Double bill of comic shorts offers an unconventional take on ‘Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea & Shakespeare’s Deaths’ at NYC’s Under St. Marks

This year’s theme of The Little Shakespeare Festival at Under St. Marks, presented annually by FRIGID New York to celebrate independent theater and performance inspired by the Bard’s canon, is centered on gender diversity. Among the offerings is a double bill of unconventional shorts, Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea & Shakespeare’s Deaths, from NJ-based First Flight Theatre Company. Directed by the company’s Artistic Director Frank Farrell, both offer a mash-up of plays and characters in an irreverent take that turns history and tragedy into comedy, and comedy into over-the-top off-beat spoof.

Cast members of Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea. Photo courtesy of First Flight Theatre Company.

Created by Kathleen Kirk, cleverly piecing together the lines Shakespeare wrote for specific female characters from different works, Ladies at Tea, or I Thought You’d Never Asp is a wacky sketch of what might have happened if eight of the women (Quickly, Cleopatra, Cressida, Desdemona, Lady Macbeth, Olivia, Rosalind disguised as Ganymede, and Portia, along with Cleopatra’s servant Iras) met for tea – that is, tea spiked with booze – at the Boar’s Head. As the drunken porter in Macbeth noted, “drink sir, is a great provoker,” and it certainly is here. The time-traveling figures, with pinkies raised while holding their Victorian-style teacups, ‘quickly’ interrupt Desdemona singing “The Willow Song” in a post-modern flash of disco dancing and lighting, and the unfulfilled women ultimately follow the lead of the ancient Egyptian queen, employing just a few silly props and costumes, until the spotlight goes out (lighting and sound by Thomas J. Donohoe II), closing with the wittiest and most apropos quote.

The genderful casting of the iconic roles – performed respectively by Lee DeCecco, Frank Farrell, Brian Hagerty, Haley Karlich, Adam Muñoz, Hannah Simpson, Jennier Kim, Michael Brunetti, and Danielle Ruth (with Ruth and Farrell, on book, filling in, at the performance I attended, for a castmate who was out sick) – recalls the all-male troupes of Shakespeare’s era that also played the female parts, as well as the Festival’s focus on the non-cis diversity of our present time.

Cast members of Shakespeare’s Deaths. Photo courtesy of First Flight Theatre Company,

In Shakespeare’s Deaths, created by the Free Shakespeare Theatre Company of Chicago, the full First Flight ensemble, playing multiple (and sometimes cross-gender) roles, acts out all the deaths found in the plays of Shakespeare in fifteen zany non-stop minutes (as tracked by a timer and the sound of it clicking), with a reader on the side (Claudia Egli) calling out the title of each work before the rapid-fire (or more accurately, rapid-stabbing) murders and suicides take place.

Paul White’s stage fight direction is executed with riotous exaggeration and farcical mugging, as the bodies pile up, decapitated mannequin heads are displayed, and they’re “all dead.” The piece includes actual excerpts from Hamlet, Pyramus and Thisbe, Richard III, Henry IV, Henry VI, Henry VIII, Titus Andronicus, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra, using toy crowns to identify the monarchs, and performed without weapons, just moves and gestures that capture the parodied violence and leave the audience screaming (with laughter).

The Little Shakespeare Festival runs through August 19, so if you want to see some indie, fringy, and wild Off-Off-Broadway re-imaginings of Shakespeare’s classics, get your tickets now!

Running Time: Approximately 50 minutes, including an intermission.

Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea & Shakespeare’s Deaths plays through Saturday, August 19, 2023, at Frigid NYC’s The Little Shakespeare Festival, performing at Under St. Marks, 94 St. Marks Place, NYC. For tickets (priced at $25), go online. For the full festival schedule, click here. Masks are not required.

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Deb Miller
Deb Miller (PhD, Art History) is the Senior Correspondent and Editor for New York City, where she grew up seeing every show on Broadway. She is an active member of the Outer Critics Circle and served for more than a decade as a Voter, Nominator, and Judge for the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre. Outside of her home base in NYC, she has written and lectured extensively on the arts and theater throughout the world (including her many years in Amsterdam, London, and Venice, and her extensive work and personal connections with Andy Warhol and his circle) and previously served as a lead writer for Stage Magazine, Phindie, and Central Voice.


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