This past Monday evening, I bought a ticket to see Christopher Fry’s 1948-verse comedy,The Lady’s Not for Burning, at the Kirby Shakespeare Theatre at Drew University. It was presented in a staged reading format – no costumes or scenery, no lighting or sound effects; just eleven actors seated on the set used during the week by Coriolanus.
Nothing was there to distract you from the glorious profusion of words, seducing, convincing, arguing, persuading, exasperating, and challenging the audience to work along with the actors to discover the sheer verbal delights of this show.
I should, at this point, be encouraging you to get tickets and tell all your friends to go. I can’t, though, because this play was presented for one night only.
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey puts on Lend Us Your Ears, a short series of plays presented as staged readings for one performance only. These can be plays that are under consideration for future full productions, or plays which compliment work being presented on the Main Stage this season. The Lady’s Not for Burning, according to Artistic Director Bonnie Monte, had been considered a number of times to be presented as part of a Shakespeare Theatre season, but for one reason and another had never made the final cut. Those attending last Monday’s staged reading answered a basic question – would the play speak to today’s audiences? – With a resounding “Yes!”
Ms. Monte and the Theatre’s staff take the audience’s reactions to plays in the Lend Us Your Ears series very seriously. Often, plays from the series get scheduled as part of a future season based on the reaction to a reading. In Monday’s post-show talk-back with Ms. Monte, the cast, and director Michael Stewart Allen, audience members let it be known that a typical Shakespeare Theatre audience would be up to the challenge of the show, either in a full production or as a staged reading – or even both ways, played in repertory with itself, as one audience member suggested!
Returning back to this article’s title,The Lady’s Not for Burning played its one performance on July 18, making it the show you can’t see. However, the other play in this season’s series, the show you should see, will be presented on September 19. The African Company Presents Richard III is based on a troupe of African-American actors, founded in 1840 in New York and a favorite with black and white audiences alike. This play makes a perfect companion piece for two upcoming productions at the F.M. Kirby Theatre — Red Velvet, the story of Ira Aldridge, the first African-American actor to play Othello on the London stage, in September; and Richard III, Shakespeare’s tale of ambition and murder within the royal houses of York and Lancaster, in October.
I suggest you bring your own critical facilities into play and lend your opinions to The African Company Presents Richard III, and to as many future productions in this series as you can.
For more information about the Lend Us Your Ears series, contact the Shakespeare Festival of New Jersey at www.shakespearenj.org.