Chances are, if you brought a Shakespeare devotee together with a young person hooked on movies such as Slaughtered Vomit Dolls and Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS, the conversation might not go swimmingly. But oddly enough, they each occupy common ground in their entertainment passions when it comes to one thing: violence.
It's no news that there is ample gore in the works of The Bard, and those skewerings, beheadings and poisonings are the sum total of what appears in Kill Will, directed by Alison Garrigan, now at the Cleveland Public Theatre.
Show creators and sole performers Josh Brown and Kelly Elliott gather some of the more gruesome moments from Shakespeare’s plays, spin them with a froth of contemporary cultural references, and then act them out using their talents as fight choreographers. The hour-long result, depending how you look at it, is either a very amusing gym class or a less than absorbing but mildly entertaining theatrical event.
With a video screen announcing the plays from which bloody scenes are lifted, Brown and Elliott toss each other onto the (padded) floor, bounce their faces off walls and columns, and generally create mayhem. As they abuse each other, they work in modern allusions to movies such as Star Wars and self-defense equipment (Desdemona brandishes pepper spray).
Some of the bits are inspired, such as a video game sequence with Macbeth done as Mortal Kombat as we watch the game characters on the screen do each other in, complete with spurting blood. And Titus Andronicus is awash in sparkly red plasma.
Other scenes are yawners, including a battle with poles, “armed” with pillows on each end, which turns out to be about as fearsome as it sounds. And an attempt to do Richard III with stuffed animals is promising until it becomes clear there is no further wit at work other than the concept itself.
Actually, the script for Kill Will has a number of clever, inside references to Shakespeare and his works. But it could use more of those, which could hlep this piece rise, more often than it does, above a silly sort of calisthenics.
As you might imagine, the show also includes audience participation. But clench not thy teeth: it actually works. Indeed, on this night a couple things the audience members improvised to portray Shakespearean suicides were funnier than what the performers thought up.
The actors themselves (who are married to each other) are an odd fit. Brown has an agreeable affect, with a sly smile never far away, that makes him easy to like. But Elliott relies too much on yelling for projection, and on a grimace for facial expression. It’s not clear if she’s supposed to be the “bad guy” or she just comes across that way. In any case, the combination feels slightly off-center. There is also a subtle marital subtext to all of this, but it doesn't work and just gets in the way.
Anyhow, if you’re in the mood for a non-demanding evening, with tons of non-violent violence, then Kill Will should do the trick.
Through October 30 at Cleveland Public Theatre,
6415 Detroit Avenue, 216-631-2727