An ambitious choice for the premiere production by Stone Soup Theatre Company, Something Rotten at the North Carolina Museum of Art Joseph Bryan Amphitheater grapples with some elements beyond its control, as well as some of its own flaws. And yet, however much the production struggles to relay its own comedic tone within its awkward environs, the manner in which it has handled such unanticipated circumstances ended up working in the show’s favor, ultimately marking a triumph for this debut community theater.
To its credit, this production’s shortcomings were mainly due to force majeure. A storm had immediately preceded last Saturday’s performance, postponing it by 30 minutes, and the sky seemed to portent additional downpours. While the amphitheater stage is canvassed – and thereby protected from some of the harsher elements – the audio system was not suitably adapted to these meteorological contingencies. In fact, the performance was beset with auditory troubles, almost to the extent of compromising the show. Much of the speech was rendered inaudible by malfunctioning microphones and the heavy winds created static that distracted from the voices of the actors. A legible performance in spite of these obstacles is no small feat – but artistic director Melissa Dombrowski and her cast of extremely talented local artists managed to pull it off.
Regardless of its staging, Something Rotten is also not everyone’s cup of tea. The story tells the tale of two brothers attempting to emulate/rival Shakespeare by producing the world’s first musical. Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell’s fourth-wall flirting, pop-cultural-laden script does little but reproduce many of the tropes it attempts to subvert and is consistently tone-deaf in its portrayal of minorities. (The characterization of Shylock was discomfiting, to say the least, for all its self-awareness.)
But what brought this occasionally witty, otherwise tedious script to life here, was witnessing so many competent actors power through their roles with such obvious aplomb. In fact, there was no performance that felt inadequate or substandard in the entire cast of 23 (not counting the musicians). The company’s physical coordination was spot-on, the delivery of their lines was impeccable (what could be heard of it), and the atmosphere of energetic repartee and ribaldry that the actors brought to the stage was unassailable.
A few performances were notable for their outstanding proficiency though. For example, Susan Jordan White as Bea stood out as a tour de force of wit and physical humor. (One wishes that she would have been accorded more lines in the script.) Jos Purvis as Nigel Bottom, too, overcame microphone issues with his accurate and powerful vocals. Other actors’ performances were muted by said difficulties – perhaps the most frustrating of these being the character of Shakespeare himself, played by D. A. Oldis. From the third row of the amphitheater, the lyrics of Oldis’ introductory number “Will Power” were entirely unintelligible. Again, this seemed to be attributable to the audio equipment itself rather than to the abilities of Oldis – who seemed superb when he could be heard.
Still, the audio was not a complete bust, which is creditable to the instrumental ensemble that scored the show throughout. Live chamber music – however poorly equalized – lured the audience’s interest into the action on stage and punctuated it with emotional queues that also helped to obviate the amplification-related shortcomings.
Although it was not the most pleasant experience, encumbered as it was by the elements and untimely themes, what made this production so good – even great – was the performers’ ability to overcome – through their stamina, their projection, their acrobatic coordination, their excellently performed music – and their ability to do so with mesmerizing synchronicity. And if this production is any indication, Stone Soup Theatre Company promises clearer skies ahead.
Stone Soup Theatre Company’s production of Something Rotten runs through October 24 at the North Carolina Museum of Art. For ticket information visit http://stonesouptheatreco.com/.