Blaine Swen and Ross Braxton Bryant (Improvised Shakespeare Company)
Improvised performance. Shakespearean acting. These two things are not normally conducive, but Chicago's Improvised Shakespeare Company - making their Winnipeg debut at Manitoba Theatre for Young People with Shake It Up - make it look easy.
Working with nothing but a title suggested by the audience, the company (the touring group here is Blaine Swen, Ross Braxton Bryant, and Joseph Bland) craft a Shakespearean drama from scratch each performance. And at their Thursday morning show for junior high school students, they delivered a hilarious and smartly-performed gem.
Working with the suggested title "Eminem Loves Shakespeare," the trio turned the bad-boy rapper into a Macbeth-like general, pining for the king's daughter, Shakespeare ("named after some poet of no renown") - and lusting after his crown.
The Shakespearean conventions are all there - "thee's" and "thou's," asides to the audience, subplots aplenty, swordfights, dramatic death scenes, and even a couple of clever-naughty jokes ("I would melt thee in my mouth, not in my hand," the girlish Shakespeare swooned to our hero Enimem). Mixed in are ample jokes aimed at the teen audience (Eminem was described as "a thin man and suspicious," and a moment later, "slim and shady"). It's all very impressive, and there's plenty to admire in the skill of these improvisers - if you aren't too busy laughing at the gags, which come flying fast and furious.
This show is geared to teens, but parents will probably enjoy it just as much. Shakespeare fans, improv fans, comedy fans - get thee to MTYP. This improvised play is just the thing.
Joff Schmidt, CBC theatre reviewer (CBC)