Architecturally inspired by the Globe Theater in London, the Shakespeare Tavern reflects its English heritage in the design and placement of the wooden tables, as well as the aroma of made-from-scratch dinner options. Of course I had to partake in the mouth-watering cuisine. After much deliberation, I chose the Cornish pasty (although the cheese ravioli and butternut squash sounded delicious) to keep with the full English experience. The seasoned beef was wrapped in a flaky crust and served with the Tavern’s homemade ketchup—yum!
As the lights dimmed, Jeff Watkins, artistic director of the Atlanta Shakespeare Company (ASC), entered the stage to warmly welcome the audience and commenced the evening. The Tavern presents an interactive performance, in which the actors address and interact with the audience. Since I attended a “preview performance,” a sort of final dress rehearsal before the official opening, the cast and crew ironed out any last-minute kinks by performing in front of a live audience.
Although the errors were few, a couple of mistakes did occur during the performance; however, by acknowledging the slip-ups, the cast capably recovered and created memorable moments exclusively for that audience. When the lights failed to rise at the beginning of a scene change, Mary Russell (the princess of France), without missing a beat remarked on the sudden eclipse. The audience erupted in laughter and applause at her wit and quick thinking.
Although the ASC performed the entire Shakespeare play, the audience wasn’t overwhelmed by the Shakespearean colloquialisms. The playbill included a short summary of the play, but more importantly, the talented actors brought the dialogue to life so anyone could understand the jokes and the humor based on the actors’ expressions, portrayals and insinuations. Since much of Shakespeare’s humor is situational, the ASC actors expertly contextualized the dialogue for the audience’s amusement and comprehension.
The Atlanta Shakespeare Company made this performance uniquely their own by including a tip of the hat to Monty Python, as well as including entertaining renditions of the Moonwalk and the Macarena. Although all of the actors are accomplished and talented, a couple outshone the rest by capturing the audience’s collective attention any time they appeared on stage.
Show-Stealer: Jeff McKerley as Berowne. Of all of the king’s men, Berowne is the most verbose and witty. And Jeff McKerley executes the wit and humor with matchless timing and precision. With a storyteller’s inflection and presentation, McKerley performed his lines in a relatable fashion with comedic antics and execution. McKerley’s finesse isn’t limited to his knowledge and execution of Shakespearean dialogue; his true genius is reflected in the audience’s response to him. In Act IV, as Berowne watched his fellow students from above and directed his running commentary to the audience, the audience wasn’t encumbered by any obscure Shakespearean phrasing but captured the meaning through McKerley’s relatable presentation and uproarious antics.
Show-Stealer: Matt Felten as Moth (Armado’s page). Throughout the play, Felten successfully presents amusing and, at times, tongue-in-cheek banter. However, in the play-within-a-play, Felten carries his performance to the next level. Throwing off the normal conventions, Felten attacks a giant stuffed snake, clothed in a loincloth (and shorts). And just when you think Felten has defeated the snake, it mysteriously comes back to life, wherein Felten attacks the snake with renewed, diabolical vigor. I laughed until I cried. Felten embraced his character and played it to perfection, leaving the audience weak from laughter.
Honorable Mentions: Jeff Watkins, as the Spanish aristocrat Armado, kept a consistent Spanish accent throughout the play (better than most Hollywood actors). His character’s feigned ignorance (and not not-so-feigned ignorance) matched perfectly with Felten’s irony, evoking such comedic partnerships as Lewis and Martin or Abbott and Costello. A recent addition to the ASC, Jonathan Horne, played the character of Dumaine. As Dumaine read his love poem to the audience, Horne managed to stay in character, even addressing the audience as if they were reacting to him when the audience laughed hysterically at Longaville. The subtle reactions to the audience fit the character and the situation perfectly.
Laura Cole aptly directed this stellar cast in Shakespeare’s early comedy. The interaction and playful banter between the cast members suggest a familiarity that breeds great acting. Because the actors themselves were relaxed and having fun, the audience was comfortable to enjoy themselves too. In nearly every scene, Shakespeare’s humor was hilariously portrayed by the ASC. However, since much of Shakespeare’s humor is fairly bawdy and adult oriented, I would caution parents against bringing children under the age of 13. Nonetheless, the ASC tailors each performance to each audience, playing off the audience’s reactions. Each performance at the Tavern is truly a unique and entertaining experience.
The ASC will be performing Love’s Labour’s Lost at The New American Shakespeare Tavern through November 27. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.shakespearetavern.com/. The show’s running time is approximately three hours including one intermission.
– Sue Cochran