Sean Deming's Little Shakespeare is reminiscent of a Saturday-morning cartoon that has characters known from other places presented in a childlike way -- sort of recognizable, but in a different milieu. Among the characters here are Hamlet, Romeo, and Petruchio (that covers the Shakespeare) ; the Little is Little League. The baseball teams are the Capulets and the Montagues, and the play's dialogue borrows, simplifies, and burlesques the well-known progenitors.
There's fun to be had in identifying what comes from where and how original intent is used for comic meanings. The introduction to Romeo and Juliet is used to set the scene; when Hamlet's father's ghost appears dressed as an umpire and explains how the position of team captain was usurped by (of all people) Richard III, the reference is unmistakable. Two versions of the pre-battle scene from Henry V are offered, and Petruchio and Katherine do their battle of wills as he teaches her how to hit the baseball ("I say it was a strike." "Nay, sir, it was a ball.") And there's Lear, blindly wandering the heath . . . .
In fact, the play worked best in scenes like these, scenes which were straightforward (if slightly bent) take-offs of Shakespeare, and less well when themes and characters were mixed indiscriminately. There are 25 characters here, and the action became muddled when there were too many to be easily sorted out. The cast was clearly enjoying themselves, and there was a lot of fun in watching them balance the "little" and the "Shakespeare." But there's also the feeling of its being an in-joke, and while it was a pleasant diversion, the pieces don't add up to a whole.
Director Christopher Gladysz kept the little-leaguers moving, and the 90 intermissionless minutes passed quickly. Particularly good were Hamlet (Jerry Prince Solomon), Richard (Christopher Fabbro), Lear (Bruce Cohen), the ghost (Lawrence Merritt), Juliet (Susanna Hobrath), with special kudos to Petruchio (Clay Jackson) and Katherina (Alisha Campbell) -- her speech on the virtues of good sportsmanship was particularly good. The setting was simple, keeping the focus on the Montagues (in the blue Jerseys) and the Capulets (in red).
When the focus was on Shakespeare, Little Shakespeare played, yes, trippingly on the tongue. Deming clearly loves Shakespeare, and doesn't mind having fun with him (the play ends with a minuet danced to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"). Even William himself is here (Christopher Pearce), and he too is amused.
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Copyright 1998 David Mackler