Comedy, tragedy and winners in 20th Shakespeare contest

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This is indeed "the winter of our discontent," began KDKA-TV anchor Ken Rice, Monday night, uniting Pittsburgh Topic No. 1 with the famous quote from "Richard III," suggesting the No. 1 topic of the evening.

He might have continued, introducing, as does Richard III (albeit ironically), the promise of "glorious summer" -- in this case, an evening of Shakespearean passion, thrills and laughter.

Mr. Rice was serving as emcee of the Finalists' Showcase of the Pittsburgh Public Theater's Shakespeare Monologue & Scene Contest. Now in its 20th year, it played to a large and happy audience of theater lovers and finalists' family and friends, all undeterred by any winter's tale or predicted tempests.

In all, 42 students from the fourth to the 12th grades competed for best monologue and scene, each category further divided into a lower division (fourth-seventh grades) and upper (eighth-12th). These finalists had been selected from more than 1,200 students who strutted their stuff for relays of 23 judges in last week's introductory round.

The result was a showcase in which students tackled difficult roles with no barrier of age or gender. They included three Juliets; two Rosalinds and Celias; and a Benedick, a Beatrice, and a Beatrice and Benedick. One of the most enthralling scenes was the ambitiously choreographed incantation by four bewitching witches from "Macbeth."

Less familiar appearances were made by Philip, doing the angry "commodity" speech from "King John," which would fit right into the current debate about the one percent; the Dr. Pinch scene from "A Comedy of Errors"; and Ms. Ford and Page, studying identical letters from the philandering Falstaff in "The Merry Wives of Windsor."

After all the laughter had been wrung and passions torn, the judges retired, debated and announced these winners:

Lower division, scene

Edgar O'Connell, Alice Crow, Julia Coblin (all CAPA) and Elliot Pullen (homeschooled), as the very well-spoken squabblers Stephano, Ariel, Caliban and Trinculo in "The Tempest."

Lower division, monologue

Shay Freund (Gideon Study Center, Bridgeville), as Flute/Thisbe mourning over the body of Bottom/Pyramus, played by a mop, in "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Upper division, scene

Logan Shiller (CAPA) and Burke Rhodes (Mt. Lebanon High School), as two debating lovers, Valentine and Proteus, in "The Two Gentlemen of Verona."

Upper division, monologue (tie)

Donnie Grimm (Lincoln Park Performing Arts, Midland), as Benedick, arguing the attractions of love and using audience members to make his point, in "Much Ado About Nothing," and Catherine Baird (North Allegheny High School), as Trinculo, escaping the storm beside a fishy monster in "The Tempest."

As this was the 20th annual contest, Ted Pappas, producing artistic director of the Public Theater, paid special tribute to Rob Zellers, who began the contest under then Public head Eddie Gilbert and has run it with sensitivity and zeal ever since.

To mark this 20th anniversary, the Public has created a special 16-page program that includes memories by some 32 former participants, with pictures both then and now. Some have become professional actors, but many found their experience informed their lives in other ways.

The five judges for the finals were Mr. Pappas, Richard E. Rauh, Christopher Rawson and two cast members of the Public's current musical, "Company" -- Lara Hayhurst, who was herself a contestant a dozen years ago, and Benjamin Howes.

First Published February 17, 2014 11:16 PM

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