The Coarse Acting Show, Shakespeare's Motley Crew, at the Athenaeum Theatre. Michael Green's 1964 The Art of Coarse Acting, a humorous guide to how "really bad things happen to really good plays," is the inspiration for this collection of parodies by Green and others, wickedly funny playlets spoofing Shakespeare, Melville, Chekhov, Austen, and Coward as much as their ham-handed interpreters. For this mounting, Penny Penniston has crafted an ingenious scenario, framing the show as a retrospective/fund-raiser by the fictitious Apocrypha Theatre Company. Her affectionately lacerating take on the Chicago storefront scene is priceless, from the actors' multihyphenated Anglophilia (Kate Lynne-Anne Parker Millington-Cheever) and Roman-numeral one-upmanship (Aleister Leland Burton III, Trevor Clayton Mitchell VI) to the mission statement and bios in the bogus program.
Director Steve Scott ferrets out every nuance of the textually rich All's Well That Ends As You Like It; directors Kimberly Senior and Shade Murray fully exploit the silliness of the broader Melville and Austen adaptations; director Nick Bowling treats the Coward bit, a small tour-de-force of black physical comedy, with aplomb; and Jeremy Wechsler's blocking and pacing are nothing short of marvelous in the Chekhov send-up, a technically daunting slapstick concoction dominated by a malfunctioning samovar. But a cast of hilariously expert buffoons is what ultimately sells this stuff--especially Nathan Vogt, Michael Dailey, Ed Stevens, Laura Scott Wade, Laura Jones Macknin, and Karin McKie, who put the finishing touches on a disastrous masterpiece.