Fertile Ground Review: Bon Ton Roulet at the Shakespeare Cafe

Elizabeth Huffman's new comedy is a spicily blended Shakespearean gumbo

Throw a lot of Shakespeare romance from different plays into one pot, simmer and serve with late-90’s coffeehouse fashion, New Orleans flair, and Mardi-Gras masquerade. That’s Elizabeth Huffman’s basic recipe for Bon Ton Roulet at the Shakespeare Cafe…and it’s pretty delicious.

Bon Ton 1

Orlando from As You Like It pens furtive poems to Rosalind from a corner coffee table. Benedict and Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing flip each other attitude (while checking each other out) en route to the restroom, while Ursula councils them wisely from behind the bar. Will (perhaps taking his lines directly from Shakespeare’s sonnets?) and Julia from The Two Gentlemen of Verona have spirited drunken spats and passionate public reconciliations. And Pym, a whimsical addition, offers his coworker Ursula a bit of well-deserved (though unrequited) love.

There’s something fun and unique about each performance in this milieu. Nathan Dunkin as Benedict is probably the most stereotypically “Shakespearean,” with a dark beard, a furrowed brow, and a haughty demeanor that gradually softens as he nears true love. Nicole Accuardi’s Beatrice is witty, proud and flirtatious, and Ben Buckley’s Will is as mild as Kristen Fleming’s Julia (with a broad Fraunch accaunt) is firey. Pym (Yohhei Sato) silently bartends and cleans until we’re used to him, then bursts out of nowhere with a poetic declaration. Kristopher Mahoney-Watson plays Orlando as a nervous nerd, and Ithica Tell as Ursula glues the whole show together, slinging drinks and singing blues numbers by Anderson Qunta with Shakespearean lyrics.

But the show-stealer is Chantal DeGroat as Rosalind, who does rare justice to one of Shakespeare’s silliest comic conceits—woman dressing up as man to spy on a suitor. Let’s face it: that routine usually looks dumb, because a) most actresses’ drag-king attempts are far too demure to truly pass, and b) has any man in history ever actually been fooled by a woman suddenly slapping on a hat and bellowing? Well…DeGroat’s impression of a jocular, goatee-wearing old bluesman is eerily and hilariously close to the real thing. We can believe that she fools Orlando, because, against our better judgment, she fools us, too.

Shakespeare’s plays were never intended to be sacrosanct; they’re timeless because they’re dynamic, entertaining, and infinitely adaptable. This is something Post5 Theatre consistently demonstrates whenever it stages the Bard…which is often. Boasting a packed house for much of its run, Bon Ton Roulet has equal appeal as a sample platter for the Shakespeare-curious, and as a revue for aficionados.

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A. L. Adams also writes the monthly column Art Walkin’  for  The Portland Mercury, and is  former arts editor of Portland Monthly Magazine. Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch | The Portland Mercury
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