A fond First Folio farewell season



First Folio Cofounder David Rice (Photo courtesy of David Rice)
First Folio Cofounder David Rice (Photo courtesy of David Rice)

Actor, playwright and director David Rice, cofounder of First Folio Theatre in Oakbrook, is reminiscing about how different audience members react to some of its productions’ twists and about the loyalty of supporters. 

After William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night closes April 9, 2023, Rice will take his last bow at the theater he and his late wife and First Folio co-founder actor Alison C. Vesely started in 1996.


He is ending as they started – with Shakespeare. Their first production was “The Tempest” in 1997. 

First Folio regulars know that it began by just doing Shakespeare on a large stage on the grounds of the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook, a Du Page County Forest Preserve property. 

“We started the theater because we were both interested in doing Shakespeare outdoors,” said Rice, noting that they were both theater professionals.

When the Forest Preserve renovated the estate, First Folio added shows inside. Mostly, they were in the estate’s Hall. But sometimes, such as when doing “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe,” they moved from room to room for different Poe stories.

First Folio cofounders David Rice and his late wife Alison C. Vesely. (Photo courtesy of First Folio)
First Folio cofounders David Rice and his late wife Alison C. Vesely. (Photo courtesy of First Folio)

He didn’t say whether the company’s final Shakespearean production would be inventive but Rice recalled two different reactions to the company’s take on a Shakespearean comedy. 

“You can’t please all members of an audience at any given show,” he said.

We were doing “Taming of the Shrew.” We set it in the
American Wild West and wrote some fun songs for it that referenced tv shows,” Rice said.

“One night, after the curtain came down, a member of the audience came over and said that was the best Shakespeare comedy he’s seen. He left, and a minute later another member of the audience came and said, please do not do this to Shakespeare again if you want me to come back.”

Fortunately, First Folios’ audiences kept coming back and supported the theater for more than two decades.

This not-for-profit Equity theater has mounted more than 80 productions including 25 shakespeare works outdoors and 14 premiers of which six were commissioned by First Folio.

Mayslake Peabody Mansion home to First Folio Theatre. (J Jacobs photo)
Mayslake Peabody Mansion home to First Folio Theatre. (J Jacobs photo)

“I have learned how much the arts matter to people because it has become part of their lives,” said Rice.

Thinking back on how First Folio followers reacted when his wife lost her battle with cancer in 2016, he said, “I was overwhelmed by the number of people who showed up at her wake.”

 Now he’s hearing from people who heard that 2022-23 is the theatre’s last season. “I’m hearing how much First Folio has meant to them.  People truly become attached.”

“First Folio wouldn’t exist all this time without the support of our community. We would not have survived the pandemic without that support and we still need it this year. Tickets are only 50 percent of expenses.”

The final season is a typical First Folio mix of classics, interesting works and Shakespeare. It opens in November with Margaret Raether’s “Jeeves Intervenes,” followed by Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women,” then Ann Noble’s “And Neither Have I Wings to Fly” and ends in April with “Twelfth Night.”

“I wanted it to end while it was still good and I was still having fun,” said Rice. “I’d like to keep on acting and I have three projects going,” said the actor/director/playwright.

Jodie Jacobs

Chicago Shakespeare ‘Shrew’ is glorious theater


Mention “The Taming of the Shrew,” the late 16th century William Shakespeare comedy on how a man (Petruchio) uses different methods to turn a willful woman (Katherina) into an ideal wife, and you might get arguments on how a civil, democratic society would frown on his methods and how the play appears misogynistic.

That is particularly so with the subplot on how Katherina’s younger sister (Bianca) is wooed by several suitors who consider her to be an ideal wife because she is sweet and even-tempered.

Then, think about how the play could be presented. In its original format, the intro to the play is offered within what has been called a framing device. In it a nobleman has the play performed for a drunken tinker named Christopher Sly whom he has tricked into believing that he also is a nobleman.

The brilliant way writer Ron West has worked out the play’s presentation with Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s famed Barbara Gaines, director of “The Shrew,” is to expand on the framing device so it moves along parallel to the play in the appropriately offsetting, 1900s suffragette movement.

Cast of 'Taming of the Shre' at Chicago Shakespeare. (Liz Lauren photo)
Cast of ‘Taming of the Shrew’ at Chicago Shakespeare. (Liz Lauren photos)

No trickery is needed here because the Columbia Women’s Club members chose “The Shrew” as part of their amateur theater Shakespearean series.

They are rehearsing the show at a member’s mansion, exquisitely done by scenic designer Kevin Depinet, somewhere near Michigan Avenue (likely the Gold Coast neighborhood). They are there because the hall where they would have been had just flooded during a bad storm that is still going on outside.

To add to the comedy, parts of some costumes were ruined in the flood so the women stripped down to their bloomers but added capes and hats to help them stay in character. Susan E. Mickey cleverly mixed typical Shakespearean wear with bloomers.

The rehearsal sticks to Shakespeare’s lines and action but its message is greatly tempered by the actors going in and out of the mansion with their Suffragette signs and reports of what’s happening on Michigan Avenue.

Other Chicago references are made to Northwestern University and the Cubs and personalities such as an Emanuel and a McCormick. But current politics are also referenced such as the line that “Here on earth the popular vote means nothing,” which was said to great applause.

In between rehearsal sessions, the members break into song and the club’s show director speaks to some of the women about their roles and speeches.

The entire cast is excellent so instead of describing individual interpretations here you have who plays which role in the “Shrew” play and in the Women’s Club:  E. Faye Butler is Baptista and Dr. Fannie Emmanuel,  Lillian Castillo is Biondello and Mrs. Lucinda James,  Tina Gluschenko is Hortensio and Mrs. Beatrice Ivey Welles, Cindy Gold is Vincentio  and Mrs. Sarah Willoughby,  Alexandra Henrikson is Katherine and Mrs. Louise Harrison.

Alexandra Henrikson (Katherine) and Crystal Lucas-Perry (Petruhio) in 'The taming of the Shrew.'
Alexandra Henrikson (Katherine) and Crystal Lucas-Perry (Petruhio) in ‘The taming of the Shrew.’

Also Ann James is Pedant and Mrs. Elizabeth Nicewander,  Heidi Kettenring is Tranio and Mrs. Dorothy Mercer,  Crystal Lucas-Perry is Petruchio and Mrs. Victoria Van Dyne,  Rita Rehn is Grumio and Widow and  Mrs. Mildred Sherman.

In addition,  Hollis Resnik is Gremio and Miss Judith Smith,  Faith Servant is Curtis and Mrs. Barbara Starkey,  Kate Marie Smith is Lucentio  and Mrs. Olivia Twist and Olivia Washington is Bianca and Mrs. Emily Ingersoll.

It’s OK if you don’t remember their roles (except, of course Kate) so here is a an abbreviated guide: Katherina (Kate) Minola is the “shrew and Petruchio is her suitor. Bianca, Kate’s sister, is pursued by the elderly Gremio, by Lucentio and by Hortensio who is also a friend of Petruchio.  Baptista Minola is Katherina and Bianca’s father. There is also the Widow wooed by Hortensio and Vincetio who is Lucentio’s father.

Then there is Grumio who is Petruchio’s manservant and Tranio, Lucentio’s manservant. Also, Biondello is Lucentio’s servant and Curtis is Petruchio’s servant.

When it’s over, you probably won’t care if you kept track of the roles because the play and play within the play offer glorious theater. Even though the Chicago Shakespeare production runs two hours, 45 minutes, it’s so much fun to watch that the time goes quickly.

‘Taming of the Shrew’ is at Chicago Shakespeare, 800 E. Grand Ave. through Nov. 12, 2017. For tickets and other information call (312) 595-5600 and visit ChgoShakes.