Review: ’43 1/2: The Greatest Deaths of Shakespeare’s Tragedies’ at the Logan Fringe Arts Space

Five actors, a stage manager, an audience, and a lot of blood.

Nu Sass Productions has remounted its 2013 Capital Fringe hit, complete with gags and cornball and puppets. The pace might not be up to speed quite yet, but if what you’re looking for is a cackle in the face of death, then 43 1/2: The Greatest Deaths of Shakespeare’s Tragedies is the show for you.

The cast of '43 1/2.' Photo courtesy of Nu Sass.
The cast of ’43 1/2.’ Photo courtesy of Nu Sass.

The evening begins with detectives–local, state, federal–investigating the deaths of Fortinbras, Hamlet, Gertrude, and Claudius.

That’s right! It’s modern day and its a quadruple homicide and CSI is on the scene.

Poison is discovered: a pearl and the tip of a sword.

A reenactment follows. Shakespearean language sounds. The sword fight begins with Claudius pouring the libations and dropping that pearly pearl. Gertrude swallows it in a toast to her son.

The bodies begin to fall.

If you’re looking for representational theatre, however, you won’t get much here, beyond that Law and Order beginning.

No! These Deaths truly are five actors and a stage manager, an audience, and a lot of blood.

And what you see is what you get.

A humorous presentation on Shakespeare’s tragic deaths, from the aforementioned Hamlet to a “sung” Othello to a commedia Julius Caesar to (and no play with this title would be complete without it) a pie-eating Titus Andronicus, that Shakespearean play where the deaths happen so fast and so furiously that you’ll swear you’re watching some gruesome Zombie speeding dating contest.

The troupe consists of Jenna Berk, Ricardo Frederick Evans, Bess Kaye, Aubri O’Connor, and Danny Rovin. They’ll greet you soon after the show starts; they’ll even hang out with you during intermission. And maybe they’ll grab a drink with you after the show.

That’s right. This is theatre in its most communal form. And there is nothing like a little of Fringe’s liquor to get your communal on.

Ms. O’Connor, the Nu Sass Artistic Director, leads the company’s embrace of the audience, with Mr. Evans having the best command of the Shakespeare. He’s also the best pie-eater I’ve seen in a while.

Berk, Kaye, and Rovin can clown with the best of them. Berk’s gnome-like “Beware the ides of March” or multiple versions of “death by kiss” will linger in my head for days while Kaye’s Cleopatra, all sultry and sweaty and out of character, perfectly defines the evening’s style.

And Rovin–all I can say is: “Do not betray this young man after first getting him to chop off his hand.”

Sun King Davis. Photo courtesy of Nu Sass Productions.
Sun King Davis. Photo courtesy of Nu Sass Productions.

The script, by Sun King Davis (who also directs) and the Company, is a mixture of modern pop culture vernacular and Shakespearean highbrow, with the first act a little heavier on the highbrow, sometimes slowing its fast moving train into tragic implications.

As a result, Act 2 is funnier and more vibrant: the actors could really get into their antics without having to stop in homage to the Bard.

Eric McMorris was the Scenic Designer, with E-hui Woo on the Lights and Jen Osborn, the Costumes.

A “poor theatre” aesthetic works best at the Fringe, and the folks a Nu Sass have truly made poverty their own–at least aesthetically.

They’re like one of those comic troupes during Shakespeare’s day, touring the countryside looking for a Rosencrantz and a Guildenstern (or was it a Guildenstern and a Rosencrantz) for whom they could ply their trade.

They always found somebody wandering through the forest flipping coins.

Running Time: Two hours, with an intermission.


43 1/2: The Greatest Deaths of Shakespeare’s Tragedies plays through November 13, 2016, at the Logan Fringe Arts Space’s Trinidad Theatre – 1358 Florida Avenue, NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, buy them at the door or purchase them online.

Director Sun King Davis on ’43 1/2: The Greatest Deaths of Shakespeare’s Tragedies’ Playing 10/20-11/13 at Nu Sass Productions by Clare Shaffer.

Capital Fringe Review: ’43 and 1/2: The Greatest Death of Shakespeare’s Tragedies’ by Nicole Cusick-Best of the 2014 Capital Fringe Festival by Nicole Cusick,


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Robert Michael Oliver
Poet, Performer, Theatre Artist, Playwright, Educator, Writer--Robert Michael Oliver, Ph.D., has been involved in the DC arts scene since the 1980s, when he co-founded The Sanctuary Theatre in the old sanctuary of Calvary United Methodist Church. Since those fierce days in Columbia Heights, he has earned his doctorate in theatre from University of Maryland, raised two wonderful children, and seen more theatre as a reviewer over the last two years than he saw in the previous thirty. He now co-directs, along with his wife Elizabeth Bruce, the Sanctuary's Performing Knowledge Project, which organizes a host of writing and performance workshops, plus Mementos: Poetry and Performance for Seniors, a yearly literature-in-performance Fringe Festival show, as well as Performetry--a monthly poetry and prose performance event at DC's community arts & culture center BloomBars.


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