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Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Hard-Working Bard

WITH ALL DUE RESPECT to the late James Brown, I believe that the hardest-working man in show business is Bridge Street Theatre’s Steven Patterson. He co-founded the theater; he handles publicity and building repairs. Sometimes he takes tickets or sells concessions, or possibly both. Other times he’s onstage, taking on a remarkable range of roles, from ensemble comedy to solo drama, from contemporary classics to whatever you call Eugene O’Neill.

Jack Rento as Julian, Em Whitworth as
Rosemary, Andrew Gorhring as
Henry, and Steven Patterson as
William Shakespeare.
In the case of “Rude Mechanics,” world-premiering on the Bridge Street stage, he essays that dizzying range in one show, playing three roles ranging from the frantic to the ethereal, with (literal) Shakespeare in-between. And he’s playing these in the company of three other actors who help spin a dizzying web of confusion and intrigue backstage of a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that’s about to be performed before King James I and some royal visitors from Spain. It’s 1612. Cast members are succumbing to the plague infecting London.

That’s why Julian Crosse will be going on as Francis Flute, who plays the female role of Thisbe in the play-within-this-play. Julian is nervous, excited, terrified – a panoply of emotions that give Jack Rento, making his Bridge Street debut, a hilarious set of instant transformations.

He gets little help from fellow-actor Henry Worthy, a self-possessed sot nicely played by Andrew Goehring, who credibly inhabits a world of pomposity even as he interacts skillfully with the others in the ensemble, which is the test of a good actor: Listen carefully; act like you aren’t.

Patterson’s Lord Strayte, the Lord Chamberlain who stumbles on at the start of the play, kick-starts the pace as he urges the others to prepare. There are royals arriving! Perhaps Shakespeare himself with show up! No, you can’t use the privy – there’s a children’s troupe in that space!

A playwright arrives, but this one is Cecil Blakesby, who has entrusted Worthy with a manuscript and would like to see the script produced. In one of the many gender-fluid plot-turns ahead, Julian looks at Blakesby and sees love – and then sees Rosemany Bassanio behind that male disguise, someone to whom he’s already declared his affections. But she’s more interested in Worthy – possibly because this might get her play on the boards. All of which gives Em Whitworth, who plays this role, her own set of emotional hurdles to effortlessly scale. She is not your 17th-century shrinking violet. She’s a force unto herself, and Whitworth makes these transformations with laudable ease.

Trouble is, her man Worthy may have been casting his own romantic eye elsewhere, as we learn when Shakespeare (Patterson again) stumbles in and reveals some earlier revelry.

Revealing any more of the plot won’t make these tangles easier to follow – the various desires and mishaps that fuel the story tumble over and around each other kaleidoscopically, with new revelations bursting forth just when you think you’ve heard everything. Wait till you hear how Shakespeare swiped “The Tempest”!

Playwright Eric Hissom knows his Shakespeare and, as the characters here reveal, so do those who live and work around this theater, as familiar snippets of dialogue crop up in their speech. Even the late Queen Elizabeth (that one, not this one) is unwittingly free with those texts. Hissom also directed this production, which scoots around on the theater’s intimate stage like a manic ballet, with the dialogue rat-a-tatting as if it came out of a Howard Hawks film. 

Bridge Street co-founder John Sowle is responsible for the charmingly littered stage and effective lighting, and Michelle Rogers has costumed the cast in exactly what’s needed to tell us who they are. It’s a completely enjoyable 90 minutes of theater that sets us thinking about social status and who we’re allowed to be and who we’re allowed to love – the very topics so in need of pondering by people who’ve probably never been to a theater yet have been voted into political offices they now pollute with their prehistoric opinions.

“Rude Mechanics” runs through April 30; visit for more information.




Anonymous said...

Lovely, sir. Thank you so much!

B. A. Nilsson said...

Who are you calling "sir"? I'm known in my neighborhood as "Stop Thief!"