WILL AND BERT: A CELEBRATION OF EPIC THEATRE, SummerNITE, at the Theatre Building. Pairing the works of William Shakespeare and Bertolt Brecht might offer ample food for thought. Although writing nearly 400 years apart, both employed grandly artificial theatrical devices and heightened literary conventions in an attempt to subvert the social orders of their day. As director Christopher Markle writes in his program note for Will and Bert, the two playwrights “share a fascination with the mechanisms of history” and “probe the grand workings of the universe.”

Markle, on the other hand, probes almost nothing in this slapdash, unfocused assemblage. Unbalanced in the extreme–there are eight long scenes from Shakespeare, two brief ones and a smattering of songs from Brecht–Will and Bert gives a bunch of unsophisticated actors (most of whom are students at or recent graduates of Northern Illinois University, where Markle teaches) the opportunity to stumble through monumental scenes they’re ill equipped to handle. These excerpts also make little sense when ripped from their contexts, and Markle does little to shape them–each runs at one speed, then stops. He does even less to push his actors beyond the most obvious choices, producing an evening that’s indistinguishable from a sophomore acting class.

–Justin Hayford