It goes without saying that Gorilla Tango Theater’s bikini-and-speedo-enhanced abridged production of Shakespeare’s classic farce Much Ado About Nothing has enough skin to titillate even the most prudish of patrons. (Photo at right: L-R Gabe Beutel-Gunn (Benedick) and Katie Utterback (Beatrice). By Dan Finnen)
What’s truly surprising, and what’s perhaps unexpected given the beach-party-romp vibe given off by the production design, is that the Gorilla Tango Theater performers act the living shit out of the material.
It isn’t they don’t look hot—they most certainly do. It’s just that audience members might not expect performers in two-pieces and brief shorts to pull off scenes with dramatic consequences like bastard behavior (in both literal and figurative senses), challenges to the death, broken engagements, and more. But they do, and then some.
And because of the cast’s considerable collective efforts, what on paper sounds like an eye-rolling exercise in gimmickry along the lines of Gorilla Theater’s previous productions (like the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers burlesque show, to name one) in practice becomes a breeze of a one-hour show with a surprising amount of heart.
While not foolproof – must we have inserts of Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen songs? — the spirit of fun, and let’s face it, attractive performers in their skivvies, drives this go-for-broke adaptation. And, when the going gets heavy, the acuity of the actors makes the drama hit hard.
But first comes the comedy and the farce, which is handled with great aplomb. Much Ado About Nothing is the story of two pairs of lovers, Benedick and Beatrice, and Claudio and Hero. The former pair frequently spars verbally, while the latter pair is hopelessly in love. While performers Monica Learch and Nate Bursma aptly render the characters Claudio and Hero, respectively, it’s the chemistry of Katie Utterback’s Beatrice and Gabe Beutel-Gunn’s Benedick that carries the show.
Suffice it to say, Utterback is a delight for the mind in her characterization of Beatrice, a foil’s foil with a rapier wit. Any other appeal is solely – and probably not unexpectedly – determined by the eye of the audience.
Same goes for Beutel-Gunn, who plays Benedick with cocky meta-obliviousness that both embraces hunky-ness and satirizes it. Also, it’s probably worth mentioning the moments Beutel-Gunn, wearing nothing but a speedo, breaks the fourth wall to address various women in the crowd, went over quite well.
But back to the narrative: through a series of absurd misunderstandings, Claudio breaks off his engagement with Hero, the daughter of Leanato, who is the governor of Messiana. Meanwhile, friends of Benedick and Beatrice conspire to have the two quarreling would-be lovers realize their true affections for one another.
Though the performers seemed to trip over the language in Shakespeare’s play at the beginning, the acting eventually coalesced into a humorous, playful whole. When the stakes heighten, so do the performances, to the point that once the misunderstandings clear up in the abridged production, it feels like an inevitable anti-climax. It’s as if the performers and producers suddenly remembered Nothing was a comedy, and then rushed toward the play’s resolution. (Also: the end lip-sync to “Call Me Maybe,” while well received by the audience at Thursday’s performance, felt like a needless tack-on).
Complaints aside, there are a whole lot worse ways to see Shakespeare, and Gorilla Tango Theater’s “Bikini Shakespeare” will likely please even the most button-down of audience members.
-by Jon Graef
Bikini Shakespeare runs thru Aug 30, 2012. GTT, 1919 N. Milwaukee Ave. Price: $15. Box Office: 773-598-4549. www.gorillatango.com