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The blues of Bill Withers delightfully mixes with Shakespeare at The Falcon Theatre

Posted By Karen Young On September 12, 2010 @ 11:27 pm In Arts & Culture,Featured,My Daily Find,spotlight,Theater | 1 Comment

BY AMY LYONS

The Troubador Theater Company (known as the Troubies to fans), the acrobatic, song-styling troupe of parody players in residence at the Falcon Theatre, are mixing it up with a show that’s less laugh-inducing than their typically lighthearted fare. It’s not that there aren’t a slew of funny scenes in “A Withers Tale,” the company’s blending of William Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale” and the bluesy, soulful music of Bill Withers, but the source material’s gloomy tone doesn’t get thrown out, a choice that reminds us great comedians are almost always great tragedians as well — and that’s when realize the brilliance of  the Troubies is even more apparent.

Camillo’ (Mike Sulprizio), ‘Leontes’ (Matt Walker) and ‘Paulina’ (Beth Kennedy). Photos by Chelsea Sutton.

Nowhere is this dual talent for comedy and tragedy more apparent than in Matt Walker’s performance. Troubies artistic director and director of “A Withers Tale,” Walker plays Leontes, King of Sicilia, who suspects his old friend, Polixenes (Matt Merchant) is having an affair with Leontes’s wife, Hermione (Monica Schneider). During the performance I attended, there were a few titters from the audience when Walker steered his character into the first of several jealous fits. Fans of this company are used to rapid-fire jokes and pratfalls, not soul-bearing rants. But Walker kept the mask of tragedy firmly in place long enough for us to realize he was quite serious, his character shaken by perceived betrayal. By the time he sings the classic “Ain’t No Sunshine,” we’re fully invested in Leontes’s tragic trajectory.

Of course, Walker doesn’t stay in a dark place throughout the entire show; he’s the leader of the Troubies, after all, and comedy is a must with this gang. He also plays a clown, a role that allows ample time for tomfoolery. Beth Kennedy likewise gets to dig into two disparate roles, demonstrating her dramatic chops as Paulina and clowning it up as a lowly shepherd.

Green Eyed Monster’ (Joseph Keane) and ‘Leontes’ (Matt Walker).Photos by Chelsea Sutton.

The show works precisely because it’s a slight departure for the company, and the unexpected solemn scenes find them successfully stretching. But they don’t abandon their commitment to comedy, so we get what we came for and then some. The risks here not only pay off by surprising the audience, but make perfect sense in light of the pairing of the grim first half of the play and the moody music – to go for full-tilt laughs simply would not have served the music or the text.

‘Florizel’ (Brandon Breault) and ‘Perdita’ (Katherine Malak) . Photos by Chelsea Sutton.

Despite the play’s focus on a vengeful king, Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale” is considered a comedy by virtue of its happy ending. And despite Bill Withers’s talent for the blues, he famously sang about hope (“Lean on Me,” “Just the Two of Us”). The Troubies milk that happy ending for all its worth, letting us know that despite the bloodshed, it’s going to be a “Lovely Day.”

The Withers Tale at The Falcon Theatre 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank, CA. Playing Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat, Sun through September 26, 2010.Wed.-Sat. at 8pm, Sundays at 4pm. Weekdays (Wed/Thurs) $34.50 $37.00 Weekends (Fri/Sat/Sun) $39.50 $42.00 Student Rate (valid student ID) $27.0 (818) 955-8101 www.falcontheatre.com

Amy Lyons is a professional freelance journalist and theatre critic, with a degree in Theatre Arts and English from UMass, Boston. She started her journalism career at The Boston Globe and is a member of the Drama Critics Circle. Her articles, theatre reviews and photos regularly appear in numerous publications, including the Beverly Press, Valley Life Magazine, the Santa Monica Mirror and www.nohoartsdistrict.com

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