Theater

Shakespeare Goes Out Of This World in ‘Messina3004’

I saw bodies moving on the dance floor to “Golden Years” by David Bowie, a game of spin the bottle with some definitive lip-action, faces painted with turquoise geometric shapes and a disco ball reflecting lights in all directions.

No, I wasn’t at a 1980s after-prom party; this was the opening scene of Messina3004, a Shakespeare remake and the latest endeavor of Otherworld Theatre (5400 N. Clark St.).

The re-creation of Much Ado About Nothing was expectedly unconventional, since the theater troupe dedicates itself to performing science fiction and fantasy.

So how did this sci-fi/fantasy company tackle a piece written by the poster child of conventional English literature and playwriting? With humor, sufficient acting and an added dystopian context.

The basic premise and language of the play was the same: There were meddling, matchmaker friends, the witty, sharp-tongued Beatrice who falls in love with the (also witty) bachelor Benedick, a faux betrayal, public shaming and a fairly happy ending.

messina3While the premise was the same, not much else was. There were light-up, futuristic badges that, when pressed, seemed to give the characters energy. There was a drag queen concert scene and a loud siren, which sounded periodically throughout the play and brought a blurred image of a blonde woman (“The Mother Protector”) to TV screens, indicating all characters must drink from the green potion-like bottles they wore around their necks.

If that all sounds confusing, it’s because it is. I failed to see any reason for retelling Much Ado About Nothing in this dystopian, war-ravaged world other than for the sake of doing so.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some cute moments such as dance scenes with the actors moving in circles — one to “I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family and another to “Piece of My Heart” by Janis Joplin. Both were so full of energy and out of place that they felt like a joyful video montage.

But for every cute moment there was another weird, bad one. There’s one scene with two men wearing horse heads dancing seductively and another in which a night watchman hits a man with a bat, citing “police brutality, bitch” as his motive.

messina4I understand the political message they were trying to get across, and theater is often a powerful method for making known social or political dissatisfaction. Usually, though, such undertones are subtly mixed into the playwriting with ease and grace — not distastefully added in such an out-of-place manner that the audience laughs at uncomfortably.

Throughout the play, however, the acting was on point. Beatrice (Aly Grauer) gave off an air of Katniss from The Hunger Games — strong, badass and clever. Her counterpart/love-interest Benedick (Drew Mierzejewski) was just as funny and convincing. My favorite scenes were those when the stage was theirs alone.

In my experience, Shakespeare lines that aren’t delivered with fitting stresses, emphasis and body language can feel like a different language completely. Thankfully, all the cast members did an outstanding job at delivering their lines. While the added sci-fi elements didn’t make much sense, the jokes were relatable, the conflict was clear and the broad storyline was understandable.

While Messina3004 wasn’t quite up my alley, die-hard sci-fi supporters and fantasy-lovers should give it a whirl, if only for the acting.

Messina3004  runs through Feb. 28, with shows on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at brownpapertickets.com.

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