by David Lally · August 16, 2014
A two character play; one character, a director, the other, an actress. Both end up caught up in the game they are playing as the balance of power shifts back and forth. Is this Venus in Fur? No, it’s Breaking the Shakespeare Code. But the similarities end there. Breaking the Shakespeare Code, much like Venus in Fur, has some sexual play but it is never overt. Instead the characters here are more caught up in their roles of director and actress with surprising reveals along the way.
Taking place over the course of 16 years in three scenes, the play is smart and clever. Curt, the director and Anna, the actress both take on the role of teacher and student at different times. And because time passes in between each scene, we get to see how the years change these characters. At times very funny and at times very serious, the play never gets bogged down in too much backstory.
In the first scene we see 18 year old Anna, looking for someone to coach her for a Juliet audition in five days. That someone is Curt, a director teaching at a small women’s college in Massachusetts, who she was recommended to by a friend who took his class. Even though her friend warned her about him, Anna is not yet emotionally equipped to deal with this man. As he tears down her portrayal of Portia, a role she recently played in school to some acclaim, she realizes that maybe she made a mistake coming to this man.
As the characters age and the situations change over the next two scenes, the play delves deeper into what makes these two people tick. Anna keeps coming back with a new role to prep and each time the Shakespeare character she chooses is relevant to her current situation with Curt. To give away what happens would be doing this play a disservice. You are never quite sure who is playing who, who is manipulating who or who is speaking in code or speaking the truth at any given moment.
Playwright John Minigan has carefully constructed this clever puzzle. Part of the fun is in trying to guess where Minigan is taking you from moment to moment and what is real and what is part of the game. You are never quite sure when the director is acting or the actress is directing.
Both Tim Weinert as Curt and Miranda Jonte as Anna are terrific and they spit out their dialogue with realism and razor sharp accuracy. In their hands, not one line of dialogue feels false or out of place. The verbal sparring they engage in is a joy to watch. Each scene is a slow build to an emotional showdown and director Stephen Brotebeck never fails to keep these actors and the audience on their toes and finds plenty of moments for Curt and Anna to advance and retreat. They are both moving targets in this game they are playing.
This is a very solid production that I hope has a future beyond FringeNYC as smart plays are in short supply these days.