The clang of clashing broadswords dominates the rehearsal for “A Palpable Hit: Shakespeare Fight Night,” a collection of 12 of William Shakespeare’s most comic, brutal, brave, and deadly fight scenes, from the producers of “[Expletive] Shakespeare.” As soon as actress Angie Jepson finishes several run-throughs of a scene in which Joan of Arc duels with the Dauphin, she stops and reviews the footwork with Cameron Gosselin, demonstrating how his balance can shift to give him more power.
“Broadswords, fists, and small swords, they each have a vocabulary that goes with them,” says Jepson, one of the Boston area’s most respected fight choreographers. “The challenge is creating a combination of moves that serves the director’s vision of the play and the character’s place in the story. The goal is to make an actor feel safe and confident in the moves so they don’t have to think about it. That’s when it becomes dramatically compelling.”
“Safety is the most important factor,” says Omar Robinson, who just completed a run as Hamlet in the Actors’ Shakespeare Project production and is also contributing his talents as an actor and fight choreographer to “A Palpable Hit.” “But the direction is always: Defend your leg, defend your head, stab that guy!”
Michael Anderson, an attorney and fan of producer/actors Daniel Berger-Jones and Gabriel Kuttner, selected the fights for the show and will provide a brief introduction to each of the 12 scenes with “fight cards” similar to those used to introduce the rounds in boxing.
“Since they aren’t seeing the entire play, we’re hoping this will help them get to this explosive moment in the play,” Anderson says. “I like the notion of audiences who come for the swordfight and stay for the Shakespeare.”
In addition to Joan of Arc’s battle with a king from “Henry VI, Part I,” Anderson selected the hilarious “fight” between the two cowards Viola and Sir Andrew Aguecheek from “Twelfth Night,” along with two scenes from “Macbeth” and “Richard III,” one each from “Romeo and Juliet,” “As You Like It,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “The Taming of the Shrew,” “Hamlet,” and “Othello.”
“The effect of these pivotal scenes in their respective plays is to pull a diverse group of threads together and propel the action forward in a new direction,” says Berger-Jones. “But each fight scene we included, whether it was from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ or ‘MacBeth,’ shows the consequences of the violence. The impact of violence is always devastating.”
Back in the rehearsal room, Robinson and Jepson compare notes before working together as scene partners in the final tragic fight between Desdemona and her husband Othello.
Even out of context, the physicality of the scene and the vulnerability of the two characters pack a visceral punch.
“It’s there in the text,” says Robinson. “And maybe because Angie and I are both comfortable with stage combat we are able to take it further than someone else, but emotionally, it’s just intense.”
A whodunit as a duet
No one got killed, but auditions for “Murder for Two” were pretty demanding, says A. Nora Long, who is directing the musical that runs through Dec. 24 at the Lyric Stage Company. “We asked performers to sing, act, and play some rather difficult piano all at the same time,” she says.
“Murder for Two” unfolds as a whodunit in which two actors take turns accompanying each other at the piano while one plays all the suspects, the other a policeman eager to solve the crime before the real detectives arrive.
“We actually had a lot of options among the auditioning actors,” Long says, “but Kirsten Salpini, who is new to us, blew us away.”
Although the play was originally written for two men, Long says it’s not strictly required and she loves providing more dynamic opportunities for women.
“Kirsten and Jared [Troilo, who plays the would-be detective] have a great chemistry together,” says Long. “The excitement and energy of the performers fuels the show.”
In a show that requires split-second character changes, Long says she worked closely with choreographer David Connolly to develop a gestural vocabulary to define each of them.
“This is the smallest project I’ve taken on in terms of cast size,” says Connolly, who is known for his bold choreography in SpeakEasy Stage Company’s “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “Xanadu” and his elegant musical staging of the Lyric’s “My Fair Lady.”
The show does have two big production numbers, even though there’s only one person performing, Connolly says with a laugh. “I’m asking the actor to act as if she is Madonna or Tina Turner with 25 Chippendale dancers behind her.”
“That kind of handmade magic works perfectly in the Lyric’s intimate space,” says Long. “Seeing an actor transform from one character to another right before our eyes, that’s something that can only happen on stage. But ‘Murder for Two’ is also a very funny musical that spoofs vaudeville, melodramas and murder mysteries.”
Honoring a longtime teacher
Stan Edelson, who has been a theater director, playwright, and acting teacher in Cambridge for six decades, will be recognized at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education on Dec. 1.
Edelson, 87, who began teaching at the center in 1959, was part of the experimental theater movement in the 1960s and ’70s. He and his then-wife, Bobbi Ausubel, were the founders, playwrights, and directors of the Caravan Theater, which was dedicated to social justice. Their 1966 play, “How to Make a Woman,” was in the vanguard as a feminist play that shed light on oppressive gender roles. Edelson’s long career teaching community-based theater — he’s still at it — will be celebrated at 7 p.m. in CCAE’s Spiegel Auditorium, 56 Brattle St., Cambridge. For information, call 617-547-6789.
Terry Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.