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'Cry of Players' Gets Into the Spirit of a Young and Wild Bard

May 09, 1996|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

COSTA MESA — William Shakespeare, as portrayed in William Gibson's "A Cry of Players," and Paul Gauguin, as portrayed in W. Somerset Maugham's "The Moon and Sixpence," are virtually identical.

Maugham's Gauguin was a successful Paris stockbroker who gave up his career, deserted his wife and children and fled into a life dedicated to painting.

Gibson's Shakespeare was raised in Stratford-Upon-Avon, the son of a middle-class farming and mercantile family, which meant, most importantly to his future, that he would be educated.

But much like the young Gauguin, young Will was a wild type, involved in poaching, bedding numerous local girls and always hypnotized by troupes of traveling players.

Finally, after some social disasters, including periods in the stocks and a public whipping, Will decided to abandon his wife and children and follow his innermost voices to London and the theatrical career that immortalized him.

Gibson's play, like Maugham's book, scrutinizes the artistic spirit and the power it holds.

Both works, without pardoning the desertions, attest that an artistic dream cannot be denied and must be fulfilled if the dreamer's life is to have meaning.

At Orange Coast College's Drama Lab Studio Theatre, director Alex Golson sees into the core of the play but often is too enthralled with its peripherals, such as the Stratford crowds attending Will's decisive actions.

When he zeros in on the central figures, 21-year-old Will and his eight-years-older wife Anne, a good bit of magic happens.

Steve Howe's Will is attractive, as Shakespeare certainly was, and a thread of thoughtful idealism runs through his characterization even at its most volatile.

His enthusiasm is contagious, his merrymaking buoyant, and at the end of Act 1--when Will first picks up a script belonging to the traveling players and begins to act--the sudden awareness of his destiny shines in Howe's eyes with affecting reality.

Melissa Petro's Anne couldn't be a better match to this Will.

She is equally attractive when she smiles--showing her wiser love for her boyish husband--and when her fiery temper explodes at his peccadilloes. She is the shrew who turns his attention to other women, but she is also the pillar against which he leans in his torment.

In the strong supporting cast, some of the actors (particularly Craig Droz, in his colorless reading of Will's father, John) haven't kept their accents from wandering all over the British Isles, but most are on target and get all they can out of the brightly hued folk who surround Will at this time of his life.

*

David Scaglione gives the imperious Sir Thomas an underlying intelligence that excuses his Puritan rigidity, and Michael Rinke stands out as Kemp, the kinetic leader of the traveling players. Amanda Helene is charming as one of Will's amorous connections, with just the right amount of pizazz to validate his attraction, and Alex La Verde is funny and often touching as Will's one-armed co-poacher Fulk.

Florentino Vincent Tovar gives a strong, sympathetic performance as the fawning hunchback Richards.

Peter Kreder plays Will's brother Gilbert with a telling, dour grossness that may not be historically correct but which bolsters Gibson's lesson about the power of the creative urge and its discomfort in the real world.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Steve Howe: Will Shakespeare

Alex La Verde: Fulk

Florentino Vincent Tovar: Richards

Melissa Petro: Anne

Michael Rinke: Kemp

David Scaglione: Sir Thomas

Amanda Helene: Jenny

Craig Droz: John

Peter Kreder: Gilbert

An Orange Coast College Department of Theatre Arts production of a play by William Gibson, directed by Alex Golson. Scenic design: David Scaglione. Costume design: Donna Dickens. Lighting design: Rick Golson. Sound design: Christopher Eric Golson, David Scaglione, Danial Alexander Golson. Stage manager: Donna Ham. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

* What: "A Cry of Players."

* When: Today through Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m.

* Where: The Drama Lab Studio Theatre, Orange Coast College, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa.

* Whereabouts: Take the San Diego (405) Freeway to Fairview exit and head south to Orange Coast College.

* Wherewithal: $6-$9.

* Where to call: (714) 432-5880.

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