I'm not going to lie -- I love that we're living in the age of mash-ups. I love Bootie, the Echoplex's monthly genre-mutating dance party. I love the fact that audiences are willing to accept something called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter at face value. I love that this thing exists, so I can put it on a t-shirt.
And now, I can add Pulp Shaksepeare to that list. Playing for just one more week at the Theater Asylum, it's a play that reimagines Pulp Fiction as a rewritten by the Bard in Elizabethan England -- taking two of the best wordsmiths of the English language and mashing them together, with wildly entertaining results.
The production finds clever ways to reinvent the staples of Tarantino's 90's noir. Instead of Bruce Willis' palooka boxer, we've got a knight hired to take a dive in a jousting competition. John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson's characters become knife-wielding assassins. Diners become ale-houses, heroin dealers become apothecaries, Jack Rabbit Slim's becomes "The Slender Hare", and a basement-dwelling rapist becomes (naturally) a Catholic priest.
But this is not just a nifty exercise in fan-fiction; the material is elevated by the artfulness with which Tarantino's dialogue is retrofitted to match the 16th century London setting, with language that loops, bounces, riffs, and rages. Real thought and care went into the crafting of this, and the coherence of voice is even more surprising when you consider the play has five writers (including the director Jordan Monsell, who also has a very funny turn playing Christopher Walken's role, talking about hiding a pocketwatch "in that decrepit hole where the sun never shines.")
The performances run the gamut from merely serviceable to genuinely astounding. On the lower end of that spectrum is Sierra Fisk's portrayal of Mia Wallace, reducing the character to a one-note seductress. Drew Doyle fares better, bringing an Errol Flynnian twinkle to his besieged knight, Sir "Butch" Coolidge. Aaron Lyons injects a perverse playfulness and creepy verve into Vincent De La Vega, and his chemistry with co-star Dan White makes for some funny, lively set pieces. All that said, Dan White practically waltzes away with the production with his performance as Julius Winfield (aka Samuel L. Jackson.) His charisma is reminiscent of a Hustle & Flow-era Terrance Howard, and he imbues his role with lacerating wit, volcanic anger, and a transcendent longing that provides this mash-up with a heart and soul.
The play wisely jettisons elements that would have stretched the concept to its breaking point; the section involving Harvey Keitel's "Wolf" character and the cleaning of the gore-soaked car is nowhere to be found, but then again, that saves us from dialogue like "Do you see the words 'dead Moor storage above' my abode?" Instead, Pulp Shakespeare finds inventive ways to explore how the original movie's principal themes -- honor, loyalty, the closet morality of scoundrels, whether or not foot massages mean shit -- are timeless.
• WHAT: Pulp Shakespeare
• WHERE: The Theatre Asylum
• WHEN: Thurs, Fri, Sat -- 8 PM. Sun -- 4 PM. Ends March 4th
• $$$: $20 a ticket online, $25 at the door