Janus Presents Modern Play About William Shakespeare

Here's a story that ran on July 11, 2016, from the Elgin Courier News/Tribune Media Group

By Kathy Cichon

Even the Bard can suffer the slings and arrows of critics.

How to move on? That is the question.

"How do I take the next step to work on the next project when I've just drained myself for a failure?" said Nathan Wonder, who explores the idea in his one-man show. "What would it have been like for him?"

The result is "a cathartic conversation with the audience" as William Shakespeare tries to move forward.

Janus Theatre Company will host Wonder as he performs his play, "William Shakespeare Lives," July 15-17 at Elgin Art Showcase in Elgin. Performances are at 8 p.m. July 15-16 and 3 p.m. July 17.

The full title of the play is "William Shakespeare Lives, or a 30-year-old playwright, who lives in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood has just opened his new play, 'Titus Andronicus,' and it was not well-received; a comedy in three acts."

"The title kind of gives it away," Wonder said.

"This is just me lamenting that I spent months of my life working on (a) play, putting all this time and all this money into it and it ended up not being very good. And no one went to see it, except the critics that panned it."

Wonder, artistic director for Duplicity Ensemble in Chicago, wrote "William Shakespeare Lives" last year with help from company members. It was then performed at the 2015 Chicago Fringe Festival.

"It ended up being a sort of semi-autobiographical play," said Wonder, who now lives in Portland, Oregon. "It typically speaks to my life and what I've been through and the challenges I've encountered."

Wonder said he wrote the play while struggling and trying to figure out what he wanted to do as an artist and a theater practitioner, in Chicago specifically. So it looks at the challenges of being a young playwright or actor in the city.

"It's hard to get people to come to your play. It's hard to raise enough money. Even if you're really proud of your work, how do you get people to come out and actually see it?" Wonder said. "It ended up being sort of a love letter to the storefront Chicago theater scene, while at the same time looking back at past events of my life that sort of shaped my past to become a theater artist as an adult."

The presentation of "William Shakespeare Lives" is part of Janus Theatre Company's Elgin 400 Shakespeare Festival. Sean Hargadon, artistic director at Janus, heard about the show last year from a friend. While planning for Elgin 400, the decision was made to ask Wonder to perform his play.

"Part of the excitement to me was that it was so different," Hargadon said. "Rather than doing a traditional production in Elizabethan garb, we've been doing something a little different."

Typically one-person shows about Shakespeare tend to be more biographical, or explore the time period, he said. What Hargadon likes about "William Shakespeare Lives" is the idea of Shakespeare being alive today in Chicago's theater scene, "which could just as easily be Elgin's downtown theater scene."

"Janus Theatre is primarily a fringe company. We've worked in black boxes, theaters, storefronts, lofts, parks…" he said. "While we've produced a lot of works, it's not without a struggle, and it's not without challenges, and it's always with very little money."

Wonder said that while the show explores the experience of what is next after something goes wrong; the tone is kept light with humor. It also has adult language, making it about a PG-13 rating, he said.

"Most of the humor in the play is fairly self-deprecating, and it's pretty blue most of the time too. I'm just up there, drinking PBR, sort of venting to anyone who will listen to me," Wonder said.

Being asked to bring the play to Elgin 400 after performing it at the Chicago Fringe Festival is really exciting, Wonder said. He said he is honored and grateful for the opportunity.

"It's pretty remarkable and doesn't happen very often," he said. "I'm really pleased that Janus reached out and I get to do this again for a whole other group of people who didn't get to see it before."

Hargadon said after the company's production of "Hamlet" earlier this year, Janus decided to lighten things up for Elgin 400's summer events. In addition to hosting "William Shakespeare Lives" in July, Janus will present Walkabout Theater and workshops in August.

So often, he said, people think of Shakespeare and remember it from school as boring.

"But we're trying to present it in a way where it's not that way at all. When it's done right and done well, it's not boring at all," Hargadon said. "It's actually quite engaging and exciting to watch and be a part of."

Kathy Cichon is a freelance writer.