Two Planks Theatre Company

at Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ

Doing Shakespeare is like hitting a baseball. It doesn’t look hard and lots of people try, but even after years of practice professionals still have a hard time doing it. So when a young, relatively inexperienced company on a meager budget working in a stifling church auditorium take a crack at one of Shakespeare’s most problematic plays, you don’t expect miracles. Put simply, Two Planks Theatre Company–mostly made up of current and former DePaul Theatre School students–is not ready for Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.

Like all the Bard’s works it’s not an easy play, and certainly not for beginners. Simultaneously a dark lesson on the perils of jealousy and a happy-go-lucky romantic comedy, The Winter’s Tale juxtaposes the heartrending split between obscenely jealous King Leontes of Sicilia and Bohemia’s King Polixenes with the cheerful romance of their children that occurs 16 years later. Carrying off both story lines is a difficult task for a director to accomplish. In Eric Kerchner’s production, no overall unifying dramatic concept holds the play together, and the shoddy production values undermine the entire venture, which never succeeds at being anything other than a relatively decent college show.

Lacking in this Winter’s Tale is any sense of where we are, what the time period is. Not much thought has gone into the motivations of the minor characters; they just stand around looking serious and concerned. The regal figures dress in modern evening attire, but when young Prince Florizel and Princess Perdita cavort in Bohemia they look as if they’re ready for a hoedown. The result is a low-budget imitation of the costuming Frank Galati used for Goodman’s production of this play a few years ago, but without any underlying purpose.

Furthermore, Kerchner’s staging is messy and at times cluttered. Uncertain of exactly where they’re supposed to be, the actors sometimes obstruct the audience’s view of the stage. In lieu of a set, chairs are placed here and there for different scenes, but they don’t seem to be part of any overall scheme or vision.

Toss in some truly amateurish age makeup, including gray hair spray that winds up on some of the actors’ foreheads, a couple of masturbatory, emoting performances and a few tentative ones, a barely intelligible voice-over and an unsatisfactory sound system, an inhospitable performance space, and a running time of over three hours and you have a show that might have been acceptable at DePaul but cannot purport to be professional theater.

The one notable exception is Nathan Voght’s intelligent, complex reading of King Leontes. Displaying a wide emotional range and a good deal of professional savvy, he’s one of the few individuals involved with this production who show more than just potential. Maybe if Two Planks had set their sights more realistically, on a production better suited to their nascent talents, they all might have shown more than just potential.