Be to Not or Be To

That there is a professional theater company in Wellington is weird. That it´s good is even weirder. I´d never been to Wellington before. It´s so northwesterly. If I´m to believe Mapquest (and I never will again), my trip to the Studio Theatre of Wellington involves a drive from Wilton Manors to Glades Road, then a billion-mile odyssey west to 441. Having done this, I must drive another billion miles north to Lake Worth Road, passing through country that reminds me simultaneously of Shreveport and some as-yet-unwritten postmodern treatment of Dante´s Inferno. One of these days, folks are gonna figure out that the Fourth Circle of Hell is a gated community filled with endless coffee-shop franchises, surrounded on all sides by sawgrass crisscrossed with unpaved utility roads and dotted with ugly trees.

You´ll see a lot of this if you follow Mapquest´s advice, but even if you do the sensible thing and hop off I-95 at Lantana, it´s hard to ignore the vibe out thataway. Wellington´s entire aesthetic is predicated upon a deeply unnatural fusion of suburban shake ´n´ bake wannabe classiness and pioneer spirit, and that aesthetic is stamped on just about every sodded inch of the place. It is not a sight that suggests the incubation of high art.

And yet, there we were, Mom ´n´ me, at the Studio Theatre of Wellington. The theater is set in an industrial park, where folks who tint windows line up side by side with musical studios packed into what might be converted warehouses. The theater, we learned, is housed in one of these. Outside, a small crowd was laughing and discussing Notes on a Scandal, which one middle-aged woman kept referring to as Notes of a Scandal. These people didn´t know one another, but they were enjoying themselves all the same. It reminded me of the preshow scene outside the Sol Theatre in Fort Lauderdale, minus the French lesbians dressed as Amelia Earhart.

The little space outside the theater was decorated with torches and a single bench, seeming to function as a de facto lobby. Step inside the door and you´re looking at rows of tightly packed benches, a few white chairs, and a stage, obscured by a rather grand-looking red (velvet?!) curtain, which is simultaneously absurd and charming. The room is comfy but incredibly compact. All night, I felt like I was watching theater inside a Geo Metro.

And that´s just fine. The theater´s current production, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), lends itself to cozy little rooms. The play was the first full work from the Reduced Shakespeare Company, and it´s still its best. After The Complete Works broke out of the milieu of Scotland´s Fringe Festival in 1987, it ran for a record-breaking nine years at Criterion Theatre in London´s West End. Flush from the success of its first show, the company carried its original idea abridgment, abridgment, abridgment to ludicrous extremes, taking on the Bible, American history, the canon of Western lit, the millennium, and Hollywood. Soon, it will produce an abridgment of George Lucas´ Star Wars hexology. It will not be funny, because the company´s lost its mojo. No matter how smart a formula is, it´s still a formula, and nobody will remember a product like Star Wars (Abridged) in a hundred years.

But folks will remember The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged), just because it´s so goddamned funny. Seeing it performed today, you can still feel how novel this must have seemed to company members when they were penning it, how delighted and surprised they must have been by their own capacity for wit and charm. These qualities are transferable from production to production and can pull moments of sympathetic novelty, delight, and charm out of any group of talented actors willing to commit wholeheartedly to an hour and a half of idiocy. They don´t need a lot of props; they don´t need a lot of space. All they need is an audience and some verve.

The Studio Theatre of Wellington supplies the audience; Kathryn L. Davis, Jeffrey Davis, and Joshua Holihan bring the verve. The piece opens with Kathryn giving a monologue about cell phones and oxygen masks, and then, after a few introductory formalities during which the audience is accused of having been ¨sodomized by soap opera,¨ we are plunged into an abridgment of Romeo & Juliet. It´s hard to say how long it lasts ten minutes? 15? but it is majestically dumb, a rampage of brain-damaged, cross-dressing sacrilege that makes respecters of literature larf unto shame. During the balcony scene, Jeffrey Davis´ ¨Juliet¨ gets head, and Kathryn´s ¨Romeo¨ receives the charming nickname ¨Butt Love¨ as in, ¨Call me but love, and I´ll be new Baptized...¨ This is funnier than it looks in print.

The actors rush into the parts with real gusto, especially the men. Jeff Davis is the standout performer in the play´s first act, tackling ¨Juliet¨ not like an actor but like a football player and ratcheting himself up to balls-out levels of craziness that I shouldn´t even try to describe. It´s a helluva thing to see. Holihan dominates in the Act II-spanning rendition of Hamlet by portraying the titular character as a cartoonicized portrait of operatic angst, hiding behind his cape and regularly exploding in frenzies of bright-eyed, sweaty-browed revenge-lust. The Hamlet here is the best part of the show, and the Reduced Shakespeare Company obviously felt the same way. Having done such a splendid job, the actors repeat the performance, but faster. Then they do it backward. This too is funnier than it looks in print. When King Hamlet´s ghost jumped out and said ¨!ooB¨ (that would be Boo! backward), I almost pissed myself.

Still, you´ve gotta draw certain conclusions about any piece in which the standout moment involves a man yelling ¨!ooB,¨ and one of them is this: It´s not very smart. Shakespeare people won´t love it. They´ll be mortified that King Lear has been reduced to a single line; they´ll hate that all of Shakespeare´s historical plays have been crammed into a three-minute football game; they´ll loathe Coriolanus´ dismissal from the roster because of the word anus in its title. But this is not a production for Shakespeare people.

Rather, this is a production for folks who want to get out and laugh helplessly at some homegrown theater. As desires go, this one isn´t as simple as it seems, especially out in the suburban boondocks. An intimate venue? Capable actors? Fun script? Good vibes? All together in the same place at the same time? Shit, man. You won´t find that in Weston.

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Brandon K. Thorp