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Pulp Shakespeare

nytheatre.com review by Charles C Bales
August 12, 2012

Using the narrative of Quentin Tarantino’s classic 1994 feature film Pulp Fiction as its source material, Her Majesty’s Secret Players transport that movie’s action back to William Shakespeare’s era with dizzyingly terrific results.

Audiences may take a minute or two to become accustomed to the old-fashioned rhythm of the text being performed onstage at the landmark Cherry Lane Theatre. But once they do, they will be rewarded with a delectably postmodern drama that really does seem like it could be a lost work of England’s national poet.

Parallels between the Bard and QT might seem hard to pinpoint, but both create rich dialogue, masking sexual tension with double entendre and violence with eloquent language. The tendency of both writers to focus in on two people engaged in cunning wordplay is front and center in Pulp Shakespeare.

Familiarity with Pulp Fiction is essential to get all the inside jokes and to appreciate the way in which the actors not only fashion themselves after their onscreen counterparts, but also recreate their physicality and speech patterns as well. Virtually a scene-by-scene recreation of the film, Pulp Shakespeare turns Tarantino’s already robust story into a bloody-good Jacobean revenge tragedy.

The actors are all exceptional, wrapping their tongues around difficult cadences with the utmost of ease. The impeccable line readings of Dan White and Aaron Lyons in the roles made famous by Samuel Jackson and John Travolta are particularly praiseworthy. Their hilarious, albeit highfalutin, version of the classic “Royale with Cheese” exchange is one of the shows many highlights.

Gorgeous period costumes by Kelly Bailey help enhance the mood, draping the actors in appropriate garb befitting their high or low statuses. Hannah Beck as Lady Mia Wallace (the Uma Thurman role) is sumptuously outfitted in luxe velvet and jewels. Christian Levantino as Sir “Butch” Lawrence is costumed as a knight ready for battle — a super-smart twist on the boxing outfits Bruce Willis wore in the film.

Actually, everything about the 80-minute Pulp Shakespeare is clever. From the way many characters need to use the bathroom or are caught in the loo during key moments (just like in the movie) and the sprinkling of iconic Shakespeare quotes throughout, to the duplication of the film’s non-linear structure and the changing of the characters’ names into more appropriately Elizabethan-sounding appellations.

The program says upcoming projects by Her Majesty’s Secret Players will include Shakespearean versions of both The Wizard of Oz and The Godfather. As a Tarantino aficionado, I’m personally holding out for the inevitable version of Kill Will(iam), Parts 1 and 2