This week, Post5 Theatre exposed themselves unabashedly for being irreverent Shakespeare producers, by performing The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) Revised. And Saturday night, they wrap up the Shakespeare season with Much Ado About Nothing, a 1950’s themed adaptation on the virtually ancient play. They have performed much of that sort of material: lively, outrageous adaptations of classic stuff. It is their niche. So when it comes to the presentation of The Complete Works, I think they blew their lid.
It quite literally attempts to cram 37 plays into a single show (97 minutes actually) while inviting audience participation and improvisation. They acheive this by performing a short version of Romeo & Juliet at the start, Hamlet at the end, with everything else homogenized in between. Sometimes they cover something just by talking about it. The performance was two hours, plus intermission, because they were having too much fun.
The resurrection of William Shakespeare’s many dead works started to feel like wading through a Bardo, haunted by past lives and hungry ghosts. It was like watching a wrathful diety gobbling the old soul of theatre up, just to rebuild him — you should be impressed with my punnery.
It was a lovely night in the new courtyard at Post5 Theatre, located in a converted church in Sellwood, far away from their roots at Milepost 5 (although they retained the name association). It was a packed yard, and folks were ready to laugh. Good moods were generated with a pay-what-you-will box office and bar with all proceeds benefiting the construction of a wheelchair ramp into the playhouse.
Chip Sherman opened ceremonies with his graceful charms, introducing Philip J Berns, posing as a great scholar — the twist is set up immediately when apparently the audience is more expert than him. He finds Ty Boice, posing as an audience member, to ridicule and look smart against. Eventually they reveal the deal and get moving on the complete works, dressed in thrift shop tights, their own ill-fitting makeshift codpiece, on a ramshackle stage set.
The actors are all pretty different but equally absorbing. Chip is so symmetrically good-looking, he probably belongs on screen, yet his range is probably best kept in theatre. Philip is impressively sharp and limber, but oh so very small, geeky, and twitchy, so that I was fascinated by his every move. Ty reminds me of California, the tall blonde surfer look and demeanor, despite being quite fit, he comes off as the clumsy one. Their dynamic pulled these elements together: Ty the male bimbo, Philip the fraudulent-intelligentsia, and Chip the straight man.
Together, they perform everything, leading us through a messy chaotic depiction of Shakespeare. It was a riot, passionately funny, and absurd. I’m not sure what is more compelling to watch: actors having great fun or actors becoming their dramatic persona. Anytime actors go beyond the basic job requirement of hitting all their lines, it is transcendent, and in this case, you wouldn’t know if they hit their lines or not, they’re enjoying themselves too much.
One thing about what appeared to be the scripted humor of this play, it comes originally from 1987, when homosexuality was still in the closet, when butt jokes were still crude, when racial stereotyping was still funny, and so I felt a little bit like we were both bringing back Shakespeare from the dead, but also 20th century humor. Times are changing fast, man.
Some say that Shakespeare was more low-brow than it is today, that raucous audience participation was common, and that, at least for the comedies, some improvisation was allowed, and you might conclude that The Complete Works honors Shakespeare and his era more directly than myriad reproductions of his classic presentations. Moreover, that Post5 celebrates that aspect of Shakespeare more boldly than anything else (in town). I can say at least that if you want Shakespeare’s rock solid stories but not the old pentameter, Post5 is your house.
At the end of the play, some stage announcements, they said that the final night of Much Ado About Nothing this weekend would be “…drunk.” So I would suggest checking that out. Have fun.