Produced by: ShakesBEERience
Featuring: Kevin Condardo, Jeff Kramer, Charlie McCollum, Sharon Lita, Maryssa Wanlass, Tyler Harding, Derek McCaw, Ian Leonard, Doll Piccotto, Tasi Alabastro, David Heiman, Lee Kopp, Josh Marx, Lucas Imboden, Marshall Pangilinan and James Reber
Directed by: John McCluggage
Running time: 90 minutes or so
When: Monday, April 20, 2015
Where: Cafe Stritch, 374 South First Street, San Jose, California
Next up for ShakesBEERience: "As You Like It,” Tuesday, June 2, 2015, at Café Stritch
My kingdom for a beer!
If you’ve ever thought that Shakespeare was snooty, high-brow, hard to understand, and generally not much fun, you’ve never been to a ShakesBEERience production.
I had the pleasure of witnessing, nay, participating in a production of "Richard III" at Café Stritch in San Jose on Monday.
Death is a constant in most of The Bard’s plays, and in ShakesBEERience this is a bonus, as by tradition one takes a drink every time someone dies.
ShakesBEERience San Jose is produced by John McCluggage and Alexandra Urbanowski, in collaboration with 7 Stages Shakespeare of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and McCluggage brought the idea to San Jose after successful productions on the East Coast. To make it more accessible to “theater lovers, pub lovers, and pint lovers” he decided that Café Stritch, with its open plan, brick walls and small stage, would be a perfect venue. And it works very well, allowing the actors to wander among the patrons, script in hand, and involve them, especially in the crowd scenes.
One problem with Shakepeare’s plays, and Richard the Third in particular, is that they can be very long. McCluggage got around this by abridging the play along the lines of the 1995 movie version starring and with screenplay by Ian McKellen (Gandalf in "Lord of the Rings"), which is not much more than an hour and a half long.
One of the features of a ShakesBEERience production is informality. This is a performance in a pub. Dead silence is not required, though you’ll probably want to concentrate on what’s going on around you. We had Richard (played by the excellent Kevin Condardo) sit at our table for a while, as we pretended to be priests. Being part of the play was exciting, if a little disconcerting. Of all the characters, only Richard actually talks to the audience, making us feel like co-conspirators.
The actors do not wear costumes, just plain clothes, leaving much to the imagination. You may get up and order food and drink at any time, though be wary peasant, lest thou be drawn into the mayhem.
I discussed the production with the director, John McCluggage, who felt strongly that audience participation was likely a key part of the play in Shakespeare’s time. Towards the end of the play, Richard’s famous line “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” is not to be uttered alone. Nay, to ensure the required level of participation, the audience is thrice asked to join in. By that time, quite a few characters had been dispatched (remember what happens what someone dies?), so there was little reticence. In fact, by the third request I suspect Richard’s skeleton would have turned over in his parking lot.
In Shakepeare’s time it was politically correct to give Richard a bum rap. Just a hundred years had passed since his death at the hands of the Earl of Richmond, who became Henry VII, and despite enacting some important legislation, such as setting up the Court of Requests, enabling the poor to bring court cases at low cost, Richard was depicted as a Machievellian, hunchbacked tyrant, which is much more fun.
The booming voice of Lord Buckingham, played by Derek McCaw, asks repeatedly when he will be rewarded for his service in helping Richard to take the throne. When he is denied, Buckingham rebels and tries to take the crown for himself. Richard exclaims “Is the throne empty? Is the king dead?” Buckingham is captured and executed (yea, another toast).
The Lady Anne Neville, of the opposing House of Lancaster and widow of the Prince of Wales, played by Sharon Lita, despises Richard, but is somehow won over by his pleas of love and repentance, and marries him. But he confides to the audience:
"I'll marry Warwick’s youngest daughter.
What, though I kill'd her husband and her father?"
The Earl of Richmond, the future King Henry VII, was played here by Josh Marx, and in marked contrast to Condardo’s scheming and conniving Richard, Marx showed truly king-like bearing and the audience was clearly on his side during the battle.
Though thinking, "We’ll just stay for one drink," the atmosphere of ShakesBEERience is thoroughly inviting and inclusive. It’s not a theater production where you can have a drink, it’s a drinking production where you can see a play.
My group stayed for the whole affair, and a number of beers. Bravo.
The next ShakesBEERience production, "As You Like It,” is at Café Stritch on Tuesday, June 2, 2015. Be there. Or be executed.
Email Tony Lacy-Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org