A Classic, On Stage, Reinterpreted

Pulp Shakespeare or Bard Fiction (Theatre Asylum)userpic=yorickWhy do I always do things backwards?

I saw Silence: The Musical, a musical parody of “Silence of the Lambs“. I’ve never seen the movie.

I saw Evil Dead: The Musical, a musical parody of “Evil Dead“… and its sequels. I’ve never seen the movie.

I saw Triassic Parq: The Musical, a musical parody of “Jurassic Park“.  I’ve never seen the movie.

I saw “A Very Brady Musical“. I’ve never seen…. oh, it’s worse. I have seen “The Brady Bunch

My point is: I’ve seen numerous movies in stage form long before I’ve ever seen the celluloid original. So, of course, it should be no surprise that I went to go see Pulp Shakespeare (or Bard Fiction) (FB)† at Theatre Asylum (FB) without having ever seen the original movie, “Pulp Fiction“. In fact, I’ve only seen two Quentin Tarantino movies, “Django Unchained” and “Inglourious Basterds“, and both of those were on Showtime, not in the theater, and were originally seen in a disconnected, scenes out of order fashion.  But the tagline for the production: “Ever wonder what Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece PULP FICTION would be like reimagined by the immortal William Shakespeare?” just drew me in. So, the first thing I did when I got home from the show was to open up Wikipedia and read the synopsis of “Pulp Fiction”.  Accordingly, let’s look at the story through two sets of eyes: the first those of a newbie unfamiliar with Pulp Fiction, and passingly familiar with Shakespeare; the second through the same eyes after reading the plot of “Pulp Fiction”.

I’m pleased to say that the story (credited to Ben Tallen (FB), Aaron Greer (FB), and Brian Watson-Jones (FB), who compiled it and edited it for performance from material developed by the Pulp Bard Wiki based on a concept originated by Kevin Pease — and they do credit all the contributors in the program)… anyway, I’m pleased to say that the story seems to fit in the Shakespeare realm quite well (I can just imagine this being done at a Ren Faire!), and was in iambic pentameter. This was initially hard to get used to (but, then again, so is the opening scene and flashback), but then became normal. I’ve had this happen with other Shakespeare plays.

For someone unfamiliar with Pulp Fiction, I found it surprisingly easy to pick up the storyline, although the non-linear nature eluded me until I got to the last scene. The lead characters were well played, and one could easily see how they had taken modern stereotypes and translated them back to Elizabethan days. Even the Tarantino cartoon violence that I appreciated so well in Django was present in Pulp Shakespeare with the easy and rapid dispatch of characters. I could even see the archtype of the actors that were being parodied without even knowing who the original actors were. The dialogue was funny even without the original film context. The scenes played out well, and some were particularly hilarious (I’m thinking the “Vincenzio de la Vegal and Lady Mia Wallace” sequence, as well as “The Gold Portable Timekeeper”. In short, even though I didn’t know the film, I found the play quite enjoyable (although a little confusing at the start).

As I noted, when I got home, I read the synopsis on Wikipedia. Suddenly, all the scenes made full sense, and I could understand why much of the audience was laughing even more than I was. Based on this, I believe that if you are familiar with the underlying film, you’ll find this show to be hilarious. One of these days I should probably see the movie, and then find another production of this (alas, my theatre schedule is too booked, as you’ll see below, to do that before this run ends). Every scene discussed in the synopsis seems to be in this play, with the exception of the second half of “The Bonnie Situation”. It captured all the dialogue quirks, all the iconic scenes, all the iconic characters (and based on what I read, their mannerisms). Even the odder sequences were present, translated back to Shakespearean times — such as the Prelude to the Gold Watch (where Captain Koons is transformed into Sir “Butch” Coolidge’s father), or the entire dialogue in the Preluce to the Vincent and Marcellus’ Wife sequence (where Vincenzio de la Vega and Julius Winfield argue about whether massaging the feet is the same level of intimacy as kissing a lady’s nether lips). They even capture the equivalent of Fox Force Five, Jack Rabbit Slims, the sequence regarding “What?”, and the French McDonalds discussion.  In short, it made me wish I had seen the movie so that I could have appreciated the parody even more. I guess that’s what a good parody is supposed to do; especially a parody of an iconic film.

As for the Shakespearean nature of the performance: I must admit I’m not a Shakespeare expert. The only Shakespearean plays that I have seen (that were as Shakespeare, so The Lion King and Kiss Me Kate don’t count) are The Taming of the Shrew at Theatricum Botanicum and Santa Clarita Shakespeare, and Two Gentlemen of Verona at the Old Globe. To me, the director Amanda McRaven (FB) (assisted by Emily L. Gibson (FB)) did a good job of keeping the tone and rhythm Shakespearean, which isn’t a surprise as both have experience at the American Shakespeare Center. But the two also appeared to allow the actors to have fun with the roles and bring in their own little touches, which is something I like to see.

In what appeared to be the lead positions were Aaron Lyons (FB) as Vincenzio de la Vega and Dan White (FB) as Julius Winfield. I base this primarily on the fact that they were the connecting glue in all the scenes. The two actors had a great chemistry together; having not seen the original movie, I cannot say whether the chemistry was the same as what existed between John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson. Lyons did, however, appear to project Travolta’s easygoing nature (and dance moves). Lyons also had great chemistry with Lady Mia, Brittanus, and Marcellus. White had an equivalent easy-going nature, but projected more of an “in the hood” vibe (which is appropriate, as he was paralleling Samuel Jackson). In general, the two were fun to watch.

As for the remaining characters, it is better to discuss them on a scene-basis, as opposed to lead-tiers. Let’s start with the “Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife” parallel scenes, as these capture many of the major characters. As Lady Mia Wallace, Victoria Hogan (FB) was a delight. She had a wonderful energy in her scene with Lyons’ Vincenzio, providing both playfulness and a simple joy with her character. In short, she seemed to be having a blast playing Mia, and that fun came across to the audience. Again, having not seen her film parallel (Uma Thurman), I cannot assess how well she parodies any of Thurman’s particular film mannerisms. As her husband, Lord Marcellus Wallace, Gary Poux (FB) was also fun. He was appropriately menacing, but suitably loose and playful with the character. I could easily seem him channeling Ving Rhames in look and style (Rhames being the movie parallel); again, I don’t know if he captured the movie mannerisms. In any case, both Hogan and Poux were just great to watch. As for the supporting characters in this scene, Marcelo Olivas (FB) [who we saw in Taming of the Shrew] is wonderful as the drug dealer Lancelot (movie parallel: Lance), channeling Eric Stoltz quite well. I particularly enjoyed his performance in the scene where Mia must be saved after her overdose. Olivas is also credited as playing Claudio, who must be a minor character in other scenes. Lancelot’s wife Juno (Jody in the movie) was played by Dylan Jones (FB) (who also played Meadsweet and Player). She was supposedly channeling Rosanna Arquette, and was hilarious in the scene where she explained all of her piercings. I have no idea if that was in the movie, but it was quite funny.

Next are the characters related to the “The Gold Watch” sequences. The main character here is Christian Levatino (FB), who channeled Sir “Butch” Coolidge, the boxer (Bruce Willis in the movie). Levatino didn’t come across as a Willis-parallel either in look or style, but was great fun to watch as the boxer — especially in the interactions with the Marcellus early on, with ghost prior to the fight, and mostly in the interactions with his girlfriend, Fabiana. Fabiana was portrayed by Julia Aks (FB) (who also played the Tavern Wench and Anne) — umm, no that’s not right, as Aks’ FB page indicates she was not in the show this weekend (tsk, tsk to the producers for not telling the audience this). Let’s try this again: Fabiana was portrayed by Brooke Van Grinsven (FB) (who also played the Tavern Wench and Anne), who was fun to watch as the ravenous French girlfriend when Butch returns after the fight (and also fun in her response to garçon line that was in the movie).  I have no idea how well she paralled Maria de Medeiros. The remaining major character in this scene was Matt Hudacs (FB) as the ghost (as well as Brittanus, Waiter 2, and Zed). Hudacs did the ghost character well, although he didn’t come off as particularly Christopher Walken-like to me (but then again, Walken is burned into my brain in a way no brain bleach can erase as the befuddled Captain Hook in the recent Peter Pan Live). Hudacs, however, was wonderful as the Waiter in the Jack Rabbit Slim’s parallel, as Brittanus in the Vincent Vega prelude and Bonnie Situation scenes, and as Zed in the rape scene.

That leaves us with the main characters in the opening and closing diner scenes: Drew Derek (FB) as Pumpkin Pie (as well as Roger, Norman, and Maynard), and the aforementioned Dylan Jones (FB) (“Meadsweet” being the parallel for “Hunny Bunny”). Both were good, although when you first see them you are just getting used to the iambic pentameter, and in the end, they are mostly just repeating silently what they did in the opening. However, they do both work well in the Mexican standoff at the end. Derek was also good as Maynard, especially in his interactions with Hudacs’ Zed).

Rounding out the players was Ian Verdun (FB) as Scottish Dave / Marvin / Sprint, Julius Understudy. I recall the Marvin character from the scene’s at Brett’s (where he is mostly silent), but I can’t place the other character. My guess is that Scottish Dave is a parallel to English Bob, but that’s all I’ve got.

Turning to the technical side of things: In addition to playing Vincenzio, Aaron Lyons (FB) also did the set and the lighting design. The set was relatively simple — boxes and tables and benches, but it worked well enough to establish the place. Lighting also worked well — especially the red lighting during the very bloody scenes — a very Tarantino touch. No credit was provided for sound design, but Jeff Cardoni (FB) was credited for music composition. Having not seen the movie, I cannot assess how well the music Jeff provided paralleled the music chosen by Tarantino for the movie. The costumes by Paula Higgins (FB) seemed suitably period — at least they looked like they might fit in at a RenFaire. I’m also going to highlight the scenic painter, Caitlín McCarthy (FB). I’ve lately been growing more and more impressed by the power of paint in scenic design, creating all sorts of illusions of other surfaces. That was apparent in this show, with the “wood” floor and the “wood” beams on the wall. Notice the power of paint next time you go to a show. Emily L. Gibson (FB) was the stage manager. Pulp Shakespeare (or Bard Fiction) was produced by Aaron Lyons (FB) (adding another hat), Bertha Rodriguez/FB was the associate producer, and Matthew Quinn (FB) was the executive producer.

Pulp Shakespeare (or Bard Fiction) (FB) continues at Theatre Asylum (FB) (which is in the same theatre complex as Elephant Stages and The Lillian) until March 8. Tickets are available through the Asylum online box office; discount tickets are available through Goldstar and LA Stage Tix. The show is worth seeing, especially if you are fans of the original movie, “Pulp Fiction”.‡

[†: Note: The Pulp Shakespeare (or Bard Fiction) FB page that comes up when using the @-tagging is the page for the original production by Jordan Monsall, not this effort.  This production was executive produced by Matthew Quinn, who has indicated that none of the original direction, writing, artwork or music, was used in this production. Mr. Monsall did drop me a FB message about his lack of credit. I will let others determine if there is anything of concern — I’m just a cybersecurity specialist, highway hobbyist, and theatre audience member. I’m just including this footnote to highlight that the likely tag on Facebook is not the correct production, and those interested should use the correct FB reference.]

[‡: ETA – If you are a fan of “Pulp Fiction”, then you’ll be interested to learn that Spring 2015 will see the release of a supposedly-excellent parody film, “Underbelly Blues”, that is, yes, a Tarantino production. That’s Tarantino, as in Tony Tarantino, Quentin’s father.]

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: This evening provides me the opportunity to finally meet Colin from Bitter Lemons, as I attend the ZJU 50 Hour Drive-By Show at Zombie Joes Underground (FB).  The last weekend of January concludes with the Cantors Concert on Sat January 31 at Temple Ahavat Shalom, followed by a concert performance of the musical Redhead at Theatre West (FB).  February and March pick up even more. We have a Bat Mitzvah on Saturday, February 7, so there may not be theatre that weekend (but who knows). The next week brings two shows: “Loch Ness” at the Chance Theatre (FB) on February 14 and “The Threepenny Opera” at A Noise Within (FB) on February 15. The weekend of February 21 is open; I’m hoping to find discount tickets for Saturday for Chavez Ravine at the Kirk Douglas. February closes with “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28. March is equally busy, with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7, “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a hold for “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on Friday March 20, “Doubt” at REP East (FB) on Saturday March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. Other than the Faire, April is pretty much open. Additionally, there’s a Marcy and Zina concert at Pepperdine on Tuesday, February 3; alas, as it is a weeknight, I probably won’t make it. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.