Alisa Harris, owner of theatre now, knows a winner when she sees one. Anthony Lawson’s “The Bard’s Broads” dinner-theatre show at TheatreNOW is definitely a perfect example. In fact, Lawson was commissioned to pen a sequel “The Bard is a Broad” (opening September 5th) and has a third installment in the works.
“The Bard’s Broads” premiered last year. It gave audiences insight to an evening with Master Will Shakespeare at his favorite pub and with the serving wenches who inspired his work. With the announcement of part two,
Harris decided to revive the first installment. Personally, I couldn’t have been more excited: Shakespeare, good food, booze, wonderful actors, and great jokes. What’s not to love?
Barth Mule (Lawson) is busy getting his tavern ready for the evening, so his patrons (the audience) have salads, warm rolls and drinks aplenty. His serving staff—Desde-MOAN-ah (Christina Auten) OH-phelia (Mickey Johnson) and Gertrude Stein (Liz Bernardo)—tumble in for the night. He has a young musician and man of all work, Phillip Bates (Patrick Basquill), who seems a little indisposed at the moment. (Something to do with Mona.) Mule wants to find him because tonight requires all hands on deck. They are expecting a guest of honor: Master Will Shakespeare himself (Nick Reed). Don’t be mistaken, Mule is pleased to see his other patrons and hopes they are enjoying their evening. But some issues need tending to in preparation for Master Will’s appearance.
The humor comes multi-leveled: part incredibly broad and raunchy jokes (definitely not child appropriate), paired with puns from Shakespeare’s greatest hits, and obscure but very erudite humor sprinkled on top for the intelligentsia. The writing appeals across the board and satisfies any mix of people in attendance. Don’t be misled, just because Ophelia and Desdemona are written as flighty, slutty serving wenches, Lawson still writes a strong female character (Gertie), who is by far the most intelligent onstage. Like all women of the time, she is unappreciated for her mind and capabilities. Far too smart for a woman of her era, she reads, thinks and analyzes. She marks time until she gets her father’s invention of the beer stein off the ground.
Liz Bernardo reprises the role of Gertie from last year. If anything, she has found less anger and more intensity in this production. Auten, too, has taken a different direction with her role this go ‘round. Desdemona has more anger and pointy edges as the sexy kitten she played last time; however, she is as provocative, pretty and buxom as before. At several points, she sashays through the audience and flitters with the men in attendance. (I had to catch myself to keep from jumping up and telling her to back away from my date. Yes, she is that pretty and alluring.)
Actually, Mickey Johnson is the only addition to the cast. She plays Ophelia, a role that was portrayed by Anna Gamel last year. I mostly have seen Johnson in dark and brooding roles. It’s great to see her work in a purely comedic milieu. She has a strong sense of comedic timing and plays the farcical nature of Ophelia with so much joy. It is pure delight to watch her.
Basquill as the resident musician proves nothing short of an inspired choice. He embodies the classic triple threat: He can sing, dance and act. Plus, he is a very talented musician and plays all show’s music live on guitar. His eternally boyish good looks and beautiful voice make him quite the heartthrob which makes it a little hard to understand why the girls prefer Master Will to Philip. (Perhaps celebrity wins out every time.)
Finally, the most anticipated guest of the evening arrives: The Bard himself, William Shakespeare. Reed revels in his role as the most famous playwright in the English language. He has great hair, charms, is sexy, and the women love him. The world is his shellfish, and he clearly basks in his privileged position.
Lawson is one of my favorite local playwrights. He has a really good sense of rhythm for humor, which works on many levels. As Mule he crafts a role for himself that allows him good punchlines, to flirt with pretty women and play the perfect host. The script is left loose for improvisation and personal interaction between performers and audience members. It might be the most fun aspect of the evening.
“The Bard’s Broads” is not a stuffy, sit-quietly-in-a-seat affair; it’s meant to be fun and raucous. The cast mingles and sits with the audience during the meals break. (Philip came by and composed a song on the spot from one of our favorite limericks and Gertrude discussed Marlowe, business troubles and the translation of the King James Bible.) Mule points out to people eating the vegetarian option that with Titus Andronicus as cook, it’s probably a good idea they are herbivores.
Actually, the meatless roast with cherry sauce is rich and filling. It nicely pairs with a warm-grain pilaf and carrots cooked to perfection. They’re soft but firm enough to not be squishy. The lamb and beef stew (my date’s fare) yields a savory treat, too. (He praised it the whole ride home.)
For dessert, the bowls of candied and fresh fruit perfectly burst with crispness and round out the evening—that and a sword fight. This is Shakespeare, after all; there must be miscommunication and sword fighting. Overall it generates great fun and makes a wonderful precursor to the next Bard’s show.
This production tickles intellectually and on a more primal level. TheatreNOW fills to the brim with good food and great entertainment. Make reservations fast!
The Bard’s Broads
TheatreNOW, 19 S. 10th Street
Fri.-Sat., Aug. 22nd-23rd, 29th-30th 6:30 p.m.