by Collin McConnell · March 4, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #58 Collin McConnell looks at Kill Shakespeare now playing at HERE PROLOGUE!
Comic books, an abundance of rock, and Shakespeare! Plus, the narratorial stylings of Mac Rogers, along side an absolutely brilliant cast.
It is a good sign, to me, when walking into the theater, to see everyone milling about in the space - audience and artist alike preparing for the evening together. Some in the audience take their seats, others wander about; some actors are warming up, others are playing and singing the chorus to many a rock song from the 90s, while others still prepare effects and props and chat with friends in the audience. This, to me, means we're all in this together - sure, the performers are aiming to please, but we the audience are excited to see what the evening has to offer, and the energy of excitement is advantageous to (and infectious in) a live performance.
There is a mythical land, created and ruled by William Shakespeare. But Will has gone into hiding, and the land is plagued with civil war: on one side, the Shadow Hunters - those opposed to their creator's rule - lead by Richard III. On the other, the Prodigals - those who seek to restore Shakespeare to his rightful mantle - lead by Juliet. Hamlet, washed ashore in this land after a battle with pirates and a tempest, finds himself at the center of this war as the Shadow King, unable to know what side of history to be on...
Anything Shakespeare will easily get me curious, and probably in the door, but a mash-up of some of the greatest heroes pitted against some of the greatest villains in all of the Shakespeare canon? This was far too delicious an invitation to even consider saying no to. And my impulse was well rewarded.
The set up is that of a radio play: actors read from music stands, with Daryl Lathon at the table with a wide array of props to make all assortment of sounds. I want to say the sound effects here are done well - and certainly they are - and yet "well" is not quite the word I would use. It is not a precision or technical craft in the handling of them (though that is certainly part of it), but rather the inventive nature and playful execution that makes them so wonderful. There is a serious joy to be had in watching Lathon (and, in moments of battle - of which there are many - everyone) create the sounds of this world.
But, in the middle of the stage, a large projector screen looms - where images from the comic tell the story in this live format. More than a radio play, Kill Shakespeare is a cross-platform theatrical experience.
This play was not initially birthed as a play, but is a spawn from a comic series of the same name - this is an experiment in form. The combination then of Andy Belanger's gorgeous images, and the ensemble's wonderfully committed performances make this such a worthwhile endeavor: the trouble is allowing oneself to watch the strips on the screen and not the actors themselves.
In any endeavor with Shakespeare that is not directly doing Shakespeare, my concern is always the text. It would be easy to steal his brilliantly crafted characters to populate one's own world - and if done well, I couldn't hold that against anyone. But the true pleasure in such an outing is in the love of Shakespeare...
Which is why there are so many hats I would like to take off to writers Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery. The love of the plays is so palpable, so alive here that it becomes campy in the most delectable way possible. It is wonderful to watch characters I love so well be exploited in a world that understands them so well (of course it makes sense here that Juliet - the self-assured and action-driven girl - would become the leader of a revolution). Not only that, but other characters not present in name come alive here through others: Hamlet bears a burden similar to Prince Hal; Juliet and Lady Macbeth both have something of (specifically Shakespeare's) Joan of Arc in them; Falstaff takes on the role of the type of friend found in Horatio, and on and on... And sometimes, we get something so wonderfully new or unexpected from characters we thought we knew (Falstaff gets a scene I never thought I would want him to have, and Iago perhaps has the juiciest of ambiguous surprises).
But the best part is perhaps that Kill Shakespeare never takes itself too seriously. Instead of trying to play coy, it almost (almost) always opts for incredible overindulgence to hilarious extremes, and all you can do is continue to fall into this world, and laugh...
Laugh. And laugh. And laugh...
It wouldn't do for me not to mention the actors (again), because this incredible ensemble delivers without ever holding back. The amount of fun I had at Kill Shakespeare is just unfair, and it is all thanks to the amount of energy and commitment of every actor on stage. So thank you Becky Byers, Neimah Djourabchi, Abe Goldfarb, Stephen Heskett, Daryl Lathon, Kelley Rae O’Donnell, Mac Rogers, Brian Silliman, and Sean Williams for such a wonderful treat of a show.
...there's not much else for me to say other than if you love Shakespeare, or if you love comics, or if you love epic fantasy, do yourself the favor, stop whatever it is you might think you're doing tonight and join the Shadow Hunters and Prodigals, join the tyrannical kings, lovers, fairies, and drunken rogues, join the revelers and music makers and all the other characters that populate Shakespeare's world, and go Kill Shakespeare.