The traveling Stone Soup Shakespeare Company feeds a vital human need



A scene from Stone Soup’s “Pericles” (clockwise from top) Ashley Leake, Theo Zucker, Lauren Becker, Tera Flores. Courtesy Julia Stemper.   

Stone Soup Shakespeare

Performing Shakespeare free for 13 seasons

This fall concluded with Pericles

Artistic director: Julia Stemper (“Head dreamer and performer”)


The Chicago-based traveling troubadours blessed the Shorewood Public Library with a vibrant performance recently.

Performing Shakespeare for free is like giving open-hearted to humanity to harvest its sunlit poetic genius for all to grow, like oaks. As Harold Bloom, among our most dedicated Shakespeare thinkers, wrote, “The ultimate use of Shakespeare is to let him teach us to think too well, to whatever truth you can sustain without perishing.” Bloom may seem to diminish “feeling” or the heart in this statement. But that’s hardly true of  the great book from which it comes: Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, a supreme effort to sum up the world’s greatest poet.

Bloom suggests that Shakespeare’s universality allows us chance to stow the beauty and wisdom that life requires of us.

Beauty is the vibrant color of life, including the rough textures of pain and loss. After all, what do seed and leaf truly feed from? The color of the light.

Wisdom waits, yes, yet abides where we need it.

Thus, the need to heed him endlessly into time. Thank you, Stone Soup, for signifying and abiding him, most obviously in his great humor, as he flourishes.

Pericles cast 2023:

Pericles: Ashley Leake

Heilcanus: Sofia Carvajal

Cerimon: Tera Flores

Thaisa: Dana Macel

Marina: Theo Drucker



Gunmania? Will the real America please stand up?

A man comforts an anguished woman after The Robb Elementary school massacre in Texas. Courtesy

Why must people like this woman suffer through pointless mayhem, time after time? Such hell on earth, to say nothing of the victims?

I felt I had to respond to the latest gun-lust/ hatred/ madness in Texas, with 18 children and two adults murdered in cold blood, and counting. It’s America’s worst gun-violence toll since the Sandy Hook massacre, which a certain strain of Americans have twisted into a fake death conspiracy. That’s where we are. So I’m deeply grateful for the courage of poet Brian Bilston and of theater artist Julia Stemper, who posted his poem.

Below the poem is my further comment.

I, like probably others, initially thought this poem too facile and unfair a reduction of America’s incredibly diverse identity. And yet, so sadly, I asked myself, what other than than guns is a symbol more manifest in American political culture today?

It’s as if The Statue of Liberty’s torch has been replaced by a AK-47. We stand breathlessly aghast, waiting for her to drop her arm and fire — ravaging fellow humans of all ages and colors — to protect our “personal liberty.” Lady Liberty would then collapse in tears, over the madness infecting her.

More guns than Americans. A tragically lame, kowtowing Congress. Tell me, what single symbol today is more pointedly apt to signify the darkest, deepest corner of this blighted nation’s collective psyche, than its bloody gun lust?

Finally I offer my friend Julia Stemper’s own poem, echoing Bilston’s form, as a positive, proactive response:

It’s time to change this
Hug your children
And change this
Hug your children who have children
And change this
Hug your children who teach children
And change this
Hug your children who don’t deserve this
And change this
Hug yourself, you are a child
You don’t deserve this
Don’t hug a gun
Just change this
— Julia Stemper 


Stone Soup Shakespeare sends the fate of “Julius Caesar” to the stars and back



Miquela Cruz, as Brutus, declaims in Stone Soup Shakespeare’s performance of “Julius Caesar” Saturday at the Shorewood Library. 


Their current website epigraph reads: “Men are sometimes masters of their own fates. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars, but in ourselves.”

It’s Cassius speaking, in the great play Julius Caesar, not long before “dear Brutus” colludes with Cassius in assassinating Caesar, the powerful Roman general, just returned from a triumphant war against Pompey. Brutus is also Caesar’s dearest friend.

Chicago-based Stone Soup Shakespeare’s performance of Julius Caesar showed the “men” in firm control of their theatrical fate, despite swirling winds and a couple of wailing fire trucks trundling past the outdoor setting of the Shorewood Library lawn.

Despite the limits of barebones props and sets, the young troupe conveyed the drama, moral conundrums and tragedy of this story of betrayal, political assassination, and profound self-questioning. It was a deeply moving foray into Shakespeare’s tragedies, from a company which has typically toured the Bard’s comedies and fantasies. So,  for this attendee, it amounted to their most gratifying production to date. And the crowd showed great appreciation at the end. 1

Unlike the comedies, this had minimal madcap motion and slapstick. Accordingly, the company presented the text with greater clarity and impact than previously. The Bard’s drama and poetry shone forth like so many faceted jewels.


Caesar (Julia Stemper) begins to feel the pressure of political unrest, and perhaps a hint of his looming fate, in Stone Soup Shakespeare’s performance of “Julius Caesar.”

Especially after the dreadful, bloody or heroic deed, Brutus must wonder if the difficult answer about his fateful decision dwells only in the enigmatic glimmer in the sky. Indeed, Brutus’s closest ally in the murder plot, Cassius, is a head-spinner, alternating between such reflective illumination and utter hotheadedness, a contrast well-drawn by Josh Pennington.


Cassius (left, Josh Pennington) consoles Brutus (Miquela Cruz) who has just lost his closest friend, Julius Caesar, in an assassination they both participated in. 

Regarding Cassius’s epigrammic comment: Does the “fault” lie in their life-snuffing act or in Caesar’s exceedingly “great ambition” to become Rome’s emperor, which compels Brutus to betray Caesar most of all?

Short of assassination, the play resonates today in the dilemma of Donald Trump and fired FBI director James Comey, especially in Trump’s “hope” — or “directive” as Comey sees it —  that he be utterly loyal to Trump, rather than to his nation and the Constitution. Trump’s fate as president may lie in himself, his own “great ambition” and it’s many seemingly self-destructive faults. And like Brutus, Comey is aiming to act for the sake of the nation. A Brutus utterance might be Comey’s: “For I am arm’d so strong with honesty that (threats) pass by me as the idle wind, which I respect not.” Comey admits being “stunned” and intimidated by Trump in one-one-one meetings.

And yet Comey did finally speak “honestly” in a manner that may seal Trump’s fate, as surely as Cassius’ fury and Brutus’s decisions seal Caesar’s. Certainly Trump has behaved more like a self-indulgent, impulsive Roman ruler than a democracy’s president and guardian, especially in never admitting any wrongdoing, even about his most demonstrably-false tweets. “Th’ abuse of greatness is when it disjoins with remorse from power,” Brutus comments.

A difference is that Comey seems hardly as close to Trump as Brutus is to Caesar, whom Brutus feels a truly great man: “As Caesar loved me, I weep for him; as he was fortunate, I rejoiced at it; as he was valiant, I honor him; but – as he was ambitious, I slew him.”

In the moment before he’s killed, Caesar unwittingly borrows Cassius’s celestial metaphor to aggrandize himself: “I am constant as the northern star, of whose true-fixed and resting quality there is no fellow in the firmament.” It’s a brilliant Shakespearian flourish of irony.

Once Caesar lies dead, Brutus is ravaged with self-doubt and recrimination. So Shakespeare dramatizes one of the greatest moral and psychological conundrums a human in a certain position of power might face. As Brutus, Miquela Cruz carries the mightiest role burden with grace and equipoise. She does underplay Brutus’s apparent angst. But, unlike Cassius, it’s in Brutus’s character to strive for a certain balance between extreme emotions, which makes his decisions and actions no easier, as the wrenching ending proves. Under Eric Mercado’s direction, Cruz, along with Julia Stemper as a vivid Caesar, showed how well this company pulls off non-gender-specific casting.


Stone Soup Shakespeare’s performance of the tragedy “Julius Caesar” was offset by choreography, song, ensemble chanting and drumming, and an audience member as a surprise performer.

It may seem improbable that this small band of 21st century American millennials, juggling roles throughout, might actually reach into the Elizabethan and Roman Empire eras. Yet, aloft in energy and passion, they rode “the tides of time” back, like mythical birds following the constant currents and the northern star, through history’s ceaseless cycles.


The sculpture “Congruity” by Narendra Patel overlooks the setting for Stone Soup Shakespeare’s performance Saturday of “Julius Caesar.” All Photos by Kevin Lynch


1 It’s worth noting, despite play’s violence, the company didn’t even resort to stage weaponry. So this managed to be family-friendly fare, as serious as it mostly was. Also, Stone Soup has done staged readings this year of such meaty fare as Richard III and Hamlet, clearly demonstrating their range beyond the comedy that might seem to tour easier to outreach locations they normally pursue.