(An Historical-Pastoral-Tragical Comedy In Five Acts)
Produced by The Strange Tree Group & The Lord Chamberlin’s Men
At The Building Stage, Chicago
Hilariously smart, clever written and energetically performed spook of Shakespeare is good time!
Emily Schwartz didn’t write this terrific work, rather she produced it. It sure is in the fine tradition of clever, smart and wacky comedy we have grown to love from The Strange Tree Group in shows like The Dastardly Ficus, Funeral Wedding (The Alvin Play), The Mysterious Elephant and Hey, Mr. Spacemen.
The first thing that strikes you upon entering the space at The Building Stage on Carpenter Street is the concession stand offering wine, beer and soda. We are then ushered into a fantastic set (design by Jay Neander) that aptly depicts the Old Globe Theatre. There are balconies, large doors, a staircase -each made from recycled sets, from boxes of old table games complete with a brick wall made from old VCRs. As much as I was impressed with this ambitious set, the two musicians – Elizabeth Bagby (composer/arrange) and Wes Clark. These two tireless artists mixed Foley Art with their English folk tunes. They added much to the production.
Be sure to read the hilarious notes in the program to acquaint yourself with the preposterous, yet wholly workable plot that long-time Shakespeare patron and Idaho Shakespeare Festival company member Tom Willmorth has penned. Willmoth told me that they play was written over several years beginning as a sketch comedy. King Phycus is a farce performed in the Renaissance style with the look and feel that would have pleased The Bard.
From the Prologue, we get into the spirit with Willmorth’s rhyming verse with references to King Phycus being a found play performed by “…six players, mostly hacks…” The six players play 31 characters in a manic paced, physically challenging, and verbal comedic turn worthy of a standing ovation. There is a wonderful parody from the opening number from The Music Man that is a hoot!
The storyline combines such Shakespearean works as King Lear, Hamlet, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar into a new ‘found’ play that is full of terrific wordplay, double entendres and stage combat skillfully spooking and referencing the original source material to exude humor. There is romance, warfare, class struggles, quirky, horny and crazy characters each delightfully played to their comedic extremes. Belly laughs abound from the six players.
Michael T. Downey, as King Phycus, Caesar, Sampson, Peter, Doctor, Earl of Sandwich leads this fabulous cast. Bob Kruse as Gloucestor, Brutus, Goldenberg and Athol clever moved back and forth from each character skillfully. Carolyn Klein, as MacBetty, Gertrude, Nurse and Levus; Scott Cupper, as Friar Don, Chorus, Potpan, Sardonicus, Wales and Gravedigger; Delia Baseman, as Juliet, Soothsayer, Witch, Gregola, Clown, S oldier #2 and Lad; and Stuart Ritter, as Hamlet, Romeo and Extranius – each had several moments to star and strut their talents. You’d be hard pressed to find a more articulate and verbally skilled cast whose projection of many tongue-twisters contained spot-on timing. King Phycus is indeed an ensemble triumph!
While Shakespeare patrons will cherish King Phycus, the references still will get newbies to The Bard to laugh because they are clearly and cleverly written and presented. This is one funny good time. Once Willmorth trims the show from 2 hours and 35 minutes to a swift 2 hours and 15 minutes, it’ll be even more enticing. As it now plays, it sure packs enough belly laughs to leave you pleasantly entertained.
At The Building Stage, 412 N.Carpenter, Chicago, IL, caall773-598-8240, www.strangetree.org tickets $25, $15 Thursdays for Industry, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7 pm, running time is 2 hours, 35 minutes with intermission, through July 31, 2010