The house lights dim and a deep, resonant voice stabs through the dark, not unlike the 6-inch blade Macbeth brandishes when he assassinates Duncan. And Patrick Page's own instrument - his well-honed voice - is just as sharp, pointed and polished as any of the daggers in William Shakespeare's vast canon.
During his first few moments on stage, Page chats good-naturedly with the audience, noting that he initially worried about his title for the two-hour evening with Shakespeare.When I mentioned a few days ago that I was going to review a play called "Passion's Slaves," my sister, too, thought it sounded more like an X-rated flick playing in some sleazy Times Square porno theater.
Page - when he took his one-man show to Las Vegas several months ago - even drove past a moviehouse with "Slaves of Passion" emblazoned on its marquee. ("And it wasn't half bad," he admitted.)
But we can assume that it wasn't nearly as exciting as an evening with one of the West's finest Shakespearean actors, probing the thoughts and minds of a dozen notable Shakespearean characters, all of them consumed by one passion or another - greed, envy, love, power, ambition, jealousy, romance.
The first half of Page's compilation focuses, for the most part, on the romantic side of Shakespeare.
He starts with the aging soldier, Don Armado, of "Love's Labour's Lost." Despite a decree from the Spanish commander ordering three years of celibacy ("Hmm, sounds like BYU," Page quipped), Armado still falls for a beautiful young woman.
Then there's Angelo's frustration in falling in love with a nun in "Measure for Measure," and the romantic quandary faced by confirmed bachelor Benedick in "Much Ado About Nothing," finding himself smitten by Beatrice.
Page also addresses the passion of jealousy - Master Ford coping with "the hell of loving a false woman" in "The Merry Wives of Windsor," and Leontes, whose "heart dances, but not for joy" in "The Winter's Tale."
Page also delved into the mind of the tormented Hamlet, setting the stage for the more tragic characters of the second half of the program.
For his scenes from "Julius Caesar," Page asked the theatergoers to imagine that they were Romans assembled in the Great Forum as Brutus, then the golden boy of imperial Rome, explains why he was forced to slay Caesar, after which Marc Anthony counters with his anguished plea to his "friends, Romans, countrymen" to take a saner stance.
Page then turned to "Macbeth," another tragic hero who, like Brutus, broods over the slaying of Duncan to appease his passion for ambition.
The comic strutting of Malvolio, who milks all he can between the cryptic lines of a planted letter from his beloved Olivia (actually written by three others as a joke), adds a touch of mirth to the second act.
The show concludes with dramatic dialogue by the tormented, disfigured "Richard III," a role that embodies sensuous romance, murder, ambition, villainy and comedy all rolled into one.
Whether or not you appreciate the power and majesty of Shakespeare's immortal works, Patrick Page is a gifted actor who makes the playwright's words and characters come to life.
Marnie Sears' set, which was simple and functional, yet regal and elegant, and Brad Russell's effective lighting added considerably to what was an exciting night of insightful, thought-provoking theater.