In its 20-year history, the Unseam'd Shakespeare Co. has never been known for straight-ahead interpretations of the Bard. That whole "unseaming" mantra has gone beyond deconstruction to twisting the text into a Möbius strip at times. Definitely not for the Shakespearean purist, the first-timer or the theatrically timid. With Shakespeare in the Raw, the company starts its third decade with its most daring (and dangerous) production.
No, there's no nudity, but as the title suggests, the players are unpolished and very vulnerable. The subtitle here is "in the Original First Folio Cue Script Style." That means that the actors, cast in different roles for every performance, are largely unrehearsed and clinging to their characters with only a tiny scroll listing their own lines and their cues. An onstage prompter acts as a sort of lifeguard and referee.
The concept is supposed to relive the days of Shakespeare's original Globe Theatre, when a rotating repertory had to compete with sporting houses of both the betting and brothel type. When it works, it's a participatory sport itself, with the audience booing, cheering and adding their own punchlines when appropriate. Freed from rehearsed blocking, the actors move and mug about, stretching comic potential and their own sense of the text.
Alas, Unseam'd's largely nonprofessional cast members are not hardened Elizabethan thespians well used to "cue scripts." When a player loses his or her way, it's painful for the audience as well as the cast; instead of hissing or clapping, we in the seats are expending our energy on empathy: Please, please do well.
The "raw" Shakespeare rotating in this repertory are A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Two Gentlemen of Verona, directed (respectively) by Elizabeth Ruelas and Andy Kirtland. The former was rollicking if rocky, the latter stilted and stiff when I attended. My experiences don't predict your actual results. With more performances and the "seemingly unlimited number of combinations with casting," Unseam'd boasts, "You will never see the same show twice!!"
In the ones I did see, Cassie Wood was charming in her multiple Dream roles (especially cute as Snug's Lion) and up to Julia's slim-legged-boy speed in Gents. Jenny Malarkey made for a deliciously mischievous Puck and a proud Silvia. Kyle Bogue exhibits an enjoyable range from swooning-lover Lysander to comic fop Thurio.
Unseam'd artistic director/producer Laura C. Smiley goes from the glamour of Titania and Hippolyta to the buffoonishness of dogged servant Launce. Applause, too, for the rest of the cast: Jeffrey Chips, Parage S. Gohel, Adam Huff, Devin Malcolm and Julia Warner.
On a tight budget, the artistic team created a yummily arboreal Dream of blues and greens, and aptly suggested the Italian courts of Gents. Another big hand for: Rebecca Morrice, costumes; Gordon Phetteplace, set; M. Ebenezer Boone, lighting and technical director; Louise Phetteplace, props; Andrew G. Allison, stage manager; et al.
With its infinite possibilities and uncertainties, Shakespeare in the Raw is really Shakespeare Without a Net. Yes, it's risky for the audience as well as the company, but when they all work together it can be rambunctious fun. No eggheads needed.