Attention Shakespeare fans who enjoy drinking games! If only Sound Theatre served booze at its current Center House show, it would have the makings of a dandy one.
For if one were to take a sip of ale every time a work by the Bard of Avon was quoted or spoofed, in the troupe’s ungainly but often ingenious new comedy, “Holiday of Errors (or Much Ado About Stockings),” one would be tipsy in no time.
Co-authors Frank Lawler and Daniel Flint have no shame at all in their pun-laden lampoonery of Elizabethan classics. They not only energetically raid Shakespeare texts for gags and one-liners (including one of the top pickup lines from the Bard’s sonnets). They also heartily steal from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
Their Will Shakespeare is an arrogant genius and unflappable cynic, played with excellent dry wit by Lawler as a stage Scrooge with writer’s block, given to riffing on the expression “Bah, humbug!.” Archrival playwright Christopher Marlowe (a humorously languid Daniel Stoltenberg) is also on the scene as, more or less, Marley’s ghost — and, preposterously, the Bard’s writing coach.
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A broke Will, desperate for royal patronage, whips up the play-within-a-play “King Richard’s Twelfth Night Revels,” a goofy mash-up of “Twelfth Night” and “Richard III” with Christmas songs, to present at court. And foppish aristocrat and poet Edward de Vere (Luke S. Walker) appears in it as the buffoon Sir Anthony Aguecheek. (Some claim de Vere was the real creator of Shakespeare’s canon, but not in this comedic universe.)
“Holiday of Errors” is packed with antic wordplay, both nimble and groansome, and expects its audience to have some prior knowledge (the more the better) of Shakespeare’s plays (comic and tragic), his times (the show is set in London, in the plague year of 1593) and (not essential, but it couldn’t hurt) the basic elements of Elizabethan dramaturgy.
Those who enjoyed Tom Stoppard’s irreverent satire of such, in his Oscar-winning “Shakespeare in Love” screenplay, may appreciate the similarly tongue-in-cheek, if more scattered, approach of Lawler and Flint.
Here the “virgin queen” Elizabeth I (a tiptop Elinor Gunn) is a haughty but lusty sex-crazed gal on the prowl. Sir Christopher Hatton (Ian Bond), who was Lord Chancellor of England during Elizabeth’s reign, has been caricatured as a stiff-necked Puritan — though an assignation with a cross-dressing actress (the adept Marianna de Fazio) loosens him up.
And Richard Burbage (the agreeable Matt Fulbright) really was one of Shakespeare’s favorite and best actors. In this incarnation, he’s also a sort of a pretty-boy lamebrain, rather than the shrewd, theater-owning businessman that history recounts.
No matter. “Holiday of Errors” has a license to exaggerate and turn anything topsy-turvy for a laugh.
What’s needed are some script edits and refinements to a show that could easily lose some of its Falstaffian girth. A number of jests splat, and some bits, especially in the overlong “Richard III” parody, confuse, sputter or slow down the laugh engine.
There’s much to amuse, however. And in addition to the cast’s strengths (which also include Justin Lynn, with his party-dude take on Sir Toby Belch), Teresa Thuman’s animated staging prospers from the period costumes of Justine Wright, and the flexible set design by Richard Schaefer.
Thuman’s Sound Theatre Company has had a breakout year, and this romp closes it on a mirthful note.
Misha Berson: email@example.com