I saw Violent Delights at the Off-Leash Art Box in South Minneapolis, but that is not the only place to see it. It is being performed through November 2nd as “pop-up” performances in various locations in Minneapolis. Visit the website at https://www.theseviolentdelights.org/ to find a date and location that fits your schedule. I was curious about this choice and learned from their website that “We want to get theatre off the stage and into our neighborhoods”. That’s obviously not a viable option for all shows, but it suits this show perfectly, which has no sets, no props, just eight actors, a script and minimal lighting which I suspect is easily adaptable to each performance space.
The show was conceived over 10 years ago by it’s creator Penelope Parsons-Lord after attending a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream where she was dismayed at the audiences response to a threat of rape between two characters. What grew out of that exploration of why the show played that moment for laughs and why audiences might react in that way was Violent Delights. Parsons-Lord has taken the scenes of violence, sexual and otherwise from the works of Shakespeare and presented them in a way that draws attention to those acts and makes us look at them for what they are as opposed to being lost in the flow of a play, where some of the less palatable aspects can be downplayed. Instead she holds the scenes up, strips them of anything but the language and the interpretation of the actors, creating a more impactful understanding of the text.
The scenes are not presented in some mishmash attempt at a narrative, instead she sticks to the more familiar works, Hamlet, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, MacBeth, Titus Andronicus, Much Ado About Nothing, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream so that she can just present the scenes and not worry about context. To set the audience up for the evening, the actors are already on stage when you enter the theatre, they then proceed to stand there for 15 minutes staring straight ahead until the performance starts. Right away we know this is going to be a different evening than what we generally get at the theatre. When they start speaking, they begin monologues one at a time then overlapping so that one cannot really follow any one performers speech. This again reinforces we will be seeing something different and also comments on the reputation that Shakespeare sometimes has for being incomprehensible to the average person. The cast then proceeds to act out the various scenes deftly speaking the language so that meaning is clear. This should reassure any audience member that they are not going to be lost. This is basically Shakespeare: The Naughty Bits shows us how modern it can feel and how the language is not beyond our grasp at all.
The most clever aspect of the show is the repetition of a few scenes. One is from Hamlet, basically they act out the “Get thee to a Nunnery” scene between Hamlet and his mother in her bedchamber. Later, they revisit the scenes, but play them at the same time, Hamlet turning between Ophelia and Gertrude, creating a new and dynamic scene. The even more telling repetition comes in the scene between Helena and Demetrius from A Midsummer Night’s Dream that inspired Violent Delights. This scene is replayed throughout the evening at least 4 times, each time in a new way. The first time the scene is played, we must imagine that performance 10 years ago, as comedy. The final recitation is played very dark and sinister. This illustrates the ways in which interpretation and how an actor plays a scene can dramatically alter it’s meaning. The contrast is startling.
Whether you’re a fan of Shakespeare or afraid, this show is equally for you. If a fan, you will find new meanings in the ways in which the text is brought to life. If afraid, you’ll learn how accessible it can be in the right hands. The cast are all uniformly gifted at conveying Shakespeare’s language. The show is surprisingly physical, and again the cast is all game and totally committed. It’s an intimate and exhilarating night in the theatre. The location I attended is their most traditional; however, I’d be very interested in seeing it in another location sometime. Get thee to a pop-up performance.