Shakespearean humor elevated a slapstick comedy in “The Popular Mechanicals,” an Australian play from 1987 inspired by Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The prime appeal of this raucous show, which opened on Thursday night at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Loft Theater, is the enticing rhythm and wit of Shakespearean prose intermingled with an amateur theater group’s wild antics.
In “The Popular Mechanicals,” minor characters from Shakespeare’s original play, including Bottom, show their appallingly bad but funny acting skills in their play “Pyramus and Thisbe.” From awkward, incorrect lines to missed cues to terrible costumes, the title characters perpetrate every theater faux pas imaginable and then some, though never lacking in gusto and commitment.
The Australian humor throughout is irreverent, ironic and often dry, a perfect link to Shakespeare’s witty style. Dashing through parodied Shakespeare references, the actors wax poetic about death and sunsets in lovely metered prose and then dive into crass slapstick humor and fart jokes. Yet, however lewd or low-brow the humor, the Elizabethan era prose makes each scene feel more tasteful than pure vaudeville, puppetry or slapstick would be.
On Thursday night, the actors immediately plunged the audience into their loony world. As audience members entered the Loft Theater, an improvised pre-show unfolded. Shakespeare’s comic character Nick Bottom, played by Jason Toennis, plopped down amidst the audience, his buckskin jacket, neon orange converse and golden leggings as obtrusive as his character’s personality. The motley crew onstage flung a deflated ball around, likewise wearing an assortment of neon converse and laces and vaguely Elizabethan era tops, before launching directly into the spectacle.
The confident, high-handed Peter Quince, played by Kyle Lawrence, desperately tried to keep his troupe in line, as rehearsals went awry. Lawrence was uproariously funny, particularly in his unexpected sound effects, from an extended throat-clearing to a jarring soup slurp. Later, Lawrence transformed a cringy, fart joke into a gut-busting sequence (literally), all while wearing an unsightly “Little House on the Prairie”-esque bonnet and dress.
Toennis also proved himself as a comedic lead throughout, whether embodying the cocky alcoholic Mowldie, the endearingly confused Bottom or the broken-hearted Pyramus. His wide-eyed delivery and booming voice filled the theater with humor.
The other actors supported well, paying attention to each character’s funny tics and interactions. Harper Branch created a strong Robin Starveling, with Michelle Diller as a giddy Snug the Joiner, Jeffrey Pincus as a meek Francis Flute and demure Thisbe, and Stephanie Salter as a self-assured Snout the Tinker. All actors seemed most relaxed when they guided the audience through the fourth wall, inviting them into their botched rehearsals and chaotic final showing of their show “Pyramus and Thisbe.”
“The Popular Mechanicals” is yet another testament to the timelessness and flexibility of Shakespeare. Even his minor theater troupe, nearly forgotten in the fantastical “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” has enough liveliness and humor to entertain for a whole night.
The show will run until Feb. 16. More information can be found here.
Contact CU Independent Assistant Arts Writer Isabella Fincher at firstname.lastname@example.org.