downtownexpress.com
Volume 19 • Issue 21 | October 6 - 12, 2006

Theater

Fools and Lovers
Written and Directed by Gregory Wolfe
At The Connelly Theater through October 15th
220 East 4th Street
(212-868-4444; smarttix.com)

Photo by Carol Rosegg

Praise this mad marriage: Djola Branner (Priest), center, and the cast of Moonwork’s “Fools and Lovers,” a mash-up of Shakespearean plays by way of “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding.”

A marriage of mad minds

By Rachel Breitman 

Weddings bring out the romantic Romeo in some, but also the shrew, rogue, and peasant’s slave in others. With this in mind, Moonwork, a Downtown nonprofit theater company, throws together lines from half the Shakespeare canon, and adds some musical drama à la “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding” to insure that “never sure was there such a mad marriage” in their new play, “Fools and Lovers.”

Since 1993, the company has brought to life eclectic retellings of Shakespearian texts, including a multi-media rendering of “Richard III” as a modern day political candidate. In 1999 “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was retold by ghosts of a vaudevillian theater, and in 2001, “Twelfth Night” was rendered as “What You Will,” a 1940’s nightclub comedy. The plays are adapted by director Gregory Wolfe with help from a cast of newbies and some regulars, including his brother James.

Kitsch is everywhere in this year’s one-act, from the bridesmaids’ ill-fitting satin gowns to the wedding band’s powder-blue tuxedos. More versatile than most nuptial entertainment, the onstage ensemble shift raucously between jazzy numbers, gospel, and swing, with music composed by Andrew Sherman of “Debbie Does Dallas.”

Not all of the vocals are music to the audience’s ears, though, and the play starts awkwardly with an off-key three part harmony of the groom, Romeo, (Rick Cekovsky) waxing romantic with lines from “As You Like It,” while Demetrius (David DelGrosso), the confirmed bachelor and best man, invokes Polonius’ “Madness” speech from Hamlet and Helena, the maid of honor (Rhonda S. Musak), cries out “Banish it!” with lines from “Henry IV Part I” and “Romeo and Juliet.”

The love triangle between Helena and Demetrius grows with the arrival of the tardy bridesmaid Hermia. The Bronx-accented vixen (Yvonne Roen) manages to update the play, creating a perfect marriage of the Bard’s tongue and a New Yawk dialect free from the stiffness of some of the other performers. She too invokes “Hamlet,” asking “what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me,” before flirting with the leering female caterer.  

Afterwards, the best man beweeps his outcast state a tad too melodramatically, but the highlight of the lovers’ quarrels is a slow-motion girl-fight scene plucked straight out of “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Theirs is not the only drama wrought by love. Adoring Romeo knows just how to “kill a wife with kindness.” He loyally tolerates Juliet’s (Emily Shoolin) bipolar histrionics, suicidal last minute wedding jitters, and drunken diatribes against marriage. He even dabbles in British poet Christopher Marlow when asking her to “live with me and be my love.” Despite the bride’s nerves, the Priest will not “to the marriage of true minds admit impediment,” so the show must go on.

No worries, as in any Shakespearian comedy, “all’s well that ends well,” and a series of romantic couplings ensues when the mother of the groom (Lynn Lobban) and the father of the bride (David Pixley) find that they are not  as they expected “past their dancing days,” and engage in some sexy fox trots and lip locks. Helena meets her match in a crooning photographer who cannot help but compare her to a summer’s day. 

The charming priest (Djola Branner) and Sapphic caterer (Kate Greer) are the wise confidants who keep the chaotic revelries from going overboard. Each time the fist-fights and dance numbers seem like child’s play, the wisely-used iambic pentameter saves the day, satisfying the English majors in the audience with a “Where’s Waldo” of play and sonnet-spotting.

For those unversed in Shakespeare, the physical comedy and up-beat ensemble cast will keep the play from dragging, though some of the lengthy soliloquys are a drain on the viewer’s patience. In modernizing the timeless tales, it is necessary to keep the banter light and quick, since speechifying dates the otherwise pitch-perfect repartee. All in all the sweet confection is as delectable as wedding cake, and the audience leaves giddy, ready to revisit their high school copy of Shakespeare’s collected works.



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