The Pear Theatre’s newest production is the world premiere of a comedic romp through the words of William Shakespeare. Written by Max Gutmann, and the last show of the Pear’s fifteenth season, What You Will is a funny combines elements from different Shakespeare plays into a new comedic homage to the Sweet Swan of Avon.
The play opens on a Duke as he holds court. He is conducting business with a man named Antonio, but there is suspicion between the two, a rivalry encouraged by the Duke’s attendant Malvolio. The Duke has eyes for Antonio’s wife, something Antonio can only suspect until he dresses up like her and deceives the duke’s affection. Likewise, the Duke’s wife, The Duchess, suspects foul play, but only ends up seducing Antonio when confronted with him in the garden. Antonio is stuck, but plays his hand to get more information, only to discover his wife canoodling with the Duke’s assistant.
You get the idea.
The cast of this wild, high-paced romp is equally lively and endearing, all handling multiple roles with ease. Amelia Adams plays The Duchess, Borachio and Bianca fluidly, invigorating the Duchess with a sense of devious purpose. Dan Wilson, as the Messenger and Roderigo, is funny but grounded even in moments of slapstick. As a bonus, he bears a remarkable resemblance to Shakespeare himself. Mark Vashro shines as the panicked but self-aware Antonio. Special mention also goes to Lauren Hayes as the stern but conniving Malvolio and Jim Johnson as the provincial attendant. But the standout performance belongs to Kevin Hammond, who portrays the Duke with a perfectly anachronistic demeanor, endearing in his selfishness and neurotic in his compassion.
Performed in the round, What You Will is a funny is filled with a special sense of intimacy that only comes with such a tight layout. The set is spare, using only a couple of columns to demarcate scenes and settings, which reinforces the audience’s attention on the players. Likewise the cast pays special attention to the audience, and often involves it in the show for comedic wardrobe changes and inter-dialogue musings.
For the most part it works, with What You Will filling that bottomless craving for Shakespeare while standing on its own as a charming story. Mashing up Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits, though, can lead to some awkward phrasings and emphasis. While there are moments when the play captures the innate beauty and wisdom in Shakespeare’s classic lines, there are other times when it feels like watching a Shakespeare algorithm spitting out “Doth protests” and “Struts and Fruts” upon the stage.
Ultimately What You Will is a funny, self-aware gloss on the greatest writer in the English language. Though a few moments fall flat, What You Will is a funny at the Pear Theatre is a fun journey through the magic of the inimitable Bard.
What You Will
Thru Jul 16, $32
Pear Theater, Mountain View