English actor Paul Alexander mostly triumphs in his one-man tour de force, "Shakespeare: Dreams of Power and Passion," playing at the Theatre Project tonight through Sunday.
Conceived and designed by Alexander, the compelling work presents six of Shakespeare's strongest characters (comical and tragical) who, driven by the obsessive desire for power or passion, signal their own downward spiral into oblivion.
Clad in a multi-purpose Edwardian style coat and pants, the actor sometimes reclines on a crimson throne with a few props scattered around.
He says the audience must use their imagination to visualize the predicaments of the Bard's characters who are, in order of appearance: Mark Antony in excerpts from "Julius Caesar" and "Antony and Cleopatra"; Malvolio, the pretentious fool from "Twelfth Night"; King Lear, the foolish old man who divided his kingdom among his three daughters; the egocentric actor, Bottom, from "A Midsummer Night's Dream"; the brooding, ambitious pretender to the throne, Macbeth; and Prospero, the magician seeking revenge on his oppressors.
The prologue features Alexander as the chorus in "Henry V" warning of the devastation that war reeks. The epilogue highlights Prospero's change of heart and Puck's gentle speech saying all was, perhaps, but a dream.
The scenes are loosely bound together with informal asides by Alexander who offers too casual explanations of the stories.
A formal structure linking the scenes together dramatically (or comically) in keeping with the mood of the particular play would sustain the interior suspense and not constantly break the illusion.
A commanding presence on stage, Alexander is a calculating Mark Antony angered at his friend's (Caesar) murder, but cleverly turning the tables on his dead emperor's enemies. The actor's voice range is a finely tuned instrument employing the necessary shadings and transitions needed to probe the depth or shallowness of his characters -- whether it be the brooding passion of Macbeth or the honking of Bottom as he is transformed into a four-legged ass.
The actor's interpretation of Shakespeare's major figures are all excellent, especially his introspective, quietly intense Macbeth. It quite powerful in its modern overtones.
But as the buffoon, Malvolio, Alexander truly excels. He has played the role before and brings it to hilarious life. A man caught up in his own silly folly, he preens and prances about the stage until he discovers trickery afoot. Then the comical aspects turn ugly as the humiliated Malvolio swears revenge.
However, as the aged Lear Alexander has a stretch to go. This is one of the most difficult of all Shakespeare's characters to interpret by the very ambiguity of the man's complex nature. Still the actor has a tendency to youthfully blast the anguished speeches instead of using his rich, lower register to articulate Lear's dilemma.
There is a musical cadence to Alexander's portrayal of Prospero, the man invested with magic powers who seeks a harsh revenge on his enemies but finds that virtue is the rarer quality.
"Dreams of Power and Passion" is a pleasantly educational experience for those unschooled in Shakespeare and a poet's feast for those familiar with the brilliance of the Bard.
Paul Skotarski performed his one man comedy show, "Yams Alive!", last Friday at the BAUhouse. This young performer's execution of his parade of weird characters was hilarious and almost flawless.
However, Skotarski's writing was hit and miss. The skits relied too much on body parts humor and other low forms of comedy. True comedy comes out of the pain of personal worldly tribulations that the audience can relate to. Skotarski seems to have not yet discovered this vital element.
The antics of Skotarski can be seen again at the BAUhouse when he and other members of the comedy troupe, Contents Under Pressure, present their comedy act at 9:30 p.m. Jan. 25.