‘Drunk Shakespeare’ gets hilariously tipsy at Sage Theatre

The actors are remarkable. They take their craft as seriously as their fun.

For a good portion of my life, Shakespeare felt like an inaccessible thing. I wouldn’t have warmed to it had I not had the privilege of going to college. In my adulthood, it feels like I mostly see Shakespeare shows in fancy theaters, places where actors are specially trained and where ticket prices shoot up each year. Even the basics of learning Elizabethan language and what it all means is grueling. That’s why Drunk Shakespeare is so sublimely refreshing.

The rotating cast of ‘Drunk Shakespeare’ in Washington, DC. Image by Scott Griffin.

Drunk Shakespeare, is exactly what it sounds like; a troupe of actors puts on a Shakespeare play (which one they choose varies each night), abridged to a 90-minute runtime. Before they begin, one of the performers rips some shots, then the show must go on as they fulfill their actorly duties. The results are hilarious, bawdy, and decidedly ludicrous as the group makes their way through the performance. Saturday night, the chosen play was Macbeth, and after assuring the audience that at least one hour of rehearsal time went into the production, the night’s designated-drunk actor downed four shots and the play began. Since they pulled dialogue partially from Shakespeare and partially from modern speech, it became clear that this production was going to save the emotion and depth of the original work while making everyone feel included in it. Macbeth would come to feel like the premise for this week’s improv class with a group of avid, hilarious, and extremely talented Shakespeare LARPers.

‘Drunk Shakespeare’ in Chicago. Jordan Golding and Thomas Toles. Photo by Tom McGrath.

I emphasize this because in spite of all of the goofiness, what first seems a rowdy, boisterous party of friends quickly shows itself to be a group taking their craft just as seriously as their fun. Drunk Shakespeare’s actors are remarkable at what they do. The exchanges that do come from the actual text of Macbeth are brought to life phenomenally, and modern English is added in such a way that amplifies their expertise and their ability to communicate vital plot points while drawing us into the older language. Each actor knows how to do this beautifully, shaping the text in a way that feels authentic and real, but also true to the lyrical nature of the verse.

Lady Macbeth’s “Out, damned spot!” monologue is particularly magnificent, recited in heartbreaking earnestness by Kit Krull. Krull’s Lady Macbeth had previously bounced from frightening to seductive to silly, rendering her anguish all the more powerful. Kevin E. Thorne II is also wonderful as Macbeth, selling both the absurdity of his downfall alongside a genuine desire for power, and even more so, a fear of losing it. Peter Mikhail (Banquo, Porter) and Canter O’May (Ross) are also delightful, with Mikhail playing off of his castmates expertly and O’May shining in their ever-changing, comedic take on Ross.

The show wouldn’t be complete, though, without its drunk actor of the evening, Em German, who brings it home as Macduff. Em’s skill is at its peak even when she is forced to recite Hamlet in the middle of Macbeth. The five-person cast is well equipped and clearly hardworking; they encompass the timing and chemistry of great comedy groups, the skill and depth of committed actors, and a level of gaiety that makes 90 minutes of Shakespeare feel like a drinking game at your high school drama club’s five-year reunion.

‘Drunk Shakespeare’ in Chicago. Bailey Savage and Emma Wineman. Photo by Alexey Antonov.

Part of that magical combination is the collaborative nature of the performance, which doesn’t solely live among the actors. From the moment an audience member enters the theater, they are ushered into the madness and into the work itself. As theatergoers, we are called on to participate at every step, providing a resounding chorus in drumrolls or shouting in support of the actors. We are asked to jump in for relays, to become objects of character asides and monologues, and, of course, to keep drinking as much as we are comfortable. Though it is, at its heart, a theatrical performance, this inclusion makes it feel like the family-style dinner of drama, where you are forced to get to know your neighbors and actors far more than you ever would as a standard spectator.

The result of these efforts is both cunning and fabulous, making Shakespeare a communal experience without sacrificing anything but formality. Drunk Shakespeare does just that. It brings the Bard to everyone. A solemn, innovative, and detailed Shakespeare play is wonderful, sure, but it is invigorating to see the material in this new light.

Running Time: 90 Minutes, no intermission.

Drunk Shakespeare plays through January 14, 2023, presented by Brass Jar Productions performing at The Sage Theatre, 1100 13th Street NW, off L Street, Washington, DC. Tickets ($39–$79) are available online or at the box office 30 minutes prior to showtime.

Craft cocktails are available for purchase throughout the show. Entry is strictly 21+.

Health Warning: We do not condone excessive drinking. Our drunk actors are on a regular rotation system and are carefully monitored at all times. Drinking in moderation can be fun. Drinking to excess can ruin your life. We promote healthy drinking.

COVID Safety: Proof of vaccination and masks (when not eating or drinking) are required. See full Health and Safety policies here.

CREATORS: Scott Griffin & David Hudson
DIRECTOR: David Hudson & Lisa Klages
SOUND: Patrick Calhoun
COSTUME: Caitlin Cisek
MUSIC: Postmodern Jukebox

PRODUCER: Brass Jar Productions (Scott Griffin)
MARKETING: Leanne Schanzer Promotions

‘Smashed’ comedy ‘Drunk Shakespeare’ to open at new Sage Theatre (news story, May 14, 2022)

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