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Logan Fringe Arts Space: Upstairs

Remaining showtimes (tickets available here):

Friday, July 17 at 6 p.m. Saturday, July 18 at 4:30 p.m. Friday, July 24 at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, July 26 at 6:15 p.m.

They say:

Shakespeare’s Falstaff is a political strategist managing the re-election campaign of Senator Andronicus. Andronicus is losing to Coriolanus who is managed by “The Shrew.” Along with MacBeth, Ophelia and Polonius, Falstaff careens from one political disaster to the next.

Camila’s take:

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women …

This political farce is packed with Shakespeare quotes, shoehorned in at every opportunity. You could treat it like a game show: one point for spotting the reference, two if you can name the play, three if you know who’s speaking, and ten if you are dying to shout out, “As You Like It, Act 2, Scene VII!”

Just don’t think too hard about what the references mean. For instance, when this classic quote appears, it’s used to suggest that D.C., even more than the rest of the planet, is a stage packed with players — very “merely” players— with an emphasis on falsehoods and fake faces, and career-ending missteps as inevitable as if they were scripted.

But does it matter that the original line was introducing a moment of reflection not so much on the stage as on the stages of man’s life? Are we invoking the hope of maturation, or tragic decline of old age? Eh, not so much.

At one point, Senator Andronicus (Cal Whitehurst) — a “lean and slippered pantaloon” if ever there was one — accuses John Falstaff (Stephen T. Wheeler), his political adviser, of spouting “non sequiturs” every time he lapses into Shakespeare, and he’s fundamentally right.

So don’t worry so much about what the bits of blank verse mean. Just sit back and tally up your points; it’s half the fun.

The rest of the fun comes from the skewering of bloodthirsty journalists, puffed-up political posturing and ridiculous campaign rallies. It’s cynicism made absurd — and the comic twists don’t even try to disguise a dark worldview. The characters are, across the board, unethical and unlikable. The interests of the public are a nuisance. Money is the ultimate good. Sexism is pervasive. Everyone is miserable.

Sound familiar? People in This Town love to lambast This Town, and the zingers about political corruption were by far the biggest hits on opening night.

The strokes of the satire were a little too broad to be biting. And the 60-minute show manages to feel longer, with lingering gaps between one-liners that landed. But the biggest misstep is the most fundamental: The cast of Shakespearean characters was downright baffling. A level-headed Ophelia (Megan Waidelich), a modest Polonius (Brian Clarke), an cavalier and unconflicted Macbeth (Mike Hutchins)? A Falstaff with no interest in pleasure? At that point, why even borrow the names? The laughs of recognition are fun, but you’d achieve as much from naming the characters after Star Wars heroes or — as the play itself suggests — the adventurers from Lord of the Rings.

I wouldn’t vote this play into the Senate. But hey — it made me laugh, it made me wince, and I do love racking up English Lit trivia points, even if only in my own head.

See it if: You really wish I’d worked more Shakespeare quotes into this review.

Skip it if: Now you’re just craving a show that puts Frodo and Samwise on the campaign trail.

Photo courtesy of Falstaff Productions