Theatre Reviews
Photo by Phillip Hamer courtesy of The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival

Written by Michelle Kenyon

Shakespeare in the Streets has returned, but it was a little different this year. For the latest installment of St. Louis Shakespeare Festival's annual melding of Shakespeare and St. Louis neighborhoods, which ran September 14-16, the focus is more on a citywide sports tradition than any specific area of the city.  “The Game's Afoot,” written by Benjamin Hochman, directed by Adam Flores, and based on Shakespeare's “Henry IV, parts 1 and 2,” and “Henry V,” took a loving and whimsical look at the city's long love affair with soccer, and how the sport has shaped the city's culture and facilitated both rivalry and unity among players and fans alike.

The setting for this show was part of its appeal, in addition to the informative story and great cast. The stage was set up on a side street adjoining the parking lot of Schlafly Taproom, with the looming, stylish presence of CityPark clearly visible in the background. Scott Neale's clever, multilevel set included a representation of a soccer field and provides an appropriate setting for the wide-ranging story that spans several neighborhoods and decades of St. Louis soccer history. There was also a smattering of local humor (including the manner of time travel) that added to the very St. Louis character of the story. Some eye-catching costumes by Shevaré, striking lighting design by M. Bryant Powell, and mood-setting percussion provided by one of the local soccer supporting squads, Fleur De Noise also contributed to the overall atmosphere and lively spirit of the show.

As for the story, it mostly followed Hal (Jack Kalan), a young soccer prodigy coming of age in the 1970s, who initially would rather hang out in bars with his hard-partying friends Falstaff (Keating), Pistol (Jailyn Genyse) and Nym (Victor Mendez) than seriously apply himself to becoming St. Louis's next "Soccer King". Instead, cocky upstart and rival Hotspur (Thomas Patrick Riley) challenged Hal for the crown, and the media attention. Their story also featured a time-traveling Scout (Lynn Berg) assembling the soccer greats from various eras, and lots of mentions of the various major soccer events over the years, such as the 1950 US team that featured several St. Louis players, and the highlights and stars of various professional and school teams over the past few decades.

It's a streamlined story both in terms of soccer history and the Shakespearean source material, so the show was probably easier to enjoy for audience members familiar with one or both of these subjects. Still, I had a lot of fun, and the performances were strong across the board, led by Kalan and Riley as the rivaling local soccer heroes, and Keating as the fun-loving Falstaff, along with great turns by Summer Baer as a local supporter who grows from enthusiastic young fan to equally enthusiastic "soccer mom", Genyse, Mendez, and Tara Bopp in various roles, and Berg as the time-traveling scout. There were also some fun surprises with appearance by some local soccer personalities.

Ultimately, this was a fun celebration of soccer in St. Louis and enthusiasm for the sport and the city alike, even despite various challenges and hardships over the years. St. Louis Shakespeare is a clever, unique tradition, and this latest entry in the series is more entertaining evidence that St. Louis and Shakespeare go together well.

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