by Lorie Lewis Ham
To Thine Own Self Be True: Gender, Sexuality and the Bard is the third virtual mainstage production of Fresno State’s University Theatre. It is written by William Shakespeare, and conceived and directed by Fresno State professor Brad Myers.
Recognizing the timelessness of Shakespeare’s works, this production explores modern-day LGBTQ perspectives and confronts gender stereotypes through a reimagining of Shakespearean scenes, monologues, and sonnets. Included are famous love scenes played by same-sex couples, gender reversals, a transgender Helena (Ethan MaGill), a non-binary Cleopatra (Jimmy Haynie), and the torment of bullied LGBTQ+ teens through Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” monologue (Julia Prieto & Jimmy Haynie) .
“Art must thrive in the most difficult times,” Myers said. “Just as Shakespeare wrote some of his greatest plays during the bubonic plague, Fresno State students’ artistry will not be thwarted by our current pandemic. The beauty and complexities of modern-day gender and sexuality are illuminated through this reimagining of Shakespearean scenes and monologues.”
The show includes scenes and monologues from Romeo and Juliet, Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, Hamlet, Measure for Measure, Julius Caesar, and the Dark Lady Sonnets. Each scene also has an introduction where comparisons are made to modern issues and events.
One of my favorite scenes was the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet performed as a same-sex couple by Anthony teNyenhuis (Julius) and Carlos Sanchez (Romeo). The actors did an amazing job of bringing the scene to life. Some of Romeo’s lines were in Spanish, which I thought was a brilliant touch.
The production was rehearsed and filmed following strict federal, state and University protocols to ensure a safe, clean, and socially distant production environment. The cast includes students Brianne Avina, Diego Barba, David Boutros, Cecilia Cantu, Lexie Castellanos, Joshua Clark, Jimmy Haynie, Molly Heng, Duncan Hoge, Teya Juarez, Krishan Joshi, Emily King, Cassidy LeClair, Rachel Marie Maciel, Ethan Magill, Andrew Mickelson, Tyler Murphy, Kara Nist, Isabella O’Keefe, Rebecca Elise Packard, R.L. Preheim, Julia Prieto, Samantha Ramos, Carlos Sanchez, Andy Souk, Anthony teNyenhuis, Andrew Trevino, and Jenna Valencia.
The students’ performances were excellent, especially considering how difficult it must be to perform without an audience. There are scenes that will make you cry, ones that make you laugh, and definitely scenes that make you think. The “To Thine Own Self Be True” theme runs throughout the show.
I highly recommend getting your ticket now for one of the remaining virtual performances. The production was filmed in the John Wright Theatre at Fresno State. The remaining performances are streaming at 7:30 p.m. on February 23 through 27. General admission streaming access is $15 (or $10 for students).
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors–many of whom you will have seen on local stages. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Play, and also on Podbean.
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