you were Shakespeare: NYSTI’s King of Shadows.
Enough Will in This World
by Adrian Mitchell, music by Will Severin, directed by Greg
York State Theatre Institute, through March 19
of Shadows is based on a young-adult novel by Newbery
Medal-winner Susan Cooper, and therein lies the rub. What
could have been a wonderful romp about a child actor mysteriously
whisked back to 1599 to appear in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
at the Globe Theatre with none other than Shakespeare never
completely leaves the ground, tethered to this world by the
conventions of a genre that calls for unbearable tragedy in
every young protagonist’s life. But in this original adaptation,
the New York State Theatre Insititute wisely plays up the
magic in the story, toning down a lot of the gloom and doom.
And with exquisite sets and costumes by British designer Claire
Lyth, and a pleasing Renaissance-style score, King of Shadows
gives young audiences a glimpse of life in Elizabeth I’s London.
Fourteen-year-old Broadway veteran P.J. Verhoest plays Nat
Field, an acrobatic actor from South Carolina with a sweet
singing voice, chosen to play Puck with an American acting
troupe called The Company of Boys at the newly-rebuilt Globe
Theatre on the banks of the Thames. Like many young heroes
of classic literature, Nat has lost his parents, but Cooper
didn’t stop there. She has Nat describe finding the body of
his father, who shot himself in despair over the death of
his wife from cancer, lying in a spreading pool of blood.
Still, whether thanks to Mitchell’s adaptation, Banks’ direction,
or Verhoest’s own lively spirit, the Nat of the play isn’t
the angst-ridden ’tween of the novel. He’s upbeat, energetic,
optimistic: the kind of kid you’d expect to be chosen to play
an “aerial sprite.” That change makes him a whole lot easier
to watch for two hours.
NYSTI’s resident star John Romeo is well cast in the dual
role of Arby, the almost menacing modern-day director, and
the more amiable 16th-century theater owner Richard Burbage.
David Bunce’s Shakespeare generously takes on the role of
father figure for the troubled Nat (and though we are in young-adult
territory, mercifully there are no dark overtones to the playwright’s
attraction to the boy). Nat’s other champion is Gil, played
by Rob Dalton, whose strong baritone makes him a convincing
Shakespearean actor as he rehearses the role of Puck’s master
The nine younger cast members hold their own with the more
experienced actors, speaking clearly and performing some well-executed
tumbling routines. One of the interesting conceits of the
play is to show how boys in the Bard’s day were used to fill
the female roles, although they’re given only a few words
to speak in the all-too-brief Dream excerpts. It’s
a shortcoming of both the novel and its stage adaptation that,
even though Cooper uses one of Shakespeare’s comedies for
her framework, there’s very little Shakespeare and virtually
no comedy in King of Shadows. In presenting a sort
of Shakespeare Lite for the middle school set, the creators
of this show may have sold its audience short. On the other
hand, given its many masterful theatrical touches, King
of Shadows just may inspire a student or two to delve
more deeply into the real thing.