By Tania Fisher
The reputable NYC acting school, The Simon Studio, now in its 41st year, presented its Annual Shakespeare’s Bard at the Bar at The Players in Gramercy Park on Friday June 28th.
This fun packed, joyous, and high spirited event stood true to its name sake, with numerous actors from the Studio embracing the nuances of an historic troubadour or lyric poet as they performed scenes and partial snippets from the famous works of Shakespeare; the original Bard.
Founder and Artistic Director, Roger Simon – who has directed and/or taught such famous names as John Travolta, John Lithgow, Samuel L. Jackson, James Earl Jones, Debra Jo Rupp, and James Woods – has compiled a mishmash of exerpts from Shakespeare’s well known plays, and has carefully and cleverly lined them up in such a way that they became expressionistically linked with one another to elongate a story line.
Mr. Simon’s purpose in presenting Bard at the Bar annually is to emphasize that the classics are something an actor should never give up and always goes hand in hand with contemporary film and TV work.
Indeed, The Simon Studio current group of acting students as well as experienced alumni show off an impressive level of understanding when it comes to Shakespeare’s work.
In the elegant space of The Players Club with the eyes from portraits of Edwin Booth and Helen Hayes looking upon them, the actors gallantly and confidently bounce around on chairs and tables, and yes, occasionally even the stage, to bring the classical words to an enchanted audience with realism, relevance, and natural delivery. The only evidence that reminded its audience of the current year was perhaps the clothing and hairstyles – but one quickly lets these visuals become a mere fuzzy backdrop as the live action spirited us away to enjoy a truly authentic Bard experience.
M.r Simon’s experienced direction let his actors work from every angle of the room; sometimes beginning from behind the audience, and continuing in between them. Props were minimal and only present if absolutely necessary, which allowed the actors to carry on unencumbered and rely on utilizing their imagination.
Some stand-out performances were delivered by such experienced actors as Tom Crockett who brought a touching human element to his portrayal of Brutus as the tragic hero from the play Julius Caesar facing a major conflict between his loyalty to his friend and his loyalty to his country. Playing his wife, Rocky Lazardi as Portia showed compassion with underlying strength.
The elfish and soft spoken Cecile Foumeaux was formidable as The Tempest’s sensitive Miranda; learning some hard truths and tough life lessons.
Talented Steven Martin took turns at playing Macbeth and later Oberon with a very watchable, unforced and comfortable delivery.
Christopher Mayfield skillfully embodied Othello as a brave, yet easily manipulated soldier. Kendra McNulty gave a lovely and realistic performance as his wife, Desdemona.
The elegant and feminine Nasreen Rahman successfully stretched herself as an actress with great results providing a very believable Viola disguised as a boy from Twelfth Night.
Jennifer Yadav was always engaging in the many different characters that she played throughout the evening, in addition to lending her delightful singing skills that were a positive enhancement of the ambience of the show.
With too many players to name all of them individually to praise them for their good work, it can be stated that the preparation and dedication were certainly evident and a clear result of the fine training they are receiving under the tutelage of Roger Simon.
The Simon Studio admirably puts funds aside to provide a scholarship every year to one lucky student who exemplifies what the Studio represents, and as is tradition, the winner is announced annually at The Bard performances. The award is now dedicated to the memory of James Leaf, a talented student of The Studio who sadly passed away last year. This year’s recipient of the award went to the dual talented Marlene Villafane who came to the forefront during the evening with her portrayal of Cleopatra that saw her intersperse her performance with impressive operatic singing.
The Simon Studio’s Bard at the Bar is a wonderful theatrical experience bringing all the fun, and all the many varied shades of Shakespeare’s words in an old world manner with contemporary realism. Congratulations to all who were involved in providing an entertaining night of theater.