Century after century, time and again and April 27, 28 and 29 in Santa Clara, Shakespeare has titillated audiences, shocking them with tales of deadly lust for taboo sex, sadistic revenge and ruthless quests for wealth and power.
Time and again brother—or sister—rose up against parent, sibling, nephew, countryman, friend in Silicon Valley Shakespeare’s (SVS) reprisal of “Shakespeare’s Most Wanted,” which SVS commissioned and first performed in 2007.
Like Shakespeare himself (1564 – 1616), the play is wickedly clever. It showcases the top 10 of Shakespearian’s vilest villains as handpicked by playwright and production co-director Doll Piccotto, who has been with SVS since the nonprofit was founded 20 years ago.
“Shakespeare’s Most Wanted” was performed with wry, gallows humor in dim lighting against an all-black set with a curtain swag of red and a white backdrop for mug shots of the handcuffed villains. Furthering the dark mood, the villains and their victims wore contemporary clothing in black, with accents of blood red and white.
Each of the play’s 10 scenes is introduced rhythmically in iambic pentameter by a narrator, Agent Marlow. Each introduction is followed by an actual scene from one of Shakespeare’s plays as, one by one, the villains are revealed to the audience, which is kept in the dark until each big reveal.
At the bottom of the Top Ten, is Antiochus, a king having an incestuous relationship with his daughter in “Pericles.” Regan and Cordelia, the flattering, deceitful daughters of “King Lear,” rank number nine. Angelo, a judge in “Measure for Measure” is number eight, demanding sex with the virgin Isabelle to save her brother from the judge’s death sentence.
The evil parade continues as Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice” demands a literal pound of flesh for an unpaid debt. Tamara seeks merciless revenge for the murder of her son in “Titus Andronicus.”
In the top five are the murderer Claudius from “Hamlet,” the politically ambitious Lady Macbeth in “Macbeth” and the deadly charming Richard, who lusts after and wickedly woos the wife of the man he murdered in “Richard the III.” Jealous Iago, who drives his military general Othello to murder and suicide in “Othello” is number two.
It would be a spoiler for future productions to reveal the totally unexpected number one villain on the chart. Hopefully, SVS will not wait so long again—the play was last presented in 2009—to reprise “Shakespeare’s Most Wanted.”
At the end of each scene, the Friday night audience was torn between booing the villains and applauding the excellent acting of the SVS players.
“I’m really enjoying being with all these people. You forget how awful some of Shakespeare’s characters were imagined,” said San Jose resident Barbara Reynolds during intermission Friday night.
“It’s an interesting concept. It gives a lot of really strong actors a chance to play some very powerful scenes,” said Sunnyvale resident Max Gutmann, himself a playwright. “They do a good job of presenting Shakespeare in a way that’s very enjoyable.”
Perhaps playwright Piccotto’s next collaboration with Shakespeare will be his top 10 heroes and heroines, although good might not be as big a draw for audiences as the forces of evil.
For Silicon Valley Shakespeare fans, the tragedy is that “Shakespeare’s Most Wanted” only played for three sold-out performances over one weekend. The intimate venue on the grounds of Santa Clara’s Triton Museum of Art, generously provided by Santa Clara Players, was appropriate but holds only 71 seats.
“Shakespeare’s Most Wanted” was a fundraiser to support SVS’s annual free Shakespeare in the Park production, and the cast and crew, who usually receive a stipend, donated their time.
Shakespeare’s comedy “As You Like It” runs June 8 to 24 at 7 p.m. in Willow Street Park, San Jose. Seats for all productions are always free for those 17 and younger.
“If you think you know what to expect of Shakespeare, we’ll probably surprise you,” said Angie Higgins, SVS artistic director and co-director of “Shakespeare’s Most Wanted.”