By CJ Williams
A Palpable Hit – Arranger and Dramaturg: Michael Andersen. Narrated by Michael Andersen. Directed by Daniel Berger-Jones and Sarah Gazdowicz. Cast: Angie Jepson, Gabriel Kuttner, Omar Robinson, Marge Dunn, Cameron Gosselin, Dalton Gordon, Michael Andersen. Stage Fighting Directors: Omar Robinson and Angie Jepson. Presented by The Gunpowder Plot at the Durrell Theater, Cambridge YMCA through December 11.
“Shakespeare is about adrenalin,” says Michael Andersen, with regards to ‘A Palpable Hit’, which premiered last week at the Durrel Theatre in Cambridge. “We want to show how the story, the verse, and the meter burst into life when his characters have to fly or fight.”
So is all the world a stage, or is it a battleground? Maybe both, if we believe this wickedly good medley of Shakespearean drama. Featuring some of the best dramatic talent in Boston, ‘A Palpable Hit’ explores the nature of violence and conflict through a series of violent interludes – tragic, comic, and tragi-comic – in the Bard’s oeuvre, leaping from ‘Othello’ to ‘Taming of the Shrew’. And while “A Palpable Hit” may be punning on the brawls featured in most of the scenes, it is just as applicable to how well each of these Shakespearean selections shines a spotlight on the stage of our modern relationship with violence. Every shot in this production is most definitely a bull’s eye. ‘Hit’ is altogether entertaining, even when it makes us squirm, and it does “all the good bits” in Shakespeare with verve, subtlety, and raucous good humor.
If the idea of shooting through a dozen plays or more in two hours sounds disjointed and off-putting, you can rest at ease. Andersen weaves a seamless garment of engagement by framing the production through a narrator (himself). Although breaking the 4th wall can easily, if accidentally, disengage the audience from the immersion of a well-acted, well-staged narrative, Andersen’s narrator neither breaks the spell nor disconnects the audience from the drama on-stage. In fact, I’ve rarely been in a theatre in which the audience was more rapt. Each scene seems effortlessly strung on the same strand by Andersen’s conversational, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, raconteur’s commentary.
That tongue-in-cheek humor is some of what makes up the glue in ‘Hit’: it maintains the narrative continuity of otherwise extremely diverse material, as well as giving us a new perspective on the Bard’s darker work. I think this was especially successful in looking at Richard III – a play fairly set in the interpretation of all critical analysis. An example of this is the opening selection from Richard, in which the narrator (Andersen) frames the scene by singly acting the entire bloody drama of the Duke of Clarence’s assassination (and famously lengthy death soliloquy) through the lens of three pre-teen boys at a Royal Shakespearean acting camp. Not only does the scene elicit some great guffaws, but it probably manages to be the most insightful and incisive of critiques on theatrical convention, and cultural violence, all through the sneaky strategy of humor. I won’t spoil the slapstick, but believe that you get both a highly probable, as well as sidesplitting, explanation for the Duke’s ability to natter on for ages about his own death, even post-stabbing. Andersen’s one-man playing of narrator, plus all three boys, is a theatrical hoot.
But it isn’t just Andersen’s narration that forms a commentary here. Good art comments without commenting, and good actors create full-fleshed characters on stage without explaining – and the small, ensemble cast of ‘Hit’ is another hit fully on the money. The physicality of the scenes is just as palpable as the emotional – so it’s apt that two of Boston’s stage-fight legends, Angie Jepson and Daniel Berger-Jones, form part of the cast as well as the choreography team. Watching them duke it out is probably something Shakespeare would have sold his pens and parchment to do. After all, as Andersen remarks in one of the transitions, the point of both ‘Hit’, and Shakespeare’s timeless applicability, is to demonstrate and “show the fights in these stories, while also showing the stories in these fights.”
So come for the swordplay, stay for the Shakespeare. The brutality and the humor, the violence and the emotional punch, are inextricably intertwined here. Shakespeare doesn’t glorify violence, as Andersen quipped near the end, “because he’s too busy finding the human in it.” The same could be said of ‘A Papable Hit’. If you take anything from this rollicking good time at the theatre, you might just accidentally walk away with some world-rocking insight on violence– the impact of violence is always devastating. Or maybe the just as rocking experience of the power of art and theater to heal and reveal, and transform it into entertainment. In ‘Hit’, staged with agility and impish humor, you get to take that punch without being devastated, because that, after all, is what we do when we can play and explore as if “all the world’s a stage”, instead of blame and maim on a battlefield. for more info, go to: http://www.apalpablehit.com/