'Same Sex Shakespeare' offers new twists, humor

05:00 AM, Sep 28, 2013


Written By Jeff Spevak | Staff music critic

For intellectual heft, you turn to Shakespeare… OH MY POINTED BEARD! HAMLET IS A MARLBORO-SMOKING MOD BIKER CHICK!

In spite of all of the serious art that’s been parading through the 10 days of the First Niagara Rochester Fringe Fest, the event is also about charming amateurism, mocking irreverence and moments that felt a bit more like the First Viagra Fringe Fest.

So appropriately, there was plenty nod-and-a-wink humor Friday night at the Xerox Auditorium, where about 75 people who mostly wore the demeanor of serious theater-goers (mostly, as I was there) chuckled through Same Sex Shakespeare, six brief excepts from the plays of the Bard.

If you know your Shakespeare history, then perhaps this wasn’t a surprise. While he certainly had female characters in his plays, women were not permitted on stage. Hence, all roles, including female, were played by men. Same Sex Shakespeare twisted this around in several fashions.

For Henry IV Part I, in a complete flip from Shakespeare’s days, three women play the roles usually taken by three male actors, with Katherine Sanford as Prince Henry, Suzanne Bell as Ned Poins and Jillian Christiansen landing the plum role of the drunken Sir John Falstaff lolling around on the floor, and perhaps adding to the character with a little shake of the Falstaffian booty.

Marcy Savastano gives Hamlet the biker edge, flipping her empty pack of cigs to the floor before launching into perhaps the most-famous line in the history of theater, “To be or not to be….” In Othello, we see the maidservant Emelia (properly played by the excellent Bell) tending to the evening undressing of Desdemona (improperly played by Carl Girard, as we see when Emilia removes his wig).

Perhaps the most provocatively chosen piece was a total swap of genders. “I would rather give my body than my soul,” the comically gifted Brad Craddock as Isabella warns. “I take not of your soul,” is the salacious reply by Christiansen as Angelo. By their business attire, they turned this scene from Measure For Measure into modern-day office sexual harassment.

But here, most likely, is what the crowd was likely looking for: Drag-queen Shakespeare, presented just as Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon did it in Some Like It Hot. Mark Casey as The Taming of the Shrew’s Katharine strutted onstage in a wig and bathrobe looking like a faded actress awakened from the too-late beauty nap. Casey even had the woman-who-laughs-like a guy laugh down, which admittedly wasn’t much of a stretch. But Craddock, as Petruchio in pursuit of Katherina, demonstrated that Casey can deliver an effective knee to the groin.

Casey returned for the show-closer, the Epilogue from As You Like It, during which Rosalind delivers Shakespeare’s plea of equal play for women: “It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue; but it is no more unhandsome than to see the lord the prologue.”

Same Sex Shakespeare returns at 5 p.m. Saturday at Xerox Auditorium.

Blessed with the promise of more fine weather, the fledgling Fringe Festival concludes Saturday starting at 11 a.m. with the kid-friendly Flower City Vaudeville show at RAPA East End Theatre, wrapping up with the adult-themed improv outer-space comedy Zero Gravity, Zero Hope: An Alien Horror Show, which begins at 10:30 p.m. at Geva Theatre Center Nextstage. Free activities on the closed-off Gibbs Street commence with school kids turned loose with chalk to draw on the street, and music starting at 3 p.m. and going until 10:30 p.m.

Big in Santa Fe

Perhaps My Plastic Sun got off to a running start because drummer Roy Stein has been there before, with bands such as Jet Black Berries and the Raw Magillies, and as professor of rock at Nazareth College. But in the virtually impossible world of true indie rock, the Rochester pop band is slowly, slowly getting noticed. A station in Santa Fe is playing them, can you beat it?

Getting noticed is no longer an issue in My Plastic Sun’s home town, where Bernunzio Uptown Music was packed for its show Friday night. The band seems to have settled on a bassist, Kyle Vock, kind of an essential in the rock biz. Guitarist Sam Snyder is a real curiosity, playing with his fingering hand reaching over the guitar neck rather than under, like virtually every other player you’ll see. But the band is built for lead singer, keyboardist and creator of synthetic sounds, Johnny Cummings, who has it all. The looks, and a voice that easily moves from falsetto to a Jim Morrison-like dream murmur.

It’s part synth-pop, part radio-ready contemporary rock, and heavily influenced by The Beatles. New songs are emerging, such as “All of This,” which Stein introduced as “a lusty little number.” They all are, Roy, they all are.

The new American songbook

These Eastman School of Music kids are so accomplished, it’s not too far off to suggest that a friend could lead you blindfolded to the outdoor stage on Gibbs Street Friday late Friday afternoon and you’d believe him if he said, “That’s the Oscar Peterson Trio.” But it was actually Dupre on Krol: Jacob Dupre on piano, and brothers Jeffrey Krol on drums and Matthew Krol on bass.

The Peterson comparison aside, Krol on Dupre was decidedly deceptive in its advertising. The Fringe program described the group’s intention as to “re-imagine songs from the American Songbook.” For Eastman students, that doesn’t mean Ke$ha’s “Tik-Toc.” It maybe means a jazzy “I Remember April,” which Dupre on Krol opened with. But that was a come-on; these guys had no intention of continuing in that cover-song vein. The rest of the way it was nothing but originals. We make artists, not transcribers, in this town.