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 V.19 No.24 | June 17 - 23, 2010 

Performance Review

Don't Make Me Come Back There!

All the train's a stage

Christina Slyter and Andrew Leith play a game of “Strangers on a Train.”
Patricia Sauthoff
Christina Slyter and Andrew Leith play a game of “Strangers on a Train.”

It's an ordinary Saturday afternoon on the New Mexico Rail Runner Express. Travelers head north to Santa Fe, no one pays much attention to one another—until, suddenly, a voice comes from the back of the car. A young woman, face hidden by a baseball cap and magazine, snaps to attention and responds. Thus begins a scene from As You Like It.

Well, that's not exactly how it began. First, a young man in a jumpsuit bedecked with a Rail Runner logo, announced to passengers that “Shakespeare on the Rail” was about to begin. But I wish he hadn't. I wish it had just started, that everyone on the car would have simply just fallen into their role as audience and actor.

But I, like Romeo and Juliet, don't get to decide who gets what. And the announcement did remind people they were in store for a performance, that the usual rules of turning cell phones off did apply and that, though there is no traditional stage, hands and feet should stay out of the actors’ way.

If successful, I can only hope the theater company pushes itself as much as it asks its audience to and chooses something more unexpected.

The brainchild of University of New Mexico theater graduate student Lauren Albonico, “Shakespeare on the Rail” runs through the summer each Saturday afternoon and features scenes from three of the Bard's plays. Love is the theme for June, with scenes from As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing and, of course, the window scene from Romeo and Juliet. The actors involved come from the UNM Department of Theatre Education and Outreach, and reach out they do.

Appearing in the confined space didn't seem to faze the actors, who glided through the car with ease and made use of partitions and poles in lieu of sets. If not for the odd choice of costuming, complete with Rail Runner insignia for the second of three scenes, the production would be reminicient of transportation shenanigans by New York City-based Improv Everywhere, a group that takes over public places with pseudo-spontaneous performances.

Part of the casual nature of “Shakespeare on the Rail” comes from the actors' hammy acting. The guys and girls of the troupe know they can't be too austere in a 28-minute peformance that is likely to be interrupted by an announcement of the next station—something that occurred while Rosalind (Christina Slyter) spoke. Slyter took the pause to contort her face slowly as she contemplated her next emotional words and, when the loudspeaker stopped, deliberately began again. It was a move that showed professionalism and an ability to adapt, two things that will be necessary in this unusual atmosphere.

Though it is Shakespeare, and is well acted, it definitely isn't serious theater. In fact, had the actors taken themselves and their scenes more seriously, say, by dressing in period costumes, it would be annoying rather than fun. The mini-play is meant to be light and likely the first time much of its audience, which largely consists of children, is exposed to Shakespeare. Because of this, a site-specific performance might also inspire those young ones to experiment with tradition themselves.

Admittedly, I find the whole thing a touch hokey, though it was a lot better than I imagined it would be. If successful, I can only hope the theater company pushes itself as much as it asks its audience to and chooses something more unexpected. The staging and use of every available inch of the train car proves the actors are skilled enough at their craft to pull it off.

I can't say I'd go out of my way to see the scenes again, or to catch the comedic or treacherous ones scheduled for later in the summer. But if I know I'll be on the Rail Runner on a Saturday, I'll make every effort to catch the one with the Bard onboard.

“Shakespeare on the Rail”
Saturdays, through August 28
New Mexico Rail Runner Express
Northbound Train No. 506 (leaves Downtown Albuqeurque at 2:38 p.m.) and Southbound Train No. 509 (leaves Santa Fe Depot at 4:32 p.m.)
Performances take place in the car closest the locomotive.
Free with transit ticket.
 
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