|Shakespeare in Briefs|
Director: John Dennis
And now for something completely different . . .
Still in the works, Shakespeare in Briefs promises to be a rollicking and irreverent romp through the works of William Shakespeare, offering some creative (and downright silly) treatments of our favorite comedies, tragedies and histories.
Why toy with the classics? Why not?
No play is safe or sacred. This year's Festival plays will receive special attention--that is, abuse and celebration--on the revue's stage. Audience members may be surprised to find that they themselves become part of the action while the CSF company actors showcase their versatility (not to mention dexterity, speed, and nerve), tackling the most venerable roles in the Shakespeare canon combined in a single performance.
Hamlet, Ophelia, Lear, Romeo, Juliet, Othello: all the favorites appear in record time, sporting unconventional looks, displaying unexpected talents and exhibiting never-before-seen personality traits. The age-old tradition of cross-dressing proves to be alive and well in the frenzied fun.
To present this condensed cavalcade of stars, many plots are twisted and teased. Top Ten lists provide a new way of connecting works within the canon. Expect the Top Ten Sword Fights, the Top Ten Missing Mothers and the Top Ten Dysfunctional Relationships. True to the spirit of the Bard, however, the evening still renders tales of love frustrated and flaws punished. And, of course, dead bodies litter the stage as the tragedies run their courses.
This is not to say that the important questions are not asked. Does Macbeth always have to wear a kilt? Is Richard III just misunderstood? And what meaning lies beneath his hump? Hump . . . what hump? In any case, the revue offers a lively, fun and cheeky look at the world of William Shakespeare - just the ticket for a midsummer's eve.
"Imagine the audience in their underwear" is the infamous advice used to empower and relax the inhibited public speaker. John Dennis's Shakespeare in Briefs turns this technique on its head and induces the audience to envision the Bard in his skivvies.
Writer/director Dennis mixes, matches and sets to music various Shakespearean works in a satiric revue format in order to redress-or undress-the Bard. Placing key scenes into new contexts, he spotlights the ludicrous plot points, overly dramatic exchanges and irrational acts of passion inherent in Shakespeare's originals. By reframing famously serious moments as comic pieces, Dennis empowers and frees the audience to laugh.
References to popular culture contribute to the comic formula, creating a "topsy-turvy" world where male actors perform dysfunctional father/daughter scenes, render doo-wop tunes in Elizabethan gear and bounce on trampolines on the sparsely decorated stage. A score composed of pop muzak anthems provides ridiculous counterpoint while also conveying complex Shakespearean motifs to contemporary audiences.
Shakespeare in Briefs helps us to laugh at our kid-glove treatments and perceptions of the Shakespearean canon. It presents the work of a Bard cheeky enough to bare a naughty backside.
Saturday Night Live lampoons the anthrax scare and crusade victims sing show tunes in a Monty Python movie: is nothing sacred in these postmodern times? Parody and satire are weapons of choice for a culture that celebrates cynicism and applauds the desecration of sacred cows. Who better to endure such mischief than the canonical Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon? Yet Shakespeare in Briefs is neither first nor last in a long line of playful Shakespearean nose-thumbing.
Scholars believe Shakespeare himself used burlesque in his works, occasionally lampooning contemporaries' works and theatrical conventions. Consider the rude mechanicals' performance of Pyramus and Thisbe in A Midsummer Night's Dream, which can be seen as a parody of his own Romeo and Juliet. In burlesque mode, snatches of popular ballads are sprinkled throughout his plays. In addition, a 1607 work entitled The Puritan-believed by some to be authored by William Shakespeare-suggests a burlesque of Hamlet, parodying key phrases from the legitimate play and presenting bourgeois, colloquial caricatures of the Prince and Queen Gertrude.
Not until the 1800s, however, did other playwrights burlesque the Bard en masse. In 1810, John Poole penned Hamlet Travestie, igniting the popular trend of Shakespeare travestie/burlesque on the London stage. Over 70 similar pieces would be written during the century. Burlesques conventionally paraphrased Shakespeare's verbiage with rhyming couplets of colloquialisms and slang. Mid-century burlesques began to use wordplay and puns as major points of humor. In addition, song and dance played major roles, with soliloquies and key scenes rewritten as musical numbers set to familiar tunes. As these entertainments became increasingly popular, their plots began to deviate wildly from the original stories while tending toward the fantastic. Often, the dead came back to life. At the end of Andrew Halliday's Romeo and Juliet Travestie (1859), characters were resurrected for a final musical number, only to be interrupted by the figure of William Shakespeare who, tongue-in-cheek, chastised them for their insolent trivializing of his work.
Importantly, these burlesques were also used to lampoon contemporary theatrical conventions, performances and sociopolitical issues. Many travesties pointedly made fun of the neighboring "legitimate" Shakespeare productions. The characters in the 1853 production of Francis Talfourd's Macbeth, Somewhat Removed (1850) wore pot-lids as armor, intentionally lampooning actor/manager Charles Kean's Macbeth with its meticulously researched and "historically authentic" costumes. By the end of the century, Shakespeare burlesques appeared less frequently. However, W. S. Gilbert wrote a Hamlet burlesque (performed in 1891) which focused on the minor characters Rosencrantz and Gildenstern. It presented an annoying Hamlet obsessively soliloquizing while Rosencrantz wins the hand of Ophelia.
Gilbert's play considerably predates Tom Stoppard's absurdist treatment of these same two characters in Rosencrantz and Gildensenstern Are Dead (1967). Stoppard's work is one of many in 20th and 21st centuries which continue to address current modes of discourse and performance by revisiting Shakespeare. In this spirit, Shakespeare in Briefs also reaffirms and promotes the long-lived theatrical tradition of tackling, deconstructing and lampooning the Bard while providing relevant entertainment for a contemporary audience.