Sally Loves His Sonnets

June 18, 1995
by Geoff Gehman
The Morning Call

Hunter and Michael Tylo want to play him in the summer. Sally Jessy Raphael recites him in the car. James Kiberd credits him with building the confidence to try anything.

Last evening William Shakespeare united a quartet of daytime television veterans at Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales in Center Valley. They helped raise about $12,000 during a gala for the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival. Before attending "Hamlet," the first production of the festival's fourth season, they discussed the man who writes so well about what they do for a living: demonstrate life's rich pageant.

The Tylos would like to take a break from their soap-opera acting to perform at the festival they've supported since its inception. She'd welcome the chance to do a feisty character, like Kate in "The Taming of the Shrew;" her husband, who's played such Shakespeareans as Cassio and Laertes, would like to chew on Iago or someone who would test the fencing skills that are his Hungarian birthright, not to mention part of his unfinished dissertation on stage combat. They'd settle for "A Streetcar Named Desire," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" or another American classic.

As a festival board member and underwriter, Michael Tylo hopes the organization will branch into working with a school and traveling. In the Tylos' home city of Las Vegas one sees an abundance of comedy and tragedy but not a lot of Shakespeare.

Festival leaders can thank Carnegie Mellon and Robin Leach for Raphael's appearance. It was at the Pittsburgh university that the future talk-show host began studying Shakespeare furiously. Since then she's graduated to Shakespeare "freak."

"She constantly amazes me because we'll be driving down the road," said her husband, Karl Soderlund, "and she'll spout four sonnets."

Anyway, it was Raphael's on-camera affinity for Shakespeare that caught the attention of Bill Scharf, the festival's board president. Aware that she and Soderlund own an inn in Erwinna, Bucks County, and an admirer of her can-do spirit -- particularly the time she asked Joe Louis for boxing lessons -- he invited her to attend the gala of a festival unknown to her.

Despite her coolness under pressure, with hot studio lights and hot-headed interviewees, Raphael insisted she's not engineered for playing Shakespeare. "I'd be scared to death to try something like that."

James Kiberd had similar feelings when he tackled Macbeth in a 1993 festival production. To steel himself for the most demanding role of his life, he studied between acting assignments for "All My Children" with director Gerard Schubert, the festival's producing artistic director. Surviving the murderous, guilty Scot "gave me a real grounding," he explained. "It put my feet on the earth in a major way."