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Fifty Shades of Shakespeare - Celebrating the Bard's Bawdy Side

By Jessie Bond

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The cast of Fifty Shades of Shakespeare


(re)discover theatre has re-mounted (and mounted really is the correct word here) its popular production Fifty Shades of Shakespeare, created and developed by Jess Shoemaker and (re)discover theatre. Composed of a hodgepodge of the Bard's "sexiest scenes," Fifty Shades of Shakespeare is an odd little show that's fun to watch if difficult to understand.


The cast of Fifty Shades of Shakespeare


Inside Mary's Attic, a bar and intimate, cabaret-style performance space above burger joint Mary's Burgers, my evening began when a performer offered to read a passage from a steamy romance novel to me and my boyfriend, an offer I was delighted to accept. Romance novels are a motif of the evening, appearing throughout the performance and even factoring into the rules of the show's self-invented drinking game. Even more so, the spirit of corny erotic novels permeates the show, with the actors gleefully embracing the over-the-top expressions of passion and lust proclaimed in these books, but using the language of Shakespeare.


The cast of Fifty Shades of Shakespeare


Well, sometimes. While a handful of the scenes present raunchy, low-budget takes on Shakespearean love scenes (complete with bedazzled bras, multicolored codpieces, and cheap floggers), others are fairly straightforward performances of dramatic text—Macbeth and his wife conspiring to murder Duncan, for example, or, mostly bizarrely of all, Desdemona's death scene. Except for its taking place in the bedroom, nothing about Desdemona's murder is particularly sexy, and it's a bit disturbing to see it included in such lighthearted, bawdy evening.


Amelia Bethel in Fifty Shades of Shakespeare


William Delforge in Fifty Shades of Shakespeare


Even stranger is the fact that these sincere performances of dramatic material are really quite good. Actors Amelia Bethel, Tanner Bradshaw, William Delforge, and Madeline Moeller are not only unafraid to be silly and lewd, but they're also talented Shakespeare actors in their own right. Add in the fact that the roles for each night are chosen at random by audience members selecting cards with performers' names on them, and it becomes clear that the performers of Fifty Shades of Shakespeare are more than just goofy Shakespeare fans who like sex.


Madeline Moeller in Fifty Shades of Shakespeare


Tanner Bradshaw in Fifty Shades of Shakespeare


The actors are enthusiastic in guiding the audience through the evening. The presence of a bar factors into the experience, too; it's definitely a show best enjoyed with a few cocktails or beers. Still, the odd mix of content in the performance makes it difficult to understand quite what (re)discover theatre is going for; the crude, comic reinterpretations don't really fit in alongside the moments of earnest acting.


The cast of Fifty Shades of Shakespeare


Also, it's a small thing, but the show makes no real mention or use of the abundance of dick jokes in Shakespeare's canon in the bits between scenes, which is disappointing. Surely there's some kind of gag or game that can be built around that. A show creative enough to incorporate sparkly vagina posters must be creative enough to do something fun with all those unsheathed swords and so on.


The cast of Fifty Shades of Shakespeare


50 Shades of Shakespeare is a fun show for a night out with friends, just be aware that it's not really a unified performance, more of an odd mix of Shakespeare both silly and sincere. If nothing else, the show is an amusing distraction from the stress of daily life.


The cast of Fifty Shades of Shakespeare


Ticket Information

Dates: February 3 – 27, 2017

Times: Friday, Saturday, and Monday evenings at 8:00pm

Special Valentines Day performance Tuesday Feb. 14 (no show Feb. 13)

Location: Mary's Attic - 5400 N Clark St., Chicago, IL

Tickets: $15 general, $25 VIP. Available online on (re)discover theatre's website.


All photos by Matt Wills.

Published on Feb 07, 2017

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