I responded in person to Three Day Hangover’s press invitation to attend their Big Boozy Benefit at the Rockwood Music Hall because I have read some good things about this intentionally goofy young theatre company, whose productions mingle an unconventional, contemporary musical approach to mounting Shakespeare with fraternity house-style drinking games in a bar-room setting. I am not kidding. The favorable NY Times review of their 2013 production, The Hamlet Project, noted that by the fifth beer, the proceedings had turned “even funnier,” which is not your everyday post for a Hamlet review in the Old Gray Lady. I wanted to see for myself what they were up to, and since they were fund-raising for their upcoming 2014 season, perhaps also give them a plug and some positive publicity if it turned out to be as interesting and fun as I thought it might be. As it happens, I am completely in favor of drinking as well as Shakespeare, so I fancied myself well equipped to mix booze with the Bard along with the best of them.
The excellent band — Justin Aaronson (drums), Scott Davis (keys), Phil Pickens (guitar), Richard Thieriot (bass) — started the evening off with a funky, cheeky number, Vienna Sucks, from the company’s production of Beyond Measure, adapted from Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure by Raife Baker, Phil Pickens and Lori Wolter Hudson, featuring droll lead vocals by the extremely capable Greg Hildreth. After that, the very funny David Hudson took to the tiny stage to emcee the event, raffling off prizes and introducing Michael Emerson (Person Of Interest, Lost), who delivered a riveting and articulate “To be or not to be,” which ended with a cellphone call from his girlfriend. “Soft you now, the fair Ophelia,” he said, as he took the call. Brilliant. The raucous crowd erupted into cheers and whistles, and all around the room drinks went down the hatch. I nursed my dwindling vodka as a few more musical numbers from Beyond Measure were performed by the game young cast: the stand-out Stephen Plunkett sang Blood For Blood and simply killed it, appropriately, and Kellie Giddish brought down the house with her funny, profane rendition of Mariana’s Lament.
This is a savvy, saucy, up-and-coming, exciting theatre troupe that I would strongly encourage you to keep on the grid of your theatre-going radar. The stage was packed with gifted performers, seasoned veterans and emerging young talent alike: Frankie J. Alvarez, John Behlmann, Nick Choksi, Michael Emerson, Kellie Giddish, Chad Goodridge, Allison Guinn, Greg Hildreth, David Hudson, Autumn Hurlbert, January LaVoy, Nicole Lewis, Lauren Molina, Rob Morrison, Jennifer Mudge, Stephen Plunkett, and Liv Rooth. This company knows how to have a good time, they obviously know how to put on a great performance and they are doing some very entertaining things with some very old material. Their projected season ahead promises an invigorating, boozy time will be had with productions of Twelfth Night and Uncle Vanya.
The event was quite well attended by a robust, upbeat, 20-something crowd, and there was simply no place left to sit. Not that there were a lot of seats to begin with, this room would have been SRO after the first twenty arrivals; the venue was packed and pretty much everyone was standing. One of the things I normally depend upon to report about theatre events – a chair – wasn’t forthcoming here, but I am not really complaining. That was simply the deal. My legs gave out well before my interest might have flagged, I’m afraid, and after a solid hour of standing I reluctantly made an early departure from a decidedly enjoyable fundraising event. As it turns out, I would have made a terrible Groundling.
I am hopeful they will keep me on their press list, because I look forward to seeing what they can do when just the play’s the thing, and they can really let it loose. And perhaps I can get a seat. I will plan on getting there early, and grabbing a barstool, as well as the business end of a martini glass, its cocktail stirred and with an olive, thank you.
I prefer my Shakespeare with a twist, however, and shaken, not stirred. This promising new theatre group looks like just the right Bard-tender for that particular dramatic thirst.