By Michael Buzzelli
In Illyria we set our scene, only now Illyria is a quaint, new coffee house in the Strip called Soluna, and a motley crew of actors take over the center of the joint in Pittsburgh’s Shakespeare in the Parks (affectionately known as PSiP) “Double Bill,” a work by Shakespeare (mostly) and a work about Shakespeare (sort of).
Side note: While pointing out a pun with a hearty “get it?” is gauche, “Double Bill” is too clever of a pun to let slip by haphazardly: William as a nickname for Bill and bill as a program of entertainment with two main productions or personalities. The program is meant to be a celebration of the Bard’s birthday (the playwright was allegedly born on April 23, 1564).
Double Bill is a Two-In-One special, a Cliff Notes version of William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” set to Margaritaville music and a zany new work by Charles David Richards titled, “Shakespeare: The First Drafts.”
“Twelfth Night” is the Campbell’s Soup condensed version, taking all five acts and smooshing them into one. This shortened version has a Key West vibe. Its both beachy and breezy.
It has excellent performances, most notably from Catherine Baird as Viola/Cesario, Harper York as Olivia, Charles David “Stoney” Richards as Malvolio and Matt Henderson as Maria (pronounced Ma-RYE-ahhh).
It’s a staged reading and the actors are not off-book, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a charming adaptation from director Nick Hrutkay with music by Matt Calvetti.
After the intermission, “Shakespeare: The First Draft” begins. In it, Charles David “Stoney” Richards plays the Bard himself. It could easily be described as a Mel Brooks piece from “History of the World,” parts one or two, about our the world’s most famous (infamous to a great deal of school children) playwright.
The remaining players of the troupe sub in for various parts. There’s a delightful gender-swapped Romeo (Jennifer Tober) and Juliet (Matt Henderson) scene that sort of encapsulates one of the other main links between the two shows.
In both shows, the casting is fluid. At the core of “Twelfth Night,” is a 400-year- old story about drag. When she believes her brother is dead, Viola disguises herself to pass for a man in an unknown country because traveling as a woman would be too dangerous. In his notes, Hrutkay mentions the importance of the story especially now. In her notes, Artistic Director Jennifer Tober delights in playing a variety of Shakespearean roles, including some of the male parts.
In “Shakespeare: The First Drafts,” Richards is captivating as Shakespeare. He lives and breathes the character. While there are probably too many anachronisms as punchlines in the piece, the show is a delightful romp.
Soluna is hip and funky in all the best ways, a charming cafe with eclectic art filled with bright colors and bold patterns. It’s made even more colorful as each audience member in attendance was gifted with a lei, like Hawaiian tourists, by the PSiP crew. It was a great way to celebrate William Shakespeare’s birthday.
“Double Bill” runs until Wednesday, April 24 at Soluna, 1601 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.