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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

“Play On!” a work in progress but beautifully performed

Published: February 28, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc.

“Play On! A One-Woman Musical Romp with Shakespeare’s Heroines” was conceived, written, co-developed and performed by Laura Jo Trexler MFA ’14. The show was born from one song, “Speak No More,” that Trexler wrote last fall in order to connect to the character of Gertrude in “Hamlet” in a more meaningful and deeper way. The show is playing in Merrick Theater again on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m.

The show is composed of eight songs sung by different women from within Shakespearean plays, with a final song, “Play On!” From Juliet and Ophelia, to Gertrude and Lady Macbeth, Trexler presents the audience with a variety of emotions and tones.

At first, the audience didn’t even notice Trexler come into the room. She walked on quietly, in her simple black outfit, with her big, Mary Poppins-like bag of props and began to set up. She didn’t look at audience members or interact with them, instead simply placed props such as paper, glasses and flowers intently around the set. Every item was placed exactly. Even this walk out onto stage was planned out carefully, as Trexler revealed after the show that she contemplated whether she should interact with the audience or not.

The show opened with a song titled “I Shouldn’t Look at You” for the character of Juliet. As one of Shakespeare’s most famous characters, it was easy to jump into the song and understand the emotions that Juliet was singing about.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t so with all of the other characters. If you do not know Shakespeare, songs likes “Master of My State,” for Adrianna from “Comedy of Errors” or “Orlando,” for Rosalind from “As You Like It,” may leave you missing the deeper connection that fostered the creation of the songs in the first place. Despite this, one can still connect with the characters on a certain level, as it is clear throughout the show how each character feels.

This emotion is so palpable because of Trexler’s obvious investment in each role. In “Mother Never Meant to Be,” a song for Ophelia from “Hamlet,” Trexler played the piano with one hand as she sat defeated on the ground, her eyes glistening on the verge of real tears. At the end of the same song, she walked out of the spotlight behind the audience, and up the stairs to the catwalk. Out of view she continued to sing, and from the catwalk she dropped petals of roses over the front row of seats. The light shone out beneath the rose petals, as Trexler’s voice guided them down peacefully. This beautiful moment demonstrated the attention to detail that was clear throughout the show. And impressively, by the time she came back down the opposite staircase, she was Adrianna from “Comedy of Errors,” drunk and stumbling.

Along with stellar musical talents, the lighting of the room added to the emotion of each song. While singing “Leave All the Rest to Me,” as Lady Macbeth, the entire Merrick Theater was pitch black, except for one spotlight on Trexler’s face. This echoed the intense tone and content of the song, forcing all attention onto the angry, spitting face of Lady Macbeth.

Trexler presented her show as a workshop production so that she could learn from the experience and from the audience how to make it an even better show. Afterward, she sat down with co-director Robert Walsh and not only answered audience questions, but asked some of her own. Trexler explained some of the hardest parts for her to work on, such as the transitions between characters and asked for feedback on how they worked.

One of the only drawbacks to the show was that there was no overarching cohesive feel. The songs didn’t connect to each other in any way. After the show, Trexler addressed this, saying that it was something she fought with and tried to deal with but was unable to do. “I decided for the time being to let them live in their own worlds,” she said.

If you love Shakespeare, musicals or simply the opportunity to see a lot of work put into a great performance, “Play On!” is a great way to spend an hour of your weekend. While you won’t leave able to discuss a complicated plot twist or character development, the short, hour-long show is great musical entertainment.