If you’re not expecting Shakespeare, Theatre in the Park’s world premiere of TIP executive and artistic director Ira David Wood III’s royal farce, Devon Does Denmark, makes for a mighty entertaining evening. If you are a Shakespeare purist, I am sure that you can find what I call a “Museum Theatre” production of Hamlet airing somewhere on the Boob Tube.
By inserting a ragtag group of traveling players from Devon, England, into the seething cauldron of court intrigues in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, David Wood achieves his desired mash-up of zany Monty Python skits with knee-slapping sketches from “The Carol Burnett Show.” In fact, in Devon Does Denmark, the players are the thing — and there’s not enough mustard in the State of North Carolina to make sandwiches when Los Angeles actor and director Ira David Wood IV and some of the Triangle’s leading theatrical lights ham it up hilariously.
Ira Wood, in Laurence Olivier mode, passionately emotes and emotes some more as Prince Hamlet, the dithering Dane who must decide whether or not to avenge his father’s murder and slay his usurping uncle Claudius (Michael Murray), who poisoned his father and married his mother Gertrude (Lynda Clark) before the foodstuffs in the funeral feast reached their self-by dates. While Wood cracks up the audience, Murray and Clark have them rolling in the isle by having Claudius speak like Elmer Fudd, chasing his wascally wabbit stepson Hamlet, and Clark prowl the stage like a vixen in heat from television’s smoldering “Dynasty” prime-time soap opera.
Other amusing members of the Danish court include Justin Brent Johnson as a light-in-his-loafers Laertes, Jason Weeks as a long-winded Polonius, George M. Kaiser and Colin McNaughton as Claudius’ spies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, James Miller as Horatio, Sam Whisnant as Osric, Rob Rainbolt as Marcellus, and Henry Young as Bernardo.
Alternately delighting audiences from Devon to Elsinore with their appalling performances are Tim Caudle as the bombastic leading man Maurice, Jesse R. Gephart as the milksop second lead Reginald, Robert Kaufman as Ludlow as the dotty old actor, and spunky Leanne Norton Heintz as the dog’s body Beatrice. But it is the wonderfully wacky Andrea Schulz Twiss who steals the show as Ophelia, as she flits in and out of scenes on tiptoe, looking like a demented ballerina who’s a couple of sandwiches, a bowl of celery with pimento cheese, and a whole plate of deviled eggs short of a picnic.
With the assistance of scenic artist Carol Winstead Wood, technical director and set and lighting designer Stephen J. Larson creates a superlative performance space, with a three-doored wall of the drafty castle in Elsinore forming a backdrop and the surrounding heaths depicted with roll-on, roll-off set pieces. Costume designer Shawn Stewart-Larson likewise outfits the cast in a handsome array of medieval glad rags for the courtiers and just-plain-rags for the traveling players.
With some script tightening and a slightly faster pace, Devon Does Denmark would be a gut-buster. But it’s a hoot as it is, with some of the Triangle’s finest talent onstage and backstage fueling the fun.
SECOND OPINION: April 6th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Zach Smith (who awarded the show 2 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/shakespeare-gets-the-monty-python-treatment-from-theatre-in-the-park/Content?oid=2295730; and March 30th Raleigh, NC WRAL-TV interview of Ira David Wood III by Bill Leslie: http://news.yahoo.com/video/raleighwral-15751121/wood-s-hamlet-farce-premieres-in-raleigh-24721893. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the March 31st Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/03/tips-devon-does-denmark-is-a-royal-farce-written-and-directed-by-raleighs-ira-david-wood-iii/.)
Theatre in the Park presents DEVON DOES DENMARK, a world premiere by Ira David Wood III, at 7:30 p.m. April 8 and 9 and 15 and 16 and 3 p.m. April 10 and 17 in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $22 ($16 students, seniors 60+, and active-duty military personnel).
BOX OFFICE: 919/831-6058 or http://www.etix.com/.
Ira David Wood III: http://www.theatreinthepark.com/theatre_staff_board.html (Theatre in the Park), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ira_David_Wood_III (Wikipedia) and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0202796/ (Internet Movie Database).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.