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Teaching Shakespeare: a Parody

Reviewed by Michael Lazan

Presented by The Present Company at Teatro 309 at Charas/El Bohio, 605 E. 9th Street, NYC, Aug 16-27.

There's nothing wrong with having fun in the theatre, especially when Shakespeare is the subject. That's ultimately the point of Keir Cutler's extremely silly and funny interactive show, a 50-minute "lecture," in which a dizzy "professor" teaches his class about Shakespeare in a tone reminiscent of a particularly good Monty Python sketch.

The piece is actually a very well structured absurdist one-act. The manic and pathetic scholar has a mission—to persuade his students to change their performance reviews, lest he be fired. To further his objective, the beleaguered prof is desperate enough to let all his difficulties "slip," including such details as problems with his wife, and his failed former career as an actor ("the only thing my acting lacked was truth"). And though the professor is as daft and disordered as could be, it is impossible not to be sympathetic to him, as Cutler gives his character an underlying sweetness that is always evident.

What makes all this particularly distinctive, of course, is how Cutler uses this construct to hilariously point out the pretensions of those in excessive adoration of the Bard. Sometimes the character does this directly, swiping at scholars who "defend every aspect of the play at all costs." Other times, the character stumbles himself, as when he offers that, in Shakespeare: "things are not what they seem—nor are they otherwise."

Cutler, with a strong, deep voice and a quietly penetrating presence, is so totally comfortable in the loopy role that you wonder why he isn't getting more roles in big budget comedies. He was so unflappable that, when an audience member unfortunately left his cell phone on, Cutler smartly ad-libbed: "please turn off your cell phone when you come to class." The piece is presented, appropriately enough, in a former classroom at the strangely wonderful East Village performance space called Charas/El Bohio. I'd give it an "A."

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