Stage Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Toil and Trouble Burlesque

Two nights ago, my wife Lisa and I caught Toil and Trouble Burlesque‘s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We had an absolute blast.

Now if you look up “burlesque,” you may find something like this:

Burlesque is a literary, dramatic or musical work intended to cause laughter by caricaturing the manner or spirit of serious works, or by ludicrous treatment of their subjects.
  • Wiki

Now what we think of when we hear burlesque–the bawdy variety show acts–is more a nineteenth and twentieth century American  re-interpretation of the term.

And what you get from Toil and Trouble is a great amalgam of the two: a not-so-serious look at serious work (Shakespeare) and great-looking performers taking off most of their clothes.

Which is, as you all know, right in my wheelhouse.

Well, the show itself was the Shakespearean script cut to bare essentials (see what I did there?), focusing only on the lovers, the fairies, and the rude mechanicals. Theseus and Hippolyta? Who needs ’em. Indian boy? Nah. And do we miss any of that? Not. At. All. Layered on top of that were songs–some played live on piano, some sung over amplified music…everything from pop songs to a winking homage to Hamilton (bravo, Oberon, bravo)– knowing commentary in modern (bawdy and sometimes blue) vernacular, and (as I mentioned before) great-looking performers taking off most of their clothes.

Angie Hobin, creative producer for the show, has done a great job balancing all the different aspects (I’m pretty sure she adapted the piece). There’s a great bit that pulls a (seeming) member of the audience up on stage to become Puck. On a meta level, this is really kind of brilliant: the audience surrogate is the most mischievous entity in the play (and if we‘re here to see Shakespearean burlesque, aren’t we all a little–or a lot–mischievous?). The weirdness of the relationship resolutions gets called out (“because that is the way the play ends!”).  And the song choices are pretty spot-on (though the sound system overpowered even the singers’ mic at times).

Were there liberties taken? You bet. But then all great Americans do that:

It was a blast. We cheered. We hooted. We hollered. We laughed.

I had seen an earlier Toil and Trouble production, a kind of “greatest hits” package, which was great; and honestly, going in, I wan’t sure it would work having the same performers appear repeatedly (you know, taking away from the variety aspect), but it actually worked quite well. I’m not quite sure how many other plays could take the liberties taken, but I’m thinking quite a few: As You Like It, Merry Wives, The Tempest… but of course none of them are as well known to the general audience (and therefore, ripe for knowing satire)… So the grand experiment worked wonderfully (though I think I’m still partial to the revue–gee, I’d have to see more to make that judgment call…see more Shakespearean burlesque? … oh darn).

If when they do this again (or the greatest hits revue-type shows), you should check ’em out…

you know–if you’re into Shakespeare and (again, say it with me people:) great-looking performers taking off most of their clothes…

 

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