At the dawn of this millennium a group of ambitious actors got together and started a theater company. This might not sound interesting but if you consider that this company just celebrated its 10th anniversary by opening its third location and pushes the Shakespearean envelope, play after play, then maybe attention needs to be paid.
Genesis Repertory was founded on the idea of making theater – classical theater mainly – accessible to everyone. They do this by transferring the Bard’s works into new locations. Jean Cocteau once stated that a legend belongs to all times and places, so as it is with Genesis and Shakespeare. Through their history, productions were translated into Hebrew and Arabic, German and Spanish, and everything was brought to this century. Shylock debated with Nazis, Caesar was gunned down, and Juliet was Muslim.
In Manhattan, the company renovated and ran The Mazer Theater on East Broadway and the Jan Hus Playhouse on the Upper East Side. In Long Island City, the company utilized the Greek Cultural Center and the 30th Avenue Masonic meeting hall– which legend has it once was a performance spot of Ethel Merman (hence the Shriners lyric in Gypsy). Now here in Brooklyn – between Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst – they become the resident theatre company of The Block Institute, utilizing their 350-seat theatre, a lovely structure, ironically reminiscent of The Globe, with its wooden-columned architecture.
Act I of the decade celebration was a compilation of great moments from the company’s stabbing at the Bard followed by a really fascinating Romeo & Juliet segment citing all the musical and classical versions – including two musicals, two operas, and its likeness to Rostand’s Les Romantiques. The second act consisted of coming attractions of the company’s new musical theater division, which will present a concert of the Stephens – Flaherty, Sondheim, and Schwartz; a tribute to American standards; a children’s show; and even original works by the company’s musical director, Jake Lloyd, who put together some lovely solos and ensemble work for the evening. Lloyd’s original material was as good as anything presented from the great musical masters.
The company is distinguished by a plethora of young, passionate, intelligent artists. Each set forth a double portion for our enjoyment: Francis Callahan set the pace with “alas poor Yorick” and truly convincing as Shylock; Mary Elizabeth MiCari (the company’s artistic director and one of the two surviving founders) conveyed an electrifying Lady Macbeth, tugged at our heart-strings with Cry Me a River, and brought down the house with “I Dreamed A Dream” from Les Miserables. Joy Donze gave us imaginative takes on Juliet and Ophelia then broke our hearts with a ballad in the second act; Amanda Gagnon tackled two male roles – Mercutio and Dr. Faustus – with skill and vigor. Nikki Bohm was a sturdy Titania and intimidating Queen Margaret; Anna Frankl-Duval was rousing in a passage from Taming of the Shrew and demure as Louisa in The Fantasticks; Michelle Alexandra was a child-like Desdemona only to emit glorious sounds as Maria in West Side Story; Theresa Chow showed fine stage command in drama and comedy with Portia’s famed speech from the Merchant of Venice and a new musical piece from Jake Lloyd’s interpretation of Alice in Wonderland. Likewise was Louis Tullo, whose Marc Antony displayed cunning while his turn at music – one original and one from Wicked – showed stage charm. A nod to Lisa Tosti, whose Juliet in the famed balcony sequence was engaging and her rendition of “On My Own” from Les Miz was rich with pathos. Omnipresent in Act I was John Stillwaggon crossing genres as Romeo and the “Romeos” of the musicals, West Side Story and The Fantasticks. John’s charm and ease at jumping from the classics to classic musicals combined with a palpable stage presence make him one to watch in the coming season.
Amid the aforementioned tour de forces were star turns and guest spots: Wayne Gant was a smooth crooner while Robin Watkins – an obvious cabaret grand-dam was stunning; Dancer/choreographer Joyce A. Adams displayed great versatility as a venomous Queen Margaret from Richard III; Kristin O’Blessin and Robert Saunders (one from Genesis actors program, the other, a decade-long member, respectively) made classical appearances with strong competent pieces: Ms. O’Blessin as Lady Capulet from you-know-what and Mr. Saunders reciting a passage form a rare work of one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries – or if you believe the narration by director Jay Michaels (the other surviving founder) a target of possible plagiarism. The company gained notoriety in the New York Times some years back regarding a “lost works” series of Shakespeare that examined the famed conspiracy. It seems bits of that may be making it to Brooklyn.
Other members of the actors program were in the production including DeAnna DeCillis and members of the children’s division including Delia Feeney, Alondra Vargas, Alice in the whistling form of Ashley Chico, Molly Callahan presenting a lovely Puck, Adele Wendt displaying power far beyond her years with her rendition of “Castle in the Clouds,” (so you think, maybe, they plan on doing this musical someday?) and a truly marvelous “All the World’s a Stage” delivered by young Marc Carbonaro.
The company gave us an enjoyable two hours with tasty refreshments. What makes this newsworthy is what was said by Ms. MiCari at the top of the program. The company is here because they want to be here and give art to the patrons of Brooklyn. They were in Manhattan, they are here now, in the heart of Brooklyn. Shakespeare wrote for the people, Genesis presents him to the people. One can imagine the company becoming another regional staple, in which making the pilgrimage to Shore Parkway and Bay 44th is all part of the great experience.
The company returns in a month with Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Once you’re on the belt parkway, it’s smooth sailing.