In The Tragical Comical Fool’s Game, the Masters of SHX present a cocktail of Shakespearean characters, blended with philosophical musings, and garnished with fourth wall-breaking asides. It goes down smoothly overall, but it is missing the touch of acid that could add that extra dimension.
The action is set in an airport lounge with the Fool as your friendly bartender who quickly establishes himself as more master of ceremonies than court jester. The first traveler washed up in this purgatorial waiting room is Bella, a not quite official nun (from Measure for Measure). She is soon joined by Tony, a bumbling sailor (from Twelfth Night), and Em, an effusive, runaway wife (from Othello). Off to the side sits Katie (from Taming of the Shrew), a character who seems far more clued in to the Fool’s plans than the rest.
In between rounds of margaritas, Tony and Em chat with Bella, alternately dropping bits of their own circumstances – he’s been jilted, she’s a cheater – and trying to wheedle out of Bella details of her own story. Bella’s reluctance to share stems from her growing suspicions about how she got to this place and why she is here. Eventually, the Fool nudges Katie into getting Bella to acknowledge she must make an important decision about her future. Will she get married to the Duke of Vienna or to God and the Church?
Philosophy is the thing in this play, and the characters strut and fret plenty as they ponder big existential questions: What is free will? Is choice possible? What is real? The ideas are handled lightly and playfully, which makes the hour-long run a pleasant one, if ultimately unsatisfying. As the characters’ delightful banter goes round and round, getting loopier and loopier, neither the characters nor the audience arrive at much clarity on how Bella will reach a resolution on these questions.
The Tragical Comical Fool’s Game
closes July 26, 2018
Details and tickets
This production has a solid ensemble cast who delivered engaging, if meandering, performances. The Fool, Tony, and Em exuded an eager and frequently delightful charm, while Bella radiated magnetic reserve and Katie, bemused detachment. While Bella’s and Katie’s different tones provided contrast to the other three’s exuberance, I felt like the characters were on separate planes. That disconnection among them made it hard to believe that any of these characters could aide the Fool in his plan to guide Bella to her proper story ending.
The production design was spare, using folding chairs and cloth-covered tables to create the airport lounge space. Costuming consisted of mostly street wear, and four characters wore pieces of tape with character labels written on them. I’m all for low-budget meta costuming choices, but only Bella’s “NUN” was easily legible from the audience. The scene transitions were often punctuated by startling sonic clashes and flashing lights, which hinted at something more sinister on the horizon than ever came to pass. The most evocative bits of atmosphere, the Fool’s pitch-perfect airport announcer’s voice relaying the flight delays and the humorously fancy margarita straws, left me wishing for a few more touches like those.
The Tragical Comical Fool’s Game has a lot of love for Shakespeare and gives new life to a few characters whose endings in their original plays weren’t all that satisfying. Fans of the Bard will enjoy hanging out with these characters for a time and getting to explore different dimensions to them. Just don’t be too surprised when all the margaritas these philosophers drink make them less able to illuminate the big questions.
The Tragical Comical Fool’s Game (Or, Nun of Your Business) by Ed Loboda, Lizzie Hardy, Rob Leinheiser, Rosanna Thornwood, Susannah Morgan Eig. Producer/Director: Susannah Morgan Eig. Sound Designer: Dylan Sullivan. Lighting Designer: James Morrison. Graphic Designer: Gerardo Velasquez. Production Stage Manager: Joshua Stout. Featuring: Edward Loboda (Fool/Duke), Rosanna Thornwood (Bella), Chloe Mikala (Katie), Rob Leinheiser (Tony), Madeleine Smith (Em). Presented at Capital Fringe Festival 2018 . Reviewed by Kate Gorman.