Fifty Shades of Shakespeare

by Diane Bushemi

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday February 9, 2015

Fifty Shades of Shakespeare

The opening of "Fifty Shades of Shakespeare" in February is timely, when love is in the air and hearts are on fire despite the snow and ice outside. What better way to stoke the flames for heating up the bedroom on Valentine's Day than to drink cocktails with your lover while watching The Bard's steamiest scenes played out just mere feet from you?

Oh yeah, and the much anticipated cinematic derivative of "Fifty Shades of Grey," of which (re)discover theatre's encore presentation's name is inspired, is set to open Valentine's Day weekend. Odds are very good that for about the same ticket price, "Fifty Shades of Shakespeare" is a much better investment.

(Re)discover Theatre's mission is to "surprise ourselves and audiences with live experiences that are visceral and deeply memorable for both artists and audiences." "Fifty Shades of Shakespeare," a "remount" from last year's production of the same name, does just that as the theatre group's creative team pushes the boundaries in its interpretation of snippets from some of Shakespeare's most well known classics.

The upstairs of The Pony in Lakeview provides an ideal, intimate setting in this interactive production. The actors and audience are sure to feel the mercury rise in the room.

Four actors play out 11 scenes from plays such as "Romeo and Juliet," "Hamlet," "Macbeth," "Othello," "Midsummer Night's Dream," "Taming of the Shrew" and "The Tempest." The only script is the words in the scenes from those plays; everything else is improvised.

These four actors are all quite good and work well together: vivacious, buxom redhead Kelly Schmidt; devilishly handsome Gary Henderson; dynamic, statuesque Shaina Schrooten; erotic and comedic Andrew Lund.

At the start of both acts, the audience chooses the actors' names for each role by random drawing. That means Henderson and or Lund could play Juliet; Schmidt or Schrooten could be Hamlet. It isn't a stretch, as there weren't actresses back in Shakespeare's day. Men were cast in the female roles. That is entirely the point of exploring gender roles in this production, along with sexuality and relationships.

The actors recite the dialogue as written. It is the delivery, costume and props that add prurience to Shakespeare's words, as well as other layers of intrigue. Lund, in particular, is a natural comedian. He garners laughs from The Bard's words with inflection and face expression alone.

Besides demonstrating their acting chops (it is Shakespeare, after all), all four actors show their improvisational skills. The audience chooses the word for "sex with me is like____." It could fall flat, as much of improv does. The actors think on their feet, with consistently entertaining results.

In between scenes, the audience is bestowed with unusual sex facts. Did you know... ? On second thought, it shan't be spoiled. See this production yourself to be edified in sexual trivia.

"Fifty Shades of Shakespeare" celebrates sexual freedom and expression in different ways. There are orgies, floggings, and forbidden love all delivered in good fun. A couple of the scenes are performed straight, perhaps as a respite or palate cleanser.

Hamlet, in his increasing revulsion towards the act of sex, famously demands Ophelia "get thee to a nunnery" lest she breed sinners such as he. This is what can happen when sexuality is repressed or demonized. It is not salaciously sexy as the rest of the production. Still, the message is subtle but significant.

The production is an hour with a short intermission to allow the actors to prepare for Act II. The bar is open the whole time, so refreshment is encouraged. There is also a sex-themed drink for the evening available. You may want it for the drinking game for every time a certain word is said. Again, you will have to see this play to find out what that is.

"Fifty Shades of Shakespeare" runs through February 23 at The Pony, 1638 W. Belmont Ave, Chicago. For tickets or information, visit