Rude Mechanicals’ ‘Something Wicked’ casts a spell on audience
Annual variety show combines ominous mix of Shakespeare, original works
How do you break the magic? That’s what Rude Mechanicals sought out to do in creating “Something Wicked,” their fourteenth annual variety show that was performed on October 5-7. Unlike their previous variety shows, this show gave a dark twist to classic tales, connecting all of the 10-minute scenes to tell one cohesive story that made audiences shiver with fear.
Rude Mechanicals is a theatre troupe that performs the works of William Shakespeare, often with a modern lens. This year’s variety show took a different direction, including not just Shakespeare, but other classic works, fairy tales, and original, contemporary works, including the “Something Wicked” framing device written and directed by Artistic Director Andrew Watring. Seven directors led each scene with different casts.
Walking into Katzen 151, audiences knew they were in for something truly wicked. Signs led them to a dimly lit classroom, creating a chilling ambience that matched the dark tone of the night. The show began in the present, introducing the audience to their two narrators for the night: a young Girl with a terminal illness (Rachel Benz) and the demonic Being who tells her stories (Jess McGowan). The Being promised the Girl her illness would be cured if she showed no fear and came with her. Throughout the show, this unlikely pair looked on from the side as stories from the classical and contemporary canon ensued.
In the opening scene, Maggie Shircliff’s direction of “The Juniper Tree,” tells the tale of a Stepfather (William Thai) who kills his husband’s daughter (Bella Lundquist) out of jealousy and spite. Thai demonstrates a stunning sense of mania and paranoia in characterizing the Stepfather, all while maintaining comedic timing. Lundquist portrays the Daughter’s innocence and conflicting devotion to her family with emotional bravery, especially in her final confrontation with her Stepfather when she is murdered.
The Girl’s shock after witnessing this scene only increases as the Being transitions to telling her twisted versions of stories from the classical canon. The only Shakespearean scene of the night, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” was directed by Julia Jenal and featured an all-female cast. In particular, Georgia Sampson’s depiction of Bottom, who transforms into a donkey in this scene, was a dark portrayal highlighted by a creepy mask and lighting that enhanced the transformation.
The actors treated the audience to more laughs in “The Hercules Game.” Directed by Matt Miyagi, Abhay Dewan and Fabiola Lizardi Clemente portrayed the gods Zeus and Iris with a modern, satiric twist. In the 21st century, they found themselves forgotten by the world, much to their chagrin. Dewan made Zeus’s valiant effort to transfer godly powers to human Michael (Jake Jacobs) a hysterical sequence that brought down the house. When his newfound demigod powers lead him to accidentally kill his boyfriend Tanner (Dan McCohon), Jacobs’s sorrow as Michael changes the mood of the piece very quickly.
After a brief intermission, audiences returned to a compelling interpretation of “Faustus.” Directed by Jonathan Santoro, this scene fit in perfectly with the dark themes of the night and surpassed the expectations of a classic tale like this. Daniel Sanclemente fully committed to the character of Faustus, demonstrating immense power and command of the stage, while Olivia Blomstrom presented a seductive version of the devil Mephistopheles with dry humor - a fresh take on the character.
When fairies, gods and the past don’t seem to faze the Girl, the Being tells her tales about the scariest thing on this planet: humans. One particularly riveting scene was “The God Complex,” directed by Cat Ashley. Danielle Gallo plays Victoria, a manipulative college student whose actions alienate her from her ex-girlfriend (Cheren Alvarado), with dexterity and power. To maintain control over something in her life, Victoria creates a Creature (Katey Clausen) to fulfill all her selfish desires and forbids her from seeing the outside world. Clausen brought a beautiful sense of humanity to the Creature, portraying her desire to escape with resonating emotional conviction.
However, perhaps the best example of “breaking the magic” was Kira Pyne’s direction of “The Bloody Chamber,” the closing scene. In this scene, a woman named Audrey (Grace Walker) who is married to Brian (Ben Feder), discovers that he is a psychopath who brutally tortured his past girlfriends and keeps them captive in a chamber. Walker portrays Audrey’s shock and disbelief about this unexpected situation with much believability. Feder perfectly embodies not only Brian’s “perfect rich husband” facade, but also the monster within him. Katie Aylesworth as the bloodied and battered Maiden, one of Brian’s previous girlfriends, portrays this survivor with unforgettable fierceness and vengefulness.
In the final moments of the show, all of the characters from the nightmarish scenes of before returned to the stage in a final effort to terrify the Girl. With an awful scream from the Girl and the sounds of a heart monitor beeping irregularly and eventually flatlining, the audience is left only to wonder, what wicked things this way come?
Corrections: This article previously said it was the Rude Mechanicals' fourth variety show. It was their fourteenth. This article also said Cheren Alvarado played Victoria's ex-boyfriend. Alvarado played Victoria's ex-girlfriend Henrietta.