Review: “Shakespeare to the Death” dark, with moments of black comedy
* * * ½ stars (Out of 4)
The gifted cast present famous (and not so famous) death scenes by tackling the material head-on. Don’t expect a reprise of “To the Letter,” which exploited the comic possibilities of the letters upon which so many Shakespearean plots revolve.
There are moments of black comedy, and a running gag involves updating a cumulative body count. But the excerpts from dramas stay true to the originals.
So the scene of Cordelia’s death in “King Lear” is raw with grief, as Randy Diamon finds the stricken father inside Lear’s majesty and madness. Desdemona’s death (“Othello”) disturbingly invokes domestic abuse.
There are flashes of grim humor in the death scene from “Romeo and Juliet” — not the famous one, but a sword fight between the Montague and Capulet gangs, dispatching unnamed extras.
Director Roger Winn, who also directed “To the Letter,” chose the death scenes for novelty, with a view to showcasing “some of the more creative ways the Bard disposed of some of his characters.”
That makes the pie scene from “Titus Andronicus” practically mandatory. “Titus,” a disaster of continuity, shines in the bizarre ways that characters are maimed or injured, with ajust-deserts scene that combines murder, cannibalism and vicious wit.
One exception to all this morbidity: The excerpt from “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Yes, there is a death (Pyramus) in that brief play-within-a-play dependably popular at the annual Denver Public Schools Shakespeare festival.
The Spark company totally nails it, interpreting the fumbling itinerate actors as scene-stealing buffoons, victims of stage fright, or bored drunkards. Doe-eyed Sidney Morss makes the most of her improbable part as the Wall that stands between lovers Thisbe (Sam Reiter) and Pyramus (Paul Backer).
All this takes place right at the knees of the front row. At one point, Gracen Porreca (whose repertoire of British accents is stellar) only needs to step back a foot to take an empty seat in the front row. (There are only about 30 seats, arranged in two narrow rows of 15 chairs.)
Taking advantage of this intimacy, director Winn offers audience members a chance to juggle the order of the death scenes by moving magnetized play titles on a board. I’m guessing that “Midsummer” or “Titus Andronicus” usually find their way to the bottom, leaving audiences with a chuckle instead of the despair that ends the “Lear” and “Hamlet” excerpts.
“Shakespeare to the Death” is lively enough to serve as date night fare, and substantial enough to please die-hard fans who’ll also appreciate the bawdy humor that insinuates itself into even inappropriate moments.
Claire Martin: 303-954-1477, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/byclairemartin
SHAKESPEARE TO THE DEATH | 3.5 stars Scenes from nine Shakespeare plays, directed by Roger Winn. Featuring Paul Backer, Randy Diamon, Aaron Lede, Sidney Morss, Anne Myers, Gracen Porreca, Krista Rayne Reckner, Sam Reiter, Charis Beth Swartley and Melissa Valdez.Through Aug. 16 at Spark Theater, 985 Santa Fe Dr., Denver. Tickets $15 and up atsparktheater.org or 720-346-7396
Monday, September 22, 2014
-For tickets go online to www.SparkTheater.org or call 720-346-7396-Marlowe’s Musings