There’s a line-up of swords on a far table. They’re all ridiculously large wooden things that portend something seriously...silly. The table they rest upon is in The Best Place Tavern. They’re there for Boozy Bard’s staging of Shakespeare’s Richard III. Like any Boozy Bard show, it’s a breezy adaptation of a great script brought to life with no preparation at all. Actors pick roles at random from a hat held by chief conspirator and host Jeremy Eineichner prior to the show.
Each one is given a pretty, red script and a few moments to do whatever it is that they need to do. They then proceed to go at it with minimal props and minimal one-size-kinda-fits-all costuming with wigs and helmets and swords and things. Boozy Bard tackles Richard III as drama in the goofy sketch/improv style: the way Shakespeare intended. (Or not.) The breezy approach would seem a bit strange for a tale of conspiracy and treachery, but Boozy Bard brings it together in a cartoony tale of evil that managed to sail its way through a few dull points opening night.
The beauty of choosing actors from the ensemble at random is that it allows each actor to dive into a different roll and get it running from the inside. There’s a lot of talent with Boozy Bard, so it’s always interesting to see who is going to rise to prominence by being inadvertently jostled into the right role at the right time in the right frame of mind on just the right night. Granted...the casting doesn’t ALWAYS work out in the favor of the performance, but seeing chance and circumstance shove some really talented actors into marginal roles while others shuffle into prominence is part of the fun of a show like this.
Stephen M. Wolterstorff drew the honor of playing the title character opening night. His approach to the character was a bit sedate. He’s been played with exaggerated villainy in the past. With Wolterstorff in the role opening night, one gets the impression of a man who is engaging in his sinister actions simply to pass the time, which fits the role oddly well. It wasn’t until his plans for usurping the throne finally got underway that Wolterstorff’s Richard really got moving.
Laura Holterman has a great sense of the crazy energy necessary to really bring a show like this together. Opening night, she had the honor of playing the heroic Earl of Richmond who meets Richard III on the field of battle at the end of the play. She knew to play to the comedy of heroism itself by simply taking the role seriously. It’s a remarkably clever move to pull comedy out of the heart of honest, noble heroism. It was kind of cool to see Holterman pull that off at the end of opening night.
The ensemble has fun rolling through the classic drama. Boozy Bard is good enough at what it’s doing that a lot of that fun transfers to the audience. Played as comedy without fundamentally changing the script, Richard III is a lot of strange energy being pointed in various different directions. The weird drama of an evil man rising to power and eating his destiny on the battlefield is played for light comedy.Costuming really IS made to fit everyone in the cast. There’s no set. It’s just a bunch of weird people playing with Shakespeare in a bar, but there’s a sense of depth to it. The guy in the Oval Office is a bit too much like Shakespeare’s Richard III, so it’s nice to find some small, cozy corner in which to laugh at the folly of power as everyone has a drink. Sink into a bit of cathartic laughter about this sort of thing before returning to the real world of idiotic presidential tweets and the awful theatre that is the contemporary US political arena.
Boozy Bard’s Shakespeare Raw: Richard III runs has performances May 14th and 15th at the Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery on 901 West Juneau Ave. Both shows start at 7:00 pm. For more information, visit the event’s Facebook page.