Thou, John Poole's new play, art more modern and just as originalSome folks love Shakespeare, some worship Shakespeare, and others have Shakespeare thrust upon them — usually by some well-meaning educator who has to put up with a lot of bewailing and bemoaning from the thrust-ees.
John Poole’s The Return of the Shrew (an Overtime Theater Company production at The Jump-Start Performance Co.) proves that Poole loves Shakespeare. In fact he captures the essence of the Bard so well that he manages to out-Shakespeare Shakespeare. Poole plays with language, the audience, and everything else (within reason and decency) that can be played with. He keeps a dozen ideas in the air while tossing out a dozen jokes a minute. Sounds like Shakespeare to me.
Poole’s words fly by so fast that you might have to see the show thrice if you want to catch them all. The script is dense (some might say too dense for a modern play; of course, if you have trouble with this language, you’ll need subtitles for an actual Elizabethan play) with plenty of theatrical references, literary humor, and more low comedy than you can shake a coconut-cream pie at. No line of humor is left unturned and the fourth wall holds the performers in about as well as Hadrian’s Wall kept out the Picts.
It would be easy to dismiss this Taming of the Shrew sequel as mere parody, a “clever reworking,” a “witty idea for a skit,” or just “something silly.” It would be easy … and wrong, because this play isn’t about any of that, and it isn’t about Shakespeare, either. It’s about love.
Let me tell you something about love. Love is that moment when the laughter dies down and things get real quiet all of a sudden and everything seems to get serious, until you forget what was on your mind five minutes ago. It’s that breathless moment of anticipation before the world floods back in. After two acts of silliness and tomfoolery, the play delivers you straight to that quiet moment, and, to the credit of the performers and the writer, it’s utterly believable. You can see the love behind the eyes, you can see the love in the play — it’s downright touching, and it’s why Poole’s play can stand on its own.
Of course, the Shakes-worshippers will not be moved by any of this. There can be only one Bard, so everything else must be derivative. Well, this is a sequel; it does lift characters out of The Taming of the Shrew (moving them forward in time by a few weeks) and it is thematically similar to the original. But despite its origins, The Return of the Shrew is a wholly original play. The ending gives the play its depth, and the depth is what sets it apart from mere parody or literary theft.
It would be criminal to mention the brilliance of the ensemble and each of its individuals in only one sentence. (So, call me criminal.) Each character is so interesting (and so well brought to life) that, unlike real Shakespeare plays, there are no spear-carriers or bit parts.
So, if you love Shakespeare, you’ll love The Return of the Shrew. And if you worship Shakespeare … well, put down your torches and pitchforks and try to imagine what it would be like to see a new Shakespeare play, because this is as close as you’re ever going to get.