Right now Wilmington clearly is at a high point in local theatre, with shows selling out across town. People are trying to buy tickets on Craigslist even. In that same vein, TheatreNOW’s current dinner-theatre show, “The Bard’s Broads II: The Bard is A Broad,” comes penned by Anthony Lawson, and packs a full house.
The Dirty Quill, famed playwright William Shakespeare’s favorite tavern, is enduring a bit of a downturn. The Bard hasn’t been around in a while, and the in-house entertainment, Philip (Patrick Basquill), has moved on to play better taverns and touring the shires. Mule (Anthony Lawson), the proprietor, drinks himself into a stupor over the loss of business. The serving wenches Desdemona (Kristina Auten) and Ophelia (Mickey Johnson) must step in to run the place. Since there is no business, this mostly involves keeping Mule alive and occupying themselves in whatever way they can. To put it bluntly: Things aren’t going so well.
The play’s action starts when Victor/Viola (Caitlin Baden) comes in to apply for the now-open minstrel position. Though Mule is taken in by her disguise, Desdemona doesn’t fall for it for one minute. The newly returned Master Shakespeare (Nick Reed), too, is quite taken with Viola—much to Desdemona’s dismay. Confusion, mistaken identity, cross-dressing, and general Shakespearean hilarity ensue over the course of the evening, and it’s paired with scrumptious food. “The Bard is a Broad” is a recipe for a good time.
Sequels often can suffer from two problems: They either rehash the first storyline with nothing new or original, or they have such a strong dependence on the events of the first installment that the second chapter is inaccessible without the information conveyed previously. Lawson neatly steps around both of these potential pitfalls. The material requires no working knowledge of either the first show or Shakespeare. (For example: The table behind me missed almost all the Shakespeare jokes but enjoyed the broad humor and pop-culture references.) Lawson executes an homage to the Bard with a script filled with erudite humor that still appeals to the lowest form of popular humor. As for possibly rehashing the first script, Lawson addresses the potential folly in the dialogue and writes about a new series of problems for his characters to overcome—not the least of which is about Master Will’s struggles with writing his own sequel to “Love’s Labor Lost.”
For those who loved “The Bard’s Broads,” there are plenty of nods to its success, including a new round of bawdy songs. My date is partial to Baden as Victor/Viola singing “I’m a Man,” an ode to all things manly including peeing while standing. Ophelia still is terrified of water and Desdemona still is desirable and oversexed. Sadly, Gertrude Stein is not in this production. (Apparently, her character finally found a manufacturer for her beer-mug design and has moved on to better things.)
Nick Reed’s Shakespeare’s struggle with a mid-career slump and a branding issue keeps the laughs coming. He no longer is the center of action—though not for a lack of trying on his part. In spite of his slender build and androgynous mannerisms, he doesn’t make nearly as beautiful and convincing a woman as Basquill, who sings and accompanies himself on the guitar during the show (one of my date’s favorite parts).
Johnson and Auten hit their stride as the serving wenches and really enjoy themselves this go ‘round. Their comfort and expertise with their characters is evidenced when Desdemona storms out to go get a job across the street at the newly opened competing tavern—the one with the stone arches. Johnson especially has an infectious sense of fun. It’s a good idea to ask her about ponies during the dinner break. As well, she shines in a routine with Lawson that is straight out of Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First?”
Part of TheatreNOW’s draw is the dinner that comes with the show. This meal begins with a not-to-be-missed soup course. The thick potato leek variety could be a meal in itself. It even impresses a soup connoisseur like my date.
In honor of Miss Auten, one should try Desdemona’s Strawberry Wine, a cocktail made with pinot grigio, strawberry and mint. Just like its namesake it surprises and gives a tasty mouthfeel.
“You opted for the meatless option? That’s a good idea with Titus in the kitchen,” Lawson quips about the vegetarian option. The dish comprises a wonderful, Cornish-type pastry that’s warm, filling and everything one could desire to accompany the root-vegetable mash.
My date’s meaty main course, too, proves ample. The delicious fare fills the belly so much there’s barely any room for dessert: a traditional seed cake. There also is a gluten-free option of fruit in a simple syrup, which looks wonderful, too. It takes a lot to outshine such a meal, but Basquill’s bawdy final song definitely tops even the most pleasing cake.
Just like a gourmet meal where all the elements combine and complement each other, “The Bard is a Broad” perfectly blends all its ingredients. Beginning with thoughtful, funny writing—which is enhanced only by tremendous performances—it is a night not to be missed.
The Bard is a Broad
TheatreNOW, 19 S. 10th St.
Fri. – Sat., Sept. 19th-27th