Lickspittles: Nat Cassidy's Insider View

by Nat Cassidy · September 23, 2013

Playwrights on New Plays #5: Nat Cassidy looks at Johnna Adams’ new play at Boomerang Theatre Company

A month or so ago, my girlfriend came home from a high-profile adaptation of Love’s Labour’s Lost and she was pissed. Not Britishly drunk, I should clarify (for we are that cultured); she was furious. Still is, actually – I asked her for permission to share her opinion here last night and she got mad all over again. She had lots of problems with the production and foremost was the fact that she found herself enjoying it. ENJOYING IT! Can you imagine?!

No, but what enraged her so much was that, even while she enjoyed it, she felt an emptiness in the production. It was all froth. And while this isn’t a hard and fast rule for frothy things, she felt like the show was insulting her, effectively (sometimes blatantly) telling her, “This is all you need and this is all we’re going to give you. Enjoy your empty calories.”

I come here not to praise nor bury the idea that good theatre has to be more than just simple, mindless entertainment. But I understand why she would feel so betrayed, and as she told me her complaints, I was relieved to be working on a show that was at once light AND substantive. It’s a rare script that can pull that off, but Johnna Adams’ Lickspittles, Buttonholers & Damned Pernicious Go-Betweens does it. Its calories are anything but empty. It’s frothy as all get out, but there’s a deep reservoir of intelligence and pathos churning underneath (this is the same author of Sans Merci and Gidion’s Knot, after all), which director John Hurley has let bubble to the surface at all the right moments.

In LB&DPG-Bs, I play Guthbert Grundtvig, the Danish court go-between (think Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, Game of Thrones fans, only handsomer). It’s 1807. Napoleonic Wars are raging. And I, along with the court suck-up and the court blatherer, have just been mysteriously ejected from our cushy positions. What follows from there is an epic comedy of machinations and verbal gyrations, as the three of us attempt to unravel what’s really going on (here’s a hint: it involves our French court equivalents, three beautiful, dangerous women). And it’s done almost entirely in Alexandrine rhyming couplets.

That might sound like a recipe for exactly the sort of mindless fluffernutter I was just passively deriding above, but Johnna, like Shakespeare, knows when to also bring the hammer down on the festivities. There are a handful of moments, particularly towards the end, that kill me every time. And because they’re there, you realize that the comedy that’s been ricocheting off the walls up until that point had been, much like our Danish court officials, fired off for a reason.

Working on this show has been an absolute delight. Sustaining a 2.5 hour fever-pitch of couplets and haikus and sestinas (not to mention a few other surprises) is not the easiest thing in the world, and we’ve encountered a little more than our fair share of icing on the Difficulty Cake (staging sword fights in the round with a pole in the middle of the playing area, car accidents that injure castmates and necessitate last-minute replacements [we love and miss you, Shashanah, and you’re a friggin’ rockstar, Felicia]), but the cast and crew have been more than up for it. It’s about as capable and expert a group of people you could ever hope to encounter, on and off the stage. Jordana Williams of Gideon Productions said it best in a Facebook post that I am quoting here without any permission: “What do you call it when every single actor steals the show, then graciously hands it off to someone else the next moment? It's like a game of theatrical hot potato.” That’s totally how it feels on the inside of this puppy (an image I don’t encourage you to think about any further).

Also, if I may have a moment of personal reflection, Lickspittles represents a culmination of an incredibly, uniquely poetic year for me. It started with Edmond Malin’s beautiful, bizarre, and quintessentially Malinesque Generic Magic Realism (currently nominated for an NY IT Award for Solo Performance, and available on Indie Theatre Now), which was directly followed by August Schulenburg’s gorgeous, earthy-yet-ethereal Honey Fist available on Indie Theatre Now), which was directly followed by my own “love affair with blank verse,” Old Familiar Faces (available on Indie Theatre Now), which was still running when we went into rehearsals for Lickspittles (which, hey look at that, is available on Indie Theatre Now).

I’m not just mentioning these scripts because I think Martin would want me to plug them (although I’m sure he doesn’t mind), but because it brings to mind the fact that the theatre has a very special, very singular relationship with poetry. It’s a magical coupling. So magical we can get furious when we feel like it hasn’t been served right. I think we’re serving this one right. Johnna’s script, and Boomerang’s production of it, grabs this relationship and turns it into a whirlwind romance. I think you’ll feel a lot of things, but anger won’t be one of them.

I mean, unless you get hit in the face with a sword or something, but we’ll make sure that doesn’t happen.





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