What’s Up at American Shakespeare Center?

American Shakespeare Center’s Blasphemy Tour is running now through June 17 at the Blackfriars Theatre in Staunton, Va. (Photo by Mike Bailey)


It’s so good it’s almost Blasphemy. 

Spring is a time of homecoming for the American Shakespeare Center. It is the season when the touring company returns to the nest to roost and perform three shows in repertory. This year’s tour, intriguingly titled, “Almost Blasphemy”, consists of two of Shakespeare’s most adored plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Winter’s Tale matched with John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore. At first glance, the relationship of these three shows to the tour name and to each other may be difficult to discern.

“We title each tour like a rock band or recording artist usually title their tours,” says ASC Artistic Director, Jim Warren. “We’re trying to get something that relates to all three titles in some way; something that sounds fun to say; something that looks good on posters and t-shirts!”

“Almost Blasphemy” comes from the first scene in ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore where the Friar tells Giovanni:

‘Repentance, son, and sorrow for this sin:
For thou hast moved a Majesty above,
With thy unrangéd almost blasphemy’.”

Touring rookie actor, Eugene Douglas, sees themes of rash decisions with serious repercussions and conflicts between spirituality and earthly delights in this collection of plays. “I see motifs in all three of romantic relationships run amok,” he says. Douglas plays no less than five roles betwixt the three productions and describes the plays thusly, “With Tis Pity, you have a genre bloodbath. With Winter’s Tale, you have a lyrical tragicomedy. With Midsummer, you have magic and romance and slapstick at the forefront. Each play has elements of these things, but are unique in their individual presentations.”

The grouping of plays offers a variety of choices for new patrons as well as for repeat visitors to ASC’s Blackfriars Theatre. Midsummer Night’s Dream, which has been performed several times in the company’s 24-year history, is one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies. ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore is a gory, twisted re-imagined version of Romeo and Juliet is rarely performed (this is the second time in ASC’s history). The Winter’s Tale, with it’s half tragedy/ half romantic comedy mash-up provides the perfect middle ground between the other two plays in both tone and popularity.

In order to keep the more oft performed plays fresh for ASC regulars, costuming is a key element. This season is the first time that Midsummer Night’s Dream will be performed in traditional Elizabethan dress. In contrast, the costume influence for ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore is Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. “The entire look of the show is something akin to ‘steampunk modern meets Alexander McQueen outrageous modern’,” says Warren. “Tis Pity has some outrageous modern costumes because it’s a lot like a Tarantino movie: violent/funny, dramatic/comic, full of smart characters with great dialogue. I also went with modern costumes for ‘Tis Pity so that audiences coming to see all three Spring Season shows get to see three very different flavors of costume styles.”

“I think each of these shows demonstrates a different level of reality,” summarizes Denice Mahler, a Blasphemy Tour actress. “They all, like life, evoke laughter and loss, tears of joy and pain. There’s a catharsis waiting to be had in each one.” Well, if that is blasphemy it sounds pretty entertaining.

For more information go to: americanshakespearecenter.com or call 1-877-682-4236.


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