When a bunch of comic book nerds get together, the conversation invariably degenerates into arguments over whether Superman is stronger than the Hulk, and if Wolverine could beat Batman. Shakespeare nerds are just as passionate about their characters, but they never get into shouting matches matching about whether Prospero could defeat Titania in a wizard duel or if Tybalt could kill Laertes in a sword fight. Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery couldn’t let the Shakespeare geeks live in harmony, so they created a story where all of the Bard’s characters meet up in a single adventure, and Shakespeare faces death at the hands of his own creations!
Kill Shakespeare first appeared as a comic book miniseries, and now it has been adapted into a live stage show. Yes, it’s a play based on a comic book based on a play. This production tells an abbreviated version of the story from the first 12 issues of the comic. Panels from the comic are projected onto a screen upstage while a company of live actors provide the voices. The performers also do live music and sound effects with a foley artist on a microphone.
Comic book fans will find many similarities between Kill Shakespeare and the Fables series. They’re both based on the idea of taking classic characters from different stories, and putting them all together in a shared continuity, then subverting what audiences expect from these familiar figures.
In Kill Shakespeare, Hamlet (Played by Stephen Heskett) washes ashore in a brave new world where all of Shakespeare’s villains are allied together in a sort of Legion of Doom. It’s a veritable league of extraordinary persons that includes Richard III (Brian Silliman), Iago (Abe Goldfarb) and Lady Macbeth (Kelley Rae O’Donnell).
Hamlet joins up with them because the nice hunchbacked fellow assures Hamlet that they are the good guys (And, Iago vouches for him too). Richard quickly convinces Hamlet to kill Shakespeare in the hope of stealing Shakespeare’s magical powers, and thus the melancholy Dane embarks on yet another murderous quest.
Elsewhere, a rebellion is brewing! Juliet (Becky Byers) and Othello (Daryl Lathon) are trying to rouse the rest of Shakespeare’s creations against Richard, with a little help from Falstaff (Sean Williams). They’ve been waiting for a prophesied hero to appear, and they think that Hamlet is the chosen one who can help them save Shakespeare from Richard’s villains.
The adventure follows the standard mythical “Hero’s Journey” template with very few deviations. What keeps the story interesting is seeing how each of Shakespeare’s characters is re-imagined. Iago is struggling to become an honest man and earn Othello’s trust, Romeo (Neimah Djourabchi) and Juliet aren’t the star-crossed lovers they once were, and Hamlet is a lot less mopey this time around. Falstaff, of course, is still Falstaff but even he gets a little twist before the show ends.
Drama nerds will find a nigh endless stream of insider references, including lots of direct quotes that are used out of context. The material isn’t a parody, but isn’t exactly reverent either. It will likely ruffle feathers of serious drama buffs, however the majority of theater folk will enjoy seeing how these characters continued to grow after their original stories ended.
This live adaptation follows the events of the comics very closely, but it has a running time of under 90 minutes. That’s a short length for something cut down from a 12-issue series. The story still holds together well enough in this abridged form, but there is a sense that it could have been a much more substantial evening of theater.
The performers are from Gideon Productions, one of the nerdier theater companies in New York. Voice work is excellent, especially Abe Goldfarb who does a weasely Iago plus an assortment of silly character voices. Mac Rogers narrates the tale in a deliberately overblown voice that parodies classic Shakespearean scenery-chewing.
People who are already fans of the Kill Shakespeare comics will no doubt enjoy seeing a live reading of the book by an accomplished group of geeky thespians. Theater people will find this to be an fun yet esoteric curiosity that explores Shakespeare’s work from a very unusual perspective.
There is one final performance of the show as of this writing, Wednesday March 5. More about the live stage adaptation can be found at www.gideonth.com, and more about the Kill Shakespeare comics is available at www.KillShakespeare.com.