There are likely many questions that arise when considering a Boozy Bard production. Why has no one rehearsed the script? Why does all the casting for a given performance take place at random before the show? What’s the deal with all the. beer? Boozy Bard’s Jeremy Eineichner introduces each performance with an explanation having to do with history, Shakespeare and ancient script readings at taverns. It's all terribly interesting, but not terribly necessary. Shortly thereafter, names of characters are drawn at random by an energetic cast and history washes into the corners of everything as a classic plot is brought to the stage in abbreviated format that faithfully renders all of the comedy Shakespeare never intended in his classic tragedy.
Hamlet at the Best Place
Opening night of Boozy Bard Productions’ Shakespeare Raw: Hamlet filled the space of The Best Place Tavern on what is likely to be the last of the truly cold evenings of the winter season. It was a small but dedicated audience filling much of the empty space in and around a large ensemble. The atmosphere works quite well...the bar is at the back of the performance space, allowing for people to rise and recede to get drinks in the course of the show.
There's a drinking game. (There's always a drinking game.) The drinking game for Hamlet? Well...it IS a script that reads a bit like Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits...so the cry of “DRINK!” rings out through the place every time a familiar phrase is spoken. It’s a highly animate, celebratory atmosphere. Oh sure, we all have to survive the twisted power grabs of an orange stain in DC, but if we’re going to watch ambition play out on a small stage, at least we can drink while we watch everyone die in Shakespeare’s most popular tragedy. It’s pleasantly cathartic to see the wicked die as we all have a couple of glasses of beer.
The Choosiness of Chance and Happenstance
Jim Donaldson might have been the first person to pick a role that night...the title role of Hamlet. Donaldson had such a classily organic presence in the role. There was something impossibly comfortable about the guy holding a script in one hand, a beer in the other and looking off meaningfully into the middle distance between lines. Stephen M. Wolterstorff played Horatio to Donaldson’s Hamlet. Chance had chosen the perfect pairing there...a couple of guys who work well together in a comic context while also having a deep enough appreciation for the old script to sharply imbue it with loving, satirical delivery. Things were particularly well-balanced comically between, Donaldson, Woltestorff and a rubber skull as Andrea Roedel-Schroeder played the gravedigger in the single most cliched scene in all of theatre. Oddly, three talented actors and one foam rubber skull made that scene feel fresh last night.
Where chance had chosen to be fairly straightforward with the casting of Hamlet, Horatio and a few others, there were rather interesting twists of fate including Thom Cauley’s oddly perfect imperfection as the fair Ophelia. To Cauley’s credit, he played Ophelia with largely serious drama, allowing the counter-casting to be its own kind of humor. Ophelia’s final scene was haunting counterpoint to the humor. Director Laura Holterman fosters an energy in the ensemble that balances elements of serious drama atop a foundation that feels rooted in a sketch comedy energy. Above all, there’s a respect for one of the stage’s most enduring dramas.
Boozy Bard Productions’ Shakespeare Raw: Hamlet runs through March 6 at the Best Place on 901 W. Juneau Ave. Both of the two remaining shows open at 7:30 pm. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook Events page.