Pulp Shakespeare (or Bard Fiction)
Reviewed by Neal Weaver
Combined Art Forum at Theatre Asylum
Through March 8
What happens when you construct a mashup of Shakespeare with a Quentin Tarantino movie? The result is a convoluted plot, with pseudo-Elizabethan dialogue, and masses of violence, throat-cuttings, and general death and destruction, delivered via blunderbus, sword, dagger, or in one case by an overdose of cocaine.
The program tells us that the piece is based on Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino, with scenes from a score or more or writers who are mostly identified by wacky web-names, including JudasIscargot, SalieriTheFish, and clockworktomato, compiled and edited for performance by Ben Tallen, Aaron Greer, and Brian Watson-Jones, with edit and additional scenes by Aaron Lyons. (How’s that information overload?) So it fell to director Amanda McRaven to focus and impose order on this mass of material, and cast the 11 actors who mostly seem capable of playing either Shakespeare or Tarantino with aplomb.
Gary Poux plays Lord Marcellus Wallace, a feared crime boss whose very name strikes terror in the hearts of all those who hear it. He’s furious because a mysterious box has been stolen from him. We’re never told precisely what was in the box, but when opened it emits a mysterious light, suggesting that it’s either a laptop computer, or contains radioactive treasure. Sir “Butch” Coolidge (Christian Levatino) is a bearded and bare-chested swashbuckler, and Julius Winfield (Ian Verdun) is a philosophic henchman prone to stopping the action for moral discourse. Vincenzo de la Vega (Aaron Lyons) seems to be more or less the hero of the piece. He courts Marcellus’s wife, the voluptuous, sultry, red-haired Lady Mia Wallace (Victoria Hogan), and dances with her in a turn that evokes the famous dance by John Travolta and Uma Thurman, and here combines voguing with a semblance of the Elizabethan Volta. When she overdoses on cocaine, it’s up to Vincenzo to save her by thrusting a huge needle into her heart, allowing her to rise, bloody-nosed but unbowed.
In the interests of full disclosure: this writer is no fan of the Tarantino movies. I’ve always found them so boring and annoying that I’ve never managed to watch any of them in its entirety, so I am undoubtedly missing some parallels and nuances, and can only review what’s visible on the stage. The plot may be chaotic but it’s never boring, and the actors play it with flair and elan. And Shakespeare is subjected to few lashes, too. “Oh, I am slain!” reminds us of his penchant for over-literal and superfluous lines, and his Latin stage directions are mocked when toward the end, one character suggests, “Let’s exeunt.”
Aaron Lyon’s set is minimal but effective, costumer Paula Higgins effectively creates Elizabethan outfits that look like clothes rather than costumes or fancy dress, and Jeff Cardoni provides the original music.
Combined Art Form at The Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlwyd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., through March 8. (800) 838-3006, http://www.combinedartform.com.