Adapted by Robert Kauzlaric.
Based on the novel by David Blixt.
Directed by Chris Hainsworth.
Produced by Lifeline Theatre, Chicago.
To See Or Not to See? There Is No Question.
There is a lot of theatre happening in Chicago. Forty bucks can get you into most shows, and could possibly get you into the same show twice. But maybe you’re tired-out from Chicago’s robust offerings. Maybe the emotionally groundbreaking relationship dramas are no longer groundbreaking enough—or perhaps too groundbreaking: you want your ground back; you want things to resolve easily, without tears or sweat or cussing or new ideas to wrestle; you want to stroll along your ground, oblivious that it ever was broken, and bask in distraction from all the too-true-to-life drama in the world and on the stage. Your wish is Her Majesty’s Will.
For two-and-a-half short hours, be transported back to 16th Century Elizabethan England, where William Shakespeare (Javier Ferreira) is yet but a schoolteacher hiding out in Lancashire under the name “Will Falstaff.” No doubt, a rather ignoble beginning for such a famous writer who gave us some pretty decent plays. But Will’s obscurity doesn’t last long, for into his mundane life traipses one Christopher Marlowe (Bryan Bosque)—known to intimates as “Kit”—disguised as a lusty wench and pursued by some big thugs. Will chases off the thugs only to discover that he’s unwittingly entangled himself in a plot of espionage!
Marlowe, you see, is a spy in the service of Her Majesty, and he’s on his way back to London to deliver a coded message that, it turns out, tells of a plot against the queen’s life! Those darned Catholics! With Will roped-in due to circumstances, the two travel to London together (pursued by those thugs) only to discover that the treasonous plot against the queen is more hairy than they first baldly thought. Oh, what balderdash and ballyhoo await them—and you!
I cannot speak to David Blixt’s novel any more than I can speak to the factual (in)accuracy of this play—a play, granted, that lays no claim to being accurate. What I can speak to is—had I not been present in the capacity of reviewer, I would have walked out of the theater before intermission and never looked back. (Think of all the things one can accomplish in two hours!)
The press release describes this production as “An irreverent comedy that imagines Shakespeare’s ‘lost years’”—the years for which we lack historical record of his life and activities—“as a rousing romp through the streets and across the stages of Elizabethan London.” To that, I chuckle. “Romp” is fitting, but surely “irreverent” is a misnomer: something so inane and infantile cannot possibly bear the prestige of “the irreverent.” We must hold to some standards.
Yet, it is hard to describe (and review) a show as absurd and vacuous as this one is. It makes Ionesco look like Mamet, and Mamet look like the Prime Mover. To start, we have our leading men: Kit Marlowe, a dandy so flamboyant he’d pale the mascara of Jeffree Star; and Will Shakespeare, a reserved young man with low self-confidence stemming from daddy issues. (Talk about humanizing the patron saint of theatre!) Together, this duo makes up the first 16th century buddy-comedy.
And what kind of trouble does such a duo run into? <Input every buddy-comedy shtick ever> You get it all, here, plus a witty dose of Shakespearean allusions, courtesy of David Blixt, who makes plain his familiarity with Shakespeare’s lore and plays. Mistaken and assumed identities, men in drag, latent homosexual tension, ambiguous subterfuge, boneheaded villains, slapstick action, and more (boring) slow-motion sword fights than you could ever hope to see—are Her Majesty’s Will.
But really—What is this play? It’s a buddy-adventure comedy, otherwise known as low-stakes entertainment. The thrill is not can they do it (i.e. save the queen), but how they do it. How they get out of their confounded messes is what’s entertaining. Or at least that’s the idea. I had a hard time being entertained on account everything seemed so downright trivial and daft. For instance, after Will and Kit set off for London, they are overtaken by the boneheaded villains for the first time in the woods or some such place. Will quickly pretends he’s some cleric, and then Kit joins in by pretending he’s some important Spaniard. The boneheaded villains, being boneheaded, quickly eat this up, falling on their knees and crossing themselves and apologizing for the mistake. Funny? Maybe—in a child’s cartoon. But on the stage before an audience of adults? I did not laugh once—and I’m practically a child myself!
If the substance of the hijinks relies on its referential association to Shakespeare’s works, lore, and time—at most it is clever. But clever only gets me through the first twenty minutes. This is probably why, in the second act, we’re introduced to Will’s internal conflict: to become his own man, apart from his father’s influence. To this, again, I chuckle: are we honestly expected to feel anything for Will’s conflict—now, after over an hour of nonsensical hijinks? But then we’re treated to some short rallies on art between Will and two other sophisticates. Again, the shifts in tone to “weighty” matters only serve to accentuate how absurd this play really is: one minute our lead characters (caricatures, really) are involved in a slapstick brawl, the next minute they’re discussing art—or, even more textually unmotivated, embracing for a passionate kiss (twice).
Lifeline Theatre has announced their 2017-18 KidSeries Season. It’s supposed to begin in October, but, really, I think this show’s an early teaser. It is a great play for kids—or the inner kid, if your inner kid likes Nickelodeon. Aside from the production value of this show (an impressive set with lots of smoke-machine action), there is literally nothing of redemptive value to be seen here—and, I maintain, nothing but the very broadest idea of entertainment: distraction. Save your forty bucks, or go stream Stir Crazy.
Playing at Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago. Tickets are $40, with $30 tickets for seniors and military personnel and $20 tickets for students. For tickets and information, call 773-761-4477. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 4:00 p.m. through July 16th. Running time is 150 minutes with one intermission.