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Reviewed by:
  • The Knight of the Burning Pestle
  • Emily R. Lathrop
The Knight of the Burning PestlePresented by the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory at The Great Hall at St. Mary's in Baltimore, Maryland. 11 1–24, 2019. Directed by Tom Delise. Music by Madeleine Koon. Costumes by Kendra Shapanus. With Kerry Brady (Nell), David Forrer (George), Warren Harris (Rafe), Katie Rey Bogdan (Humphrey/Host), Cheryl J. Campo (Old Merrythought), Adam Henricksen (Jaspar/George), Jackie Madejski (Luce/Barber), and others.

Founded in 2006 by Tom Delise, Baltimore Shakespeare Factory strives to produce Shakespeare and his contemporaries using original practices. The company performs inside of the Great Hall of St. Mary's, a nineteenth-century church-turned-community center. In 2019, the company unveiled their new early modern styled theater, The Kestrel, inside the Great Hall. The company puts on five productions a year, including one [End Page 298]by a Shakespeare contemporary and one using original pronunciation. For their contemporary production this season, BSF produced Francis Beaumont's The Knight of the Burning Pestle.

First performed in 1607, The Knight of the Burning Pestlefollows George, a citizen grocer, and his wife Nell as they interrupt a production of The London Merchant, taking over the direction of the performance and putting their apprentice, Rafe, into the acting company. As the play of The London Merchantunfolds, George and Nell offer commentary on the plot, often inserting new scenes and characters. It is thus a play that is concerned with audience response and behavior, making it the perfect play for Baltimore Shakespeare Factory, a company that deeply values audience engagement.

During the pre-show, cast members sang modern hits like "Shut Up and Dance" by Walk the Moon, "Material Girl" by Madonna, and "Here Comes the Sun" by the Beatles, as other cast members greeted patrons and sold raffle tickets. The cast encouraged the audience to sing along and many happily did. The pre-show speech featured information about the upcoming season, their education department, and original practices. While this was going on, the Artistic Director (and director of the show) Tom Delise walked through the theater pews to greet every audience member and thank them for coming to the show. While some audience engagement practices can seem overly eager or like marketing ploys, BSF's approach to their audiences is earnest. They strive to create as welcoming a space as possible and are genuinely excited to have you there.

As the company members walked on stage and through the tiring house, George, Nell, and Rafe entered through the same entrance as the audience, posed as late seaters, and shimmied past patrons to sit in the middle of one of the front pews. After interrupting the onstage company's prologue to The London Merchantand climbing over the same audience members, the trio joined the rest of the company onstage. Though Pestlecan be difficult to produce because it moves in and out of a play within a play, the production delineated The London Merchantfrom the rest of the play by using scene cards stating the location. In addition, the actors deployed a more melodramatic style during these scenes in an effort to contrast their "actor" role and their London Merchantroles, a choice which multiple actors commented on in the post-show talkback. The production featured early modern costumes and universal lighting and music director Madeleine Koon replaced all of the songs with twentieth-and twenty-first-century music. As Old Merrythought, Cheryl J. Campo shone, singing Green Day, Pink, Journey, and Madonna throughout the [End Page 299]show, often convincing audience members to sing along with her. Delise explained in the post-show discussion that Koon attempted to keep the modern lyrics the same length as the excised originals. This choice helped the audience form a closer relationship with Campo as they sung along, while at the same time maintaining each scene's form.

During intermission, the company again sang modern songs with the audience, this time opting for "Juice" by Lizzo, "So What" By Pink, and "Cruel to be Kind" by Nick Lowe. Halfway through, an actor announced the raffle winner, who was given a season pass...


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