The Column Online



(World Premier)
By Jeff Swearingen, Concept by Bren Rapp,
With Shakespearean Text Curated by Lance Lusk and Kyle Eric Bradford

The Basement

Produced by – Bren Rapp
Directed by – Andy Baldwin
Technical Design – Bren Rapp
Set Designer – George Redford
Technical Engineering – Dennis Cutillo and Chris Rapp
Costume and Set Design – Bren Rapp

Speaker of the House William Wormwood – Doak Campbell Rapp
Anne Wormwood – Taylor Donnelson
Vice President Stewgent Burbage – David Allen Norton
Congressman Alan Fellowship – Jeremy LeBlanc
Special Counsel Marlowe Overdare – Josh LeBlanc
Chief of Staff Pawndelia – Hannah Moore

The Binge Watchers:
Andrew – Jaxon Beeson
Sam – Glori Roller
Wendy – Tess Cutillo
Susie – Zoe Smithey

Shakespearean text from:
Henry IV, part 1
Henry IV, part 2
Henry VII
Julius Caesar
King Lear
King John
Measure for Measure
Richard II
Richard III
Taming of the Shrew
The Merchant of Venice
Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus
Troilus and Cressida

Reviewed Performance: 6/16/2016

Reviewed by Nicole Mulupi, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Rapp, Swearingen, Lusk and Bradford have written a play that is edgy and engaging, relatable to audiences and challenging to young actors-in-training. Fun House Theatre and Film advertises their play as “designed to lead the audience to realize that as long as there have been lands to conquer and people to rule, there has been politics and shortly thereafter, politics as entertainment.” Their show, House of Bard’s, is loosely based on the original Netflix series House of Cards, which was itself based off of the BBC miniseries of the same name. The web series has won multiple Emmy awards, being—in fact—the first online-only original web television series to win major awards. It has been said to be heavily influenced by the works of William Shakespeare, particularly Richard III and Macbeth. Now, Fun House Theatre and Film has taken the idea one step further. They have created a series that not only borrows from Shakespearean drama—the dialogue itself is drawn from Shakespeare’s (the bard’s) works.

This play is a fun conglomeration of modern comedy, political drama, classical theatre, and film. The political intrigue and Shakespearean dialogue of the fictional political Netflix thriller, “House of Bard’s” (the play within the play) are balanced by the comic relief provided by the stereotypically irresponsible, angsty young binge watchers who are watching the show. As entertainment, it is varied enough to be easily digestible; the weightier aspects of the play are separated into bite size pieces, and the regular commentaries of the binge watchers will help young audience members less familiar with Shakespeare to follow the plot. The plot…it holds up as long as it is not too closely scrutinized.

Bren Rapp’s costumes, sets and technical design provided an effective contrast between the “real world” of the binge watchers and the fictional setting of the show. The main set piece was a short, black wooden façade that served as both the front of the desk in the Oval Office and the footboard of the bed in the President’s bedroom. Other small pieces were moved on and off stage as needed, but the stage design was minimal. There were three small television screens facing the audience. These communicated the setting of the TV action, which was acted out on the main stage. They were also used for dramatic effect when William Wormwood’s character speaks, aside, directly to the camera (a nod to House of Cards). When each “episode” ended, the screens would return to the Netflix start screen with the show title, photo and list of episodes. This was a creative way to make the audience feel like one of the binge watchers. Throughout the play, the binge watchers remained on the audience floor in the stage-left wing, facing the audience as though the TV was there. Their small side stage was made to look like a college student’s living room, with Texas Longhorn posters and a comfy, beat up sofa. While the costumes of the binge watchers are modern, those of the TV characters did not seem to represent a single era. A lot of the costumes could pass for 1940s and 1950s, but some looked a century older, unless I’m remembering incorrectly. Did I, or did I not, see one character in 18th century breeches? It seems impossible; perhaps I imagined it. Regardless…rather than being a distraction, the costumes added to the sense of timelessness the director was going for.

The main character, Speaker of the House William Wormwood, is played by Doak Campbell Rapp. You can tell he’s a villain from the beginning because of his slow, southern good-old-boy drawl, which is occasionally enhanced with the tough-guy talk of a mafia gangster. Hearing Shakespeare like this is initially off-putting, but Rapp makes it work. His character starts out as an Iago type, but by the end of the play he has become Macbeth, trapped in his own web.

Taylor Donnelson plays the equally villainous Anne Wormwood. As the scheming wife of the usurper Wormwood, Donnelson brought a sultry sophistication to her role, reminiscent of classic film noir stars like Lauren Bacall and Mary Astor. She and Rapp were well-matched, each enhancing the performance of the other.

David Allen Norton as Vice President Stewgent Burbage had, perhaps, the most challenging role, as his character undergoes the greatest transformation. Although Norton took some time to warm up, he got progressively stronger throughout the play and his monologue in jail was powerful.

Jeremy LeBlanc played the accomplice, Congressman Alan Fellowship. His role was more memorable for his constant presence and his mysteriousness than for his dialogue. His was a character of few words.

The role of President Richard Henry is played by Connor McMurray. McMurray performed well, but he rushed through his lines so quickly that they all flowed together and the meaning of them was sometimes lost. Shakespeare requires a greater amount of emphasis and clearer articulation. But, McMurray is still young, and as he’s already memorizing Shakespeare, he’s definitely on the right track.

Josh LeBlanc played Special Counsel Marlowe Overdare, the perceptive protagonist who investigates the death of the President and confronts Wormwood, driving the play to its climax. LeBlanc delivered his lines with the intensity and fluidity of a fluent Shakespearean actor, which made his scenes all the more enjoyable.

As Chief of Staff Pawndelia, Hannah Moore was amazing. At only 12 years of age she is one of the youngest cast members, yet her delivery was excellent. Not a word was lost or glossed over. Her love for President Richard Henry sounded more like that of a daughter than of a Chief of Staff, though. Nevertheless, her character is important, as the President’s dismissal of her is the catalyst that sets the stage for the drama that unfolds.

The Binge Watchers—Andrew, Sam, Wendy and Susie—are played by Jaxon Beeson, Glori Roller, Tess Cutillo and Zoe Smithey, respectively. All four are fantastic, but Tess Cutillo steals the show as the annoying roommate who is butting in on Andrew and Sam’s time together. She gets most of the funny lines and physical humor, but Beeson, Roller and Smithey all react with impeccable timing and hilarious facial expressions.

Under Andy Baldwin’s outstanding direction, these young actors have shown that they are a force to be reckoned with. House of Bard’s is a show that will be memorable for actors and audiences alike, and it is a brilliant way to introduce Shakespeare to new fans and show that his works are as relevant today as ever.

Fun House Theatre and Film, Black Box Theatre at Plano Children’s Theatre
1301 Custer Rd., Plano, TX 75075

Show Dates and Times: 7:30 Thursday, June 16, 7:30 Friday, June 17, 2:30 Saturday, June 18, 7:30 Saturday, June 18, 2:30 Sunday, June 19, 7:30 Monday, June 20 *industry night (tickets $5.00) . Tix are $8.00 in advance, $10 at the door. or at