Shakespeare returns to JRT stage

By Doug Janz
Press Tempo Writer
Story published: 05-25-2007 - Johnson City Press

shakespeare returns to the JRT

It’s an interesting step for Karen Sabo. She acted, directed and was a speech and dialect coach at Barter Theatre for six years. Now she’s taking on community theater – and Shakespeare – as a director.

Sabo is going from the professional setting of Barter, with fulltime, paid actors and staff, to the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre, one of the area’s top community production units. The play is Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” which opened Thursday night.

Shows are scheduled for today and Saturday at 8 p.m. and again Sunday at 2 p.m. The same schedule applies next weekend, with shows Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and a Sunday matinee at 2. It is part of the East Tennessee Shakespeare Festival, done in collaboration with JRT.

“The Tempest” was Shakespeare’s final play, a comedy. It is set on a magic island, the inhabitants of which are a sorcerer and his teenage daughter, a mischievous fairy and an apparently stinky creature named Caliban, described as “half-man, half-fish.”

Prospero, the sorcerer, removed from his position as the Duke of Milan by his scheming brother and powerful magician, sees his chance to take revenge on his brother Antonio and cohorts when a ship carrying the new Duke and the Queen of Milan sails close to the island where Prospero and his daughter were marooned many years ago.

“It’s really funny, active, full of life, but at the same time it really is about something that’s universal,” Sabo said. “The main character struggles with the ability to punish people who were bad to him. He has the power to punish or forgive.”

The cast include John Beard as Prospero; Chris Dwyer, the producer of the East Tennessee Shakespeare Festival, as Caliban; and Andy Cobble as Antonio; as well as Jenny Grubb, Jeff Light, Josh Johnson, Andrew Baxter, Logan Lockner, Emily Gall and Rachel Gloess.

Sabo said she’s not a director who yells and screams at the actors, whether it’s professional theater or at the community level.

“That doesn’t help me as an actress, so I never yell at anyone,” she said with a laugh. “But what’s been tricky is that everyone here has lives that are very important to them, with work, school and other things to do, and because of that it’s tricky for everyone to rally around and focus like you might do in professional theater. But whether it’s professional, community or college theater, as long as the people in the cast improve from when we started, I’m very happy. And the people are very nice.”

Sabo is an adjunct professor of theater at Emory & Henry College, has long experience in various theaters and is studying Appalachian theater as a graduate student at East Tennessee State University, where she directed “The Glass Menagerie.”

“I have never directed Shakespeare,” she said. “I’ve studied it quite a bit and been in a number of Shakespeare productions, so I wanted to see if I could take what I’ve seen and learned and apply that to directing.”

Two things peculiar to directing a Shakespeare production, she said, are 1) getting the cast comfortable with the language, “which is a little more archaic,” she said, and 2) finding enough parts for women. Theater draws far more females than males to auditions, yet Shakespeare’s plays contain many more parts for men than women. In this production, she took two male characters – the Sprite and Alonzo the King – and made the roles female.

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