Los Angeles Theater Review: SHOTSPEARE’S ROMEO AND JULIET (Skinny’s Lounge in North Hollywood)

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by Jason Rohrer on April 23, 2012

in Theater-Los Angeles


Corey Womack has produced and stage-managed my two favorite Shakespeare shows of the past year, and so to me she is among the most able and important people working in the American theater.  True, more famous names may bring the classics to Southern California stages.  But from Peter Hall’s uninspired Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Ahmanson in 1999 to Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott’s unswerving Antony and Cleopatra, currently at A Noise Within, we’ve had it pounded into our senses that no amount of resources will rescue a pedestrian staging from itself.  Ms Womack and her directors Matt Walker (at the Troubadour Theater Company) and Matthew Morgan (at Shotspeare) know something that anyone making theater ought to know but few demonstrate: energy creates relevance, while reverence equals irrelevance.

Shotspeare Romeo and Juliet – Los Angeles Review by Jason Rohrer

One of the injustices of modern life consists in the fact that, every year, thousands of middle-school students learn the indelible lesson that Shakespeare is long, boring, and out of touch with every aspect of modern life.  Generally they learn it first by reading Romeo and Juliet.  I hesitate to recommend that schoolchildren go to a bar to see Shotspeare’s 65-minute version, but then, had Mercutio been engaged in anal sodomy the first time I heard the Queen Mab speech, I would have paid a lot more attention to the classics, done better in school, and got a real job right out of college, sparing the world many mediocre performances and insufferable reviews.  Shotspeare can never receive higher praise than that, applied in time, it could abort the development of another failed-actor theater critic.

Shotspeare Romeo and Juliet – Los Angeles Review by Jason Rohrer

So what is this magical purgative, this potion of high art and low comedy, this so-called Shotspeare?  Well, what else?  It’s a play… with benefits.  Shotspeare incorporates a drinking-game sensibility and a drunkard’s attention span into the staging (one might say rape) of Shakespearean verse.  The cast drinks from many, many cans of Tecate during the show, and at points (some prescribed, some error-generated) everyone has to shotgun a beer, or do a shot of whiskey, or perform some act of personal opprobrium.  “Everyone” includes the audience, especially one lucky volunteer dragged onstage to read some of the smaller roles even as he guzzles himself past bashfulness into giggling stupefaction.

Shotspeare Romeo and Juliet – Los Angeles Review by Jason Rohrer

I don’t drink anymore, and have marked the years of my grudging, uncomfortable sobriety by avoiding and occasionally beating obnoxious drunks as a demonstration of my intolerance, but this wet froth of a show made me happier than any since the Troubadours’ Two Gentlemen of Chicago because this is more than beer pong or quarters, and hugely more than some obligatory nod to the Western Canon.  I think Shakespeare would recognize this for what it is (and faster than he would most of the more “traditional” stagings I’ve seen lately): This is theater.  This is a live, living, in-your-face and down-the-hatch, in-the-moment, up-your-ass catharsis you cannot experience on tape, online, or any way but to come out and rub shoulders with other desperate members of the society to which you really can claim active membership only on occasions like this.

Shotspeare Romeo and Juliet – Los Angeles Review by Jason Rohrer

When an actor has to perform a monologue or soliloquy, the cast screams “Speech!  Speech!” while the actor spins a wheel of fortune divided into wedges including “drink” (obvious) or “socks” (audience pelts actor with rolled-up tube socks) or the dreaded “Matt Morgan” (director manhandles actor, throwing him to the floor and simulating prison sex until actor finishes speech).  When an actor screws up a line, she (and everyone) has to drink.  When a playgoer holds up one of three pre-set “drink” cards, everyone has to drink.

Shotspeare Romeo and Juliet – Los Angeles Review by Jason Rohrer

This can get dangerous, as when Romeo (the brave and beautiful Brandon Breault) timed out on the balcony speech, spun a couple of “drinks” in a row, and caught a pair of well-timed audience “drink” cards, resulting in five shots of Jack Daniel’s within about ten minutes.  But not only did Breault not vomit, he kept giving a nuanced comic performance as invested as any “straight” tragic Romeo’s I have seen.  And the incredibly game Heidi Brucker’s Juliet motor-boated a hot girl in the front row, scissored a happy lesbian sporting a mullet, then spilled real tears in contemplation of a love without honor.  These aren’t stupid drunks out for a good time; or, they’re not just that.  They’re also talented and committed scholars demonstrating an understanding of the nature of storytelling.

Shotspeare Romeo and Juliet – Los Angeles Review by Jason RohrerMr Morgan, a circus clown and improvisational actor with great crowd-working skills, has made a story that can easily feel overfamiliar into a refreshing and colorful leap of faith.  He’s also assembled an ensemble capable of developing old material into a new form.  Guilford Adams’s ghastly one-breasted Nurse, Dustin Fasching’s slurring Prince, Misi Lopez Lecube’s truly frightening Tybalt and the extremely pregnant Jennifer Seifert’s Lady Capulet (no, she doesn’t drink; these aren’t monsters) cavort and swordfight (!) and speak the speech, I pray you, as they mispronounce it to you.  Mr Morgan’s Friar Lawrence gropes anyone who ventures into his cell, and Ms Womack runs lights and music while keeping up with the actors shot for shot.  And if one may judge by audience reaction, these players who strut and stumble have created a hit that, for reasons of health and safety, must remain a phenomenon of limited engagements.  To miss the next one, May 31st at Skinny’s (if Ms Seifert doesn’t go into labor first), would be the kind of fuck-up that earns a penalty drink.

Shotspeare Romeo and Juliet – Los Angeles Review by Jason Rohrer

photos by Ben Childs and Dan Freeman

Romeo and Juliet
Skinny’s Lounge in North Hollywood
one night only May 31, 2012
for future shows & tickets, visit Shotspeare

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