Doug Schutte and Ryan Watson in Chasing Ophelia.
Photo – The Bard’s Tow.n

Chasing Ophelia
Written by Doug Schutte

Directed by Scot Atkinson

Review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

I missed seeing this play, a wholly original piece of material from Doug Schutte, in its premiere production almost (can it really be?) two years ago. Luckily, since it features a nearly identical cast, we can see what I imagine to be a very close approximation of the original. Allowing for the inevitable growth and development of these actors, it might even be an improvement.

A hapless fellow by the name of Ned Mark enters and seems to have little to no sense of himself. That is because he is a character devised by a writer, or ”Creator,” but incomplete. Lacking in motivation or details, the plot follows his journey after a young woman named Joy, who seems to be in the same pickle. She attaches herself to William Shakespeare and the character of Ophelia, and before long Ned begins to encounter all manner of people from Hamlet, Julius Caesar and MacBeth.  

The post-modernist examination of the relationship between fictional characters and the writer who created them is nothing new. But if you believe it has been thoroughly exhausted, think again. This script is smart, quick and very funny; and it succeeds, in part, because it chooses to occupy a limited world of literary reference: the works of Shakespeare. Not that such environs are not populated sufficiently enough to allow over-indulgence, but Mr. Schutte never over-reaches in his attempts to spin our minds in circles. He achieves a fine-tuned balance of circular narrative and populist sense of humor that engages the intellect without unduly straining credulity.

We know the cast is familiar with the material, but that doesn’t entirely account for the expert playing and comic timing. These guys are good. Director Scot Atkinson keeps the action disciplined but leaves the actors enough space to go slightly out on a limb. Ryan Watson as Ned displays one of the driest, surest deadpans in town and guides us through the convoluted plot machinations with confidence. Beth Tantanella brings effortless charm and energy to Joy, and the various alter egos she inhabits. John Scheker, the one cast member who was not in the first production, seems entirely at home here, and his authoritative, professorial presence is just right; while Tad Timberlake’s impossibly rich, plumy voice effectively contrasts against the silliness and only makes it funnier. The silliness factor is ratcheted up by Jason Cooper and author Schutte, who make such a good comedy duo that one wonders why Mr. Schutte’s obviously fertile mind doesn’t get busy dreaming up a new script that could highlight their effective chemistry. 

This highly entertaining remount opens The Bard’s Town’s third season of original productions. Besides their own shows, the cozy venue hosts various other companies and boasts a performance calendar with nary an empty weekend. I dare say that there is not another theatre space in town that can claim such a varied roster of and as many offerings from Louisville-based companies. That it houses a regular company committed to original work, often by local writers, is as important as the Shakespeare-centric menu offered in the first floor restaurant.   

Chasing Ophelia

February 21 – March 3, 2013 at 7:30 p.m.

The Bard’s Town

1801 Bardstown Road

Louisville, KY 40205