It all began as a joke on the Internet, and blossomed into a viral phenomenon. Adam Bertocci rewote the Coen brothers' 1998 beloved cult classic The Big Lebowski in Shakespearean style. Frank Cwiklik of American Shakespeare Factory got the production rights immediately, and now The Most Excellent Comedie and Tragical Romance of The Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, being the Amusing Adventures of The Knave and Sir Walter graces Horse Trade's Kraine Theatre in an entirely sold-out production.
The script is quite brilliant in execution - though the initial gag of translating the slacker tones of The Dude and Walter to the poetic rhetoric of The Knave (Josh Mertz) and Sir Walter of Poland (Bob Laine) wears thin rather quickly, the actual meat of the 5-act play still entices and manages to be involving and entertaining. Shakespeare himself had no troubles with wholly lifting other writers' plots for his own use, and Two Gentlemen of Lebowski is firmly within that tradition, even while simultaneously firmly tongue-in-cheek. Random phrases and quotes from Shakespeare's extant plays are scattered throughout the script, making a nice game of spot-the-reference for the initiated.
The cast does a fine job - Josh Mertz as The Knave especially hits the ideal balance of delivering the archaic language naturally as an aggrievEd Stoner. Bob Laine steals the show as the perpetually angry Sir Walter of Poland. Brianna Tyson gives Maude Lebowski the deadpan gravitas the role requires. Matt Gray and Craig Kelton Peterson are a delight in a multitude of minor roles.
The production is only marr'd at times by the production itself: high tech video projections distract more than they enhance the proceedings, the lighting seems to have been purposely designed to only light the torsos of the performers, rather than their faces, and off-putting music (usually covers of "You Can't Always Get What You Want" or "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)") comes in at moments that often seem more scattershot than planned. The Chorus of the script (who takes the place of Sam Elliot's grizzled "Stranger" from the movie) is identified in the production as William Shakespeare himself (Kevin Orzechowski), which makes little sense. As with any real Shakespeare production, the play's the thing: changes and ornamentation are frequently unnecessary unless done to make a point; but here pointless.
But still the text and actors rise above and make the play an amusing pop culture mashup.
DISCLAIMER: This show is neither endorsed nor authorized by the Brothers Coen or the producers of The Big Lebowski and is intended solely as a tribute and a work of parody.
The Two Gentlemen of Lebowski
By Adam Bertocci
The production, presented by Horse Trade Theater Group and DMTheatrics, will play at The Kraine Theater (85 East 4th Street between 2nd Ave and Bowery) March 18-April 4, Thursdays at 8pm & Friday through Sunday at 7:30pm (no performance on March 28th). Tickets ($20) are available by calling Smarttix at 212-868-4444 or online at www.horseTRADE.info