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Various pubs in Hell's Kitchen, starting at The Gaf West

Shakesbeer: The Games We Play
3.0Reviewer's Rating

This iteration of “Shakesbeer,” titled “The Games We Play,” features four scenes, each in a different bar, and each turning on, predictably, a game. The directors ripped each scene from a different play, featuring, in order, selections from Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, Henry IV, part 1, and Hamlet.At the start, I hoped that some sort of overall comment or intelligently constructed meditation on how games function in our lives. The biggest disappointment of the afternoon stems from the fact that, for the first three scenes, the directors manage to merely decontextualize the material, instead of re-contextualizing it.

The first (directed by Ross Williams) and third (directed by Martavius Parrish) scenes were effective—clear, legible, funny, and making intelligent use of the space. The third scene was particularly enjoyable: a selection from Henry IV Part 1, in which Hal (the miscast Alisha Espinosa), fresh from pranking Falstaff (the excellent Brendan Everett), traps his fat friend in a net of lies before exposing him as a coward to the full tavern.

 

The second scene (also directed by Parrish), failed. Part of this boils down to the environment: a rowdy sports bar where, midway through the culling of Beatrice, a burly man from the Bronx started chanting “Let’s go Yankees!”. This threw the actors off their marks and threw the bar into chaos. While my sympathy goes out to the actors, who, before the interruption were performing with admirable verve and impeccable comic timing, in particular Alisha Espinosa as Hero and Katelin Wilcox as Beatrice, the location was an artistic choice, and in this case, it backfired.

Part of the goal of Shakesbeer, it seems, is that by having these scenes in bars, people who might never see Shakespeare, will say to themselves, “That sure was nifty. Maybe I’ll crack open Lear when I get home, and start buying theater tickets.” Yet, the second scene hardly held the attention of the people who paid to see Shakespeare, and elicited more anger from those who hadn’t than anything else. I hang the blame for this failure on twin hooks: the scene selection, and the staging. The culling scenes in Much Ado About Nothing are Shakespeare’s more accessible. On the surface, the choice makes sense, and the scene got off to a promising start. However, once the scene progressed to the point where Hero and Claudio attempt to make the two leads fall for each other, all of the energy fled the stage. To be successful, these scenes rely on intricate staging, intelligent use of set and props, impeccable timing, and a high degree of directorial control over the field of vision. In a crowded sports bar, no matter how valiantly the director and actors battle, you will never achieve these exact conditions.

Now, if some of the artistic nuance of Shakespeare was lost, does this make this production a failure? Not necessarily. This is Shakesbeer: equal parts pub crawl and play, after all. What matters far more is this: was it fun, for me? For the unsuspecting bar goer? The answer: a qualified yes. I enjoyed the experience, and for the most part had a neutral or positive reaction to the Shakespeare. The average bar goer? Well, let’s go Yankees. Without a doubt, however, I had more fun the more I enjoyed the Shakespeare, and I enjoyed the Shakespeare more when the director succeeding in teasing a new interpretation from the text.

Only the fourth and final scene succeeded in this regard—the climatic duel scene in Hamlet, directed by Shane Breaux. They play the scene for laughs. Instead of a duel, Hamlet and Laertes (Alex Michell and C. Bain respectively, who both shine in these rolls) try to drink each other under the table. A thoroughly sauced Gertrude (the lively Katelin Wilcox) slurs her words, and the scene ends before any carcasses litter the stage. This adds more than a touch of levity to Hamlet, and actually encourages us to ask questions about the meaning of Hamlet, and the play’s position in our society as a whole. The quintessential tragic hero morphs into an absurdist punchline—our search for meaning, and Hamlet’s search for answers (and meaning), turn up no results. All of life is a game, even the deathly serious bits—might as well lift up a pint and shout “Huzzah!”

  • By William Shakespeare
  • Directed by: Ross Williams, Martavius Parrish, Shane Breaux
  • Cast includes: Brendan Averett, Alex Michell, Aurea Tomeski, Tara Pacheco, Katelin Wilcox,Philip Burke, Alisha Espinosa, C. Bain
  • Various pubs in Hell's Kitchen, starting at The Gaf West
  • Until 18 May 2019

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