On David Tennant, ‘Richard II,’ and the Joy of Acting

David Tennatn as Richard II at BAM. Photo by RSC

Sitting in his prison cell, the deposed king Richard II meditatively reflects on the nature of kingship and his sudden loss of power. He says,

Thus play I in one person many people,
And none contented: sometimes am I king;
Then treasons make me wish myself a beggar,
And so I am: then crushing penury
Persuades me I was better when a king;
Then am I king’d again…

Richard II is one of the great chameleon-like figures of Shakespeare’s works, ranking among other hard-to-pin-down royals like Hamlet and Richard III. He’s at once angelically majestic and humanly flawed. When surrounded by his subjects, he invokes divine right with the grace and poise of a saint, but behind closed doors he talks of looting his dying uncle’s property with malevolent glee. He can be warrior-like and masculine, witnessing the wars in Ireland himself, as well as effeminate, enjoying the luxuries of the finest Italian fashions, as well as the love of his cousin Aumerle. Richard can act esoteric and transcendent, seemingly a god among men. But he is simultaneously worldly and deeply flawed.

Richard is able to swiftly ‘play’ many ‘people’ as king, with the keen ability to judge what circumstances call for which ‘person.’ However, this protean strength eventually becomes his great weakness. The cause of his fall lies largely in the court’s suspicion of his inconsistency and his poor judgment. Richard missteps when he arbitrarily banishes two members of the court, then minimizes the sentence of one when the other can exited the scene. Likewise, he allows the court to see his conniving greed and disrespectful attitude at his uncle’s death. Though Richard’s changeability is sometimes to be admired, his followers and flatterers can be just as changeable—in their loyalties. Trust is a thing easily lost and hardly gained back, and people want to know where one stands, even if they themselves prefer to stand for nothing.

When news of his usurpation arrives, he swings wildly between anxious despair and stately calm within the span of a few lines. This is his great moment of decision—to pass the crown peaceably, or to demand his God-given right to it. Perhaps what Richard mourns in handing over the crown is precisely the power to transform, to embody all these selves in one, without worrying about the consequences. Richard invokes divine right constantly (the idea that the king’s place on the throne was sanctioned by God from birth), and divine right is the only ideological guarantee for kings to keep the throne and rule with stability. His usurpation means that Richard (and other kings) have no stability to fall back on. God, essentially, is dead, and fickle man has taken over. In his prison cell, sitting with his arms extended in chains and his flowing brown hair draping his shoulders, Richard’s image invokes the crucified Christ, sacrificed to the human whims of greed and power.

Richard’s transformative powers, however, aren’t nearly as enjoyable or judicious as David Tennant’s. Tennant, who played Richard II in 2013 in London’s Barbican Theater and make his American stage debut with its reprise at BAM, has built his career on an enormous range of roles and genres. Best known for his five-year stint on Doctor Who, Tennant is a regular with the Royal Shakespeare Company, starring in both comedies (Much Ado) and tragedies (Hamlet). He’s also played a superhero villain (Jessica Jones), a washed up Vegas performer (Fright Night), and a disillusioned detective (Broadchurch).

Part of the wonder of good acting is the actor’s ability to make something that has been so carefully plotted on paper seem fresh, spontaneous, and natural. Tennant is a master of this feat. His choices are always enjoyable, often unpredictable, but always deeply rooted in his character. Every gesture is deliberate and insightful. He delivers lines with a novelty and truthfulness, and he always bridges that amazing dialectic space between consistency and surprise. Judging from his interviews, Tennant also seems to be avidly aware of his characters’ places in pop culture and dramatic history. He has hosted and narrated various pieces on Shakespeare’s legacy, and the fact that he was a lifelong fan of Doctor Who before his casting is apparent in how he approaches the role. He is a critical reader, searching into the text for information the way a scholar would, sounding out its depths and applications. He’s the kind of person you’d be desperate to attend your book club. Truly, his excellent performances come from a sheer joy and deep investment in the world of his character.

His turn as Richard II shows yet another side to Tennant’s range. Walking swiftly onstage in the opening scene, as if magically propelled by his divine mission, with his look up to the heavens, Richard seems not of this earth. And yet, Richard is so humanly flawed and so deeply introspective in his moments of peril. Tennant is the perfect choice to bridge these two extremes, every scene illuminating the fascinating paradoxes of his character. Tennant has the magnificent ability to explore Richard’s ‘many people.’ And it’s a pleasure to watch.

Richard II plays at BAM as part of the “King and Country” cycle, featuring Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V. Tickets through April 29.

Mobile Shakespeare Unit Presents “The Comedy of Errors” with Substance and Style

Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors is an odd gem of a play. As one of his earlier comedies, it’s rife with MacGuffins, mistaken identities, and slapstick comedy. It also has far too many rhyming couplets and a set up so complex and over-the-top that it resulted in the longest monologue Shakespeare had ever written. Still, The Comedy of Errors is one of my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, and I’ve seen more productions of it than any other play.

… And I may have done it in college. Sue me.

The Comedy of Errors is the latest of Shakespeare’s offerings that is now playing at the Public Theater, courtesy of its Mobile Unit program. After spending three weeks touring correctional facilities, shelters, and community organizations all over the five boroughs, the Mobile Unit finishes its run with a residency at the Public. It’s important to keep in mind the Mobile Unit’s mission, as it’s inherent in every part of the production. A cast of seven actors change hatsliterallyto play more than double the amount of characters. Props and costumes are vibrant and detailed, but still minimal and portable enough to change from scene to scene… and performance to performance. (In some cases, certain items, like wigs or a tube of lipstick, don’t even make it past prison security for those stops on the Mobile Unit’s tour.) The cast itself is diverse, with performers of different sizes and shades, resembling a typical New York City street more than, say, that all-white Wars of the Roses revival that just finished playing in London. Though all of these elements are tweaked and trimmed to fit the nature of Mobile Unit’s production, Shakespeare’s narrative still shines through.

Twinning. ( ◀ ▶ X Lucas Caleb Rooney and Bernardo Cubría Photo Credit: Joan Marcus. Matthew Citron, Bernardo Cubria, Flor De Liz Perez, Christina Pumariega, Lucas Caleb Rooney, David Ryan Smith and Zuzanna Szadkowski. - See more at:
Twinning. (Lucas Caleb Rooney as Dromio of Syracuse and Bernardo Cubría as Antipholus of Syracuse. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus.)

The Comedy of Errors follows two sets of twins as they are separated at sea. Each Antipholus (Bernardo Cubría), accompanied by his servant Dromio (Lucas Caleb Rooney) end up in different citites; one in Ephesus, and one in Syracuse. When Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse enter Ephesus, they are mistaken for their Ephesian counterparts, causing all kinds of confusion for Adriana (Christina Pumariega), Antipholus of Ephesus’ wife, and Luciana (Flor De Liz Perez), Adriana’s sister. The Antiphol-i and Dromio’s are not exempt from the resulting chaos, encountering a scheming courtesan (Zuzanna Swadkowski), a strange abbess (also Zuzanna Swadkowski), and a debt-collecting goldsmith (David Ryan Smith) before they finally discover their brothersand a happy ending, of course.

(Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)
But first: mistaken husbands. (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)

Like I mentioned earlier, The Comedy of Errors isn’t a perfect play. But it’s a delightful one, and director Kwame Kwei-Armah taps into that fun in this production. Ephesus and Syracuse are now border towns not unlike the southwestern cities along the United States/Mexican border. Leather belts and denim work shirts are staples for the Antiphol-i and Dromio’s, while Adriana and Luciana are visions in turquoise. I was especially amused by Adriana’s Real Housewife-esque styling, complete with a bright orange dress, a bouffant wig, and a bedazzled wine glass. The border town placement is not just a fun design element, though. As the Duchess of Ephesus delivers her ruling on an errant border-crosser, she does so wearing a baseball cap that coyly reads, “Make Ephesus Great Again” and waving a fan that has Donald Trump’s face on it. I don’t think the intent was to make a huge statement on a political issue, but I found it to be a clever way to contextualize the Ephesus/Syracuse conflict with a knowing wink to the audience.

Comedy of Errors Public Mobile Unit Matthew Citron, Bernardo Cubria, Flor De Liz Perez, Christina Pumariega, Lucas Caleb Rooney, David Ryan Smith and Zuzanna Szadkowski. - See more at:
Border Patrol. (David Ryan Smith, Christina Pumariega, Zuzanna Swadkowski, and Flor De Liz Perez. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)

The performances are also top-notch. Bernardo Cubría as the Antiphol-i has a constant charisma coursing through his characters, along with a constant state of wide-eyed befuddlement. Christina Pumariega’s Adriana is one of the best I’ve ever seen, combining the reality-show worthy hysterics we typically see in her character with a grounded sense of self that was refreshing to see. Zuzanna Swadkowski is the MVP of playing more than one character, giving every role an amusing specificity.

If these aren’t enough reasons for you to check out The Comedy of Errors (though they should), it’s worth a visit just to hear Shakespearean verse done in a Southern accent. Now that’s an odd gem in of itself.

The Comedy of Errors is now playing through November 22nd. For more information, click here.

Bedlam’s ‘Twelfth Night’ Double Bill Emphasizes the Play’s Mutability

Economy is the name of the game in Bedlam’s two new productions of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, one titled Twelfth Night (or What You Will) and the other What You Will (or Twelfth Night), playing in rep at the Dorothy Strelsin Theater.  Five actors play at least a dozen characters with only everyday outfit accessories to tell them apart. A trusty knit cap differentiates Sir Andrew Aguecheek from Olivia, both played by Susannah Millonzi in the first production. A long folding table and chairs are the only set pieces, used with keen versatility; otherwise the actors use the theater’s natural structure, as well as an empty house seat or two to liven up a scene. The text is likewise economized, slimmed down to a speedy two hours without intermission. And yet, even with the productions’ restraints, never before have you seen a production that so thoroughly and efficiently brings a classic play to life.

Instead of choosing to produce two different, thematically-related plays in rep, as they did with last year’s critical hits, Saint Joan and Hamlet, Bedlam brings us two interpretations of the same play. It’s a practice hardly ever seen in performance. Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein might have accomplished something similar by alternating Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller as Frankenstein and the Monster, commenting on the nature of the creator-creation relationship and, from what I hear (I only saw one showing), showcasing two quite different performances in either role. Twelfth Night and What You Will, however, are two entirely separate productions, each with its own tone, direction, casting, costumes, staging, etc.

This Twelfth Night combo works as an something of an intellectual exercise for theater practitioners and lovers. According to Artistic Director Eric Tucker, the former play portrays love as “extrememly hard, but in the end magical and rewarding.” What You Will, on the other hand, emphasizes the “maddening” and destructive nature of love. Part of the legacy of Shakespeare’s play is its profound duality: Twelfth Night is hilarious, crass, and farcical, but it also has somber reflections on the nature of loneliness, grief, and death. Its comedy always has a piercing edge.  If you fall in love thinking that your lover is someone. is that truly love? Are the laughs bought at Malvolio’s expense worth the utter humiliation and belittlement he suffers? Twelfth Night reminds us consistently of the characters’ suffering, offering beautifully emotional soliloquys and songs. It manages to simultaneously be one of the the funniest and most melancholy of Shakespeare’s works.

Because of Bedlam’s critical approach to the text, it’s not exactly kind to new Shakespeare audiences. Expositional information is hurried and the changing roles only complicates this already intricate plot. At one point, paper dolls are used in an attempt to populate a crowded, fast-paced scene, but the the scene only falls flat and charmless. Some of the soliloquys were short-changed in the scattered rush, as was some of the play’s emotional resonance. In fact, some of the most expressive scenes resulted not from an emotional rendition of the text but rather from smart uses of light and staging. A portable floodlight fills the play with visual power, expertly drawing your gaze and illuminating/shadowing the characters with symbolic depth. It lends the plays an almost filmic quality; it reminded me of the way that a camera guides your eye gently and intimately.

Director Eric Tucker performs as Viola in the Twelfth Night (Or What You Will), while Andrus Nichols (lauded for her performance in last year’s shows) plays Orsino. I’m not sure why the gender switch is included in this production, especially since not much is made of the switch. While Tucker and Nichol are entrancing and expert performers, the gender switch could be considered as hetero-normalizing the play. Gender readings of the play suggest queerness in Olivia’s attraction to the disguised Viola, but here, the attraction is between a man (Tucker) and a woman (Millonzi). I know a certain literature professor who’d be displeased.

I recommend seeing the play for the performances themselves. Each actor seamlessly engenders their multiple roles. And between the two versions, they must have over three-quarters of the play memorized. This inventive, intellectual, and forward-thinking pair of productions are delightful, and I would love to see more deconstructive works like these come to light.

Love and Pride Clash in The Seeing Place’s Modern Day “Othello”

The reliably innovative and earnest Seeing Place Theater company begins its sixth season with a modern take on a Shakespearean classic. Written at a time of growing global markets, bursting urbanization, and an influx of immigrants into London’s commercial hub, Othello is Shakespeare’s race play. Othello is a Moorish (historically Muslim) general in the Venetian army whose recent successes attract the envy of Iago, a fellow soldier. Iago hatches a malicious and complicated plan to ensure Othello’s downfall, manipulating not only Othello’s military reputation but also his recent secret marriage to Desdemona, a senator’s daughter.

Brandon Walker (Iago), Ian Moses Eaton (Othello) and Logan Keeler (Cassio) Photo by Justin Hoch
Brandon Walker (Iago), Ian Moses Eaton (Othello) and Logan Keeler (Cassio) Photo by Justin Hoch

I came to this production with criminally little knowledge about Othello. A co-worker once gave me the run-down of the plot a few years ago. Plus, I knew that Desdemona on Gargoyles got her name from the play.  I was worried that the production would go right over my head and I’d be in for nearly three hours of mindless observation. I generally don’t understand Shakespeare unless I have read the plays before, and this fact did not bode well for my night.

However, I am happy to report that Othello was extremely accessible and quite accommodating to the new viewer and Shakespeare fanatic alike. Barring some of the military plot twists (and who really pays much attention to those anyways?), I was able to comprehend near everything in the play and leave satisfied with having digested the play’s nuances and complexities.

Much of this credit is attributable to the production’s cast. Ian Moses Eaton gives a tremendous portrayal of Othello’s descent into paranoia, extremism, and jealousy. The gentlemanly and stalwart leader of the play’s start is crippled emotionally and physically into a crippled and confused villain. Company founders Erin Cronican and Brandon Walker also contribute greatly to the production’s energy. Cronican is a naturally sympathetic Desdemona. Her presence onstage edifies the scenes around her with genuine sincerity. Walker takes on Iago with slick relish. His monologues felt a bit rushed at times (I caught up on the schemes I missed in the later scenes) but he works extremely well with his dialogue. His undercover Iago is humble and non-suspect. If you blink and miss the sinister glint in his eye, you’d immediately overlook him.  I felt like the strongest scene of the production takes place with Othello and Iago at their desks, filing paperwork. It is in this banal, almost domestic setting that Iago plants the first seeds of doubt into Othello’s mindful poise, and watching the scene evolve was a thrill.

Erin Cronican (Desdemona), Ian Moses Eaton (Othello), Brandon Walker (Iago) and John D'Arcangelo (Brabantio). Photo by Justin Hoch
Erin Cronican (Desdemona), Ian Moses Eaton (Othello), Brandon Walker (Iago) and John D’Arcangelo (Brabantio). Photo by Justin Hoch

As the plot grew increasingly complicated, the production required extra support and structure to see itself through unscathed. The larger scenes were often chaotic and unfocused.  Minor characters and extras were underused in scenes with large groups and some of the background activity was directionless or hastily improvised. Strategic staging in such scenes could have also ameliorated some of the scenes’ confusion, as well as add to the emotional punch of the play’s final deadly minutes. Overall, however, the Othello experience was satisfying one, and I am excited to see what else lies in store for this exciting company’s new season.

Othello plays at The Clarion Theater through March 15. $15 Tickets available here.

“Hank V” is a Victory for Shakespeare Lovers and Newbies Alike

We’ve been huge fans of Three Day Hangover‘s boozy adaptations of Shakespearean classics, with a little Chekhov thrown in the mix, ever since The Hamlet Project debuted two years ago.  Seriously… we wrote them a love letter. This is a theater company that insures an extraordinarily fun night while modernizing and honoring the play text with great joy and success than your average Shakespeare production. Now they’re closing off the 2014-15 season with Hank V, their first history play.

Adapted by Lori Wolter Hudson and Beth Gardiner, Hank V reworks Henry V using only two characters: Henry–or Hank (Three Day Hangover co-founder David Hudson)– and Falstaff (Christopher Ryan Grant), possibly the most famous comedic character in literary history. Henry V is the final play in a tetralogy that begins with the usurpation of Richard II at the hands of Henry IV, our Henry’s father. Henry V is an unlikely king (he’s a drunk and fun-loving youth in the middle plays) but ends the saga as one of the most heroic and beloved monarchs in English history. If you haven’t read a lick of Shakespeare, never fear! Hank and Falstaff provide the sparknotes version to any information you might need to know.

David Hudson and Christopher Ryan Grant in Hank V. Photo by Lloyd Mulvey
David Hudson and Christopher Ryan Grant in Hank V. Photo by Britannie Bond

After a modern verse prologue which depicts Falstaff and Henry’s rowdy, college-bro friendship, we  receive word that Henry’s father has passed, and in true meta form, Falstaff and Henry decide to act out Henry V. Falstaff doesn’t actually appear in Henry V; he’s dead by Act II, betrayed by the loss of Henry’s friendship as the young king assumes his royal duty. But here in Hank V, Falstaff serves the purpose of not only playing all the minor characters but also guiding Henry through his radically new role as king and commander.

As per Three Day Hangover’s approach, the play takes on a boozy transformation. The Stumble Inn (the Upper East Side bar serves as our “kingdom  for a stage.” Audience participators receive free shots as their death sentence and a map of England and France reflects conquered cities with coordinating solo cups. There’s beer pong pre-show that is excellent preparation for the final St. Crispin’s Day Battle, a massive beer pong free-for-all.  There’s also plenty of humor to go around: Falstaff and Hank improvise their way through costumes and props to hilarious effect. The camaraderie (maybe even chemistry in the Katherine scenes?) between Grant and Hudson makes for laugh-a-minute momentum and perfectly embodies the relationship between two old friends. 

The thing is, none of this shtick ever feels forced. These productions are so deft at incorporating drinking games, pop culture, and comedy into the original text. They move fluidly from modern lingo into Shakespearean verse with hardly a beat, and then back into a dance party with your favorite 80’s pop song. Three Day Hangover shows just how much of a living, breathing text this classic play can be, and then go about rejuvenating them with their special brand of (alcoholic) elixir.

Photo by Lloyd Mulvey
Photo by Britannie Bond

And if it’s not clear how much of a blast we had at Hank V, we’ve saved our happiest report for last. Including Falstaff into Henry V’s journey as new king is one of the most brilliant adaptive measures ever. Shakespeare’s the man and all, but the history plays can be a bit stodgy at times. The battle preparations and political schemes and war scenes can overrun a play like Henry V, causing it to skimp on the characters and relationships. What Three Day Hangover have effectively done is take one of the greatest literary friendships of all time and extend it into the most trying and difficult time of Henry’s life. It makes his transition into king all the more poignant and so much more human. In Henry V, we are introduced to Henry as an already coronated king and a budding leader. In Hank V, we are still drinking up with the young prince who now has an entire country to rule over and a war to win. Falstaff is the stabilizing force in Hank’s life, and watching them pass through Hank’s trials together, with Falstaff inevitably fading out of them, after all the drinking and debauchery, makes for such wistful and intimate moments.

Three Day Hangover’s Hank V plays at The Stumble Inn through March 1. Tickets Here. Do it.

LMezz Interviews: David Carl (Gary Busey’s One-Man Hamlet)

David Carl is the writer and star of Gary Busey’s One-Man Hamlet, one of Fringe’s hottest tickets this year! After reviewing/fangirling about the show last week, I was excited to ask for an interview. We talked about how the show got on its feet, what it’s like to get in a Busey mindframe, and geeked out a bunch about Hamlet!

LMezz: How did the Gary Busey obsession start up and how did it get tied into Hamlet?

David Carl: I do different impressions and one of the impressions I do is Nick Nolte. Four years ago, my friend Boris Khaykin heard that his friend Whitney Meers was making a Gary Busey commercial parody called 1-800 GET BUSEY and he recommended me. I think he confused Nick Nolte with Gary Busey, but I like to think he was believing in me. I had three days to learn the Busey impression before shooting for a live show at the UCB. So I just geeked out in front of Youtube like I usually do when learning a new character. My roommate at the time was from Arkansas and he was very critical and a playwright and way too young to be a misanthrope but he is. He hates everything. And he was like, “you got it. You got it. That’s it.” Continue reading “LMezz Interviews: David Carl (Gary Busey’s One-Man Hamlet)”

PTP/NYC Presents “GERTRUDE—THE CRY” @ Atlantic Stage 2

The Potomac Theatre Project returns to Atlantic Stage 2 this summer with two main-stage productions. I was immediately interested in Gertrude—The Cry, a play examining the passions of a woman mostly known for being the mother of a famously temperamental Danish prince.

This is not a regular “retelling” of a well-known story–nor should it be, under playwright Howard Barker’s pen. His work, a favorite of PTP (last year they tackled The Castle), is known as “theatre of catastrophe,” because Barker makes “no attempt to satisfy any demand for clarity or the deceptive simplicity of a single message.” Though Barker’s dialogue can be difficult to find meaning, it doesn’t fail to shock and titillate with its combination of heightened language and obscene subject matter.

Pamela J. Gray as Gertrude and David Barlow as Hamlet. (Photo by Stan Barouh)
Pamela J. Gray as Gertrude and David Barlow as Hamlet. (Photo by Stan Barouh)

Barker’s Gertrude (a stunning Pamela J. Gray) is not a misunderstood figure who has been wronged. She is just as culpable of her husband’s murder as Claudius, if not more so, taking on a Lady Macbeth level of glee as she plots with Claudius to kill the king—and in a shocking turn, have sex over the king as he is in his final death throes.

Later in the play, Hamlet (David Barlow) laments that “it’s so hard to shock them.” At first, Hamlet’s assertion rings false, as Gertrude’s pursuit of sex and betrayal bring about a host of lewd acts and words. But the second half of Gertrude—The Cry becomes a forgone bloody Shakespearean conclusion (It’s still based on Hamlet, after all). Its shock value decreases not because it’s a tragedy, but because the characters’ motivations are never fully defined.

Do not let that stop you from seeing this play, though. Fantastic performances abound, from Alex Draper’s all-knowing servant to Pamela J. Gray’s poised and devastatingly sensual Gertrude. My favorite had to be David Barlow’s Hamlet. His performance allowed me to finally see why a grown man (“student” though he may be) is a man-child overly obsessed with his mother’s sex life. Major props also go to Barker evening the gender quota, adding Isola (Kathryn Kates), Claudius’ mother, and Ragusa (Meghan Leathers), a much more capable foil to Ophelia (nonexistent in this play). And Barker’s language is a perverse delight to hear.

Gertrude—The Cry is not your mother’s Hamlet, nor would you want it to be. It is a fascinating and frustrating portrait of a woman who usually stands silent in another fascinating and frustrating play.

Three Day Hangover Turns Illyria Into a Midtown Cabaret

Three Day Hangover opens its 2014 season with another refreshing and boozy take on a classic Shakespeare play. They’ve already figured out how to turn Hamlet into a Brooklyn hipster and how to turn the Capulet/Montague feud into a game of beer pong, adapting both with energetic and creative fidelity to Shakespeare’s timeless works. Now, Twelfth Night is transformed into Sir Toby’s Lonely Hearts Club Cabaret, adapted and directed by Beth Gardiner. Here, we lovesick New Yorkers are treated to the antics of the lonely-hearted bar staff of Illyria. The third floor of McGee’s substitutes for the original mysterious island where a set of fraternal twins, Viola and Sebastian (Laura Gragtmans and Blake Segal), fatefully land after a shipwreck leaves each thinking the other dead. Viola disguises herself as a man and finds employment as a barkeep under Duke Orsino’s (Lloyd Mulvey) management. Viola soon comes to love Orsino, who pines after bar-frequenter (and co-owner?) Olivia (Amanda Sykes), who falls for Viola’s romantic gestures on behalf of her master. With live-band Rockstar Karaoke at their side, they take frequent opportunities to express their complex Shakespearean feelings through karaoke pop hits, including songs from The Proclaimers, Michael Jackson, and Lady Gaga.

The Cast of Twelfth Night or Sir Toby's Lonely Hearts Club Cabaret. Photo by Lloyd Mulvey.
The Cast of Twelfth Night or Sir Toby’s Lonely Hearts Club Cabaret. Photo by Lloyd Mulvey.

Running the show is Sir Toby Belch, played by a charismatic Colleen Harris, at the microphone. Sir Toby’s role in the adaptation is essential– her running commentary enables the play to run fluidly without losing any audience members who are not familiar with the original. One of the many great things about Three Day Hangover’s productions is how it uses the original text as a launching point for creating something truly accessible and contemporary. Here, for example, Viola and Sebastian’s joy at finding one another again feels so tangible and joyous, and after their dialogue together, it’s only fair for them to express their happiness via Cyndi Lauper. All of the characters’ song choices fit in the plot so naturally, we hardly feel the seamless transition between dialogue and karaoke. Are we muddling Shakespeare’s timeless and poetic words with pop lyrics, tainting the original’s classic essence? I’d say no. And I think Three Day Hangover would say, who the fuck cares?

Laura Gragtmans as Viola
Laura Gragtmans as Viola

As the plot unfolds, the play is intermittently halted by a few of Sir Toby’s antics, some of which worked and some that didn’t. A drinking of “That’s What She Said” in which the audience rings a bell on the table every time a line with sexual interpretations was said led to hilarious results. It worked well in channeling our dirty minds with attentive focus on the words of the play. This best of all worked in creating a happy and dynamic crowd energy. There were times however, when interrupting the play to get an audience member to sing karaoke or to read a few ‘missed connections’ listings on Craigslist felt gimmicky and distracting. I also think that the play’s energy suffered greatly from Three Day Hangover’s new move to McGee’s. Their last season was hosted at Harley’s Smokeshack, now Quinn’s Bar and Grill, whose top floor was a larger and far more versatile space. Actors had pool tables and benches and fire escapes at their creative usage, and audience members were free to move about and follow the action. McGee’s only affords a long, narrow seating area–not very conducive to performance staging. I felt like the actors were struggling to shift around the space, which limited them very noticeably. Also, I know cabarets are usually seated affairs with table service, but this traditional seating arrangement gave the production kind of disconnected, static, and affected atmosphere. Towards the end of the play, I felt the energy drop low, kind of like the way I have felt at dinner theater shows, a kind of false and only half-engagement with the work being presented before you.

Wonderfully acted and creatively re-envisioned, Twelfth Night has all the fun of happy hour at a world-class karaoke bar, but stumbles a bit distractedly away from providing us with an exciting, thoughtful, and reinvigorated adaptation like those we’ve come to expect from this company. Twelfth Night or Sit Toby’s Lonely Hearts Club Cabaret plays though June 30 at McGee’s. Tickets are only $15, you guys.



LMezz Interviews Kelli Giddish!

Shakespeare? Check. Booze? Check. A lifetime of repressed emotions only now coming to light because you’re pretty fricking tipsy and the bard’s words are hitting you in your hearthome? Well, that depends. Go to Three Day Hangover’s Kickstarter page asap to learn more about their 2014 season, ways you can donate, and scoring a season pass! And if last Sunday’s Big Boozy Benefit is a hint of what’s to come, get thee to that website!

The company brought in some heavy-hitters on Sunday. Greg Hildreth opened the night with a song from their rock musical, Beyond Measure, an adaptation of Measure for Measure. Michael Emerson performed Hamlet’s ‘To Be Or Not To Be” soliloquy. There was a ‘Crimes Against Humanity’ spin on Uncle Vanya, a rap battle between Romeo and Mercutio, and plenty of other thrilling, bourbon-soaked performances.

Among the lineup was Kelli Giddish, Law and Order: SVU‘s latest badass detective. Fun Fact: Kelli’s uber-cool. We met her in the audience of R+J: Star-Cross’d Death Match, and she was such a blast to enjoy the show with. Also, this Southern girl has a great set of pipes and rhymes “motherfucker” with “motherfucker” with suave effortlessness. Another Fun Fact? She touched my hair. I think that makes us BFFs.

Kelli Giddish sings 'Mariana's Lament' from "Beyond Measure"
Kelli Giddish sings ‘Mariana’s Lament’ from “Beyond Measure”

LM: Drink of Choice?
KG: Lemon-lime soda.


LM: Which Shakespearean character would you most like to party with and why?
KG: Falstaff– he’s kind of like the Hunter S. Thompson of Shakespeare.


LM: What’s your hangover cure?
KG: My dog, a little love, and the park.


LM: What kind of drunk are you?
KG: Love-drunk
LM: What drew you to Three Day Hangover’s Big Boozy Benefit?
KG: Because I hate Shakespeare because I never got it! Because I never get the dick jokes, you know? But when I’m with them (Three Day Hangover) I get it! I finally get the dick jokes!

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