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Review: Shakespeare’s Bloody Deed

Richard Sanford Richard Sanford Review: Shakespeare’s Bloody DeedFrom left, Penny Napoli (Thomas), Rick Napoli (Richard Burbage), Zak Bainazarov (Phillips), and Ella Palardi (Andrews). Photo Credit: Jerri Shafer
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Original Productions Theatre’s inaugural season takes up Dublin’s lovely Abbey Theatre after several seasons as the home for Tantrum Theatre with Johnrick Hole’s charming and ambitious comedy Shakespeare’s Bloody Deed, directed by Donovan Johnson.

Hole crafts a sly fantasy of political intrigue around the historical foreclosure of Shakespeare’s (Stefan Langer) first theatre and the use of timber to build The Globe. He combines real characters like actor/impresario Richard Burbage (Rick Napoli), the Earl of Essex (Bill Hafner), and Queen Elizabeth I (Janetta Davis) with fictional characters or composites like Andrews (Ella Palardi), Phillips (Zak Bainarzarov), and Thomas (Penny Napoli) to weave this tapestry in the fall of 1598.

It takes a brave writer to grapple with a playwright who looms so large over theatre hundreds of years later, to play with his themes, his humor, and to put words in his own mouth. With Shakespeare’s Bloody Deed, Hole proves up to the challenge. His use of Shakespearean language has the joys of pastiche but the elasticity of human speech; I marveled at the strong grasp of idioms and quick wit.

From left, Zak Bainazarov (Phillips), Stefan Langer (Shakespeare), and Ella Palardi (Andrews).

Donovan Johnson and the cast also deserve kudos for keeping this historical drama witty and grounded. Napoli’s Burbage perfectly walks the line between implying the great actor we learned about in history while humanizing him. Palardi’s Andrews and Ryan Heitkamp’s The Steward are hilarious foils. Catherine Cryan’s electrifying Earl of Southampton and Hafner’s dark-hearted clown Earl of Essex leave a deep scar while shifting the gravitational poles of the story. I could have watched the uneasy, paranoid, symbiosis between Langer’s Shakespeare and Davis’ Elizabeth for hours.

Pacing and repetition keep Shakespeare’s Bloody Deed solidly in the strong effort category but hold it down from being great. Hole packs in plenty of delightful easter eggs for the Shakespeare fans among us, and some hilarious set pieces, but too often the play belabors each point and plot twist with a sharp elbow in the ribs. It coasts on the charming interplay of the characters when the two hours (with an intermission) running time could have dazzled us.

From left, Rick Napoli (Richard Burbage) and Earl of Essex (Bill Hafner).

That said, a costume comedy with a 10-person cast by a local playwright is a gamble I’d love to see more companies take, executed this well. Fans of the era have a lot to like here.

Shakespeare’s Bloody Deed runs through June 15 with performances at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. For tickets, call 614-943-1776 or visit https://www.optheater.com/

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