By: Nicole Itkin
“As You Will,” a Shakespearean-themed improv group, is the relative oxymoron it seems to be: the high drama of Shakespeare alongisde the unrefined, though entertaining, stumbles of improv.
The show starts with a request for a phrase from the audience. On this night, the winning suggestion is “The Dog In the Backpack.” The goal is a full 45 minute show. And off we go.
The first scene starts with two men trying to go up a mountain. From there, we walk with the actors– though not in a straight line.
It can be difficult to keep up with the plot, especially with actors switching between characters so frequently, sometimes in the same scene. However, there are plenty of running jokes that provide excellent through-lines.
I absolutely love their “scholarly footnotes.” At any point, anyone in the cast can clap twice and ask the actors to further clarify an idea or thought. This can, and does, lead the scene in hilarious and unexpected directions.
In the first scene, an argument about drinking out of one another’s flasks leads to a cast member coming in with a scholarly footnote to say, straight faced, that those in Shakespeare’s time had many interpretation of what germs were.” The cast members proceed to riff on these, insisting that germs are “tiny spirits that know all my secrets” and proven pathway for sharing Satan’s soul.
My wish would have been more of these! More interruptions by offstage actors, as well as more clarity with the show; I did find myself wishing they had someone to “direct,” someone involved to help keep the flow of the show on track, to cut off scenes going too long or redirect the attention of the actors in a scene.
With that said, it was an incredibly commendable effort to produce an improvised Shakespearean show.
Many of their scenes were great parodies of common Shakespearean themes, characters, and plot points. There were plays on language, rooting out which words were most important– “serendipity,” apparently. There were debates over love, a wife who’d sold her fingers, and a monologue by a dog.
In love, the husband cried: “I loved you once. But I love your potential more.” Then, he remarked that he had tried to make money by auctioning off the house in bits; the roof was no longer what it had been.
A cast member insisted on a scholarly footnote from the person who had paid for two fingers. As an actor delivers this monologue, the other cast member claps again and again to insist on a Patrick Stewart version, then a Robert De Niro version– both excellent, and unexpected, impressions.
The dog talked passionately. The woman by his side yelled at him to stop barking.
The night was a journey; up a mountain we went. I do wonder where we ended up and who exactly was on the trip. But I’m glad I went along.
As You Will
Created by Conor D Mullen, David Brummer & George Hider
Friends, foes, fools! Do you ever bemoan the fact that the 884,647 words William Shakespeare wrote have been performed already? Do you yearn for the experience of seeing The Bard’s works for the first time? Then celebrate the glad tidings of As You Will and our Unscripted Shakespeare Show! These Shakespearean Scholars are here to present all the monumental works the immortal Bard would’ve written if he hadn’t gone and died. With just the title given by the audience the players of As You Will bring a Shakespearean comedy to life complete with Shakspeare’s themes, language, poetic verse, and some scholarly footnotes thrown in for good measure. As You Will have performed such classics as “Eight Merry Spiders,” “That Doth Not Go There,” “1601: A Space Odyssey” and, though those shows will never be seen again, there’s always a Shakespearean world premiere in our makeshift Globe Theatre.
Sat 8/12 at 7pm, Thu 8/17 at 7pm, & Sat 8/19 at 9pm
FRIGID New York is holding their 3rd annual Little Shakespeare Festival at UNDER St. Marks (94 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10009), running August 3-19. Tickets ($25 in-person; $20 streaming) are available for advance purchase at www.frigid.nyc. Most performances will also be available to livestream from home.