Arts & Culture » Stage

Prose in the park

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By virtue of its archaic cadence and content, the language of William Shakespeare, demands its audience sit upright, knees together and eyes forward, for unless you are a scholar of the Bard, its easy to miss what’s going on. And while being in a theater might help your concentration, there’s something uniquely cool about enjoying Shakespeare — complete with men in tights and poofy pants — from the comfort of a lawn chair.

Ed Nahat is passionate about his role in bringing outdoor Shakespeare to southeast Michigan. As he drives from the courthouse where he spends his day as an attorney, this producer-by-night takes a moment to speak to me from the wind tunnel that is his open-windowed car. He’s heading to rehearsal for Royal Oak’s Shakespeare in the Park series. This year, The Water Works Theatre Company, a nonprofit that Nahat founded and serves as president, is putting on Twelfth Night. The company has done a bit of a modernization for this year’s production; the centuries-old play will be done with a Ragtime theme and set to music. Set in the seedy debauchery of the jazz scene that was turn-of-the century New Orleans, Twelfth Night’s story of mistaken identity, love and betrayal will take on a whole new aesthetic. Why this era and ilk?

First of all, the comedy features the lead character Viola, who has to assume the identity of a man in order to find the brother she believes has been lost at sea.

“We needed a specific situation where a woman, by circumstances, had to pretend that she was a man,” says Nahat. “Our characters are straight out of vaudeville … so you can see how it could get very Victor Victoria.”

In 2000, Nahat began the Shakespeare in the Park series as part of a lifelong desire to bring the culture of the city to the comfort of the burbs.

“I always thought that the Royal Oak area needed a professional theater,” he says.

When his plan went off without a hitch, he couldn’t have been happier.

“By providing professional-quality entertainment, we have given people something that they didn’t even know that they needed.”

Four years later, the privately funded organization’s annual production is a massive hit. Unlike some other locally supported community theater companies, the Water Works Theatre Company ain’t bush league. No amateur interpretations of masterfully written prose here. The actors are equity, the set is professionally designed and built, and this year even the music is original.

For actress Kelly Komlen in the double-duty lead role of Viola/Caesario, it’s the gig of a lifetime.

“I was elated,” she says of winning the part.

Komlen, who earned a bachelor’s degree in theater from Wayne State University, says she feels an enormous amount of gratitude towards Nahat for the opportunity to participate in what she considers an important facet of the local theater scene.

Along with many of her castmates, Komlen makes ends meet as an actor at Greenfield Village. Acting jobs, as she explains, can be thin in these parts. Komlen says the production of Twelfth Night is going well.

She beams, “the cast is amazing.”

Komlen and others in the cast, as well as director Anthony Schmitt, have worked together before. Having Schmitt at the helm of the show is quite a coup. He’s the former associate director of Wayne State University’s Hilberry Graduate Repertory Theatre Acting Program and Company. Both Nahat and Komlen studied under him and say he’s one of the best directors they have ever worked with.

And if their presentation of musical theater can get folks out of their living rooms and onto the grass for a vaudeville version of an age-old classic, maybe the old bard himself said it best:

If music be the food of love, play on.

 

Play on with Twelfth Night as part of the Shakespeare in the Park series at Jaycee Park (east of Crooks on 13 Mile Road, Royal Oak); Thursday-Sunday, July 29-Aug. 8. Call 248-988-1359 or visit shakespeareroyaloak.urbanideas.com. Tickets are $10-$20. Bring a lawn chair.

 

Have a budding thespian in the house? Then don’t miss The Water Works Theatre Company’s KidShakespeare: a three-day outdoor workshop for youngsters who might like to try their hand at acting. Kids will learn how to delivery soliloquies and sonnets, or learn how to do an Elizabethan dance. Aug. 2-3, with a performance on Aug. 4. Call 248-388-1359 to register; $60 per child.

Eve Doster is the listings editor of Metro Times. E-mail edoster@metrotimes.com

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