Drunk Shakespeare is an abridged 90-minute whirlwind version of Macbeth full of jokes, drinks, and audience participation.
It started with a shot of tequila in a library. It ended with an epic dance-off battle between Macduff and Macbeth. So no, Drunk Shakespeare isn’t your typical Off-Broadway play. But this pared-down comedic Macbeth, with one genuinely drunk actor was one of the most riveting and enjoyable shows I’ve ever seen, and I say this as an appreciator of both Shakespeare and tequila.DRUNK SHAKESPEARE is an abridged 90-minute whirlwind and comic version of Macbeth.Click To Tweet
The evening took place in a library-bar; as we sat among 15,000 beautiful, real books, bartenders came to take drink or snack orders. The five-person acting ensemble wandered around, chatting with audience members, commenting jokingly on their selfies. (Okay, our selfies.) To start the show, the host (the superbly entertaining Mike Sause) announced that one randomly-chosen lucky (or unlucky?) actor who would be taking four shots. On that night, it was the dynamic Whit Leyenberger who plays “Banquo and others.” He raised each glass to something relevant: “to Syria and Nicaragua, the only two other countries not signed on to the Paris climate agreement.” Then, the show — an abridged 90-minute whirlwind version of the Shakespeare piece — began in earnest.Macbeth’s letter to Lady Macbeth was a scrawled sharpie sentence signed with '#covfefe'.Click To Tweet
Most audiences know at least the basics of Macbeth, so Drunk Shakespeare takes every chance it gets to make the show new, funny, modern, and accessible. Macbeth’s letter to Lady Macbeth was a scrawled sharpie sentence signed with “#covfefe” instead of “Lay it to thy heart, and farewell.” The audience loved it. References were often made to the bachelor party in sombreros in the audience, to college drinking games, and to other theatre pieces (including Sleep No More, a very different sort of alternative Macbeth).You don’t have to dress in period costume to do Shakespeare.Click To Tweet
Drunk Shakespeare is full of small moments of fun audience participation, the kind the audience was clamouring to be involved in. The audience is always visible; their reactions become part of the show as if they, too, were characters. Sometimes they are: audience members were chosen to play small parts like dead Duncan or Banquo’s murderers. Two other audience members, who had won the auction to sit in the King’s and Queen’s chairs that night, intervened twice to check if Leyenberger was drunk enough. After both sobriety challenges — including a spontaneously and incredibly well-delivered Titus monologue — they deemed he wasn’t. “Off with his head!” Leyenberger gamely downed another shot.
The outstanding ensemble brought this audience-inclusive energy to the house with their unique, modern takes on their characters. I don’t know how drunk he actually was, but Leyenberger was hysterically funny, making the audience laugh and root for him all at once. He switched from Banquo, to the Porter, to one of the Witches with ease. Sause imitated a different famous figure astoundingly well each time he entered as Ross to deliver messages; everything from his Christopher Walken, to his Gilbert Gottfried, to his (of course) Donald Trump were completely on point. Tim Haber was a strong and comical Macbeth (bet you’ve never read that before): ripping off his shirt at one point, delivering the “If it were done when ’tis done” monologue in German to pay homage to his German heritage. Lady Macbeth (Lindsey Hope Pearlman) was demonic and powerful, not shying away from going full crazy, but in a way that said college meltdown more than Scottish queen. And Aubrey Taylor was a Macduff you could root for from beginning to end, joining in on the fun while staying a bit more straight, often shaking her head at the antics of her cast members, the production quietly but noticeably casting a strong and talented black woman as the “good guy” in the play.DRUNK SHAKESPEARE is a 'drinking society with a Shakespeare problem'.Click To Tweet
You don’t have to dress in period costume to do Shakespeare; sometimes being “a drinking society with a Shakespeare problem” works better anyway. The skilled improvisation and cohesion of the entire ensemble created a story that was compelling and modern. The tone was different than most Macbeths; instead of being dark, creepy, or foreboding, Drunk Macbeth was a “we’re all in this together” Shakespeare romp that happened to involve murder. It was almost like someone said to make it PG-13 with regard to blood and violence (“let’s do a dance-off and little fabric blood necklaces instead!”) but up it to R on F-bombs and raunchy jokes. Still, it paid tribute to the story and to Shakespeare’s verse while updating it in a way that felt appreciative, not dismissive. Sure, Lady Macbeth hilariously called Macbeth “you little bitch!,” but the “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” monologue was delivered word-for-word. It kept the spirit of Shakespeare, and the spirit of, well, spirits.When a quarter of the show differs each night, you can’t watch this on Netflix—you have to be there.Click To Tweet
Sometimes, I wonder if American theater isn’t taking advantage of its live audience and isn’t distinguishing itself from film enough. Photorealistic sets combine with performances that aim to be the exact same every night, not breaking the fourth wall. But when a quarter of the show is different each night, you can’t watch this on Netflix — you have to be there. It is an experience, not something to passively absorb while sitting in the dark. It comments bitingly on current political and social events like a late-night TV show — all while still keeping the basis of the classic Macbeth story many of us know. In a world where it’s harder and harder to get people to come out to see a live play, Drunk Shakespeare is the future of theatre. And that’s not the tequila speaking.