Sunday, January 26, 2014

Bon Ton Roulet at the Shakespeare Café—Post 5 Theatre—NE Portland


"All the World’s a Stage…”

This play is written and directed by Elizabeth Huffman and is part of the Fertile Ground Festival.  It is playing at the Post 5 theatre space at 900 NE 81st Ave.  It is running until February 9th.  For more information go to their site at www.postfivetheatre.org.

This is an amazing and very successful experiment by Huffman, combining dialogues, monologues and characters from Shakespeare’s comedies and sonnets to make an understandable story that takes place in a bar in modern-day New Orleans.  It is said that the Bard was a universal storyteller, that his works could be adapted to any time and place, and this just proves the point.  The great Japanese film director, Kurosawa, made Ran (King Lear) and Throne of Blood (Macbeth) and even the Hollywood musical had a turn with the Bard in West Side Story (Romeo and Juliet).


So it is perfectly plausible, in an expert’s hands, that one might conceive a story with Benedict (Nathan Dunkin), Beatrice (Nicole Accuardi) and Ursula (Ithica Tell) from Much Ado about Nothing, and Rosalind (Chantal DeGroat) and Orlando (Kristopher Mahoney-Watson) from  As You Like It.  Then we add (perhaps) the young Bard himself, in the guise of Will (Ben Buckley) and (maybe) his daughter, Julia (Kristen Fleming).  Then throw in Pym (Yohhei Sato), a new character, to pose as a mate for Ursula, and you have a well-rounded cast.

The relationships are straight out of his plays, too, as Benedict and Beatrice are still the warring lovers, both pig-headed, arrogant and willful, not willing to accept they are in love with each other, waiting for the other to make the first declaration.  So the rest of the motley crew conspire to have them overhear conversations in which each is in praise of the other.  As for Will and Julia, he will have nothing of  marriage, and Julia will have nothing less than children with him.  She is also a native Cajun, and a light-weight when it comes to drinking, which adds to the rift between them.


And Ursula the bartender and lounge-singer, must also contend with Pym, who has a fairly strict religious persuasion that tends to get in the way.  Orlando and Rosalind might have the most complicated path to love, as she must disguise herself as a hip, old New Orleans man who promises to help him in wooing the lady.  She directs him to speak to her as if she was his true love.  Needless to say, 

 
“All’s well that ends well,”
As the poet would say,
And “Jack will have his Jill”
 Before the end of day.

Dunkin and Accuardi as the stubborn lovers are wonderful to watch, as they spar so well together, and could easily be convincing creating these parts in the play they were conceived from.  And Sato is appropriately rigid in his portrayal of a man, not unlike Spock, who is not in touch with his sensitive side.  And Buckley as Will, I assume, is the instigator, POV for the show (not unlike Joe in The Time of Your Life), in which his writer’s mind conceives this world and he plays it well.  And Fleming, thick with accent, is a very funny, aggressive drunk.  Mahoney-Watson as the reluctant lover is quite good and amusing in his wooing scenes with the male-disguised Rosalind.  His final monologue is quite effective, also.  One minor note, the accents from Sato and Fleming are quite convincing but they need to watch enunciation, as it is sometimes hard to understand the words.

But Tell, as Ursula, adds a whole new dimension to the show, as the lounge singer.  She seems so at ease with this role musically that I assume she has done this type of gig before.  And her final monologue is quite insightful.  And the original songs by Anderson Qunta compliment the story very nicely.  It might be wise, if this were played in other parts of the world, to incorporate songs/music to that area.

And DeGroat is amazing as Rosalind.  Her scenes as the old man are a scream and her transformation is quite convincing.  Also, her final monologue is exceptional.  She is a terrific talent and I would hope to see her onstage again!


Huffman certainly knows her material and the show betrays no signs of having come from other sources.  This is not a criticism, as Shakespeare himself duly “borrowed” from other sources for his plays.  But the talent is in the meshing of it all and then assembling a fine cast to perform it so well.  This easily could be shown anywhere, might be appropriate for OSF in Ashland.  And comic characters from the Bard’s more serious plays, such as the Porter from Macbeth, Falstaff from the Henry IV plays, the Gravediggers from Hamlet, et. al.  could be part of the rowdy ensemble.  And maybe even one of the spirits from …Dream or The Tempest might make an appearance, to add a magical quality to the atmosphere.


Obviously, I recommend this show.  And, if you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.