by Marilyn Lester
Having surpassed 1,000 performances, the lead actors of the Drunk Shakespeare Society have presumably knocked back five times that amount of whiskey shots in order to perform the Scottish Play while inebriated. This millennial mix of booze and theater is the conceit of Drunk Shakespeare, the performance piece played in a “secret library,” a cleverly designed set. With audience members getting increasingly sloshed themselves (there’s a convenient bar on the premises), and piled in extremely close to the actors, the mayhem of the Bard’s Macbeth ensues with hilarious, off-the-wall results.
There’s a rotating cast of actors in Drunk Shakespeare, as well as a disclaimer about responsible drinking, lest no one presume the production is promoting intemperate tippling. But Shakespeare, so it turns out, was fond of the sauce himself – liquid inspiration according to the Society – and the canon is rife with quotes about drink. (“I would give all my fame for a pot of ale and safety;” “Good company, good wine, good welcome can make good people.”). Certainly the drink has emboldened the company, who utter the name of the play fearlessly, casting to the wind the theatrical tradition that to mention the title aloud is to invite disaster (thus the alternative title of “The Scottish Play”).
Beginning by chugging four shots of whiskey, Tim Haber, the designated Macbeth, got the ball rolling on this fractured Macbeth with immediate merriment. Acting as host and playing Rosse was Mike Sause, an imrov actor who more or less kept the comic chaos in check. Michael Amendola and Whit Leyenberger expertly acted most of the male roles (including Duncan, Banquo, Macduff, Lennox, Malcolm, Donalbain, Siward, Seyton and Fleance), while Kelsey Lidsky, the only female trouper, played an energetic Lady Macbeth, Lady Macduff, one of the witches and more with well-honed skill. The comedy is physical and the rush of proceedings frenzied. The key to the fun is that in between actual Macbeth dialogue, anything can happen – and does. Two audience members, seated prominently on thrones (who paid for the privilege) assumed the roles of King and Queen, with the right to order the Macbeth actor to down two more shots, a given.
Drunk Shakespeare is not only funny in its own right, but is also delightfully topical, with references to current events, such as the recent election, coming fast and furious. There was dialogue delivered between “Bernie Sanders” and “Donald Trump,” plus guest appearances by “Elmo,” an Avenue Q-like puppet, Al Pacino and Louis Armstrong. At one point Lidsky was challenged to perform her role in Spanish, which she executed perfectly; the German-speaking Haber also had a turn performing in German. There’s a riff on rap and Hamilton, and in the end, before the serious swordplay that ends with Macbeth’s death, there’s a dance challenge, a showdown between Macbeth and Mcduff to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”
Drunk Shakespeare is entirely outlandish and seemingly off-the-cuff, but in truth the quips and bits of business are studied improv – carefully considered, well-rehearsed and executed with a precision by a troupe of crackerjack performers. In fact, many of the actors are classically trained; they are thespians who speak the speech with a deep knowledge of the Bard. Haber, for example, has the opportunity to recite two classic Shakespearean monologues: Marc Antony’s famous burial speech from Julius Caesar, and the equally famous “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech of Macbeth. He executes them both as if on the stage of the Old Vic.
Drunk Shakespeare, the ultimate Macbeth reality show was conceived by Scott Griffin and Three Day Hangover and directed with wit and wisdom by David Hudson.
Drunk Shakespeare, Monday and Thursday at 7:30 PM, Wednesday at 8 PM and Friday at 8 PM and 10 PM
300 W. 43rd St – 2d Floor 212-957-8358, www.drunkshakespeare.com