Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Second Annual Boston Sonnet-Thon"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


The Sonnets of William Shakespeare
Sonnet-Master: Jonathan Epstein

The Sonnets, as performed by:

Sonnet 1 ... Ellen Colton
Sonnet 2 ... Jonathan Epstein
Sonnet 3 ... Robert Bonotto
Sonnet 4 ... Mychelle Panzer
Sonnet 5 ... Jessica Burke
Sonnet 6 ... Karyn Levitt
Sonnet 7 ... Marianne Phinney
Sonnet 8 ... Courtney O'Connor
Sonnet 9 ... Harvey Weiner
Sonnet 10 ... Stephanie Marson Lee
Sonnet 11 ... Jeffrey Gantz
Sonnet 12 ... Robert Najarian
Sonnet 13 ... Jonathan Epstein
Sonnet 14 ... Edward Abrahamson
Sonnet 15 ... Sarah Consentino
Sonnet 16 ... David Cedarholm
Sonnet 17 ... Jesse Martin
Sonnet 18 ... Seth Reich
Sonnet 19 ... Jonathan Epstein
Sonnet 20 ... John Smith
Sonnet 21 ... Emily Lovejoy
Sonnet 22 ... Lita Gray
Sonnet 23 ... Andrea Leone
Sonnet 24 ... Jessica Burke
Sonnet 25 ... Gabe Goodman
Sonnet 26 ... Anne Pluto
Sonnet 27 ... Jonathan Epstein
Sonnet 28 ... Justin Budinoff
Sonnet 29 ... Sam Bernstein
Sonnet 30 ... Greg Mattingly
Sonnet 31 ... Will Keary
Sonnet 32 ... Caitlin O'Brien
Sonnet 33 ... Judy Freedman
Sonnet 34 ... Kate Carney
Sonnet 35 ... Jennifer Powers
Sonnet 36 ... Joe Dominguez
Sonnet 37 ... Joe Dominguez
Sonnet 38 ... Burt Kliman
Sonnet 39 ... Edwin Beschler
Sonnet 40 ... Edwin Beschler
Sonnet 41 ... Christine Radice
Sonnet 42 ... Susanne Nitter
Sonnet 43 ... Diego Arciniegas
Sonnet 44 ... Nicole Reinsel
Sonnet 45 ... Whitney Cohen
Sonnet 46 ... Ryan Foster
Sonnet 47 ... Jonathan Epstein
Sonnet 48 ...[unknown]
Sonnet 49 ... Jami Rogers
Sonnet 50 ... Cara Lea Shockley
Sonnet 51 ... Barry Torem
Sonnet 52 ... Barbara King
Sonnet 53 ... Catherine Crow
Sonnet 54 ... Dave Demke
Sonnet 55 ... Sara Betts
Sonnet 56 ... Katherine Blythe
Sonnet 57 ... Shannon Hogan
Sonnet 58 ... Joel Reisman
Sonnet 59 ... Ditta Lowy
Sonnet 60 ... Kate Velten
Sonnet 61 ... Jan Dovenitz
Sonnet 62 ... Andrea Plate
Sonnet 63 ... Leslie Paladino
Sonnet 64 ... Ferde Rombola
Sonnet 65 ... Chris Butterfield
Sonnet 66 ... Susanna Apgar
Sonnet 67 ... Mary Simmen
Sonnet 68 ... Sally van de Water
Sonnet 69 ... Colleen Hamilton
Sonnet 70 ... Elaine Rombola
Sonnet 71 ... Jonathan Epstein
Sonnet 72 ... Peter Baylor
Sonnet 73 ... [unknown]
Sonnet 74 ... Lisa Birr
Sonnet 75 ... Karyn Levitt
Sonnet 76 ... Christopher Brophy
Sonnet 77 ... Victoria Marsh
Sonnet 78 ... Grace Hall
Sonnet 79 ... Stephanie Ybarra
Sonnet 80 ... Claire Shinkman
Sonnet 81 ... Rich Tenorio
Sonnet 82 ... David Cedarholm
Sonnet 83 ... Eugene Kane
Sonnet 84 ... Eugene Kane
Sonnet 85 ... Alexis Glikman
Sonnet 86 ... Linda Lowy
Sonnet 87 ... Tony Dangerfield
Sonnet 88 ... Carol Parker
Sonnet 89 ... Myra Hope Bobbitt
Sonnet 90 ... Jonathan Epstein
Sonnet 91 ... Dan Gelinas
Sonnet 92 ... Cynthia Lacey
Sonnet 93 ... Chris Shannon
Sonnet 94 ... Iris McQuillan-Grace
Sonnet 95 ... Nicole Pannullo
Sonnet 96 ... Steve Boss
Sonnet 97 ... Lauren Hall
Sonnet 98 ... [skipped]
Sonnet 99 ... [skipped]
Sonnet 100 ... Kim Carrell
Sonnet 101 ... Marco Zanelli
Sonnet 102 ... Elizabeth Wightman
Sonnet 103 ... Laura Hitt
Sonnet 104 ... Jonathan Epstein
Sonnet 105 ... Jennifer Bosch
Sonnet 106 ... [skipped]
Sonnet 107 ... Bil Lewis
Sonnet 108 ... Brian Quint
Sonnet 109 ... Rick Lombardo
Sonnet 110 ... Susanna Apgar
Sonnet 111 ... [skipped]
Sonnet 112 ... [skipped]
Sonnet 113 ... Dave Demke
Sonnet 114 ... [unknown]
Sonnet 115 ... Chuck Schwager
Sonnet 116 ... Doug Bowen-Flynn
Sonnet 117 ... Steve Boss
Sonnet 118 ... Sara Betts
Sonnet 119 ... Susan Gassett
Sonnet 120 ... Jonathan Epstein
Sonnet 121 ... Jennifer Lafleur
Sonnet 122 ... Andrea deCof
Sonnet 123 ... Lisa Burdick
Sonnet 124 ... [skipped]
Sonnet 125 ... [skipped]
Sonnet 126 ... Donna Sorbello
Sonnet 127 ... Jonathan Epstein
Sonnet 128 ... Christine Hamel
Sonnet 129 ... Shelley Bolman
Sonnet 130 ... Daniel Gidron
Sonnet 131 ... Celeste Beck
Sonnet 132 ... [skipped]
Sonnet 133 ... Margaret Overholt
Sonnet 134 ... Jessica Burke
Sonnet 135 ... Eileen Rooney
Sonnet 136 ... Christine Robins
Sonnet 137 ... Alicia Zipp
Sonnet 138 ... Spiro Veloudos
Sonnet 139 ... Mimi Huntington
Sonnet 140 ... Mason Sand
Sonnet 141 ... Karen Massey
Sonnet 142 ... Bernice Sim
Sonnet 143 ... [skipped]
Sonnet 144 ... Alex Newman
Sonnet 145 ... Anne Gottlieb
Sonnet 146 ... Karyn Levitt
Sonnet 147 ... Dev Luthra
Sonnet 148 ... Pamela Dritt
Sonnet 149 ... Ann Marie King
Sonnet 150 ... [skipped]
Sonnet 151 ... John Boller
Sonnet 152 ... [skipped]
Sonnet 153 ... [skipped]
Sonnet 154 ... Dorian Baucum

Last year’s First Annual Sonnet-thon posed two questions: (1) can all of Shakespeare’s sonnets be performed in four hours’ playing time and (2) is such a mad scheme worth pursuing? Not surprisingly, the Second Annual Sonnet-thon lacked the excitement and suspense of its predecessor --- the answers being (1) yes, give or take a quarter of an hour and (2) definitely. It was once again sponsored by Shakespeare Now! Theatre Company, and Jonathan Epstein from Shakespeare & Company returned as its Sonnet-Master. I would still love to see the entire cycle treated as such --- a cycle with, say, a dozen actors performing sets of Sonnets that have a rise-and-fall dramatic line, but I was more than compensated with another stroll down this timeless gallery, and to hear these dozens of voices, clear or muffled, golden or brass; each a unique-sounding instrument in a large, informal orchestra.

These one hundred and fifty-four Sonnets have fascinated and frustrated scholars for centuries: the Poet, of course, is Shakespeare himself (1564-1616); the golden Friend is generally acknowledged to be Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (1573-1624) --- but who are the Rival Poet and, especially, the Dark Lady? All that remains are those enigmatic Sonnets: keys, minus their locks. Shakespeare wrote his Sonnets for Southampton’s eyes alone (c.1592-95); they were published in 1609 --- not by Shakespeare’s hand, but by one Thomas Thorpe who had received the Sonnets from Sir William Harvey (the “W. H.” of T. T.’s dedication), the third and final husband of Southampton’s mother. The Sonnets, of course, can simply be enjoyed as Shakespeare’s thoughts on love, friendship, sex, betrayal, jealousy and forgiveness; many readers know only the more famous, anthologized ones (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” (No. 18); “When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes….” (No. 29); “When my love swears that she is made of truth / I do believe her, though I know she lies,” (No. 138), etc.), but to read all of them or, here, to listen to them in sequence reveals a drama as gripping as anything the Bard wrote for the stage: A middle-aged Poet-Playwright --- married, sired, and financially strapped --- is hired by the Patron’s mother to convince her son into honoring a pre-arranged marriage; thus, the Poet must lead his young benefactor to the altar with honeyed words. As the Sonnets --- coaxing, teasing, or admonitory --- start to accumulate, a loving intimacy springs up between the two men. A Rival Poet competes for the Patron’s favors but soon vanishes from the scene to be succeeded by the Dark Lady --- the Poet’s brunette mistress --- who becomes involved with the Patron (who seduces who?), leaving the Poet out in the cold and feeling his age. He forgives his young friend but their intimacy is forever altered; he is driven to jealous rages over his Lady’s inconstancy and can only find peace by severing all ties with her. The Sonnets are but the topsoil of this emotional landscape. No wonder Shakespeare himself never published them. As A. L. Rowse wrote, “They were too close to the bone.”

This time around, Mr. Epstein reined in his fascinating insights in his race against the clock (though he revealed the Dark Lady to possibly have been Amelia Bassano (1569-1645), a Venetian-born Jewess). The readings ranged from ringing declamation to grade-school recital, performed by professionals and amateurs, alike, and Mr. Epstein encouraged “transformations”, thus Courtney O’Connor picked out piano notes to accent key words in No. 8; Marco Zanelli (No. 101) returned to recite both in English and (beautifully) Italian; and several sonnets were sung in improvisation, the loveliest being Sarah Consentino’s No. 15; last year, Ayisha Knight “signed” No. 38 --- this year, Lisa Birr recited No. 74 from a page of Braille held at her side. Mr. Epstein himself began No. 27 face-down, onstage, then took to the aisles; with Diego Arciniegas’ assistance, he led an audience participation of deciphering the dense No. 43; later, he staged No. 90 as a one-sided argument overheard in a movie theatre.

On the more conservative side, lovely sounds came from Robert Bonotto (No. 3), the dazzling Degas in the Nora Theatre’s recently-departed VAN GOGH; Jessica Burke (Nos. 5, 24 and 134), ever the cool feline; Seth Reich’s No. 18 was as simple and honest as bread; Joe Dominguez, whose cold reading of No. 37 was far more satisfying than his prepared No. 36 (sometimes ‘tis best to let Shakespeare’s music speak for itself); Anne Gottlieb (No. 145), who should attempt Cleopatra again in a decade’s time for she was born for it; and Ann Marie King’s bubbling tones in No. 149 reminded me of her hilarious Sybil in the Theatre on the Hill’s little-seen PRIVATE LIVES (“Oh, Elyot!”). Delightful surprises came from members of the I Sebastiani troupe, led by head zany Alex Newman (No. 144), proving that their commedia clowning is but a sidestep away from the Bard’s own comedy; Spiro Veloudos (No. 138), deli ham on wry (pun, intended); and, astonishingly, Elizabeth Wightman (No. 102), whose declaiming voice, when relaxed and in its natural register is warm, rich and seemingly effortless --- I still want to see her take a crack at O’Neill’s Josie Hogan. As for two current SNOW WHITE performers at the Wheelock Family Theatre, Shelley Bolman (No. 129) is a Hal/Henry almost ripe for the picking, whereas Ellen Colton (No. 1) is ready for Juliet’s Nurse, now. I mean: Now. I mean: NOW!!!

The most consistently memorable contributions came from the senior reciters: leading them was Edwin Beschler (Nos. 39 and 40), whose portrayals of tender old men are rare but always welcome --- what a Polonius he would make! When I played back Dictaphone tapes that I made during the evening, I was struck by Mr. Beschler’s light, eager voice --- how young it sounds; he has taken very good care of his instrument. Joining him were Lita Gray (No. 22), speaking volumes with her quiet underlining of the final word in “My glass shall not persuade me I am old”; Kate Carney, quivering with comic indignation, then relenting in grandmotherly fashion for “Ah! but those tears are pearl which thy love sheds….”; Barbara King (No. 52), with her hushed, whispered tones; Ditta Lowy, who filtered No. 59 through an earth-peasant’s wisdom; and Ferde Rombola (No. 64), a silver-maned lion still in full roar. In contrast, an echo from the distant past came onstage with the youngest participant, Gabe Goodman (No. 25); his untrained voice, though flat, could be heard loud and clear, lending justification to one reason why Shakespeare’s era used boy players for its female roles --- the male of the species has the natural lungpower for them.

Last year, a mouse made a stage left entrance and scurried off as silently as it came; I saw none this year but was informed afterwards that one was viewed peeking around a corner. Perhaps I’ll see one at the Third Annual Sonnet-thon: once, a dream; twice, a reality; thrice, a tradition.

"The Second Annual Boston Sonnet-Thon" (7 April)
Boston Public Library, Copley Square, BOSTON, MA
1 (781) 326-3643

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