Friday, August 5, 2016

Janus Theatre Company Takes It to the Street

The boutique, the cafe, and the apartment are wonderful settings in which to enjoy scenes from Shakespeare, but the sounds — and smells — of a downtown Elgin alley are what make this progressive performance so great. Sure, we appreciate the Bard's timeless plot material and his exquisite use of language, but how often can you experience his plays as many of his contemporaries did: in a crowded, noisy, gritty open-air theater?

Janus Theatre Company reprised its "Walkabout: Theatre on your Feet" program for an eighth year Friday, as part of its Elgin 400 Shakespeare Festival, which brings a series of performances and workshops to downtown Elgin to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the playwright's death. Four scenes from four different comedic plays were staged in four venues – an apartment at Elgin Artspace Lofts, Mural Alley, Soulful Sparrow, and the Blue Box Cafe — for small audiences leaving on foot every twenty minutes from Elgin Public House, and ending at Al's Cafe.

Paula Smiech and Molly Wagner of Janus Theatre Company
play a scene from The Merchant of Venice at Soulful Sparrow.

Each vignette, played at audience floor level by actors in plain clothes, showcased the wit of these classic scripts which still outshine any artists' mere performance of them. Yet in Janus' signature style, the closeup, even face-to-face delivery shifted the power to the actors' expressions and body language. Surprisingly raw, physical moments of action were a potent reminder that Shakespearean theatre is not safe for snobs.

Moving in and around the audience, ad-libbing local references, improvising props from anywhere in the room, the cast (superbly directed by Sean Hargadon) gave vivid life to characters conceived centuries ago. The only price of this compelling realism was a few syllables lost to modern-day tempo and diction: as a playwright and a poet, Shakespeare did not waste words. 

"Theatre on your Feet" continues Saturday at 2PM and 7PM, with tickets available at  The weather forecast is perfect, and the transit schedules suggest you will enjoy engine noise, exhaust fumes and random pedestrian entrances during scenes from Twelfth Night.