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LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
By Jacob Horn
The production, which ran during the weekend of September 12 as part of the 2014 FringeArts program, has three key components: the graphic novel illustrations (by Andy Belanger), projected to the left of the performers; the performers who read the dialogue, arranged in a row of chairs, rising to the microphones whenever necessary; and a second group of performers dedicated to sound, whether musical accompaniment (Linda Henderson) or Foley effects (Krishna Dunston and Francesca Piccioni). It's a bit hectic, all in all, and sometimes hard to figure out where exactly to focus, but on the flip side, each element is interesting and has its own rewards for your attention.
Make no mistake: Kill Shakespeare, directed by Darin J. Dunston and Jared Michael Delaney, isn't anywhere near a traditional adaptation of Shakespeare. In fact, the story, written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col, uses the names of Shakespeare's characters but creates its own narrative, rather than simply retelling an existing one through comic and radio formats. It depicts the tumultuous kingdom of Richard III (Neill Hartley), divided between those who believe in the powers of the mysterious Shakespeare (Frederick Andersen) to unite the people, led by Juliet (Sarah Fraunfelder) and Hamlet (Griffin Stanton-Ameisen), and those who are determined to destroy him, led by the King and Lady Macbeth (Megan Slater).
The world McCreery and Del Col have created is surprisingly complex, and the show sometimes teeters on the brink of feeling too absurd even for a fantasy. But the graphic novel illustrations have a, well, novelty to them, as does the radio performance angle. The cast members don't wear special costumes, and they perform primarily with their voices; watching them, you'll sometimes see facial expressions that are completely at odds with the words they're saying. That might be viewed as distracting, but it also illuminates the unique demands of radio performance and gives you a sense of being a behind-the-scenes insider.
Getting to watch the Foley effects has a similar impact. To some, hearing a convincing fire sound effect and looking over to see that it's being produced by shredded paper and bubble wrap will be a disappointing look behind the curtain, after which the effect will never sound quite the same. But others are sure to be fascinated by the simple tools that can convincingly produce sound effects from sword fights to thunderstorms.
Kill Shakespeare will without a doubt be offensive to Bard purists, who will be upset to see many characters from Shakespeare's classic plays mashed up into a world of ungrounded fantasy. Radio theater purists (I'm sure such a breed must exist somewhere) would probably be put off by the addition of such a strongly visual component as a graphic novel to an otherwise-auditory experience. To each their own. But, for those with an open mind, the play proves an interesting experiment in mashing up genres, media, stories, and characters. It's not without its rough spots, but there's always enough to keep you watching—and listening.