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Various bars and taverns in Hell's Kitchen, New York City

ShakesBEER: Riots and Revolution
5.0Reviewer's Rating

When you buy a ticket for the New York Shakespeare Exchange’s ShakesBEER pub crawl, the very least you can expect is approximately three hours of theater and camaraderie. But never has there been a pub crawl, ShakesBEER or otherwise, with quite SO much camaraderie as this year’s “Riots and Revolution” edition, just in time for the November midterm elections.

The New York Shakespeare Exchange, or NYSX, runs different versions of their Shakespearean pub crawl each year. But whether it takes place in the steamy streets of Hell’s Kitchen or the snowy cobblestones of Stone Street, you can always expect pretty much the same thing, and also know that you won’t know what to expect at all. The formula is this: there are four pubs, and in each pub takes place a scene. Each scene is an excerpt from a different play – usually Shakespearean, though that is not always the case. This year, along with government-heavy Shakespeare selections like Coriolanus or Julius Caesar, one of the pubs features an excerpt from Fuente Ovejuna, a Spanish play by Lope de Vega, a contemporary of Shakespeare’s.

As always, it takes a superb crop of actors to bring Shakespeare to life – and not only to do it linguistically, in a way that reminds a mass of people on their third or fourth beers just how relatable Shakespeare is to this day, but to do it quite literally. In the small space of the pub, made even smaller by the crowd of people there for drinking and/or Shakespeare, every available surface becomes a stage. You may be warned, as you wait for the next scene to start, that you should clutch your drinks, because an actor might be stepping on your table. Characters like Coriolanus or Tamora, Queen of the Goths stomp across the bar, pushing people off their stools and standing on the tallest of tables to make their presence known. Other actors take their mild-mannered characters to heart, nervously pushing people aside and apologising profusely, breaking the fourth wall with abandon.

Of course, in an environment like this, it’s virtually impossible for the fourth wall to exist in the first place – and that’s what makes this particular edition of ShakesBEER so fun. True to the theme of “Riots and Revolution,” each scene invokes the power of the people to topple the dictator in charge. Which means a lot of group chanting. In the course of three hours, you may be calling for the independence of your small Spanish village, or supporting the dubious claim of a so-called heir to the English throne, or demanding your rights from the Roman government.

A superb Coriolanus directed by Ross Williams features Chris White as the emperor himself, devastatingly effective with a booming voice and a strong, stern face that dared you to make eye contact. Standing tentatively between him and the rioters is Kim Krane as the bumbling government official desperately trying to keep the peace. From there into Titus Andronicus, directed by Cristina Lundy, a brilliantly clever scene unfolds in which Titus (Kelly M. Johnston)and his loyal brother (Julie DeLaurier) shoot arrows tipped with pleas for justice to the sky – only instead of literal arrows, they are shooting tweets. Cut to a distraught Saturninus (Giordano Cruz) hunched over his iPhone, obsessing over Twitter and spiralling into insanity as the mean tweets pile up, despite Tamora’s (Cherrye J. Davis) efforts to kick him back into reality.

Acts III is Fuente Ovejuna, directed by Katie Kay Chelena. The original is a rather dark play that details the uprising of a small village against an authoritarian overlord and his lackeys, who abuse and take advantage of the women of the village at every chance they get. The theme fits in nicely with the political theme, especially with midterms in mind. The excerpt chosen for the scene is a brief, fun exchange that showcases the strength of women. Act IV brings a mashup of Julius Caesar and Henry VI, Pt 2, directed by Brian Demar Jones, which brings a rousing culmination to the four scenes with plenty of chanting, running across bars and barstools, and best of all, the last, stirring cheer of “Huzzah!”

There is no better recipe for bringing a group of people together than plenty of drinks and a few rousing renditions of Shakespeare which will make you believe you’re there in the scene, be it Verona or Rome, Denmark or Agincourt. The New York Shakespeare Exchange’s ShakesBEER Pub Crawl is one of the purest, most entertaining, and innovative ways to experience Shakespeare in the city.

  • Drama
  • By William Shakespeare
  • Directed by Katie Kay Chelena, Brian Demar Jones, Cristina Lundy, and Ross Williams
  • Cast includes: Joel Oramas, Ariel Neema Blake, Giordano Cruz, Cherrye J. Davis, Julie DeLaurier, Kelly M. Johnston, Kim Krane, Chris White, and Cody LeRoy Wilson
  • Various bars and taverns in Hell's Kitchen, New York City
  • Until 29 September 2018

About The Author

Editor & Reviewer (NYC)

Austin studied English language and literature at Fordham University in the Bronx, and realized her passion for theatre as a student abroad in London. She has worked as journalist in Newtown and as a researcher for NBC. She harbors an avid love for William Shakespeare and likes to carry a book with her wherever she goes. Usually found in or around New York City.

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