The Bard Walks into a Bar: Theatre Review of Drunk Shakespeare

Once every 41 seconds, a child decides they hate Shakespeare.

I may have completely made up the statistic, but the sentiment is true. People see a poor production or receive a lesson by a mediocre teach and BAM they close their books, refuse to see his plays forever.

Ugh, it’s boring! I don’t understand it! It’s old! Who cares?

“O, speak to me no more; these words like daggers enter my ears!” Fear not, there is much good news, for Shakespeare lovers and haters alike! (Well, at least for those of legal drinking age.) A Shakespeare society in NYC is burning down all those wretched  Shakespeare clichés. Dowsing them in alcohol, lighting a match, and dancing impishly around the blaze.

Behold, the Drunk Shakespeare Society!

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No one drank water in Shakespeare’s time, that’s a trivia fact for you. It was too hard to sanitize and too likely disease riddled. In the 16th century the only options were drinking liquid from an animal’s teat or an alcoholic beverage. Yep, even children went around all day drinking weak but definitely alcoholic ales. Drunk Shakespeare harnesses this very real piece of history and used it as a delightful device in their productions of Shakespeare. Or maybe they just figured everything is more fun with alcohol. Regardless of the origin, every show this company performs (and they have eight shows a week) features an actor who gets well in his cups. That is, piss ass drunk.

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The night I went, Adam Thomas Smith in the role of Macbeth was the drunk actor. Here he is with the 5 starting shots (he’d had a couple drinks before too!).

Before the play begins, the current production is Macbeth, one actor in the cast of 5 does five shots of hard alcohol. A tray of 6 shots is brought forward and a volunteer audience member picks one of the six to shoot along with the actor: because doing shots alone is sad and more importantly to prove that shit ain’t water. And that’s just the beginning, there’s even more drinking during the show and even more audience participation.

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Best audience participating ever: “Who’s good at shot gunning beers? Here’s a PBR, now you and Macbeth race!”

Uh oh, does the thought of audience participation make you recoil as though you just stumbled across the still-warm body of a murdered king? Fear not! Even when sloshed, every member of the Drunk Shakespeare Society is incredibly professional. They’re professional revelers, professional drinkers, professional actors, professional improvisers. They have a highly tuned sense of who is open to interaction and who is less-than-comfortable.

Josh Hyman Drunk Shakespeare
Josh Hyman plays many of the smaller roles of Macbeth in addition to his vital role as host for the night. He’s a perfect host: hilarious, perfectly attired. and incredibly personable. You know you’re in good hands the minute you meet him.

The #1 priority of the night is crystal clear: to make the audience have the most fun possible. I was amazed at how skilled they are at this. I say we call it a craft and proclaim the Drunken Shakespeare Society masters.

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The three witches of Macbeth, putting the “weird” in “weird sisters”. The lady in red, Julia Giolzetti, also plays the funniest Lady Macbeth you will ever see.

In the intimate setting of the performance space, there is no fourth wall, no one is hidden in shadows. One of my favorite parts of the experience was seeing the constant grins on everyone’s faces. This show is just so much fun.

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Remember those scenes in the movie The Dead Poet’s Society when the boys all sneak out to the cave and recite poetry raucously by candle light? The show feels like that: mischievous, freeing, simultaneously daring and safe. Remember that time you BFF got hammer drunk in undergrad and did something so hilarious and epic you still love telling the story today? The show feels like that.

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There’s a dance battle instead of a sword fight (never was a winner more clear, that’s all I’ll say). A potion created that rivals the disgustingness of concoctions you made as a bored kid at a restaurant (mixing ketchup, mustard, marmalade, salt, pepper, and sugar all in Dad’s half-finished coffee cup: HEEHEEHEE). Spoiler alert: someone actually drinks it. Oh there is of course, much drinking! If you’re lucky, you’ll shot gun a beer with the drunk actor.

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Damiyr Shuford as MacDuff. This guy’s a triple threat- sings, dances, acts. Actually, if you count each of his abs (which seems only right) dude’s a nine-tple threat!

If you’re really lucky, and want to fight for it (if you’re a love not a fighter, you can also reserve in advance online), you’ll drink a bottle of champagne while sitting on a thrown and having your hands massaged.

Whit Leyenberger serving champagne.
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In addition to serving champagne, Whit Leyenberger also has the best mustache on cast. He plays several characters including Banquo and a special puppet appearance.

But you can also just back and watch a hilarious piece of theater. You can even get a good buzz on (drinks are served throughout the performance) and still understand everything that’s going on – you will understand, I promise! Even when most of it is Shakespeare’s original prose!

Even supposed Shakespeare haters will have a good time at this Shakespeare play. I’ll go so far as to suspect you may even come out liking the bard! I feel so confident in this that I propose this: if you go to Drunk Shakespeare a Shakespeare hater and come out still hating him, I’ll buy you a drink. That’s my New York Cliché Drunk Shakespeare Guarantee!

After the show with Drunky MacDrunkbeth
After the show with Drunky MacDrunkbeth

“Shakespeare is a drunken savage with some imagination whose plays please only in London and Canada.” That’s a Voltaire quote. Were he still alive today, I would insist Voltaire add NYC to the list. 

Drunk Shakespeare performances are at the Roy Arias Theatre 300 West 43rd St at 8th Ave, 4th Floor NYC
Showtimes vary with multiple performances on Fridays and Saturday: visit their calendar for full details. The show is 21+. tickets are $33 (tip: sometimes you can find them at TKTS).

About New York Cliche

NYC lifestyle blog by Mary Lane. Events, adventures, epic mistakes, dating, life, humor. A 20-something trying to make it (and make out) in the city of dreams.

One thought on “The Bard Walks into a Bar: Theatre Review of Drunk Shakespeare

  1. I love Shakespeare and this looks like it would be so much fun. If I get a chance to get into the City for more than a few days, this is something I want to do.

    Thank you for your dedication to your blog. You allow those of us who are not privileged enough to live near NYC or visit there to see it through your eyes and for that I am grateful.

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