The Drunk Shakespeare Society calls themselves “A company of serious drinkers with a Shakespeare problem.” But I see no problem here: only a whole lot of fun.
Performed in the second-floor lounge of Quinn’s, a Hell’s Kitchen Irish pub, Drunk Shakespeare features a rotating cast of actors and a rotating designated drunk. Each night one company member is chosen to “drink more than a sophisticated amount of alcohol” at the show’s outset, and then imbibe regularly over the course of the evening. With restraint thrown to the wind, the drunk performer is free to manipulate his or her role, or the whole play, however the muse of alcohol requires.
It’s not just the evening’s lush who plays wild and free with Shakespeare’s work. The entire five-person cast weaves in and out of character as well as on and off script, prioritizing the task of creating a riotous experience over staying too true to Shakespeare. The result is an irreverent, bawdy, and good-spirited show, in equal service to liquor and poetry.
On the evening I saw them perform (the company actually calls the production a meeting of the Drunk Shakespeare Society in the society lounge), the play in question was Macbeth and the designated drunk was Kate Gunther, a long and lean actress who does not appear at first glance to be a woman who can hold her booze. This notion was quickly erased when she downed four shots of Jameson to start the festivities. By the end of the night she had consumed two more shots, a couple beers and one more, umm… “concoction.”
An audience member is invited to join the designated drunk for one pre-show shot in order to prove that the glasses on the tray are actually filled with booze, and to signal the level of audience immersion we can expect. The bar is open all night, so audience members are encouraged to imbibe as much as the actor. Over the course of the performance, the audience is asked to clap, sing, chant, hold pine-tree air fresheners and creep up to Macbeth, and generally be an active part of the society meeting.
Disappointingly, the drunken Gunther was not as prominently featured as she might have been. She played Banquo and the Porter and various other small roles, but was in the wings for much of the play’s action. Not that she stayed there of course, as she found many places to interrupt the show with her drunken antics. But certainly more could be done with her.
But it seems churlish to nit-pick. Instead we should raise a glass and celebrate this show’s spirit. Any Macbeth that turns its climactic duel into a sing-off and features mid-show shots of whiskey is OK in my book.