As a longtime Shakespeare guy and comic book guy, the IDW comic Kill Shakespeare has been on my radar for a while.
Even so, I didn’t make time for it until I stumbled across a small blip on the internet saying that a theatrical production was to be mounted at HERE Arts Center by the fine folks over at Gideon Productions – the daring Brooklyn theater company behind plays like The Honeycomb Trilogy and Frankenstein Upstairs, as well as a number of smart initiatives, like The Sand Box, designed to serve artists in the indie theater community.
I’ve written a bunch about Gideon Productions on this site. That’s because in many ways artists like the ones at the nexus of Gideon – playwright Mac Rogers, director Jordana Williams, scenic designer Sandy Yaklin, and producer/sometimes performer Sean Williams – are the reason I’ve kept up with the theater reviews here. At Backstage, I had to review a lot of crap to get to the good stuff. In those days, I often found that something was crap because the central artist – the one person who wrote, directed, produced, starred, etc. – clearly wanted to do the piece very badly and the twelve people he/she had to hire or rope into it to help out did not; any promise in the work could be easily sunk by this uneven expenditure of effort.
In most cases the good stuff was cultivated by a dedicated artistic core with a clear, shared vision and aesthetic. Gideon has this in spades. Other examples would be Hannah Bos, Paul Thureen, and Oliver Bulter over at The Debate Society, or Adam R. Burnett and Jud Knudson at Buran Theatre. August Schulenburg and the team at Flux Theatre Ensemble seem to have this sort of thing going too; though I’m sorry to say I too hastily wrote-off their truly unique production DEINDE when I was at Backstage.
The transformative experiences I had seeing and writing about shows put on by these companies was not something I could do without, even when the Backstage gig dried up. It also worked out well because I always found that these companies all warranted more consideration than my measly 300 or 500 word count at Backstage would allow for.
So here we are. And while I knew in my heart I would be covering Gideon’s next production, I had no idea it would be something so different for the company. Off the bat, Kill Shakespeare is a notable departure for Gideon not just because it’s a pre-approved adaptation by Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery (the writers of the comic), but because it’s not a play by Mac Rogers, the company’s usual go-to guy. But this, to me, is a good departure. It shows that the group’s commitment to fun and interesting theater goes deeper than its own company members.
The notion that the company will be presenting this as a kind of radio show/live comic book hybrid, with huge projections of artist Andy Belanger’s actual comic panels is also intriguing, and in a way more welcome than a straight staging. The Gideon shows I’ve seen thus far have always excelled in the ways they recalibrated the science fiction, fantasy, and action elements to work within the confines of Jordana Williams’ exceptional, though mostly traditional stagings. What’s staggering about The Honeycomb Trilogy is not necessarily that it’s about an alien invasion, but rather that it’s about the repercussions that alien invasion has on ONE LIVING ROOM. I’ve made the argument before that this use of limited perspective is one of Gideon’s great strengths. So, I am fascinated to see how they operate within what sounds like a decidedly more experimental production that is not necessarily defined by a specific physical environment. There is no keyhole to peek through here.
Plus there is a particularly choice kind of street cred that comes along with this project – a sly, post-modern multimedia riff on Shakespeare that’s hipply based on a comic. An indie comic. The show may be running in lower Manhattan, but screw your courage to the sticking place, kids, cause this is as Brooklyn as it gets.
Kill Shakespeare is running March 1-5 at Here Arts Center. 145 Sixth Ave. (enter on Dominick Street one block south of Spring), NY, NY 10013. All performances @ 7pm. Tickets ($15) may be purchased at http://www.here.org/shows/detail/1388/
The Pre-Game continues in my next post, which will cover the first six issues of the Kill Shakespeare comic itself.