Shakespeare's histories can prove baffling, particularly in the aggregate. England's monarchical succession is tough to grasp for all but the most dedicated scholars.
However, those who think that the War of the Roses was a trade dispute between Teleflora and FTD may find the Independent Shakespeare Co.'s production of "Strange Eventful History," a world-premiere play at the Atwater Crossing Arts & Innovation Complex, a delightful indoctrination.
In collaboration with his company, playwright and ISC co-founder David Melville recapitulates a selection of Shakespearean histories, monarch by monarch. And, if by evening's end, you still find yourself struggling to distinguish the Lancastrians from the Yorkists, it won't be for lack of his inspired efforts.
The conceit behind the show is that we, the audience, are attending an "open rehearsal" of Richard III, starring an Actor (Melville) who, with his portrayal of Richard, will have played all of Shakespeare's monarchs – admittedly, in venues that were distinctly third-tier. (He did once work with the Royal Shakespeare Company, but only, as he sheepishly admits, on their "Educational Outreach Tour.")
A bit of a diva, the Actor shares the stage with dry-as-dust Stage Manager (Sam Breen), and perky Ingenue (Erika Soto). When the Ingenue proves completely ignorant of British history, the Actor sets out to enlighten her – and vastly entertain us.
Of course, the play affords Melville the opportunity to perform just about every famous monologue from Shakespeare's historical canon while neatly avoiding any hint of the dread vanity production. Under the sure direction of veteran ISC member, Joseph Culliton, Melville is simply splendid, as are his fellows, particularly Soto, who, whether playing a vengeful dowager or perky gamine, quite simply lights up the stage.
Witty, succinct and frequently moving, "Strange Eventful History" is both a historical primer and a rollicking backstage comedy -- a sort of "Noises Off" on a tour of Agincourt -- that both charms and informs.