Media Thursday: “The Madhouse” by Toil and Trouble Burlesque

It’s Thursday, and time for a little Shakespeare-related media review. And night before last, I caught the latest burlesque revue by Toil and Trouble Burlesque, “The Madhouse.”

Allrightythen, you–if you’ve been reading closely–know I dig what the folks at Toil and Trouble bring to the table. I discovered their stuff nearly a year ago when I happened upon the ad for their then-upcoming “The (unrequited) Love Show.” And I’ve pretty much been a fan-boy since, interviewing their creative producer Angie Hobin for the podcast (which I really need to get back to–note to self), and catching last fall’s stripped-down (pun totally intended) production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. So yeah, fan-boy.

But no amount of fan-boy-dom can negate what I, my wife, and four other friends saw two nights ago in North Hollywood. The production is another revue, but unlike their earlier love show, it was not just a string of scenes, put together by an overriding theme, overseen by a narrator who kept the action going. No, it was that, but this time they wove it into a kind of narrative: the show opened with a “sexy Hamlet” character mourning over the grave of his dead father, only to be visited by the voice of said-dead father who spurs him on to revenge; Hamlet agrees then decides to cover his tracks by acting mad (so far, so Shakespearean). Only he doesn’t know how to act mad. Now–and I’m paraphrasing here: if there was only some playwright whose works contain characters who are crazy so he could learn. If only. Jokes and puns and knowing winks, and we’re off and running.

The Madhouse by Toil and Trouble Burlesque
The Madhouse by Toil and Trouble Burlesque

A great talented cast of 10 (4 men and 6 women) then takes us through a tour of crazy characters, not only with mini-scenes and monologues, but use of music, pop songs, more jokes, puns, and knowing winks, as well as–oh, yeah–the old-school down-to-their-pasties removal of clothes. We get Hamlet, Ophelia, Othello and Desdemona, Cleopatra, Juliet, Lear, the Macbeths,  It was a blast, sure… and the music, songs, comedy, and stripping would have taken care of that.

But, no, dear reader, there’s something else at work here. Not to wax too poetic or philosophical here, but what makes the show for me is the “knowing” part of “knowing winks”: the production is very smart about its Shakespeare. We get a two-part mini-story on Joan la Pucelle, played by the cute-as-a-button Kim Dalton, that was good and standard as they took us to her burning at the stake, but instead of showing us the fiends the theatrical audience would see in The First Part of Henry VI, they give us the vision of the (not-so) Virgin Mary that Joan sees in her head. We see her madness. Good stuff. Combine that with a King Lear (the Dread Pirate Dusty[?]) whose breakdown comes in a storm, in which he pulls a little visual meta-allusion to Singing in the Rain, and a great and incredibly seductive Lady M (Dominique Trix)–poor Mackers never stood a chance…well, you’ve got yourself something that the Bard aficionados can appreciate beyond the baring of skin by a troupe of pretty damned fine (and damned fine) performers.

Toil and Trouble Burlesque has become successful enough to now produce monthly performances, and they’ll be repeating this revue next month (May 29th, to be exact) before doing a revival of their Midsummer this summer. That one’s good and fun. This one’s damned near close to great.

If this sort of thing floats your boat, do not miss it.

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