Reviewers Praise

Part I: Quick Quotes 'n Notes
Part II:  Full length Detailed Reviews


Part I: Quick "Quotes 'n Notes" from media commentators!

Media Reporter Ryan Kolder, Modern American Television, a subsidiary of KRV Entertainment LLC.: July 18 2010:  (for the KCCI TV Series On the Spot with Ryan Polder on our 2010 Show): "We were dazzled by not only the wonderful stage set up and costumes, but also the performances were out of this world! It was an awful lot of fun tonight- (The Iowa Shakespeare Experience) was amazing, amazing, amazing!"  

Christine Riccelli, Editor, dsm Magazine: "Ever since the (2010) performance, I've been meaning to tell you about my daughter. Your show made a HUGE Shakespeare fan of my 9-year-old Ellie. After she saw the performance, she made clothes-pin figures of all the (Shakespeare) characters (your play had showcased). Then, along with doing a play where those figures played the roles from the show, she also wrote her own play that starred the characters. I didn't suggest or push this on her at all. She did it all on her own. She was totally enthralled with the performance; thank you for making Shakespeare a part of her life!"  

From Morgan Halgren of Iowa Public Television, noted theatrical actress and popular songstress: "The evening was just beautiful and so fun - it was fun AND funny, loved the music!  I was singing under my breath to all of the songs, it was really an enjoyable, enjoyable evening - and I also think (Lorenzo's adaptations) are really really marketable.  Other Festivals will want to produce (these shows!) Also, really no matter what anyone says, there is still a stigma about Shakespeare for many people, but when you mix it up a little bit like the ISE does, it makes it SO much more approachable, and when the actors really know what they're saying like yours did, it makes it SO fun.  I was aware the show was an adaptation, but was hard pressed to say where the lines were exactly drawn…"  

John Busbee, The Culture Buzz Theatre Reviews for Iowa's Capital: "The ISE gives audiences a compelling reason to create their own experiences... All productions seem generously infused with dance, music and merriment" (and "the ISE is) encouraging candelabra dining on the lawn" ! "Sandoval parlays his Iowa Writers Workshop credentials and stage savvy into often innovative twists to Shakespeare and other Classics. Heinemann (beguiles) guests to ISE (and) "this duo is adding some new live performing arts flair to the region, creating an important gateway to bring audiences to the best of William Shakespeare and other Classics. I encourage any and all to accept this invitation and stroll through this performance portal and judge for themselves what makes (with appropriate paraphrasing apologies) 'all the world a stage.' "

Todd Razor, Three Razors Media; Blogsite: "If the high-caliber of talent displayed at an early-stage rehearsal is any indication of what's in store next month, fans will surely flock to watch the timeless tragedy unfold on the Des Moines riverfront while enjoying a full-costumed version of this and other climatic scenes"


Full length Reviews

"...Ultimately moving ... Pulls you in... even when you know how it ends" !  Micheal Morrain, Des Moines Register 7/19/2012
"wonderfully entertaining;" "inventive (staging);" "gorgeous (costumes)" "thrilling swordfights expertly choreographed;" 
"colorful and convincing to both the eye and the ear... excellently memorable evening of fine theater"  Bruce Carr, Freelance Reviewer for Des Moines Register and other publications; 7/23/2012


"A Touch of Cinematic Weight"

When Romeo Montague heard that Juliet Capulet had died during the performance of their namesake tragedy Wednesday at the Simon Estes Amphitheater, his anguished cry – “I defy you, stars!” – echoed back from the World Food Prize building across the river.

It was a lucky bonus, like the breeze that finally cooled down what had been the city’s hottest day in 24 years.

But there were few other distractions in what turned out to be a straightforward and ultimately moving re-telling of the classic...

This year, with the direction of Lorenzo Sandoval and production guidance from Robin Heinemann, the streamlined show focuses squarely on the story itself. There are elements of music and dance, but they add to the story rather than compete with it. The overall result allows the audience – even those who know the play well – to put themselves once again in the characters’ shoes.

Like the dainty slippers of Lady Capulet (Elisabeth Ballstadt), a hovering helicopter mom who, at the end, becomes hysterical with grief. Or the boots of Tybalt (Devin Preston), who is always itching for a fight. Or the dowdy black loafers of Friar Laurence (Micheal Davenport), who sees his best intentions tangle into a horrific mess.

Romeo’s buddies Benvolio (Jeff Duis) and the swaggering Mercutio (Matt Wiggins) pal around the way guys do, but with saucier vocabularies. Lord Capulet (Sandoval) is a proud father but short-tempered and boozy, too, with little patience for his daughter’s reluctance to marry the man he chose for her (Jason Rainwater). A number of smaller roles belong to Mary Bricker, who handles them with her usual aplomb.

The big surprise is Juliet’s nurse (John Zickefoose, identified in the program by the anagram Zoe F. Joonshieck) who seems to have stepped out of a Monty Python sketch and borrowed a folk dress from the Pella Tulip Festival. S/he’s a stitch in the first act and convincingly serious when the story turns dark.

And what about the lovebirds, you ask? I saved the best for last.

Nick Toussaint and Janae Hohbein are perfectly matched in the title roles. He is dashing. She is dewy. Both seem to shiver with the sweet torment of first love.

Toussaint carries himself with confidence, especially in the well choreographed duels, but he clearly goes weak in the knees in her presence. And although Hohbein has many of the play’s most famous lines, she makes them sound natural and fresh. The microphones catch every sigh of her speech from the balcony (which rolls in on wheels).

Add to that a few simple dances (by a lithe five-member team choreographed by Sara Lyons) and strains of live and recorded music, which lend certain moments a touch of cinematic weight, and the result is a show that pulls you in, even when you know how it ends.   - M. Morrain



"Ambitious and wonderfully entertaining; over 700 playgoers... rewarded the production with a prolonged standing ovation."

Des Moines is full of creative and hard-working theatrical talents, but surely among the very hardest working and the most creative must be counted Lorenzo Sandoval and his partner Robin Heinemann.  And the latest proof of that is their ambitious and wonderfully entertaining production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, played last weekend (July 25-29, 2012) at the Simon Estes Amphitheater on the Des Moines River.

The production is part of “Shakespeareance Fest 2012,” the Iowa Shakespeare Experience’s fourth annual summer festival, and marks the first time that the troupe has offered a tragedy.  It is free to the public, as is ISE’s custom, and the public came in droves:  the estimate for the performance I attended (on Friday) was over 700 play-goers seated on the riverbank, for close to three hours. (Website note: This included a 20 minute intermission.)

Indeed, the play-goers rewarded the production with a prolonged standing ovation.  First of all, the costuming, designed by Robin Heinemann and her design associate Nicole Tesch, was gorgeous, clearly evoking Renaissance Italy.  The touches of scenery were inventive and well suited to the large, open stage whose only back-drop is the skyline of downtown Des Moines.  The problem of building a usable balcony was cleverly and conveniently solved by Heinemann’s set supervisor Brian Browning, using castors.  Lighting and sound (the actors all wore wireless mikes) were well managed, though they could have benefitted from one more timing-rehearsal to insure promptness.

But it was the players themselves who most clearly earned that Standing O.  They comprise about a dozen experienced actors drawn from the best that central Iowa has to offer.  The young lovers were Nick Toussaint (Romeo Montague) and Janae Hohbein (Juliet Capulet), both of whom brought their star-crossed, tragic romance to vivid life through some of the most captivating dramatic poetry Shakespeare ever wrote.  Shakespeare’s comedy was expertly handled by “Zoë F. Joonshiek” as Juliet’s nurse [full disclosure: this pseudonymous actor is a blood relative (first cousin) of the reviewer named below].  I was moved especially by the loving care with which the bantering between nurse and mistress was played. 

Micheal Davenport was equally expert in his central role as the benevolent Friar Laurence, whose well-intended plan to aid his young friends goes so tragically awry.  And it was a fine stroke to cast Mary Bricker (veteran of numerous productions in most of our local theaters, here making her open-air acting debut) in the choral roles, using her commanding presence to sweep the drama along with (Shakespeare's) prologue, pronouncements, and narration.  Bricker also doubled touchingly as Romeo’s mother, mourning sadly over the final scene.

The production also benefitted from the skill and magnetism of Lorenzo Sandoval (Juliet’s volatile father), Elisabeth A. Ballstadt (her cold-hearted mother), Devin Preston (Tybalt, her contentious cousin), Jeff Duis and Matt Wiggins (Romeo’s friends Benvolio and Mercutio), and Jason Rainwater (Juliet’s rich but hapless suitor Count Paris).  Special mention must be made of the thrilling sword-fights, expertly choreographed by the company’s Romeo, Nick Toussaint....

Colorful and convincing both to the eye and the ear, ISE’s production of Romeo and Juliet gave me a truly and excellently memorable evening of fine theater.  Thank you all!  -B. Carr

Writer, editor, arts manager and consultant Bruce Carr was born in Des Moines and educated at numerous fine institutions including Harvard College.  He has been extensively published as contributor to the Des Moines Register (including numerous local theatre reviews) as well as a contributor or editor for articles and reviews for such publications as the Carnegie Magazine, Musical Times, 19th Century Music, and others. His expertise in the arts as well as in arts management and arts education is considerable:  inclusive of such diverse experiences as service as a panelist for the National Endowment of the Arts and in top administrtion for the Symphony Orchestras for both Detroit and Pittsburgh.

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