Tuesday, May 26, 2015

2 Shakespeares and an Upstart Crow

Although Something Rotten is not a Shakespeare play, it contains snippets of his verse and a potential personality type of the Bard. I consider Something Rotten and recall it with a smile.  And then I think of the CSC Hamlet and sigh.  And then think of the Fiasco Theater Company’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona at TFANA and rejoice:  2 Fabulous Shows out of 3 — Shakespeare Rules! 
Christian Borle as the Bard in Something Rotten.  Photo Credit 2015 Joan  Marcus
Something Rotten is a very funny musical comedy that will be most enjoyed by fans of American musical theatre. Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell’s book and lyrics are full of winks, nods, and witticisms, with sometimes lyrical and sometimes show-stopping songs by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick. One must love a show that rhymes genius with penis. (I realize there are those who will complain of this imperfect rhyme, but lowbrow that I am, I laughed like hell.)  Something Rotten appeals to both types of brows, as well as to lovers of Shakespeare. Characters appear with familiar names like Nostradamus, Nick Bottom, Shylock, Portia.  There are musical and dance riffs reminiscent of countless modern musicals (Chicago, Cats, A Chorus Line, Mary Poppins, to name just a few…) as well as scenes that could have inspired some of Shakespeare’s most famous ones.  
John Cariana as Nigel Bottom and Kate Reinders as Portia in Something Rotten.  (Photo 2015 Joan Marcus)
Christian Borle plays Shakespeare as that upstart crow (remember those “Notes” in your Folger editions), a cross between David Bowie and Tim Curry (as Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Frank N. Furter) as the coolest strutting rock star playwright ever.  The diminutive ingénue Kate Reinders is playing a role apparently written with Kristen Chenoweth in mind and doing it beautifully with charm, expert comic timing, and a sweetly powerful voice.  One can readily understand Brian d’Arcy James leaving the fun role of King George in Hamilton for the lead of Nick Bottom in Something Rotten.  Like Aaron Burr in Hamilton, Nick Bottom reveals himself in his solo about his rival, defining himself by his enemy: Shakespeare.  He tells us in “I Hate Shakespeare” about that country hick who steals other people’s ideas and glory.  The cast is overflowing with funny, talented people, like John Cariana as Nigel Bottom and Brad Oscar as the scene-stealing Nostradamus.  The only unimpressive performance was that of Heidi Blickenstaff as Bottom’s wife Bea, who just belted everything without modulation.  Finally, the direction and choreography by Casey Nicholaw was a driving and moving force celebrating American musical theatre.
Brad Oscar and Brian  d'Arcy James in Something Rotten (2012 Photo Credit Joan Marcus)

Meanwhile, the CSC Hamlet sounded more interesting than it was. I had heard (belated spoiler alert) that director Austin Pendleton had chosen not to show us the Ghost of Hamlet’s father, which could make us wonder what, if anything, the ghost ever said to Hamlet.  Peter Sarsgaard’s Hamlet was stupefying, overthought and overwrought. Even Harris Yulin was rather dull as Claudius.    The Gertrude by Penelope Allen was somnolent, but Lisa Joyce’s Ophelia was feisty and Stephen Spinella played Polonius with wit and style.
Left to right, Gertrude, Claudius, Polonius, Ophelia.  (c) 2015 Classic Stage Company
Austin Pendleton staged the play within a play so that more than half the audience could not see Claudius’ reaction to the murder of Gonzago, which would seem impossible in a 3-sided playing space.  The set was as annoying as an overdressed floral centerpiece, such that it became all about trying to see around the furniture instead of the content.  All in all, the potential excitement in removing the actual Ghost fell flat with nothing interesting from Hamlet or the director in this empty rendition.  Reimagining did not occur. 

But then, hope revived.  Even though Julia should punch Proteus at the end — does anyone else remember the joyous moment in an otherwise tedious Cymbeline when Joan Cusack’s Imogen punched Posthumous? — I know she never will so the clever edit of the Fiasco Theater Company’s production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona at Theatre for a New Audience was a sheer delight of sparkling wordplay, song, and fun, with nary a moment of its two hour and ten minute running time allowed to lag. 
Sylvia and Julia in Two Gentlemen of Verona. Photo Credit 2015 Gerry Goodstein.
Apparently cutting the script to the bone clarifies what the play is really about. Judicious edits inspired six actors — two women and four men — to drive the play in high gear.  The doubling and tripling and quadrupling of characters played led to laughter, with all players throwing in voices from “offstage” while sitting in plain sight.  In one scene, the cast’s two women were both onstage, so when Sylvia called off to Ursula, the always original Andy Grotelueschen responds in a small frilly cap, bellowing like that goat meme that went around earlier this year.  Such laughter as filled the house also fills the audience with oxygen and moves the play forward after Grotelueschen stops the show.  I tend to believe that he does something like this to his fellow players every night in the same spot, in addition to playing Launce, the Duke, and Antonio. Jessie Austrian was a full-blooded and funny, awkward Julia to Noah Brody’s unfaithful Proteus.  Paul L. Coffee was a sharp Speed, and Emily Young played Lucetta tartly and Sylvia with passionate intelligence.  Zachary Fine was a sweet and loyal dog called Crab as well as Sylvia’s steadfast and true Valentine.  And the music was rollicking and sweet.  Fiasco’s Two Gents as directed by Jessie Austrian and Ben Steinfeld was a brilliant addition to TFANA’s spring season.
Messrs. Fine, Coffee, Brody, and Grotelueschen.  (Photo Credit 2015 Gerry Goodstein)
As luck would have it, The Two Gentlemen of Verona has been extended through Saturday, June 20, at Theatre for a New Audience’s Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn.  Lucky you!
~ Molly Matera, signing off and urging you to see the Fiasco Theater Company’s production of Two Gents in Brooklyn while it lasts.  I believe you have more time for Something Rotten which may just run on Broadway forever, but just in case it doesn’t, get your tickets now!


  1. Can't wait to see it; I liked it, but then I'm Mr. Intellectual; and OMG Please Run Don't Walk to see this version of 2 Gents.

  2. don't complain to me later about imperfect rhymes!