Originally premiering in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Fringe Fest this past June, Pulp Shakespeare is back with director Jordan Monsell’s Her Majesty’s Secret Players for a run at Theatre Asylum in Los Angeles. It’s an elaborate re-working of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction as a Shakespearean tragedy, and it’s as fascinating as it is funny. Since Tarantino is well-known for his verbosity, the screenplay is custom-made for the Bard’s similar traits.
Though some have said it’s not necessary, familiarity with the film is a prerequisite in order to fully enjoy the performance. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never seen it, but happily it was airing on Cinemax the day I was going to see the play. I had time to see 70 minutes of it beforehand, and it’s a tribute to the playwrights that I was able to comprehend the portions I hadn’t yet watched.
Monsell (also one of the show’s five writers) wisely telescopes the two-and-a-half hour movie into an 80-minute production, which preserves the structure of the plot without wearing out the gag. All of the key scenes are here, but now instead of coffee shops and theme restaurants, they take place in taverns and dungeons.
Going back in time to Elizabethan England also provides some choice visual gags. When Vincent and Mia go out for dinner, their waiter is Richard III instead of Buddy Holly. And Jules’ “bad mother-you-know” wallet becomes a money pouch embroidered with the words “blasted Oedipus.” And in keeping with the film’s spirit, there’s lots of violence.
Among the standouts in the cast are Dan White and Aaron Lyons as Jules and Vince, and Liza DeWeerd amuses in two roles, including the multiply-pierced Jody. Christian Levatino is also fun as Sir “Butch” Coolidge, now a jouster instead of a boxer. And Nathaniel Freeman brings sinister bearing to his role as Lord Marsellus Wallace.
Staging is minimal—a few rough-hewn tables and chairs that can be easily respositioned for scene changes are all that’s needed—and the costuming is evocative of the period.
The company has had Shakespearean training, and it shows—the actors ably handle the complicated oration, and if the audience isn’t roaring at every line, it’s because they’re actually listening. This is a show that requires concentration to catch all of the clever ways Tarantino’s script has been transposed to the language of the Bard.
Pulp Shakespeare at Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles. Plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. until November 13th. For reservations, call (323) 960-7612 or online.