It has been said that William Shakespeare wrote for every “level” in his audience, that he “aimed” certain elements to the “upper-crust” and certain elements to “the masses.” I believe the same thing can be said for Shakespeare’s modern-day “collaborator Chuck Keith. Who says you can’t update Shakespeare?
ShakesBEER, produced by Bare Theatre at “various brewery bars in the Triangle Area,” boasts the best of The Bard’s beer imbibers and beyond! Have you ever wondered what it would be like to raise a glass with Sir John Falstaff and his cronies (of the Henry IV, Parts 1-3 and Henry V plays and The Merry Wives of Windsor)? Or, perhaps, you would rather carouse with Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Feste the Clown (of Twelfth Night) as they sing a catch (and banter with Malvolio).
And then there’s The Porter in Macbeth — how would you like to have him greet you with “I pray you, remember the porter.” And let’s not forget Iago’s tempting Cassio with drink (in Othello) and succeeding in getting him drunk.
There are other scenes in which drink might have been involved; these appear in such plays Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Chuck Keith has cobbled together a medley of scenes from these plays and more. Sometimes, the scenes are straight from the source, word-for-word; sometimes, they are modified ever-so-slightly; and the flow from one to the next is smooth, as Keith has crafted between-the-scenes sketches in a style not unlike that of The Bard.
Director Dustin K. Britt has established a pace that is fast enough to keep it moving, but never so fast as to leave a gag unappreciated. I found myself wondering whether we owed our thanks to Britt or to Keith for the idea of how and where to draw the map to navigate from England to Verona (or, perhaps, it was one of the actors). Whoever dreamed it up certainly was inspired by the antics of the myriad of low-brow Shakespearean characters that s/he has encountered over the years.
The show started the moment I got close to the acting area. Tara Nicole Williams greeted me (in character), treating me to a few drunken observations. I immediately sensed that I was being addressed by the afore-mentioned Porter at Macbeth’s castle and spoke back to her. However, she answered me with the words of Sir Toby Belch, once again amusing me with an up-close, in-my-face interaction with this legendary figure. And that was just the preshow. Williams continued to show her diverse comic talent by assuming a myriad of other roles as the night progressed.
I never expected to see Othello’s Cassio played as though he were “Igor” from “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein). That was one of Kyle Mears’ surprises. With dialogue straight from the play, Mears retained the dignity and pomp that Cassio possesses (even though drunk) while adding the sight-gag of Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant. Once again, I am unsure who to credit: the playwright, the director, or the actor.
Natalie Sherwood and J. Robert Raines were also quite impressive in multiple roles. The energy was high throughout the performance, and audience involvement was well managed. At times, audience “volunteers” became part of the show, as actors interacted with them, even to the point of pulling a few of them into the acting area.
Heather J. Strickland’s hand could be detected in the fight choreography. Once again, I am hard pressed to guess who had the brainstorm for the sound effects in the duel scene. Suffice it to say: the duel was a crowd-pleaser. All-in-all, it was an hour or so of nonstop laughter.
From The Department of Picky-Picky: It would have been helpful to the audience had there been some way of identifying the source of each of the different scenes and, perhaps, even the specific characters. Nametags would be a bit much; an in-character introduction of each scene, perhaps? Having read all of these plays, seen most of them, and taught several of them, I am relatively sure I spotted each context; but I am equally sure that there was more than a little head-scratching going on among my fellow audience members.
From The Egghead Department: I taught “The Scottish Play” for a few decades, including presentations to classes for several teachers at several different Wake County high schools each year. And every class, high school and college alike, got my rendition of The Porter scene. As intimately familiar as I thought I was with the scene, I was quite pleased when Tara Nichole Williams managed to regale me with a few additional wrinkles. Kudos!
ShakesBEER plays four more nights, two in Durham, one in Raleigh, and one in Hillsborough. All performances are in bars, so be prepared to realize your dream of drinking with The Bard’s drunks.
There is no admission charged, but they do pass a hat after the show as a means of raising a bit of funds. As I write this piece, I find myself planning to attend an additional performance.
SECOND OPINION: Sept. 1st Raleigh, NC News & Observer food article by Will Doran: http://www.newsobserver.com/living/food-drink/article170827662.html; Aug. 30th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/shakesbeer/Event?oid=7554338. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Sept. 1st Triangle Review review by Katy Koop, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/09/shakesbeer-is-a-great-time-with-singing-fights-yo-momma-battles-and-comedy-galore/.)
Bare Theatre presents SHAKESBEER at 8 p.m. Sept. 4 and 5 at Fullsteam Brewery, 726 Rigsbee Ave., Durham, NC 27701; 8 p.m. Sept. 6 at Imurj, 300 S. McDowell St., Raleigh, NC 27601; and 8 p.m. Sept. 11 at Mystery Brewing Public House, 230 S. Nash St., Hillsborough, NC 27278.
TICKETS: Admission is FREE.
INFORMATION: 919-322-8819 or email@example.com.
SHOW: http://baretheatre.org/shakesbeer/, Durham: https://www.facebook.com/events/247981135706274/, Raleigh: https://www.facebook.com/events/1711082569193950/, and Hillsborough: https://www.facebook.com/events/462924450731933/.
PRESENTER: http://baretheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/BareTheatre, https://twitter.com/baretheatre, and https://www.youtube.com/user/TheBareTheatre.
Durham: https://www.fullsteam.ag/ (directions: https://www.google.com/maps).
Raleigh: https://home.imurj.com/ (directions: https://www.imurj.com/parking/).
Hillsborough: http://www.mysterybrewing.com/ (directions: http://www.mysterybrewing.com/pub-location.html).
Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.