The Sunday, September 21, performance of "Merely Players" felt a bit rushed, as though there was too much content for the hour-long performance. The small troupe flew through one select scene from each of several of Shakespeare's more popular plays, which at times included masks, pantomime, and puppetry. Each scene was preceded by an identification of the play, act, and scene, followed by an introduction of the iconic male and female characters by way of their specific archetypes.
The puppetry element had promise, but paired with loud music and singing, the emotionless faces and stiff gestures distracted from the characters' lines, which seemed to have been previously recorded and played via loudspeaker.
When performing Shakespearean theater, regardless of how eternal and beloved Shakespeare's work is, it shouldn't be taken for granted as a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. Because his verse is layered and playful, with meaning embedded in poetic turns-of-phrase and complex witticisms, every effort to convey the brilliant nuance must be undertaken, with a careful interpretation of his satire and tragedies through body language and vocal cadence.
Not all of the players involved in this production were selling their characters. There were recurring problems with timid vocal projection and stumbled annunciation, and at times the rapid-fire line recitation possessed little inflection or emotion.
I assume that part of the difficulty was due to the aforementioned time crunch, and the ambitious nature of trying to fit six scenes plus additional creative content within the space of an hour.
That said, the group nailed two particular scenes: an early, spicy interaction between Petruchio and Kate from "The Taming of the Shrew," and the emotionally-charged scene in "Othello" in which the Moorish prince confronts and murders innocent Desdemona. The difference was mostly brought about by the fact that the actors lost themselves in their characters' interactions, creating a space in which the story unfolded with dramatic immediacy, regardless of the near absence of sets and costumes.
In "Taming," the pair of players dove into a performance packed with chemistry, perfectly conveying Petruchio's confident teasing and arrogant mocking of his target, Kate, who matched every remark with bile-filled loathing and indignant scorn. The gestures, blocking, and expressions were spot on. Tittering from the small audience mirrored my own amusement, and I actually found myself eager to see the rest of the story played out between the entertaining duo.