Entertainment » Theatre

The Improvised Shakespeare Company

by Kathryn  Ryan
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Oct 23, 2013
Blaine Swen, Brendan Dowling, and Joey Bland
Blaine Swen, Brendan Dowling, and Joey Bland  (Source:Ari Scott)

Imagine a ninety-minute play performed, without intermission, and created out of whole cloth. The show, on this evening entitled, "Ted Cruz Goes to Washington," courtesy of a suggestion by an audience member, is told in verse with rhyming lines and every "thee" and "thou" imaginable.

That was the production presented by "The Improvised Shakespeare Company" at Broward Center for the Performing Arts this past Saturday Night.

The plot was a genius mix of bits from several of the bard's greatest works including: "Richard the III," "Romeo and Juliet," "Macbeth," "Hamlet," "Henry V" and "The Taming of the Shrew" among others.

Not only do the actors have to be thoroughly versed in the plots and characters of Shakespeare's plays, they must also speak the lines in iambic pentameter, a meter limiting the speaker to ten sounds per line.

Apropos to its subject matter, the story includes references to: The Tea Party, the 'birther' movement, healthcare reform, "No Child Left Behind" and both Bush one and two. Other topical references abound such as 'wet willies' and rap music.

The play begins, a la "Romeo and Juliet," with a prologue, delivered by Joey Bland, that encapsulates the basic tale, said in verse with rhyming couplets. This is being made up on the spot, with nary a rehearsal or a script.

The story is about Theadore, the Ted Cruz character, played by company owner Blaine Swen, who travels (cruises) to the capitol from his own Washington, thus named because his wife, an obsessive compulsive, is constantly washing herself. His wife is named Bianca, a reference to her constant washing as well as to Bianca, the 'perfect' wife in "The Taming of the Shrew." She is the quintessential politician's wife.

These performers easily riff off of each other in a dazzling display of clever repartee. The fact that they are improvising in rhyme and sound like they are reciting authentic Shakespearean lines makes the performance even more mind blowing.

Theadore, in turn, has a foot fetish, and in a twist on the Tea Party slogan, "Don't Tread on Me," encourages her to literally walk all over him in her bare feet, as it turns him on.

In the vein of "Macbeth" she encourages him to kill the king when he comes to visit, so Theadore can take the throne for himself. Besides, they are not even sure the king, George V, is truly English anyway, "for there is no evidence he was birthed here."

They decide to pour poison in his ear, a reference to the way in which Hamlet's father was murdered, while Bianca continually queries, "Will these hands nar be clean?" (Lady Macbeth).

One thing leads to another and eventually a rowdy group of servants, acting like the rude mechanicals from "A Midsummer Night's Dream," decide to plan a party in honor of King George's visit. The three actors are very funny in this section of the improvisation, prancing around and singing, "We are going to have a party." Later, they also rap in unison.

Embodying characters as varied as Juliet's nurse, played by Brendan Dowling, to the Earl of Gloucester, Bland, Swan and Dowling engage the audience, as each takes turns creating Shakespearean monologues as well as engaging in duet and ensemble acting scenes. These performers easily riff off of each other in a dazzling display of clever repartee. The fact that they are improvising in rhyme and sound like they are reciting authentic Shakespearean lines makes the performance even more mind blowing.

Kudos to Broward Performing Arts for booking this unusual and delightful trio. No knowledge of Shakespeare is necessary to enjoy this show. You can laugh at the topical references as well as marvel at the facile minds of the Improvised Shakespeare Company performers.

The group hails from Chicago and has performed all over the US and Canada. They have won recognition in Chicago as the best improvisational company in the city. That is saying something as Chicago is home to Second City, a training ground for some of the country's best comedians.

Methinks "The Improvised Shakespeare Company" presents the finest evening of improvisation hitherto seen at the Broward Performing Arts Center or anywhere for that matter. If "The Improvised Shakespeare Company" comes back to Fort Lauderdale next year, do not miss their show. It is sure to be laugh-out-loud funny. It is one of the most enjoyable evenings this reviewer has had at the theatre in a very long time.

"The Improvised Shakespeare Company" runs trough Oct. 25 at the Del Close Theater, 3541 N Clark St. in Tampa. For info and tickets, call 773-880-0199 or visit ticketweb.com

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