Off-Broadway Theater Review: ISLAND: OR, TO BE OR NOT TO BE (The Connelly Theater)

by Sarah Taylor Ellis on October 3, 2012

in Theater-New York

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COSPLAYING WITH THE BARD

A delightful dash through Shakespearean tropes is now the two hours’ traffic of The Connelly Theater stage. Siblings separated in a tempest, long lost lovers, conjoined twins, a criminal mime, and even a conniving witch are all stirred into Kevin Brewer’s fantastical new play Island, or To Be or Not to Be, presented by the sensational New York Shakespeare Exchange.

Sarah Taylor Ellis' Stage and Cinema review of Shakespeare Exchange's ISLAND OR, TO BE OR NOT TO BE at The Connelly Theater in New York CityBrewer’s script may take a few minutes to set sail, but the audience is soon swept away into a theatrical world that manages to pay homage to the Bard’s canonical works while being an engaging adventure in its own right. Two contemporary young women – blonde, starry-eyed Julia (Katelin Wilcox) and tomboyish brunette K (Evelyn Spahr) – wash up on the shores of a mysterious island with nothing but a trunk belonging to Julia’s brother Aaron (Adam Patterson), who has been lost in the storm. The girls change out of their soaked clothes into Aaron’s – and are promptly taken to be men when they encounter the island natives, who seem to be cosplaying characters from Shakespeare’s time.

Sarah Taylor Ellis' Stage and Cinema review of Shakespeare Exchange's ISLAND OR, TO BE OR NOT TO BE at The Connelly Theater in New York CityDrawn further and further into this time-warped fantasy land, the cross-dressed Julia and K begin to fall for Prince Palamon (Brad Lewandowski) and his close companion Arcite (Erik Olson). The romantic fate of these couples is never in question, but the cast of silly supporting characters and the whirlwind antics building up to the happy end make the play well worth the time. Brewer’s plot turns and twists with madcap energy and an effervescent delight in language.

With the sheer number of bodies inhabiting this island, the play could fly apart; yet Ross Williams’ direction is sharp and witty, and rarely is such a large and consistently solid ensemble to be seen on the stage. Each character is a sparkling Shakespearean caricature with a bit of a contemporary zing. Arcite’s twin sister Rosaline (Melissa Carlile-Price) is a ditzy drama queen; the self-important local magistrate Sir Pompey Martext (Michael Shattner) stirs up trouble by deliciously jumbling his words; and Minor-Half-Deputy Silence (Brian Cheng) manages to steal several scenes with his wonderful physical comedy.

Sarah Taylor Ellis' Stage and Cinema review of Shakespeare Exchange's ISLAND OR, TO BE OR NOT TO BE at The Connelly Theater in New York CityProduction values are also outstanding across the board, with a sturdy set – featuring the obligatory Romeo and Juliet balcony – by G. Warren Stiles; gorgeous period costumes by Kristine Koury; and jaunty tunes by David Hoffman. The Bard of Avon is alive and well with New York Shakespeare Exchange’s smart and playful mash-up.

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photos by Daniel R. Winters


Island: Or, To Be or Not to Be
New York Shakespeare Exchange at The Connelly Theater in New York City
scheduled to end on October 13, 2012
for tickets, visit Shakespeare Exchange