A Fool’s Paradise – Shakescheer
Four actors, one guest appearance, about a billion scenes from Shakespeare, shake, don’t stir. That’s the chaotic, visceral energy of A Fool’s Paradise, running this weekend only, at Chesapeake Shakespeare. Unless, of course, you want to follow them to Scotland – the next stop for this ragtag team is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. The premise: take Shakespeare’s greatest hits and turn them into an interactive game, with the actors performing 30 scenes in 60 minutes or less. If they succeed, all hail the greatness, if they don’t, someone gets a pie in the face. Audience members are given a BINGO card within their programs, and are told to shout out their favorites. Yelling BINGO is encouraged, and buys you the chance to join in on the antics.
Some of the scenes are lifted straight from the text with minor editing, others are adapted and edited by Sarah Curnoles (who also directed). For example, the Maury Povich edition of All’s Well That Ends Well: Who is Helena’s Baby Daddy? Or Don’t Shoot the Messenger, a version of Anthony & Cleopatra that allows Cleopatra to drop some four letter words in response to bad news. My kind of chick.
The four actors, Logan Davidson, Lisa Hodsoll, Jenna Rossman, and Sabrina Thornton, are to be fucking commended for not only memorizing the scenes but for having the recall to perform at will with a clock ticking. Shifting characters, believably, with minimal props, in a ten second interval, made me sweat. I really don’t know how they all kept it so cool, but I’ll take whatever deodorant they’re using.
The artistic team is minimal. Curnoles keeps things moving at a rapid pace as master of ceremonies, with minor interjections as needed in certain scenes. The Stage Manager, Arrenvy Billinksi, rings a bell signifying the successful completion of each. A Flight Choreographer (typo?) is listed, Nicholas Morrison, who treats the knife fights in a mostly humorous vein.
There are minor missteps, and I mean minor, because even the guest actors* (who apparently only get a one-hour crash course) are told mistakes are encouraged. There was an error in numbers (scenes 18 and 28 were somehow superimposed between the director of ceremonies and the programs). The count was off as well, as Curnoles added a scene that was not on the list: “Titania woos Bottom” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream . So it was 30, but by audience count, only 29. Hence the pie at the end. An audience member was called on to determine who was getting pied, and without hesitation said: “The guest should get the pie.” Chris Cotterman, Associate Artistic Director of the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory, it must be said, took his pie like a man [Like a woman, you mean, I can fucking DESTROY a pie.-TBO]. I found it a bit odd that we were all given stampers for the BINGO, but told to give them back. I can snitch you some Keno pencils for free from any bar, you know? We were also given red foam clown noses on the way in, but there was no use for them throughout the show, which was a little disappointing. I was told they were there only to match the cover graphic on the playbill. I either pass on those, or work them into the production somehow. Save the clown nose money for that airfare, maybe. But I suspect that it’s all meant to be part of the fun, and it was. I mean really, if you are promised a pie in the face and it doesn’t happen, how fulfilled do you feel [Chekhov’s pie.-TBO]?
BOTTOM LINE: For the Shakespeare fan, A Fool’s Paradise is an awesome, fever-dream-like romp through your favorite mindscape. For those just looking for a good time, it is a cooperative event that encourages yelling and offers chocolate coins, Bingo, and a few good belly laughs. This is the sheer, true pleasure of watching good actors execute their craft while staying satisfyingly rough and tumble. Hurry, though, it is a limited engagement.
Running at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company through June 5th.
*Other guest appearances include: Gavin Witt, Dramaturg and Associate Director of Center Stage and Matthew Ancarrow on Friday June 3rd; Lesley Malin, Managing Director of Chesapeake Shakespeare Company on Saturday June 4th; and Terry Morgenthaler, Board President of Center Stage and Sean Coe on Sunday, June 5th.
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