Tuesday, October 15

Portrayal of Shakespeare relationship short on comedy


Portrayal of Shakespeare relationship short on comedy

‘Dammit’ crams too many of bard’s works in show in failed try at
lighthearted biographical sketch

By Jennifer Richmond

Daily Bruin Staff

One of the most-read playwrights of our time is William
Shakespeare. He’s studied, he’s revered and he’s honored with
several festivals around the world. But how much do we really know
about the man behind such works as "Romeo and Juliet," "Richard
III" and "The Taming of the Shrew?"

Playwright Seth Panitch attempts to change that with his new
comedy "Dammit Shakespeare." Unfortunately, he fails.

Although the production sheds some new light on the relationship
between William Shakespeare (Ken Clement) and his leading actor,
Richard Burbage (Panitch), too many details are missing and too
many episodes are too confusing for the comedy to work.

Part of the problem begins with Panitch’s effort to include as
many of Shakespeare’s plays into his production as possible without
going over a two hour time limit. So, unless you know all of
Shakespeare’s works backwards and forwards, you’ll be lost for at
least a quarter of the production.

Two scenes make this problem obvious.

In the first, Burbage doesn’t want to risk losing his newfound
confidant, Shakespeare, to a newfound love-interest, Sarah. To show
what kind of a harlot he’s getting involved with, the two begin a
dialogue straight out of Shakespeare’s "Othello."

Although obviously a metaphor for their current situation, the
only way one knows the scene is being used as such is because
Shakespeare has just finished giving Burbage a brief synopsis of
his newest play, in which Burbage will take the role of Iago. While
the scene from "Othello" is brilliantly intertwined into the
comedy’s dialogue, a later use of Shakespeare’s words is completely
lost.

After Shakespeare breaks up with Sarah, he explains to the
audience that women wouldn’t be mentioned in his next play. But as
soon as he’s finished impressing this upon the on-lookers, Burbage
comes out and gives a woman-bashing soliloquy. While the soliloquy
itself is a delight to watch and very funny to hear, its context is
never made clear.

For some reason Panitch also chose to have characters in the
play that seem to have little or no bearing to the story. Sure,
Edward Allen (Burbage’s main competition) and Ben Johnson
(Shakespeare’s main competition) make sense, but people like Henry
Condell (Panitch again) and Sigmund Freud (Clement again) leave
questions.

What the hell does Freud have to do with Shakespeare? The most
obvious answer: NOTHING. It’s a very strong grasp at straws that
serves as an annoyance rather than as another comical scene.

But some credit has to be given to Panitch: while he’s obviously
unclear on the concept of comedy writing, on the acting front,
Burbage and Chorus are actually quite funny.

The Chorus talks to the audience and breaks the fourth wall by
yelling at the crew if something goes wrong. Because Chorus opens
the show, it starts off great and leaves the audience craving more.
That’s when it stops short. In the next scene between Shakespeare
and Burbage, the Chorus loses its spontaneity. The lines sound
forced and there’s no real bite to anything being said.

It seems that only when Panitch’s characters talk to the
audience is life breathed back into the production. When they’re
talking to each other, the comedy suddenly goes from hilarity to
boring history. And, unfortunately, the production is really just
that, a history lesson on the life and times of Richard Burbage
while he knew William Shakespeare.

STAGE: "Dammit Shakespeare." Written by Seth Panitch. Directed
by Gregory Gleidman. Starring Seth Panitch and Ken Clement. Running
through March 6 at the Globe Playhouse. Performing Friday through
Sunday at 8 p.m. TIX: $15 and $10 with a valid student ID. For more
info call (213) 466-1767.

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