When Detective Birnam Wood (Griffin Cork) is on the case, everyone in the city of Padua is a suspect. Yes, everyone including Romeo Montague (Malik Elassal), Katherine Minola (Jane Wishart), and even the prudish Malvolio (Thomas Rayment).
A clever parody of film noir and the Bard’s best works, David Belke’s Forsooth, My Lovely imagines a seedy, corrupt world inhabited by Shakespeare’s most well-known characters. With dames, swords, and strong performances, Hoodlum Theatre’s inaugural production sets the bar high for the young company.
Directed by Karen Johnson-Diamond, Belke’s Forsooth, My Lovely follows Birnam Wood as he sets out to solve a case of blackmail that threatens to ruin a rich merchant’s family. In his search for answers, however, Birnam comes across a gallery of Shakespearean characters who make it obvious that something more sinister is afoot in Padua. Twists and turns in the case eventually see Birnham caught in a dangerous web of deception.
The manner in which Belke presents film noir’s defining elements – heavy disillusionment, moral decay at the heart of an urban centre, trench coats and trilbys – within a world where the characters speak in blank verse, but dress in 1940s fashion, is marvelous. The juxtaposition of styles makes for cheeky moments of self-awareness, which the ensemble is careful not to overdo. For that is the success of such a production, a clear understanding of the genre and what it is the playwright is parodying.
And none – which is a tough evaluation considering the talent present – demonstrate a better understanding of the genre than Wishart. Wishart plays the ‘shrewish’ Katherine with the edge of a femme fatale; independent, subversive. Wishart speaks as if engaged in a sparring match where she intends on coming out victorious. At the same time, too, there is a vulnerability underlying Wishart’s performance which reveals itself in full form near the play’s end. Add in Wishart’s aptitude for accents, and you have an all-around stunning performance.
Belke’s script does require a certain degree of familiarity with Shakespeare’s collection of works in order to truly appreciate the playwright’s numerous winks and nods. (And the same could be said about film noir, but to a lesser degree). Those not so much in the know will still find the show very enjoyable, but may feel left out of the loop at times.
The production sees some issues in the way of actors tripping over dialogue. Fight sequences are loose and sluggish. And Cork’s toothpick is more a distraction than anything else. (A toothpick may work on film, but not on stage where every movement, no matter how small, is picked up by the audience).
Those issues aside, the tight-knit ensemble under Johnson Diamond’s sharp direction carry the two-hour long show well, which is made more impressive considering the multiple characters each actor (except for Cork) plays throughout the show.
What makes Belke’s Forsooth, My Lovely ideal as an inaugural production is that it offers plenty for actors to sink their teeth into. And the young talent here have done so boldly in the interest of proving themselves as emerging artists.
Hoodlum Theatre’s debut shows great promise for the company moving forward.
Hoodlum Theatre, in association with Calgary Young People’s Theatre, presented David Belke’s Forsooth, My Lovely at the West Village Theatre, Aug 19 – 23.
For more information about Hoodlum Theatre, visit: http://www.hoodlumtheatre.com/