Modernized or playfully tweaked versions of the Bard’s classics come a dime a dozen — an all-female telling of King Lear, Hamlet’s Claudius cast as a corporate CEO, anything starring Leonardo DiCaprio — but what if Shakespeare wrote a play today?
Las Vegas playwright Mick Axelrod takes an eloquent (and ballsy) stab at answering that question in For the Joy of the Sting — his own original play, which he has built into a nearly three-hour production delivered entirely in verse, now playing in the Las Vegas Little Theatre Studio.
Set in what’s referred to as modern day Albion during vaguely volatile political times, the play focuses on Felix (Michael Drake), a student of physics, whose chance (and very inebriated) encounter with sexy spy Gabriele (Christina De Chavez) jump-starts a passionate tale of espionage, family rivalries, outrageous violence and ill-fated romance — a veritable smorgasbord of Shakespearean elements.
Axelrod narrates the story, while the cast delivers dialogue so densely packed that lines can’t help but get naturally lost in the rhythms of onstage delivery. If you fall a beat or two behind, never fear: The actors quickly pull you up to speed. Drake is particularly convincing as a lovelorn drunk-turned-vengeful victim of a sinister plot. He and De Chavez share simmering onstage chemistry — thanks in large part to Axelrod’s salacious dialogue — and Drake’s comedic timing is also spot-on.
It’s the little things in Axelrod’s script that up the comedic ante: discovering the lieutenant (Ronn Williams) is a closeted oenophile, a strange and wholly unexpected song and dance number, to name a couple. But it’s also a fully committed and talented cast that makes this play sing.
Costume designer Jennifer McKee creates a timelessly modern look for the performers, and the sound crew scores points for featuring Radiohead instrumentals during set breaks.
If the idea of a nearly three-hour, modernized Shakespearean play delivered in verse gives you flashbacks to sophomore English class — or if, like me, you love your Shakespeare and your modern theater but feel no reason the two need to intersect — I suggest you reconsider, as I’m glad I forced myself to (even if I do question the overall length). Axelrod delivers a clever, trippy, complicated and very original piece of theater that’s being performed by a passionate cast who, more times than I can remember, had us forgetting it was speaking in verse. That, for this recovering English major, is one of the best endorsements I can offer.
FOR THE JOY OF THE STING Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m., Sunday, 2 p.m., through Feb. 17; Las Vegas Little Theatre Studio, 3890 Schiff Drive, www.lvlt.org, $11-12