The title of this fun show recalls the Sex Pistols’ smashing album, “Nevermind the Bullocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols“, and Patrick and Maxwell Denney, the ambitious co-creators, do everything they can to bring the glory of the Pistols to the glory of the Bard. It doesn’t always work, but when you combine the talents of two of the world’s greatest writers – Bill Shakespeare and Johnny Rotten – it can’t be all bad, can it?
You probably know this story, but I’ll give you the ten-second recap. Hermia (Julia Barton) loves Lysander (David Reich), but her father (Sinclair Cabocel) insists she marry Demetrius (Paul Gulley in the show I saw; Jose Rodriguez also plays him), for whom Helena (Amelia Boyle) pines. Hermia and Lysander steal away into the forests of Athens, but Helena tells on them to Demetrius, hoping that he will follow them and that she can seduce him amidst the trees.
In the meantime, the fairy king Oberon (Henry Ross), infuriated that his consort Titania (Ellie Berlyn) has not turned one of her charges over to him for service, directs his minion Puck (Henry Ragan) to get a magic potion which, placed on the eyes of Titania, will make her fall in love with the next creature she sees, no matter how offensive-looking it is. Puck does the job but suffers a little mission creep as well, putting the potion on the sleeping eyelids of both Demetrius and Lysander, causing them to both fall in love with the highly skeptical Helena.
In the further meantime, the Rude Mechanicals, under the direction of Peter Quince (Luke Withycombe), prepare a godawful version of Pyramus and Thisbe, with the fabulous ham Bottom (Stephen Kime) as Pyramus. Puck, seeing his opportunity, transforms Bottom’s head into the head of an ass, and pushes him in the direction of the sleeping Titania. More stuff happens, but since I’ve managed to name most of the actors I’ll quit here.
The production gives the play an overlay of punk rock feel, with the Mechanicals (which also includes the Denneys, Spencer Calvert and Neil Walters) doubling as a house band and the characters dressed in punk-era garb (mile-high Mohawks, leather pants, and so on). But the language remains Shakespeare’s, prudently trimmed by Patrick Denney into a fast-moving 70-minute production (Patrick Denney and Gulley direct).
Since high school and college students exclusively perform in this production, you should probably come to the show in the same frame of mind as you had when you watched the “Futures” game of young ballplayers before watching the All-Star game last Tuesday. That is to say, take pleasure in identifying the best of the young actors before you, and imagine their future careers.
Some of the actors speak too quickly, without inflection and too softly. The best advice I ever received about performing Shakespeare was to remember that the characters are real people, who communicate out of passion, need and desire, however fanciful and archaic their language is. I pass this advice on without charge.
But the leads have mostly learned this lesson already. The young lovers are excellent; Ragan successfully grafts the punk-rock ethos onto his mischievous Puck, and Kime is fabulous as the überobnoxious Bottom. To me, though, the most impressive performance is Boyle’s, who is at every moment Helena, even when our attention is elsewhere.
There are a few things that don’t work. Max Denney’s original music is terrific, but it drowns out the unmiked dialogue in crucial places, such as when Lysander wheedles for a sleeping space closer to the recumbent Hermia. So much of Shakespeare’s dialogue in the play revolves around how large Helena is, and the diminutive Boyle, fabulous as she was, is probably not the right choice for the role; throughout her fight with the much larger Hermia, Hermia complains about how much larger Helena is than she, and it’s hard to make sense of it all.
But…nevermind the bullocks. Go see Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Nevermind the Bullocks… has 6 performances, ending July 29, 2012 at Warehouse, 645 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC.
Details and tickets
Tim rates this 3 out of 5.