Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Mute Quire, a review

Monday night, EJ and I had the immense pleasure of attending the opening performance of The New Theater Project's presentation of Fratellanza's The Mute Quire. The play was thoroughly enjoyable and I highly recommend you see it this weekend. Seriously, this play reminded me of just how wonderful, entertaining, engaging and dynamic theater can be. But alas, I am getting ahead of myself.

The Mute Quire is an original play by brothers and Fratellanza co-artistic directors, Jim and Paul Manganello. The story centers around the circumstances surrounding the publication of Shakespeare's First Folio. One of the two fools from the King's Men sells the rights to Shakespeare's plays to a printer's apprentice. Jaggard, the bind printer, is an avid follower of Shakespeare's work but despises "As You Like It."

As the play unfolds, conflicts emerge between the colorful cast of characters: Condell, the happy fool, and Heminges, the sad fool, fight over the financial health of the King's Men and the sale of the rights to the plays; Jaggard attempts to fire his incompetent and semi-illiterate apprentice Peter before he secures the rights to the plays; the fools and Jaggard squabble about whether to include "As You Like It" in the Folio (Jaggard objects because he thinks the play is "too gay.").

The Mute Quire weaves together bits of the history of printing, parts of "As You Like It" and even intellectual property issues brilliantly. I was engaged throughout the two-hour performance. The Mix Studio Theater seats just about 50 people so the action was very up close and personal. The Manganello brothers' performances are incredibly physical and dynamic. (Don't be surprised if one of them jumps into your lap. --Ed.) There is so much intimacy between the brothers, they seem to almost function as two sides of the same entity while they share the stage. For every dramatic gesture of the tall and graceful Jim, Paul answers back with a half-oblivious, half-devious quip. And then they switch, and it is Jim getting stuck atop a ladder in a narrow window (an impossibly small wooden rectangle) and Paul making grand pronouncements about the enlightening power of the printing press. The audience reaps the benefits of their relationship right off the bat, as the play begins with a thrilling and comedic physical fight that could not be performed, I think, but by brothers. In one scene they sway in unison as they pantomime a giant printing press--you can almost see its gears, hear the creak of the machine, feel its rhythm. In the small space, I really felt like I was sweating with them. 

Josh Berkowitz was brilliant in his portrayal of Jaggard, the angry, blind printer. Through his performance Berkowitz helps to bring us, the audience, into the Manganello brothers' world. Michael Malis' original score for The Mute Quire helped to set the mood of the play wonderfully: sometimes loud and in your face, sometimes spooky, it added tremendous depth to the work.
I really cannot say enough about how much EJ and I enjoyed The Mute Quire. I do hope you take the opportunity to see it this weekend. You will not be disappointed. Tickets are just $10 for students, seniors and industry and $15 for the general public. Performances are at 8pm this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Seriously, go see the play it could be the end or beginning of a wonderful date night in lovely downtown Ypsilanti.

On a related note, the New Theater Project is currently raising funds for their third season on IndieGoGo. If you like their work, perhaps you will consider supporting them.

Photo courtesy of Fratellanza
The Mute Quire

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