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Hanging with Reduced Shakespeare Company
Reduced Shakespeare Company
“We’ve always said, ‘If you like Shakespeare, you’ll like our show and if you hate Shakespeare, you’ll LOVE our show.”
And so began my afternoon at the Wells Theatre with Michael Faulkner, Mick Orfe and Matt Rippy—the three hilarious gentlemen gracing the stage in the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged).
They sat with me just prior to hitting the stage to talk about the important stuff. Best food in Norfolk, tweaking the jokes to fit the audience (ie: military hassling—even in fun—may not be the way to go), and most importantly—we settled the Beatles vs. Stones debate.
The lads rehearsing.
Reduced Shakespeare Company (or RSC) has been to Norfolk twice before, with its complete histories of Books and America, respectively.
Me: “Anything you try to do when you get to Norfolk?
RSC: “A waffle cone at Doumar’s!”
I tried to be serious. I like Shakespeare. I even wiki’d to make sure I didn’t ask stupid questions. But the conversation flowed like I was hanging out with the coolest people at the BBQ. Questions were half answered, then they delved into jokes, innuendos and puns in the same way a transplant’s given accent sneaks through—unconsciously and naturally. Usually Mick brought it back around a couple of minutes into the segueway with a “back to your original question.” And repeat.
For instance, a normal “Where are you guys from?” ended with exaggerations about their rehearsals via conference call or Skype. A discussion on RSC’s evolution into an actual Repertoire company, with multiple tours going on at once, with new actors occasionally joining, ended in solving the music fan’s equivalent of the chicken vs egg debate: Beatles or Stones?
Michael (who is the nerdy-in-a-good way cool one) explained RSC is like Journey—there’s one that tours with the lead singer, and the other one that tours with the band, to which he was promptly made fun of by Matt (who I kept wanting to call Rippy—because he’s the fun guy in your fraternity or on your block that always has a smile and possibly a keg—you know, the guy that goes by his last name because he can’t simply be just Matt, he’s Rippy). This turned into my favorite thing: a music conversation.
Rippy: “Mick thinks the Rolling Stones are way hipper than the Beatles.”
Mick: “No. Cooler. The Beatles are the band your mother likes. The Stones are the band you drink beer with your friends to.”
Michael: “Speaking of the Stones, Charlie Watts does not tour with the Stones, they have a new drummer now…”
And we were off. Music geek heaven with three comedians who don’t seem put off by this conversation in the same way my Mom used to be. In the end, we decided on The Who.
This is quite possibly the best discovery of my life.
Mick explained, “That’s how you settle the Stones/Beatles argument. You say The Who and no one can argue.”
Rippy followed with, “The Who were very good at reducing their instruments and we do the same. We smash Shakespare to bits.”
Me: “With pyrotechnics?”
“Haha. We go to eleven.”
I asked another serious and educated question. “Have you guys seen Sassy Gay Friend on YouTube?”
They had not, but Rippy sounded very smart when calling it Reductio ad absurdum, which I, of course, had to Google. The jovial nature of these guys made me do it…I could have been being punked. After all, when describing it, I said Juliet took a Priest from a roofie (it should be the other way around, obviously), most likely because I was intimidated by their level of awesome when it came to wit. However, underneath the dorky, cross-dressing exteriors, there were three smart dudes sitting with me in the Wells.
It's that kind of show.
Turns out Sassy Gay Friend in Second City, of which Michael is a graduate and Mick a former student. Rippy has also toured with the former head of Second City Los Angeles. They started talking about their former experiences as both a participant and fan and ended up sounding sort of like my husband when he tells people he went to Woodstock 94—wistful and full of admiration and pride. Again, they can’t help themselves from being hilarious–”Isn’t it funny how far they fell as we just went up and up?”
We discussed how the shows are written—how they start as a skeleton, a base script, and are taken to a workshop to be flushed out by the group. This formula continues throughout the tours.
“Even backstage after each performance, the three of us will talk about what worked and what didn’t. What can we change for fit the local audience?”
And for Norfolk?
Mick explained, “A lot of the audience went ewww to the man on man kiss and one person was like (makes a lonely, echoing solo clapping sound).”
Me: “That’s your AltDaily reader.”
Off topic hilarity ensues. Mick brought us to the original question. Repeat.
I got to watch them rehearse the scene where Rippy (Juliet) falls down after drinking poison. He’s concerned about his dress affecting the fall. Mick (Romeo) has to kneel over him quickly and they don’t want to be injured.
Rippy: “Sometimes with physical comedy comes physical pain.”
Though this could have already been in the script, they crack themselves up with the following:
Romeo: “Oh no! My wife!”
Juliet: “My nuts!”
This makes it into Friday night’s performance, as does a reference to homophobia.
“I’m not kissing you!”
“It’s in the script!”
Also, there was the white boy rap version of Othello, the call to screw this and all head to Jack Quinn’s at the end of Act I, and Rippy being bribed back to the stage with the promise of being able to celebrate Confederate History Month. Oh yes, and I was seated in the “pretty sloppy C section.”
All in all, my experience with the actors, as well as the experience of watching a politically incorrect show in downtown Norfolk, where hundreds of adults cackled together at the site of a stuffed dinosaur wearing Chuck Taylors, who didn’t get offended at the absurdity of it all and instead went with the flow, was an inspiring time indeed.