Will on the Hill: not ready for prime time, but it doesn’t matter
Mon, April 26, 2010 — So the deal with Will on the Hill, in which Congressmen and journalists perform something which resembles Shakespeare in order to raise money to introduce kids to the Bard, is – most of these guys should keep their day jobs.
Of course, most of them already left their day jobs to become members of Congress, but no matter. The point here is that none of the participants in this reader’s theater presentation of Peter Byrne’s clever if somewhat farfetched script would be confused with Holly Twyford – except for Holly Twyford, who along with another ringer, Peter Jacobson (now playing Dr. Taub in TV’s “House”), carried the theatrical weight for most of the enthusiastic amateurs on stage with them.
To be fair, why should we expect our political leaders to be great actors? We wouldn’t expect our actors to become political leaders. Oh, wait. Well, maybe it’s not such a stretch for the junior Senator from Mississippi, Roger Wicker, to play a President. Even one who is the grips of some, um, malaise which compels him to utter Shakespeare’s greatest speeches in response to every question. The President’s dilemma is the dilemma of his top aides, played by Twyford and Jacobson, and they decide to have his cabinet officials and Vice-President (Sen. Richard Lugar, R.-Ind.) play out scripted scenes in which Shakespeare is applied to the President’s political agenda. Their objective: to snap the President out of it before he makes his State of the Union Speech that night.
Some of this works out pretty well. Wicker projects the sort of professorial persona which movies and TV shows often ascribe to Presidents, but which never occur in real life. Oh, wait. Anyway, Representatives Jesse Jackson (D. –Ill.) as the Secretary of State and Jim McDermott (D. – Wash.) as a third-world ambassador had an excellent scene together in which the Secretary uses the terrified ambassador’s body to illustrate the meaning of the “Prick me, do I not bleed?” speech from The Merchant of Venice in order to persuade some reluctant Senators (Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R.-Va and DC CFO Dr. Natwar Ghandi) to support the President’s foreign aid package. Rep. Jared Polis (D.-Col), who made his fortune in the dot com business, did a star turn as a video-game addicted slacker who is the object of the President’s volunteerism outreach, and FOX News Channel White House correspondent Major Garrett was terrific as a moronic applicant for a CEO position who was relying on his male-bonding skills to beat out a more qualified woman (Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D.-Fla).
It is true that some of the other participants were a little underrehearsed, which can be fatal to the task of deriving meaning from Shakespeare. But it didn’t matter much, and the cheery participants knew it. The real point was embodied in the opening Act, which was Act III, Scene 2 of As You Like It, (in which Rosalind makes her decision to pose as a man in order to discourage Orlando’s love) as performed by students from the Charles Herbert Flowers High School of Springdale, MD. Now, those kids knew their Shakespeare, thanks to funding derived from previous Wills on the Hills. In particular, young Quincy Vicks was a marvelous Orlando, witty and charismatic.
Teacher Shanelle Ingram, teaching artist Rachel Grossman, and student directors Kierra Snowden and Monique Warren made the canny decision to set the scene in a modern-day jungle near Cape Town, thus allowing their excellent dancers (Amira Lee, Vincenta Cruz, Denzel Hamilton, Madison Sellers, Elizabeth Amana, Marcus Briddell, Dejah Muriel, and Sonya Osei) to slither panther-like in and out of the scene as Orlando negotiated through classic Shakespeare dialogue with Rosalind (Gift Adeboyeku), Celia (Tiara Jackson) and Jacques (Myiesha Speight). Congratulations to them and the rest of this good cast (Justin Thompson, Michael Carter, Nia Miller, Dominic Cox and Qyesha Boone) and crew (Don Perry, Khadija Lake, and Lawrence Bailey, in addition to others already mentioned).
Shakespeare Theatre announced that it had sold out Monday night’s performance, so multiplying eight hundred seats (minus a few freeloaders like myself) by the very reasonable price of fifty dollars a head, that meant a gross in the range of $40K, which, I’m sure, would satisfy even Dr. Ghandi for a single evening’s business. That translates to a whole lotta Shakespeare in the schools — not bad for a bunch of amateurs.