Off Center and Out Of the Way With Shakespeare
If Westallion Brewing’s scotch ale had any more character, it would come out of the tap with three witches excitedly gazing at it from the distance. (Really classy complexity in a microbrew.) The carefully tucked-away West Allis tasting room is a microbrewery destination well worth the jaunt away from the center of town, but I wasn’t there exclusively for the beer. Boozy Bard has a rare end-of-the-week pairing of FREE drunken Shakespeare shows. Last night they had a lot of fun with the tragedy of Hamlet. The tasting room is a big place with a high ceiling. Filled as it was with people out after Black Friday in West Allis it adopted a kind of a classy, old beer hall kind of a feel about it.
Relax: Even Hamlet Didn’t Really Want to Be Hamlet
Boozy Bard’s Jeremy Eineichner introduces the show with a bit of a history lesson. The first people to hear some of the greatest works in the history of the English language would have been people hanging out at the bar where the actors were rehearsing. That noisy bar atmosphere might well have served as a kind of a nursery for timeless classics that remain popular hundreds of years later.
In the interest of keeping things fresh, Boozy Bard assembles the actors to the bar and has them choose roles at random from a hat. Not a one of them knows who they’ll be playing when the show starts. It’s a different show every time. This worked extremely well with the title character last night's Hamlet. Actors lined up and took turns pulling characters from the hat. Characters were paired with actors one by one. As the line of unassigned actors got shorter and shorter, Hamlet himself had yet to show up. Finally, the diminutive Andrea Roedel-Schroeder pulled that fateful scrap out of the hat, looked up, sighed and chuckled. Accepting a rowdy round of applause from the audience, she went back to the back room to prepare with the rest of the cast.
Andrea my not have wanted so prominent a role thrust upon her but as we all know, she could rest assured that even Hamlet...didn’t want to be Hamlet.
A Really Cool, Little Grunge-Goth Girl Hamlet
Character and actress quietly fused over the course of the play in a way that simply CAN’T happen with traditional staging. There was a kind of ephemeral immediacy as Hamlet came to accept his fate right along with the actress playing him.
Roedel-Schroeder wore a black jacket and a Nirvana grunge t-shirt for the role...sleeves pulled-up to reveal a really cool stylized tattoo on her right arm evidently based on the album cover for an old Joy Division album. (Unknown Pleasures.) Hamlet’s haunting Roedel-Schroeder, so he’s wearing stylized radio waves from a distant pulsar around her right wrist. Very cool. I loved Roedel-Schroeder’s balance between light comedy and serious drama in a deeply charming and charismatic presence. The role that could not have happened if she had known what she was going to be doing when she got to the bar last night. And Hamlet would not have done what he would have done if he’d have known how it was going to turn out...so actress and tragic hero actually had a lot in common.
There’s humor in the basic set-up and tragedy is played for sketch comedy in a deeply fun outing with Shakespeare, but beyond the comedy it’s really cool to watch that synthesis between actor and character. Actors carry around the scripts and read from them. Play swords, minor costuming and the cute, cuddly foam rubber skull of Yorick all make an appearance.
Comedy and Tragedy Hang Out at a Bar In West Allis
Nothing is taken too seriously, but there are genuine moments of drama here. Nick Firer did a brilliant job balancing drama with comedy in the role of Hamlet’s mother. Yes, there’s really simple visual humor in long blond wig contrasting against Firer’s scruffy beard in the man who would be queen, but the comic actor also has a very sharp understanding of subtlety and tragedy. Through Firer Hamlet’s mother is all too aware of the fact that things are falling apart and she has no control over them. She’s a woman in a male-dominated world. All she can do is try to have a sense of humor and try not to let the tragedy get to her. In the context of the play it’s a really enjoyable approach to the character.
Odds and Ends at Odd Ends
When the casting director is a hat and roles are attached to actors at random there are bound to be actors who end up at weird angles to the play. One wonders what might have come of the show if some great talent around the edges ended up a bit closer to the center. Josh B. Bryan and Thom Cauley are both really talented performers who made a really fun Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, but one wonders how things might have been different if the casting hat had been in a different mood. The same could be said of Christee Means Reince (who ended up as Ophelia if I’m not mistaken) and Katherina Greguska who played Polonius. It’d be interesting to have seen so many of the characters around the edges in more central roles. A show like this is as much about what didn’t happen as it is about what actually took place.
The Optional Drinking Game
Every time a classic line of Shakespeare is spoken onstage, a cry goes up from the audience.
Early-on I found myself joining-in. Eineichner gave the warning reminder in advance. This IS Hamlet after all...the script reads like Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits. So many of Shakespeare’s most classic cliches line the script. There was lots of shouting. There was lots of drinking. I never waited for to shout the command... took a sip at every major recognizable line. This sometimes left me out of synch with the rest of the audience. I was scratching my head a bit about someone shouting “Drink!” at mention of the “undiscovered country.” It took my way too long to realize where THAT had become cliche. Oddly enough, though, there were a couple of moments that were really obvious for me that no one else seemed to raise a glass for. “...time (is) out of joint..” evidently isn’t as popular a title for a sci-fi book as I seem to think it is. (Sorry Philip K. Dick.) Likewise I would have thought “all my sins remembered,” would have been a bigger drinking moment, but Mr. Haldeman’s novel isn’t as big for everyone else as it is for me.
The audience wasn’t always in perfect synch...but there’s always room for a sparingly tasteful reference to Monty Python and the Holy Grail at least once in a free show that manages to be as much fun for the audience as it is for the cast.
Boozy Bard’s Hamlet has passed-on. Tonight the group will be doing Much Ado About Nothing at the Westallion Brewing Company on 1825 S. 72nd St. in West Allis. Admission is free. Beers are....really good and not at all free. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook page.
In January, the group teams-up with Dainty Rogues for a Shakespeare Burlesque show at the Hot Water Wherehouse.
NEXT: From Boozy Bard for Bard & Bourbon
Tonight I’m off to my second drunken Shakespeare in two nights as my wife and I attend The Merry Wives of Windsor (Drunk) with Bard & Bourbon. More on THAT on Monday.