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Brush up on the Bard before taking in Interact's 'What Fools'

'What Fools'

'What Fools' Thomas Sandelands Photography

Brush up your Shakespeare before heading out to see Interact Theater's What Fools These Mortals Be. The show whisks through all of Shakespeare's major plays in just about 75 minutes, and it's a whirlwind tour.

The Lab Theater
$22

Interact Theater is a project of Interact Center for the Visual and Performing Arts. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Interact aims to "create art that challenges perceptions of disability." Interact shows tend to be sharp, funny, and subversive.

The new show, directed by Aaron Gabriel from a script by Gabriel, Kevin Kling, and Jeffrey Haas, looks at Shakespeare's world from the vantage of the fool. A program note by Kling helps explain the role of the fool: a character who lends perspective, saying things others can't or won't say. That's more clarity than you get from the show itself, a motley riot that's hard to follow even if it's often fun to watch.

The complicated plot centers on a band of fools led by Kling as playwright "Billy Quiverstick." Having displeased Queen Elizabeth I (a majestically poised Laura Mullin) and her mean-spirited advisor Polonia (Nora Rickey), the fools set off on a zig-zagging journey that takes them across Europe as they attempt to find safe harbor in the new world of Canada. (Cue the poutine references.)

A map projected on the Lab Theater's wall helps clarify the path of the troupe's travels, and the program helpfully lists no fewer than 23 discrete scenes in this 75-minute show — but at some point it may be best to just give up trying to follow the narrative and sit back to enjoy the silly shenanigans.

Polonia and Claudia (Nicole Kissambou) — a representative of Mary, Queen of Scots (played, on Saturday, by Interact founder Jeanne Calvit) — follow the fools along their way. The travelers encounter iconic characters such as Hamlet (played by Matt Dahlstrom, with a group of surly gravediggers throwing skulls across the stage), Othello (Cornelius Shoats), and King Lear (John Boler). "Peter Quincetopher Marlowe" (Scotty Reynolds) joins the group, while Kling dips off to make a range of cameos in various guises.

The production's strength is in its comic characterizations, and there are a number of memorable turns: Nic Soler as a portentous soothsayer, Beth Halvorson as an impatient Fontina, Henry Brown as a big-eared Puck. The show tries to cover so much ground, though, that many performances get lost in a melee of repartee.

What Fools also assumes a working knowledge of the Bard: If you're not familiar with the plot of, say, Titus Andronicus, you'll miss things. An imperfect system of mics makes it hard to catch some key dialogue on the Lab Theater's spacious stage, making it even more challenging to keep track of exactly what's going on.

Still, you're sure to find chuckles in What Fools whether or not you're an Elizabethan expert. Interact's life-affirming spirit suffuses the show, making it an evening of feel-good entertainment — something you can't always say about Shakespeare.