By Bob Shuman
Who is this Shakespeare who needs to be banned in Florida public schools, who dared to write a play called Romeo and Juliet? Was he decadent? Was he warped? Has he really been infecting others with degenerate thought for over four hundred years? The 2023 Little Shakespeare Festival, now playing at the tiny underground theatre, with bright red seats, UNDER St. Marks (94 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10009) answers with a resounding, “Yes,” in shorts awash in cross dressers, wigs, effeminate tea-stirring parties, and grotesque morbidity, ad infinitum (there are 74 onstage deaths in the so-called playwright’s works, some count 75—the pyramid death scene, from Antony and Cleopatra takes place in both of the one acts, recurring many times). The good news is that you can see them all in fifteen minutes (if you must—the entire production takes an hour), in First Flight Theatre Company’s presentation, directed by Frank Farrell, of Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea or I Thought You’d Never Asp, written by Kathleen Kirk, and Shakespeare’s Deaths, by the Free Shakespeare Theatre Company of Chicago. The production continues to play on Friday, 8/18 at 6pm and Saturday 8/19 at 7pm.
There is always something with which to offend in each Shakespeare play—and, truth be told, this reviewer would not relish revisiting the horrors of Titus Andronicus (although one still wants to have seen Olivier play it). To “cancel” the work, however, to not believe that people can simply close their eyes, would mean not knowing Shakespeare’s first Black character and one of the first in the language. Can we actually think of more boring writing than that approved under the totalitarian gaze of thought police, and now being penned by A.I. robots? Who ever said you have to like every second of a piece of writing, anyway? Wasn’t there a certain enticement to knowing on what pages the “good parts” were in Lady Chatterley’s Lover? Perhaps the more we clean up, the more we leave ourselves open to seeing problems appear again and, oh, the provocation we lose.
If it would be helpful to know the kind of language that this banned playwright actually uses, Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea gives highlights—at a bar, sometimes with a disco beat–you might even find yourself knowing a good number of the lines, which does not say much for the culture. If providing the titles of the blasphemous works would be helpful, for future banning, here is a partial list: Hamlet; A Midsummer Night’s Dream; King John; Richard II; Othello; Antony and Cleopatra; Henry IV, Part 1; Henry IV, Part II; Henry VI, Part 1; Henry VI, Part 2; Henry VI, Part 3; Richard III; Romeo and Juliet.
Overzealous societal control takes power out of the hands of the individual, and leaves the gratification to the influencer, whether they be adherents of the left or right. American theatre can only define itself in terms of politics, demonstrably of the left, but small work has a chance to not see itself in terms of powerful, dominant agendas. Instead of hand-wringing over Romeo and Juliet, though, why not let students experience it? Enough of them have disliked it over the years to decide, for themselves, whether they will study it or not. That’s called democracy.
Although the content is in question, much can be said for the lively direction of Farrell and the spirited performances, in multiple roles, of Stella Berrettini, Joseph Bowen, Danny Crawford, Claudia Egli, Frank Farrell, Imogen Finlayson, Marsha-Ann Hay and Jennifer Kim with Stage Managing by Thomas J. Donohoe II.
As debauched as it all is, some might even call it fun.
(c) By Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.
Press: Emily Owens PR.
Photos: Conor Mullen/First Flight; Bob Shuman.
First Flight Theatre Company
Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea or I Thought You’d Never Asp
Written by Kathleen Kirk
Written by the Free Shakespeare Theatre Company of Chicago
Directed by Frank Farrell
Presented as part of the 2023 Little Shakespeare Festival
August 3- 20 at UNDER St. Marks
performances on Thu 8/10 at 9pm, Fri 8/11 at 10pm, Sat 8/12 at 5pm, Fri 8/18 at 6pm & Sat 8/19 at 7pm. Tickets ($25 in person) are available for advance purchase at www.frigid.nyc. The performance will run approximately 55 minutes.