In the 19th century, Shakespearean burlesque was in vogue, with productions of “Hamlet the Dainty” and “Julius Schneezer” mirroring working-class conflict and the absurdity of human nature. That spirit of proletarian satire lives on.
“Malaparte Love” is an original play in the Elizabethan style by Sia Berlatsky. Berlatsky noted in the program that the act was essentially a rebellion against a heteronormative society. Director Julian Hester notes that the challenge is to marry Shakespearean tropes with a modern twist, creating something “completely fresh, and unnecessarily non-conformist”.
Wealthy Lord Montoya (Grant Carrick) seeks to expand his wealth through marriage to Lady Gabriella (Carla Corona). His plan is to impress her with an original sonnet. There is a problem: his writing stinks!
Lorde’s official fool, Molyneux (Ernest Henton), enlists Skip (Declan Collins), a lowly servant boy with a penchant for pens, to take on the task of punching Lorde’s poetry. Skip, the archetypal cherubic maiden, creates an original sonnet of superior form and expression—their poems written not for a fair lady, but for Lord Montoya!
Thus a slippery slope of lies and deception is created but with a non-fictional twist. Skip falls in love with Montoya. Montoya reciprocates Skip’s feelings but is reserved for marrying Lady Gabriella. Their feelings for each other come to a head in a steamy painting scene reminiscent of Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in “Ghost.”
But the betrayal is going on! Molyneux tells servant Esperanza (Emilie Rose Danno) of his plan to fake nobility to win Gabriella’s hand for himself. But Esperanza, who secretly harbors feelings for Molyneux, teams up with Skip to act as a foil to his plans.
Meanwhile, burly female bodyguard Lorca (Jena Steeze Ramey) also harbors romantic feelings for Gabriela and is willing to fight any suitor to the death.
This ticking time bomb finally explodes in a climactic six-man sword fight – complete with a sword-versus-oven-meat arm-wrestling match!
Ramey as Lorca steals the show with an explosive soliloquy as he expresses his prowess while performing arm-twisting chin-ups. Fishbreath (Frank Nall) is a roving, witty rogue who gives advice (in the midst of a brake cleaner!) with such subtlety that he is overwhelmed with laughter from the audience. Often screaming at the top of their lungs, the energy of the entire cast is impressive.
Kevin Hagan’s set design is whimsical, alternating rows of gossamer fabric embroidered with vines of peanut leaves giving the room a dreamlike quality. The handmade costumes by Mary Nora Wolfe and Russell Yost do a good job of reflecting the Elizabethan period.
One of the goals of the production is to challenge the status quo of sexual normality, but it was as enjoyable to watch as it wasn’t challenging. In this world, the stigma of love between same-sex couples never comes up. “Malaparte Love” has a lot to say about economic class struggle and the contradictory nature of love, but needless to say, that plays the loudest.
“Malaparte Love,” The Artistic Home at the Den Theatre, 1331 North Milwaukee, theartistichome.org. Until December 11.