” which is the professor’s favorite Shakespearean play.

Director Aaron Vega makes the most out of the wide stage in The Loft.  As usual, the set is gorgeous with lush details, rich texture, and believable furniture and dressings.  It feels exactly how you would expect this woman’s home to feel.  Leister is masterful and expressing displeasure with pretty much everything.  Yet, somehow this new teaching relationship has renewed a spark in her and we begin to see the passionate educator she once was.

Kovach, one of this area’s finest actors, plays this 24 year old slacker with warmth, charm, and the right level of dumb.  He’s slow on the uptake but not completely and when he finds something he connects with look out because he’s all in.  The Professor admires this about him, I think, and the chemistry between these actors is beautiful to see.  And when Murphy becomes indignant, his loyalty to his new teacher is profound and seems so natural.

This is a very good play, but there are some details that hung me up now a day later.  I understand the playwright finished the script in a matter of days; I wonder what would have happened had he given it a week or two before finalizing it.  No matter.  These two masterful performers are so good that the holes in the story aren’t noticeable during the play.  I strongly suggest you find your way to downtown Dayton to see this wonderful regional premiere.

TAKING SHAKESPEARE plays through May 3rd at Human Race Theatre in downtown Dayton’s The Loft Theatre.  Tickets and more information can be found here.