Denise Yoder in As You Like It

The Prenzie Players' As You Like It starts out in true Prenzie form, with short vignettes taking place before the show actually begins. The first person we see is Denise Yoder as Touchstone, the fool of William Shakespeare's comedy, and as she performs some funny bits involving origami and audience interaction, Yoder's opening scenes seem mostly improvised. I will say, though, that during the December 8 preview, there was a lot more going on during this prelude, with a guitarist playing off to the side, and different music playing in the background over the dialogue – it was almost too much, and hard to hear what was being said. But once we actually got to the script, director Kitty Israel's production was off and running.

Debo Balogun and Keenan Odenkirk in Othello

As an Augustana alum of so many years, I was excited to see the opening of the new Brunner Theatre Center on the Augie campus, and especially excited to see its current Othello under the direction of Jeff Coussens. The new theatre facility did not disappoint, and scenic and lighting designers Andy Gutshall and Adam Pfluger, respectively, created a memorable space for the production – minimally designed, yet replete with authentic Arabic graffiti and evocatively low, blue lighting.

Nicholas Munson, Don Abbott, Dion Stover, Vince Solis, Sara Tubbs, and Becca Meumann-Johnson in The Rocky Horror Show

In an October filled with local theatre that includes the likes of Shakespeare, Sam Shepard, and Flowers for Algernon, I was shivering with anticipation: What show would I be assigned this month? Could I handle the depth and power of a classic? Finally, the e-mail came, and I was given the sweetly daunting task of examining one of the most astounding, bucket-list theatrical works I could ever review. Yes! Yes!! YES!!! Thank the theatre gods! I could finally revisit my late teens to dissect the '70s cult classic The Rocky Horror Show!

Lis Athas, Jeremy Mahr, Chelsea Ward, Travis Meier, and Tyler Henning in Much Ado About Nothing

Lighting, of course, can do a lot for a show, and Genesius Guild’s presentation of Much Ado About Nothing boasts a lovely, understated elegance – particularly in the twilight scenes – that’s much to the credit of designers Maaz Ahmed and Andy Shearouse. But at July 23’s Lincoln Park performance, it wouldn’t have been out of place for the duo’s mention in the program to come with an amendment: “... and special contributions by God Himself.” It turns out that lightning, too, can do a lot for a show.

Ian Brown, Nancy Terrlinck, Mike Kelly, Alexis Greene and Susan McPeters in Moon Over BuffaloOn a cold night indicative of February, weary of politicians and the weather, I escaped to Rock Island for the latest District Theatre offering Moon Over Buffalo. A Tony-nominated play that debuted on Broadway in 1995, author Ken Ludwig's farce is a comedy of silly, exaggerated humor, and probably not to every theatre-goer’s taste. But in my opinion, and judging by the belly laughs coming from Friday's opening-night audience, the humor as performed here clearly worked for a number of us.

Jake Walker, Stephanie Burrough, Chris Sanders-Ring, and Kitty Israel in Love's Labour's LostWhile waiting for the Prenzie Players' Thursday-night dress rehearsal of the William Shakespeare comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost to begin, I realized it had been a long time since I had seen one of the Bard of Avon’s plays performed live. I pondered whether I would be able to follow the plot and comprehend the dialogue. I worried that the show might be too stuffy for my unrefined sense of theatre. “Holy crap, I'm supposed to write a review – what if I don’t get it?” Yet as the show began, the Prenzies put my neuroses to rest very quickly.

Matt Moody in Timon of AthensI came across a quote this past week that read: "A true friend talks trash to your face and is fiercely loyal behind your back." While the sentiment came to my attention at a particularly poignant time for me personally, it also fits almost perfectly with the core theme in William Shakespeare's Timon of Athens, currently being presented by the Prenzie Players.

Sarah Ade Wallace and Todd Schwartz in MacbethBefore Saturday's opening-night presentation, executive director Doug Tschopp took the stage for Genesius Guild's traditional pre-show announcements and T-shirt giveaway, and kindly asked the crowd for continued financial support, especially given the organization's decreased support since 2008 from the State of Illinois. Not to make light of a very real monetary concern, but I wish power players from Nike had been there for Tschopp's request. Because after seeing Macbeth, they might've happily handed over a check, considering the motto for everyone involved in director Michael King's inspiriting production appeared to be the same: "Just do it."

Bryan Woods, Bob Hanske, Michael Hill, and Andy Curtiss in The Merry Wives of WindsorGenesius Guild's The Merry Wives of Windsor is a study in comedic styles, particularly in comparing the portrayals of Bob Hanske's lothario Falstaff and Andy Curtiss' hot-headed Ford. Hanske offers a vocally robust - and, thanks to costume designer Ellen Dixon, physically robust - performance that's delightfully buffoonish in his mannerisms and goofball inflections. Curtiss, on the other hand, plays his part of the jealous husband whose wife is coveted by Falstaff almost without accentuating its humor, choosing instead to allow his fluctuating anger to carry the comedy. And both actors are hilarious in their roles, stealing the show every moment they're on stage.

Jessica Holzknecht, Rowan Crow, and Keenan Odenkirk in As You Like It; photo courtesy of Augustana Photo Bureau/Nadia Panasky '17Director Jennifer Popple's decision to set her Augustana College production of As You Like It in the 1960s is one of the most appropriate changes in time-setting for theatrical material I've yet witnessed. Such shifts sometimes seem gimmicky, or are better in concept than execution, but here it works, and works well.

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