William Shakespeare’s masterpieces are known for their tragedy and drama.
Hundreds of years later, in 2014, Scott Griffin and David Hudson put a comedic spin on those tales by creating a drunken character in the telling “Drunk Shakespeare.” It runs through January 14 at The Rose Theatre in Arizona Center in Downtown Phoenix.
“One actor takes five shots at the start of the show and then they attempt to perform a Shakespeare play,” director Lisa Klages says.
“It’s a cast of five, and it’s an interactive comedy that changes every night based on pop culture, the audience and who’s drinking. The drunk actor can influence the events of the evening by issuing challenges to the rest of their sober cast.”
The comedy is rich throughout the show as actors are directed to say their next lines in the voice of a Disney character or swap out a prop mid-scene.
“I feel like the shows are varied and different,” Klages says.
“Each actor in Phoenix — I don’t want to reveal too much of a surprise because it’s part of the fun — is really bringing their unique voice and a very unique skill and particular moment of talent that they show off.
“But for me, the most exciting part of watching Phoenix has been the way the audience enjoys the interactive elements of the show. Some of them come to me at the end, saying they’ve never seen anything like this.”
Racquel McKenzie plays an undisclosed lead female role. Her resume includes formal Shakespearean roles and various productions in Chicago, Nigeria and England before coming to Phoenix six years ago.
“It’s like doing a parody because it is the actual show, but there’s some modern English woven throughout,” McKenzie says about “Drunk Shakespeare.”
“A lot of it was releasing the idea of what I thought Shakespeare was supposed to look like and what the seriousness of the show is supposed to be about and go in with a different viewpoint.
“There are funny bits and people are going to laugh and say that in the regular text it would be very, very serious but in our show it’s funny. Also letting go of the idea that people are just going to laugh because it’s funny and not to take it so seriously, but also remaining true to the text.”
Normally a whisky drinker, McKenzie switches to chilled tequila when it is her night to imbibe.
“Working with this group of people has been so beautiful and refreshing,” McKenzie says.
“I love the care from the actors in the show to the higher-ups. It’s a good feeling to know that you’re not just working, you’re not just doing the job, but you’re in a space where people care about how you feel.”
Klages says she realizes that directing a drunken actor is different than a sober one. That leads to an ever-changing show.
“I sort of like to describe it as when a new season of your favorite TV show comes out,” Klages says. “You think you understand all the characters, all the motivation, all the backstory, and then a new season comes out and you get all new information about how that story works. That’s what it feels like to extend the show this way.”
The perfect room
The Rose Theatre was designed specifically for this type of show, says Paola Cicuttini, vice president of marketing and corporate communications for Arizona Center.
“It was built for the Shakespeare production that you see in that sunken theater block,” she says.
“There are three tiers to it, but all of the tiers keep you close to the action and to the performers and the performers walk through and interact with everyone.”
The three tiers house 130 guests. A pair of seats at the head of the stage offer the royal experience.
“It comes with admission to the show, as well as caviar, chocolates and hand massages, a very fancy bottle of champagne and — most excitingly — the ability to influence the events of the evening,” Klages says about the $500 price tag.
The entrance to the Rose Theatre is off the valet parking area in Arizona Center with a rose sticker on door 1010.
“I think people should know that — if and when they’re coming to the show — it’s a much easier and fun way to experience Shakespeare,” Mckenzie says. “It’s not going to be the standard classic three-hour show; it’s going to be fun.
“It’s going to be quick. It’s going to be the story, but it’s going to be lighthearted and they’re not going to experience anything else like it.”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
WHERE: The Rose Theatre, 455 N. Third Street, Phoenix
COST: Tickets start at $39