by T.E. Klunzinger
As you watch the excellent production of Taking Shakespeare by Canadian playwright John Murrell at the Williamston Theatre, you might think, “Haven’t I seen this before?”: Experienced mentor takes disinterested student under his/her wing and they both change, for the better. Well yes, but under Mary Job’s skilled direction, this show makes it all seem fresh again.
The premise: slacker-dude Murph (Michael Lopetrone), 24 and just kinda starting college, is sent by his mother, a Dean, for tutoring in the study of Othello by the Prof (Terry Heck), a 35-year veteran of teaching Shakespeare on this campus and its academic politics. They meet in her small apartment and of course don’t hit it off right away.
Also of course, over the course of the next several weeks (several scenes), she begins to believe in his ability to “get it” and he warms to the subject, and to her. Although he doesn’t have much personal history, she certainly does, not all of which we fully realize, and then it develops that her teaching job is in peril even though she has tenure. So toward the end, the student provides a kind of emotional support for his mentor.
Mr. Lopetrone bristles with focused energy but seems almost too intelligent to be Not Getting It as the script would have it. On the other hand, dumbing down the character might produce unwanted laughs and in any event all this was undoubtedly considered in rehearsal.
Ms. Heck is near-perfection as the seemingly cranky Prof who in reality is doing a reasonably good job of masking regret about certain aspects of her life. And she is transcendently glorious in one brief sequence as Othello himself, grandly gesturing about in a fabulous character robe.
True, you’ll probably learn more than you want to know about Othello, but the playwright weaves his script seamlessly between that one and the story you see playing out before you.
Almost a third character in the play is the ever-present coffee pot which is made to brew several times, producing that wonderful coffee smell to permeate the audience. Kinda made me want to reach for my cup now and then.
Taking Shakespeare continues through June 18