A Very Bardy Soap Opera: BREAKING THE SHAKESPEARE CODE

Photo by Paul Cantillon, LIDEC Photo

Presented by Vagabond Theatre Group
by John Minigan
Directed by James Peter Sotis

March 6th – 15, 2014
The Factory Theatre

791 Tremont Street
Boston, MA
Vagabond Theatre Company on Facebook

Review by Danielle Rosvally

(Boston) I went into this show knowing one thing: given the subject matter and my background, I was either going to hate it or love it.  There would be no in between.

I was mostly right.  I hated some things, and loved others.  Let’s go through these items one line at a time, shall we?

Let’s start with the writing: Minigan is definitely writing for Boston.  Much like it’s hard to imagine Avenue Q played anywhere but New York, I have a hard time imaging that audiences in other parts of the country would connect to this show in the same way as Bostonians.  This is doubly odd given that the show premiered at the Orlando Shakespeare Festival and continued on to the Utah Shakespeare Festival where, presumably, it did well enough that it’s back in Boston now.  The dialogue is expertly put together, and it held me in a way that most contemporary pieces don’t (…and not just because it had a passing relationship with my man Will).  My one fault with the piece was this: I left wondering “why?”  Why did I just see this?  Why did we go on this journey?  What was beneath this tale?  I felt like the story was too profound not to have a readily discernable crux; but I just couldn’t understand what that crux was. The acting was brilliant.  Devon Scalisi and Sarah Leary really manage to tear the place up.  Scalisi plays enigmatic and unpredictable to a T; I was actually fearful of this character because I simply couldn’t anticipate anything he was going to do, or might do, or would do.  I wasn’t certain what his game was or what he really cared about (though it was obvious that he cared about something), and because of that I was made uneasy.  But this was the best kind of uneasy; the kind that comes with a fully fleshed character not willing to divulge his secrets to anyone (much less the audience).  Leary adeptly handles her growing character with ease and gusto.  My one complaint about the acting was an obvious lack of text coach; the Shakespeare “bits” strewn about the piece were just okay.  They could have gotten more juice from the verse from working with someone who knew more about classical theatre.

Which brings me to the part of the play that I hated.  The talent was delightful in spite of the awful directing.  For those who have not been to the Factory Theatre, it is a space where the actors are almost literally on top of their audience.  I could smell the Listerine strips that Scalisi popped to keep his breath fresh mid-scene.  There is no excuse for the fact that, during portions of the show, I simply couldn’t hear the actors’ lines.

A large part of the reason why I couldn’t hear was because, due to some poor decision-making in the staging process, I spent a great deal of the show staring at Scalisi’s back and unable to see anything beyond him.  This tall actor was asked to act almost entirely downstage of his scene partner for the vast majority of the first and second scenes.  Because of this, and the fact that he was standing directly in front of me, I couldn’t see around him to catch Leary’s acting either.  The actors seemed on top of each other and in each other’s way rather than moving about the stage with grace and sensitivity.  While the actors were certainly comfortable in their emotional lives, the directing hand in this production needed to deal with rudiments of physicality in order to allow the audience a glimpse into the world.  While I’m definitely not a complete purist about occasionally glancing upstaging, this performance pushed an age-old rule into the territory of unpleasant to watch.  I missed so much of the performance because of one, simple, director’s tweak that wasn’t made.

The music seemed random and cacophonous with no real connection to the story.  This is important because, in between each of the three scenes, the audience was left in the dark staring at an empty stage for upwards of twenty seconds.  Some good music cover may have made that time bearable instead of awkward.  As it was, we mostly heard snatches of “The Beatles” along with some kind of vintage sales advertisement… I’m still not really certain why either of these things were part of the show.

The large issues aside, if you have any kind of actor’s conservatory background, you’ll feel like you’re back in school.  Not only have I had the stuff depicted in this play done to me, but I’ve totally done it to my students in turn.  The cycle continues passed down from one generation to another; weird tongue stretches and all.  Someone involved in this production must have had some Linklater training.

On the whole, this show was a mixed bag from which you could either pull amazingness or general slovenliness.  Proceed with caution; and maybe choose to sit on the side rather than in the front section.  That might solve your sight-line issues.

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