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Theater review: ‘Madman William’ at the Lounge Theatre

August 18, 2011 |  5:45 pm

Mmw 34
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Three Shakespeare characters — Macbeth, King Lear and Hamlet — walk into a bar … .

Alas, “Madman William” doesn’t deliver much of a punch line in a shaky Kaleidoscope Theatre Ensemble production at the Lounge Theatre. This despite sly allusions lurking in just about every line of Naomi Claire Wallace’s meta-theatrical comedy — not only to Shakespeare’s plays and bio, but to film adaptations and other artifacts of his 400 years of cultural saturation.

That timelessness is the basis for a surreal twist in which the titular protagonists of his hit tragedies, having achieved their own quasi-existence and tired of endlessly reenacting their dismal fates, seek refuge in a pub to plot revenge against their creator. In a swipe at pretentious resettings, they appear in 20th century garb: Macbeth (Dane H. Haines II) as Hitler, Lear (Clyde FT Small) as a Willy Loman-esque sad sack, and Hamlet (Mike Gerdwagen) as — well, God only knows. A pugnacious Mercutio (Phillip J. Wheeler) elbows his way into their existential kvetching.

It’s all framed as a dreamscape in the troubled mind of young William Shakespeare (Luke LaGraff), struggling with writer’s block at the start of his career. Setting aside questions of how a dreamer in 1600 could foresee, say, the movie Hamlets of Olivier, Gibson or Branagh, the play’s more fundamental limitation is its reliance on the self-evidence of this kind of name-dropping rather than using it for much more than passing in-joke references.

The intended whimsical spirit and love of language in the piece for the most part elude director Glen S. Jimenez and a cast with little facility for either comic timing or scansion in quoted text. The brighter performances are from Maggie Dougher as William's supportive wife, Anne, and Mallory Shea Kerwin as an exasperated barmaid trying to close the place down for the night — we can only wish her godspeed.

–- Philip Brandes

“Madman William,” the Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays,  Fridays and Saturdays through Aug. 27. From Sept. 2, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays.  Ends Sept. 18. $14. (310) 383-6912 or Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

Photo: Dane H. Haines II, from left, Clyde FT Small and Mike Gerdwagen. Credit: Glen S. Jimenez.