By D. A. Blackburn, guest critic
If you have ever wondered what a Second City interpretation of Shakespeare might be like, the BoarsHead Theater’s “The People vs. Friar Laurence, The Man Who Killed Romeo and Juliet,” is just the production to see.
It should be no surprise, really, as the show’s creators, Ron West and Phillip Swann, and many of the cast members, list extensive Second City credits on their resumes. From music to costuming, acting to set design, this production screams Second City, and reaps the benefits in raucous laughter.
“Friar Laurence” holds fast to the integral details of Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers, but approaches the story from a fresh perspective – that of the good Friar, jailed by Prince Escalus for his involvement in the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, and a host of others. From his confinement in the Prince’s dungeon, Laurence recounts the events of the story, which spring to life as comic vignettes and hilarious musical numbers.
Gone from the production, except when needed for comic effect, is the familiar Elizabethan dialect we associate so closely with Shakespeare. Parting, however, does not prove to be sweet sorrow, as the modern – rather blue – language allows the work a great flexibility in punch lines. Also absent is period costuming (the Montagues dress in maize and blue, Capulets in green and white), and any trace of seriousness.
Present and accounted for are jokes at everyone’s expense, including the audience. I suggest leaving your cell phone on, as incoming calls make for good laughs. Jokes frequently allude to Shakespearian works, pop culture and theater locale. For instance, Romeo is told that being banished to Mantua is not so bad, as it could have been Jackson, and Paris threatens to sell his vineyard to Lord DeVos if he cannot marry Juliet immediately. There is also a generous serving of sexual humor, and some drug references, making this an adults-only show.
Phillip Swann’s music is nothing radical, but it does provide good comedic effect. And it is well serviced by the voices of the cast, and by Accompanist and Musical Director John Dale Smith.
The cast shows good comedic timing all around, and incorporates physical and expressive humor with ease. With a small cast, most performers cover multiple roles of both genders. Bruce Green manages to play the Friar and Juliet’s nurse, sometimes simultaneously, and always to a laugh. Kalamazoo native Nathan Hosner nearly steals the show as the Prince and Paris. The lovers, played by Jason Richards and Lauren Creel, are an excellent pair and perform with great synergy.
West and Swann have done a terrific job adding dimension to roles of relatively small stature in Shakespeare’s work. Tybalt (Nathaniel Nose) sings a hilarious plea to Lord Capulet (Ron West), begging permission to kill Romeo, and giving the character a slightly psychotic mentality. Jonathan Wagner collects laughs as a pompous, egomaniacal Mercutio and as a stoned rock star of an Apothecary. It’s in these peripheral roles that the musical takes shape, and finds its stride as a comedy.
‘The People vs. Friar Laurence, The Man Who Killed Romeo and Juliet’
BoarsHead Theater, 425 S. Grand, Lansing. Wed.-Sun., through Feb. 25. Tickets: $25-$40. For information: 517-484-7805 or http://www.boarshead.org