Hang at the bar with the Bard's headliners at American Players' 'Improbable Fiction'

Posted June 10, 2021

Aif Cap Times Rev

By Lindsay Christians | The Capital Times

If a person had to pick a Shakespearean character to wait out a plague and share a stoup of canary with (a slosh of sweet wine, roughly), Falstaff is an obvious choice. He’s a good storyteller. He buys a lot of rounds. He brought cards and dice.

For me, though, the barfly/ father figure of the “Henry” history plays would be well behind Beatrice, that sharp-tongued wit from “Much Ado About Nothing,” and Viola, the gutsy cross-dressing adventurer from “Twelfth Night.” Those “Midsummer” girls annoy me, but Rosalind and Celia from “As You Like It” seem like a good time. They’d probably want to go camping.

American Players Theatre chose an imaginary hang with several of Shakespeare’s headliners to welcome us back to the Hill Theatre in Spring Green this summer. “An Improbable Fiction,” a world premiere by James DeVita, runs through June 26 in person at 25% capacity as well as streaming.

For this dark-ish comedy composed during the early months of the pandemic, DeVita draws characters and lines from a folio’s worth of Shakespeare plays.

He takes some big names — Juliet, Othello, Cleopatra — played by the APT actors who had those roles before. Then he drops them into Falstaff’s favorite dive, The Boar’s Head, during an outbreak of the bubonic plague in London.

At play’s open, Falstaff (Brian Mani, looking like a besmirched Santa Claus) moans to Mistress Quickly (Sarah Day) about the boredom and loneliness of quarantine.

“A pox on the plague!” he hollers. (The audience — spread out and sweating, some still in masks — chuckles knowingly.) “It’s not the damn plague will kill me, it’s the solitude.”

They’re soon joined by friends seeking refuge from the infectious streets. Cleopatra (Tracy Michelle Arnold), comes in raging, flailing and mock-fainting about Antony. Othello (Chiké Johnson) is frustrated at his father-in-law and Juliet (Melisa Pereyra) is fed up with her dad. She’s also tired of being endlessly linked to Romeo.

“Their care hath been only to have me matched, as if I were a china dish, worthless until made a set!” Juliet protests. In her speeches, Pereyra reminds me of Beatrice, or one of Henry’s exes in “Six.”

The main source of comedy is a guy called The Messenger (Ronald Román-Meléndez), who sounds like the Artful Dodger, capably plays the guitar and is used to filling in wherever Shakespeare needs him — Serving Man three, shepherd, soldier, whatever.

“When my cue comes, I will answer it,” he says. The Messenger doesn’t drink, but he knows things.

Read the rest of the review here!