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BWW Review: HAMLET WITH PIRATES is Drunk Classics at its booziest and best

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Hamlet: With PIRATES!!? 3rd Act Theatre Company's improv-laced Shakepeare is a night of drunken fun.

BWW Review: HAMLET WITH PIRATES is Drunk Classics at its booziest and best

Drunk Classics is back!! 3rd Act Theatre Company's annual fundraising tour offers a night of drinking, decadence, and Shakespeare. And pirates. And improv. Truly, you need to be there. Mere words don't do it justice. This season's event is Hamlet with Pirates. The cast of actors, many familiar to Drunk Classics tour fans, recites one of Shakespeare's most robust plays, with improv edits that they must select at the request of audience members.

The Drunk part is no joke - one cast member each night is voted to consume several alcoholic beverages before and during the show. The cast is nothing if not committed, and the selected consumer gets drunker as the night goes on. Audience members raise numbered paddles to request improv edits, while an audience liaison (Vizier, portrayed smartly by Production Director Nicholas Toscani) directs the actors to select their next edit out of treasure boxes. Each treasure box is tiered - $5, $10, $20 - and depending on how much the audience member donates, the edits get wilder as the donation tiers go higher.

The request system is easy and keeps the night fun and organized. Audience members who request edits can pick their donation amount and tab out at the end of the night. Simply raise your numbered paddle, let the Vizier know your donation amount, and if you wish the improv scene to go to a particular character or not. What results is beloved characters suddenly transformed into angry Irishmen, or Southern belles, or heavy smokers.

All joking aside, Shakespeare is some of the most beautiful and complex prose ever written. It's withstood the test of time for good reason, and it is still best when spoken aloud. Hamlet, like all of Shakespeare's works, has good bones. There is a strong enough foundation in the story that ridiculous antics and drunkenness can come to play and not destroy the integrity of the tale. The plot gets lost but finds its way again. It's all part of the fun, and it's impressive to see actors taking whatever is thrown at them and still managing to recite an epic Shakespearean work. And they make it look easy! Every single cast member breaks character, sweats, doubles over in laughter, swears, falls, and forgets a line or two. This certainly adds to the fun. These actors are reciting Shakespeare while doing improv, acting like pirates, and drunk! How impossible! Yet they do it, and do it well.

Kris Kuss is excellent as Hamlet, and he's also the inebriated performer for the night. By Act II, he's three beers in (lucky him - the beers on tap at Roughtail Brewery are top notch), attempting to say some robust lines and pull off an epic death more than once. Kuss never lets it get him down. He looks sharp in coattails, with a hint of Swashbuckling swagger that gets more prominent as the alcohol starts to show. His charm only grows throughout the night, and when he gets some of the more tongue-twisting dialogue out after the second try, the audience breaks into cheers.

Brooke Howard steals the show as Ophelia, landing some of the best improv moments. Howard must do one scene as a Disney princess, another as a heavy smoker. She pulls them all off smoothly and she's never thrown off, no matter how crazy the requests are. Julia Seely is likewise solid as Horatio, bringing personality to the role. Seely comes ready to play in each scene, taking the improv edit and running with it. Seely brings her A-Game, throwing in cute quips throughout the night and even doing the splits - twice! She's an absolute rock star.

Keegan Zimmerman is simply wild as Bernado. Zimmerman is perhaps the most rehearsed improv actor in the show, having been a part of every Drunk Classics production so far. Zimmerman doesn't miss a beat and is a natural at seamlessly incorporating improv into the play. Lest anyone forget that underneath all this silliness are real, professional performers, Zimmerman reminds the audience and showcases how talented he really is.

J. Christine Lanning is a real pro as Gertrude, and her best scene is when she must perform as a Sexy Snake late in Act II. Lanning isn't fazed by any of the challenges, and rolls with the punches all night. Dani Becker is geared up from the get-go, digging her heels in from the first improv request. As Marcellus she's robust and perfectly cast. Becker has a unique look, and she's simply stunning to watch on stage. She's a natural at Shakespeare! What a concept. And she steals hearts with her hilarious improv antics.

This cast is fine-tuned and directed flawlessly by Toscani. It's not without hard work that they can go so far off course and yet find their way back without missing a beat. The cast and Toscani, along with Kat Adams as Stage Manager, have found the perfect balance between silly and serious, bringing the hilarity to a peak before calming it down for dialogue, then back up before a lull. Hamlet with Pirates is energetic and engaging, and it sits in a beautiful spot between "Game of Dress Up" and "Theatre in a Box". In less capable hands, it would be a disaster. But thanks to these pros, it's a perfect mess of fun and crazy, and not to mention it's Shakespearean and epic.

Taylor Reich completes the cast and unpredictability as a Ghost, of course. And when he's glued to Zimmerman's abdomen for one improv scene, the audience is in for a real "treat". As Zimmerman shouts, "This is what you paid for, people!" the audience laughs, tips our hats and beers, and toasts to this wonderful night of drunken Shakespeare and improv pirates. Aye, matey!

The Drunk Classics tour continues through July. Hamlet with Pirates makes stops at Angry Scotsman Brewing on July 16th and 17th, Roughtail Brewing Company July 23rd, Anthem Brewing July 24th, and Put a Cork in It Bricktown on July 30th and 31st. Audience members vote on the cast member who drinks, and 3rd Act ensures that cast member has a safe ride home. For tickets, visit 3rdacttheatreco.com.


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