Lue Douthit, the director of literary development and dramaturgy at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, famously confessed about Coriolanus “I’ll be really honest to say I can’t understand all of it all of the time.” Whether or not you understand the Complete Works of William Shakespeare from cover to cover, 43 ½: The Greatest Deaths of Shakespeare’s Tragedies is for you. Director Sun King Davis and his incredibly talented ensemble whip around from tragedy to tragedy playing out all of the deaths with quick wit, good humor, and a specificity that plays well to any level of Shakespearean knowledge.
Opening on a crime scene in which the Hamlet crew has just finished its tragic tale, we are greeted by a growing number of crime scene investigators trying to piece together how so many ended up dead. After much deliberation, and an overly aggressive FBI agent, they act out the scene to find clues to the murders.
From there the ensemble, who I cannot give enough praise to, go on to visit every Shakespeare tragedy and play out, in varying degrees of depth, all of the many deaths. They focus on the tragedies alone because, as they say, if they were to go into the histories we’d “be here all night.” Bouncing around the ornate set (the best I’ve seen in the small Fringe space since last summer’s The Last Burlesque) the cast jumps in and out of characters, breaking the fourth wall, and taking us on a journey of violence.
What Davis and company have crafted is a well thought out piece that works perfectly as a stand-alone, yet has enough in-jokes for even the most well-versed of Billy’s fans. From Hamlet to Hamilton, jokes and references are bandied about as we quickly jump from play to play.
About that beautiful set: Curtains drape the stage, setting a lovely backdrop to the show that becomes interactive with the action over the course of the play. Jen Osborn’s costumes are on point, starting in realism and ending in an absurdly wonderful bit. Seriously, that last scene alone will have anyone cringe, thinking “how are you ever going to get that clean?!”. E-Hui Woo does such a splendid job with lights, you would think she had the full use of the lights and grid of the Shakespeare Theatre Company rather than Fringe. The limited lights in the space provide almost limitless atmospheric presence to the stage. Director Davis appears in the program a second time as the sound designer and does a great job supporting the show without overshadowing the production, which is not an easy task in the Logan space.
The true strength of 43 1/2, however, lies with its ensemble. A wonderful group of actors who take on dozens of characters over the course of the show, these folks move at break-neck speed, jumping in and out of character with great precision.
closes November 13, 2016
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Ricardo Frederick Evans is wonderful as Othello, giving the character immense strength and vulnerability without the crutch of a two hour long play before the scene. Evans also delivers a highly enjoyable monologue about his personal experience auditioning for Hamilton.
Danny Rovin is, as always, a great comic device in-and-of himself. Though all the actors do well with the campy fight choreography, Bess Kaye is at her slapstick best in this show. From MacDuff to Cleopatra, she shows a deep knowledge of Shakespeare’s texts and plays them well.
Aubri O’Connor does a fine job with the Shakespeare, but really stands out as the occasional MC of the show, helping guide the audience through what they are about to witness. Jenna Berk is as adorably terrifying as a person can be, and she absolutely kills every scene she is in. Pun intended. I cannot express enough how much of a joy she is to watch in this show. Her Cordelia steals the show. Worth the cost of admission is the interactive puppet show she and Evans put on. I could watch an hour and a half of that alone.
As anything that goes up in the Logan Arts Space, the show does suffer from its surroundings. The paper thin walls let every horn and siren directly through to the house. If you can tune that out, however, you are in for a wonderful evening of theatre.
43 ½: The Greatest Deaths of Shakespeare’s Tragedies directed by Sun King Davis. Featuring Jenna Berk, Ricardo Frederick Evans, Bess Kaye, Aubri O’Connor, and Danny Rovin. Set Design: Eric McMorris. Lighting: E-Hui Woo. Sound: Sun King Davis. Costumes: Jen Osborn. Produced by Nu Sass Productions. Reviewed by Christian Sullivan.