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Michigan's only year-round, touring Shakespeare company
Pigeon Creek steeps 'Merchant' in merriment

By Bridgette M. Redman

The Merchant of Venice
Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company

The Merchant of Venice is rightly considered a problem
play for today's audiences, consisting as it does of strong anti-Semitism and
the heart-breaking ending in which Shylock is forced to convert to
Christianity. It provides a challenge to modern companies as they determine
how to present it – is it a drama? A straight comedy? A tragedy?

Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company, a troupe committed to original
practices such as universal lighting, doubling and an integration of modern
musical entertainment, decides to play it straight, just as it might have been
in Shakespeare's time. It is a choice that works, as they let Shylock be the
villain, but one more clearly motivated than the Iagos, Richard IIIs or even
the Macbeths of Shakespeare's plays. There is sympathy for this
moneylender whose daughter is stolen and who is spat upon by all in the
city simply because he has been successful at one of the few professions
legally allowed him.

Joel Schindlbeck effectively portrayed this role of a man embittered by his
treatment and looking for a way that he might find justice of his own while
remaining true to his heritage and faith. It is telling that he is the only one
who quotes Scripture or shows any religious devotion other than an outward
label. Yet, Schindlbeck clearly shows the harm that years of racist treatment
and bullying have wrought on this man. His asides were beautifully played,
delivered in a low tone that could be easily heard by everyone in the 50-
seat space of Dog Story Theater. His carriage and expressions were
impeccable at communicating who Shylock was and revealing his barely
controlled inner turmoil.

Schindlbeck's Shylock was villainous and murderous, but he never gave
anyone reason to doubt that his actions were strictly and legally in the right.
His represented a justice absent of mercy, and his fate ended with a justice
tempered by only the cruelest of mercies.

All of this is not to say the Pigeon Creek production was presented as a
tragedy. On the contrary, it was comedy in a highly playful manner, despite
the darkness at its core. The energy of the players and the skill at which
they presented a very boisterous and earthy play kept the audiences
laughing at their gags, the language and the physical comedy.

Both Kathleen Bode as Portia and Claire Mahave as Nerissa were delightful
on stage together, perfectly playing off each other to create a charm and
energy that made their scenes engaging and interesting. Despite being
subject to a dead man's will, they find ways to take control of their fate and
are always in control of the stage whenever they walk upon it. They have a
cleverness and wit that outshines everyone, even their over-the-top suitors
whose posturing and boasting make the casket scenes humorous and fun.

John Wier's Bassanio was never able to quite stand up to the others on
stage, as his choices were limited and narrow and lacking the energy of the
other players. While Bode's affection for him is apparent and clearly
projected, his love seems limp and unbelievable. It is especially hard to
believe that he would risk the life and fortunes of Antonio, the melancholy
merchant whom Steven Schwall created with such depth and shading.
Schwall's Antonio is complex, a man who is generous to his friends, open
and filled with integrity when it comes to the law and spiteful and racist
toward the Jews. When his fortunes are good, he is sad and moping. When
his fortunes crash, he finds a desperate courage and is willing to sacrifice
himself to the demands of order and good trade.

Another standout in this talented Shakespearean troupe was Kat Hermes as
Gratiano. She was more than equal to the impish Mahave, and the two
made an excellent pair. Their onstage makeout scenes were intense and
nearly stole focus as one wondered just how far these two ladies were going
to be willing to go.

Brooke Heintz skillfully rotates between characters, giving each one a vastly
different flavor, never hesitating to go big as Shylock's servant Lancelot
Gobbo or Portia's suitor the Prince of Aragon. Likewise Arielle Leverett
traveled the spectrum of servants who were almost unnoticeable to the
commanding duke to the lustful Prince of Morocco.

Sarah Stark sets the stage for the play with her soulful solo of It's a Rich
Man's World to start the play before becoming the eager and innocent
Jessica who breaks her father’s heart without a second thought for his pain.
Her giddiness is well balanced by Tony Myers' serious and sober Lorenzo.

There is a playfulness about Pigeon Creek's production that makes it
accessible. All of the performers are skilled at engaging the audience and
bringing them into the action of the play, either through the simple act of eye
contact, or by actually sitting next to them and talking to them throughout
the show. There is a familiarity and ease with the language that all of the
players have, and they make the eliciting of smiles from the audience seem
effortless throughout the entire show.
SOURCE: Encore Michigan Reviews
...and a recent review!
Preview Article for Henry IV, Part 1 in On the Town,
Grand Rapids, Michigan arts and culture monthly

Preview Article for Henry IV, Part 1 at Encore Michigan,
Website Covering Michigan Professional Theatre

Preview Article for Henry IV, Part 1 in the Kalamazoo
Gazette, Kalamazoo, Michigan newspaper

Article regarding the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare
Company’s participation in the Ohio Valley
Shakespeare Conference, The State News, East
Lansing, Michigan newspaper
copyright 2012.