Cymbeline Friday Non-Film Focus: Toil and Trouble

On Tuesday, I took a break from writing about Shakespeare to seeing some Shakespeare. But not exactly as you’d expect. I headed down to LA to catch Toil and Trouble Burlesque’s The (unrequited) Love Show.

Like I said, not what you’d expect. Frankly, I didn’t even know what to expect. I’d seen a burlesque show at a Film Noir event a couple of years back, and it was a good time. I mean, what’s not to love: beautiful performers with (artistically) fewer and fewer clothes, and some laughs. And to merge that–somehow–with my favorite writer in the world? What could go wrong?

Nothing. Nothing went wrong. I had an absolute blast.

The three-set performance was emceed by “Sexy William Shakespeare”… comic kink with a wink toward the crowd. Rang a bell inside his puffy shirt (for as long has he kept it on), every time he told a pun, as a cue to drink. If people actually did, I hope they Uber-ed. He would introduce the acts, usually done with some kind of preface to the play we were entering. And then we’d have a performer come on and either interact with him or another performer as they ACTUALLY ACTED SHAKESPEARE! Short scenes to be sure, but not just some one-off line; I’m talking speeches, mini-scenes.

Of course, these mini-scenes were only prelude to the actual performances. I’m a total neophyte when it comes to burlesque, but I’m assuming there are different genres (schools?) of strip-tease. We saw sultry stripping, a fan dance, an aerial routine, and a kind of miming out of a story while stripping to the music. No full nudity, of course. G-strings, pasties, sometimes even more was still left on the performer…but much more left on the floor (gathered up at the end of each routine by “sexy Cupid,” a crowd-pleasing male performer…who didn’t strip — he was already down to the essentials).

Anyhoo– the Shakespeare. We got some out-of-the-way stuff, which was nice to see. The Two Gentlemen of Verona was the context for Julia stripping from her disguised male clothes. A female Malvolio finding the forged letter. An ongoing bit with Falstaff and Mistresses Page and Ford, building to–well, I’ll get around to that in a minute. A female Benvolio pining for Romeo. An intermission comic rap (impromptu, I believe). Venus and Adonis (the fan dance). Sexy Shakespeare performing a sonnet for an audience member brought on stage. Caliban dancing out sexual frustration. Friar John–I mean, Mercury–from Romeo and Juliet trying to deliver the note to Romeo (the story through dance, to Foreigner’s “Urgent” no less). An abandoned Helena from Midsummer (the aerial). And the finale, The Merry Wives of Windsor, with Mistresses Page and Ford tormenting Falstaff…literally: they went a little dominatrix-esque on him.

I’m not sure how to describe it. It was funny. It was at varying times beautiful, amazing, and enchanting to watch. I had a blast. But here’s the deal…I’m thinking that many of the dancers were having at least as much fun as I was. And that made it even better. I only wish I could give credit where credit is due…but I couldn’t always hear the names of the performers over the hooting and hollering of the crowd (and it was more crowded that I expected…maybe 150 – 200 people).

Like I said earlier: Attractive women. Shakespeare. T and A. Music. The Bard. Laughs. Did I mention Shakespeare? It’s really right in my wheelhouse…like I was ever NOT going to love this.

If you’re in Southern California, you should search out the Toil and Trouble Burlesque. From what I hear, they’ll be doing this Unrequited Love show again next month, and a Midsummer-themed show in August. Check ‘em out. You might even see me there for seconds…

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