‘How Shakespeare’ won Wayne

Morgan Stough, Staff Writer

The Wayne State Theatre Department’s latest production, “How Shakespeare Won the West,” a story of a motley crew that creates the Thomas Jefferson Calhoun Theatre Troupe in pursuit of the rumored fame that can be found in the midst of the California gold rush, was a spit-fire performance that simultaneously left me in stitches and in tears for the entire two hours I spent in the Black Box Theatre.

I went into this show without an ounce of knowledge of the storyline or general concept of the play, which I find to be the most enjoyable way to consume theater. The Black Box Theatre made for a perfectly intimate setting to put on a show of this nature and made the characters even more relatable and exciting to watch.

The casting choices for this particular performance were matchless, and each actor gave life to their otherwise plain characters. Among the memorable performances include Amanda Hartman, who brought the timid Susan Calhoun a surprising balance between her sweet pining for John Gough (Trevor McQuay) and her flirtatious banter with the lonely Hank Daley (Zach Halsey). Hartman’s performance style grew with her character, as the once virginal Susan finds herself kissing the recently widowed Hank while “rehearsing” for their upcoming play.

Another memorable performance came from Jonathan Laner Good, who took to the stage as Edward Oldfield, the fake-British actor with a secret he covers up by pretending his sister Ruth (Samantha Taylor) is his wife. Good’s character was not prominent in the show, but he still stood out in the forefront of the cast by his commitment to his role. While it’s made very clear that Edward is a gay man who is pretend-married, Good was able to take the concept one step further with his subtle hints and interactions with the other characters.

Dakota Schroll, a man of many hats in this production, was most noteworthy as the main narrator of the show. What is perhaps my favorite part of this play is the lack of fourth wall, which Schroll took to his complete advantage. While speaking directly to the audience, Schroll was almost always pausing the scene as a character outside of the core characters and sometimes even removing his character costume pieces before leaving the stage. The informal style of narration not only engaged the audience as a part of the production, but also reminded us that the Thomas Jefferson Calhoun Theatre Troupe aren’t the shining stars on the straight path to fame that they think they are. By literally interrupting their scenes, we are almost given a foreshadowing of their fate as actors when they arrive in California. In addition, Schroll is able to play a stone cold cowboy, an angry and violent farmer, and the loveable and excited savior of the show, George Edgar Rice, in under two hours with seamless transitions.

Finally, in what is most likely the grittiest and darkest role to play, Victoria McNamara was absolutely thrilling to watch as the famed and seasoned actress Kate Demin, who follows her husband to California along with the theatre troupe in order to fix their marriage. Kate was the most poised character in the whole show and McNamara was the perfect fit for such a character. Her performance brought me to tears when the pregnant Kate loses her baby and then dies. The gutteral screams sent chills through my body and as her final goodbye was spoken to the audience while the rest of the characters mourned in the background, I found myself wiping my eyes and hoping the old lady sitting next to me wouldn’t notice.

The entire cast was given parts in which they were destined for success, and I was more than impressed with the abilities and talents that were present in Wayne State’s Theatre department. I look forward to the future productions that are in store for the academic year and I hope the directors will take advantage of the actors’ talents and niches in the same way they did in “How Shakespeare Won the West.”