A BIT OF THE BARD and THE DARK LADY OF THE SONNETS, Excaliber Shakespeare Company, at Cafe Voltaire. In A Bit of the Bard Darryl Maximilian Robinson once again reprises the role of Sir Richard Drury Kemp-Kean, a 17th-century Shakespearean thespian who time travels to Reagan's America (it's time for an update). The flamboyant actor and his hammy adventures recall Mark Twain's Duke and Dauphin, rogues who also love to inflate and exploit the Bard. Having performed the role for nearly ten years, Robinson has by now almost perfected it. He breathes brimstone into Henry V's Saint Crispin pep talk and paints the full palette of the "seven ages of man" speech. He may rush Lear's lament, but he crafts Macbeth's harrowing "tomorrow and tomorrow" valedictory into an elegy for all humanity.
On the same two-hour bill is a declamation of the first 15 sonnets so wooden it seems the Excaliber actors saw the lines only just before curtain, as well as George Bernard Shaw's 1910 hack one-act The Dark Lady of the Sonnets. Shaw had a love/hate relationship with Shakespeare, his only presumptive rival, and here he imagines Shakespeare stealing his best lines from a Beefeater guard, the mistress of the title, and Queen Elizabeth. Eventually the play argues for an English national theater, an idea too advanced for the Tudor monarch though she holds out the hope that in 300 years it might happen. Of course in England it has--and if Robinson's ensemble is any indication, we need it in America even more, and quickly.