Quick Bright Things: At Classic Stage Company, Bebe and Christina Take on the Bard

Midsummer slapstick, and belly laughs

“The fight is so strong that it can overpower the language,” said Mr. Speciale, who has worked to find a balance between slapstick and clarity. Younger audiences are “more vocal,” and their laughter can push that scene to a “high frenzied place.”

“It’s a challenge for the actors to stay grounded,” he said. “To not overproduce, to not add extra gimmicks or gags, because once you add a little joke here, it has a ripple effect and you can’t hear the language.”

On the night The Observer attended, a fire alarm set off by an overactive haze machine served to further drown out Shakespeare’s poetry. Only when the sound of sirens outside stopped the show did the audience stop laughing. Lying on the stage, Taylor Mac, as Puck, asked, “Does anyone know any campfire songs?”

Returning from a dinner meeting to watch the show’s second half, Mr. Kulick was surprised to see a gaggle of firemen tramping into his lobby. One turned to him and said, “Haze machine, right? We’ve seen this before.”

“The thing that makes the smoke,” Ms. Neuwirth said, “I guess we can’t put it up to 10.”

“In this production,” said Mr. Kulick, “10 fireman walking through wouldn’t seem strange. We’ve had fire alarms, we’ve had nude people walk onto our stage, we’ve had a burglar backstage that Murray Abraham had to wrestle to the ground. We’re used to at least once a year something unexpected happening.”

That was just a few days into previews, and the show has been tightened up since. But its ragged spirit reminded Ms. Neuwirth of her teenager years dancing ballet.

“No matter what the choreography was,” she said, “or what level you’re at as a dancer, that music is still there. It’s still Prokofiev. It’s still Tchaikovsky. It’s still Chopin. With Shakespeare it doesn’t matter that they’ve got beach chairs on the set, or that I’m dressed as a trapeze artist. That music is still there. It’s still Shakespeare.”

Of course it is. But not all Shakespeare earns belly laughs.



Quick Bright Things: At Classic Stage Company, Bebe and Christina Take on the Bard