Shakespeare’s Night of Terror

Oct 26, 2015

EST_1This is not Freddy Kruger terror or Stephen King horror, but after a bit of knifing, roaring, and disemboweling, the Ensemble Shakespeare Theater‘s “Night of Terror” steps into the truly terrifying…

Emcee Fred Cross addresses an audience member and asks, “What is more frightening than blood and gore?”

The man considers, then answers: “The mind.”

At the beginning of “Terror,” we are witness to a tongue being cut out, the murder of Julius Caesar, an evening meal where everyone ends up stabbed or eaten, and the plucking out of eyes.



Anastasia Leddick, Shahaub Roudbari, and Aaron Leddick


As horrid as this sounds, the device for the spilling of blood and disembowelment is easy on the nerves, so even as the violence rages, it doesn’t appall or rattle us, and we are able to chuckle, though it be tinged with a note of guilt. Which is exactly what Director Brian Elerding wants. Lure in the audience with gore and silliness, then demonstrate that physical violence is nothing compared to the terror one’s words can produce and the psychological horror one can inflict.

“What’s most disturbing in Shakespeare’s works, what’s most unsettling,” Elerding says, “is just two people talking; two actors connecting and telling a story to the audience.”

Elerding goes on to prove this point with a scene between Othello and Iago, where the “loyal” ensign begins to plants doubts about his General’s mistress, followed by a powerful scene where Othello murders the innocent Desdemona.

Tall and lanky Aaron Leddick plays Richard III as he sympathizes, defends, flirts, and flatters Lady Anne even as she’s mourning her husband and father-in-law. Richard’s audacity to stop the funeral procession in order to woo Lady Anne is well played. After Lady Anne departs, his glee at “winning” her over by his manipulative rhetoric is evident. His scorn at how easily she was won and knowing how quickly he will dispatch of her is unnerving. The ugliness of humanity, the knowledge that people do manipulate with words, play upon emotions, and indirectly direct another to act as they wish does make us stir in our seat uncomfortably. The horror as Shakespeare illustrates—and Elerding supports—is not in the physical, but what resides within the mind.




Was ever woman in this humour woo’d?
Was ever woman in this humour won?
I’ll have her; but I will not keep her long.
What! I, that kill’d her husband and his father,
To take her in her heart’s extremest hate,
With curses in her mouth, tears in her eyes,
The bleeding witness of her hatred by;
Having God, her conscience, and these bars
against me,
And I nothing to back my suit at all,
But the plain devil and dissembling looks,
And yet to win her, all the world to nothing!

(William Shakespeare, Richard III, Act I, Scene II)




Ensemble Shakespeare Theater was founded by three friends with the desire to strip Shakespeare to the bones, eliminate the verbal artifice and complex staging and wardrobe, and focus on story. The group is a collection of working actors who offer their time to bring further exposure to some of the world’s most brilliant writing and outstanding characters, in a way that is understandable to everyone, including the Shakespeare novice or skeptic.

From what we witnessed, EST is succeeding. For the Shakespeare neophyte who considers his Early Modern English as hard to understand as Quenya, Tolkien’s elf language from Middle Earth, rest assured that these actors know their stuff. Yes, there is drama and passion, raised voices and theatrical movements, but not constantly, nor excessively. Shakespeare’s words and meanings are understood because the actors’ deliveries are anchored in reality, the actors comfortable with the language and natural in the moment. This is definitively difficult to pull off, but for us, this group succeeds admirably.



Shahaub Roudbari & Alex Weed


Ensemble Shakespeare Theater now performs at Lineage Dance Company. Upon entering to see the show, we’re struck by how un-theatrical the space looks, which perhaps is part of the point. Seats are placed in two rows of ten on both sides of the room, audience members facing each other. In between is “the stage.” On our right is a floor-to-ceiling red sash of material with a small table and candle in front of it; what we suppose to be an altar. To our right is a bi-level quasi-stage area with two red stage-to-ceiling sashes, and a simple chair with a skeleton mask placed upon the seat.

We happily sip on our free glass of red wine while awaiting the lights to dim.

Elerding has some friends in the circus and as a prologue, “Jess & Lyly” glide out, one woman in a simple maroon leotard, the other in a body suit painted with a skeleton, the drawing of which continues on her feet, hands, and face. They perform a part-dance, part-acrobatic number to Kate Nash’s “Skeleton Song.” The women work in close proximity of each other, and as mirrors, supports, and foils. The choreographed piece is melodic, thoughtful, graceful, and ultimately dramatic; a creative introduction for what is to come.



Fred Cross


Fred Cross is the evening’s emcee (though that may not be all he is…). Cross guides the audience—with a pinch of mystery, an ounce of philosopher, and a dash of sarcasm—announcing the upcoming scenes, which come from a variety of Shakespeare’s dramas: Richard III, Titus Adronicus, Hamlet, Macbeth, Henry VI, Julius Caesar, and Othello.

Leddick and Alex Weed are marvelous as First and Second Murderer who have been sent by Richard to kill his brother Clarence. They perform with ease—an ease in expression, physicality, and delivery. It’s the perfect comic relief, that is until First Murderer stabs Clarence and declares, “I’ll drown you in the malmsey-butt within.”



Aaron Leddick

Alex Weed

Alex Weed
















An aside: George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence, was the brother of Edward IV and Richard III. Edward had Parliament convict his brother of “unnatural, loathly treasons” upon which Clarence was executed in 1478. A rumor began and “gained ground” that he was drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine ( A butt is a unit of volume, approximately 108 Imperial gallons or 130 US gallons.

In Richard III, Natalie Fryman as Clarence makes us hope against hope that her entreaties will change the minds of her knife-wielding assassins (see First and Second Murderers, above), then successfully navigates one of Shakespeare’s toughest scenes for an actor as Lady Anne. Fryman must convince the audience that Lady Anne’s ferocious hatred of Richard for his murdering ways can change to the extent that she allows him to place his ring upon her finger—all within one scene. This scene is to illustrate that Richard is silver-tongued and a master manipulator, and cunningly engineers the outcome he desires. Shakespeare has written a rather implausible scene here, but Fryman effectively portrays Lady Anne’s disbelief, reluctance, and revulsion even as she relents.



Natalie Fryman & Aaron Leddick


Shahaub Roudbari is impressive in his appearances, fully immersed in the angst and wretchedness of the characters he portrays without making his performances seem overstated or false, and Anastasia Leddick is wonderfully wicked and emotionally unstable as Queen Margaret during the torturing of York in Henry VI, and perfectly innocent, surprised, shocked, and distraught at Desdemona.



Shahaub Roudbari


Elerding’s goal is to make Pasadena a theater haven, make it known as a theater town—not for the select few but for everyone and anyone. He’s inspired to devise productions that are thoughtful and complex with a ticket price that makes them accessible to all.

The quality costumes are minimal while creative; the masks used surreal. The set design creates an immersive feel, all the action happening only feet away, which pulled us into the humor… and the horror.

“Shakespeare’s Night of Terror” has only two more performances…

Friday, October 30th, 8 p.m.
Sunday, November 1st, 8 p.m.

…with wonderfully affordable tickets ($18, adult; $15, student/senior); purchase tickets here.

For more info, visit





Jess & Lyly; promotional photo (rings are not part of this event)


All production photos courtesy of Ensemble Shakespeare Theater.


Infographic of Shakespeare’s deaths and murders as found at The Poke:

“Shakespeare’s Tragedies: Everybody Dies…”

Shakespeare's Tragedies; concept by Cam Magee and design by Caitlin S. Griffin; sourced from

Shakespeare’s Tragedies; concept by Cam Magee and design by Caitlin S. Griffin; sourced from





Ensemble Shakespeare Theater






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