Part lecture, part interactive performance, Vijay Padaki’s Shakespeare By Any Other Name isn’t particularly compelling as either, but certainly has its charms. Presented in St. James Park by Dauntless City Theatre for the month of August, it’s a good reason to hang out in a pretty spot, hear some lovely text and ponder it.
The vibe is very laid back. Two performers—known only as One (Tallan Alexander) and Two (Chi-Chi Onuah), dressed in a vaguely Elizabethan casual style—open with a set of popular words and phrases and explain how they came from Shakespeare’s plays. Some audience members are then invited to recite the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.
We hear several bits of text delivered a couple of times each and it does get a little tedious. The purpose is to examine how the words can be appreciated as both structured poetry and emotional drama, to illustrate how interpretation can greatly alter a text’s impact; alas, the performers delivery isn’t nuanced enough to properly convey this.
The two get into a discussion about the dubious authorship of the canon and present some theories. They also land on the distressing topic of residential schools and frame the application of classical European literature as an oppressive colonial tool. This is a worthy discussion, but it’s rather ham-fisted here.
It doesn’t help that the performers, though zestful, aren’t entirely off-book. They often consult either the script itself of a breakdown of points while doing their best to play it off as part of their natural dynamic. This was at opening, though, so perhaps they have tightened up throughout the run.
Rough around the edges and a little awkward, this pay-what-you-can effort is a breezy hour and the inclusive atmosphere is inviting.