Theatre: Two Gentlemen of Lebowski

I went to see a rehearsed reading of Two Gentlemen of Lebowski by Magic Roundabout Theatre Company at The Loft last weekend. I was absolutely blown away by it. It was by far, the most entertaining and brilliantly executed rehearsed reading I’ve ever seen. The uniqueness of the play was reflected in the special efforts made with movement, sound effects and even the occasional musical interlude.

Adam Bertocci wrote the play on the premise ‘What if Shakespeare wrote The Big Lebowski?’ TBL is a cult comedy movie by the Coen Brothers and Shakespeare is a slightly above average playwright, if you’ve heard of him at all? The play quickly became an internet viral sensation, attracting a lot of media and industry attention. Jeff Bridges, the lead role in the film, praised the play saying: “It worked, man, it really worked!” A full production premiered in New York in March 2010 and Simon & Schuster published it last October.

TBL is a screwball comedy involving Jeff Lebowski, AKA ‘The Dude’, who’s a self confessed slacker who spends most of his time bowling and getting high. In a case of mistaken identity, he meets his namesake—the millionaire, Jeffrey Lebowski. When Lebowski’s wife gets kidnapped, he asks the dude to deliver the ransom money. The dude’s friend, Walter, ensures that he messes up the delivery and from then on, events get increasingly bizarre.

You wouldn’t think that a very modern comedy would translate so well to Elizabethan theatre but it does. Both the film and the play are hilarious. My friend hadn’t even seen the film and could still appreciate the play. Shakespeare liked creating comedies of errors and numerous intertwining plots. He obviously had a great sense of humour. After all, the only thing he left his wife in his will was his “second best bed”. His comedies used slapstick, black humour, bawdy jokes and situational comedy. TBL has other Shakespearean elements i.e. a ‘chorus’ in the form of the stranger; good fights and plenty of musings on existence.

And verily, it cameth to pass that purveyors of goode theatre in th’ City of the Treaty, Magick Roundabout, did do a reading of the most excellent comedie and tragical romance. Now take my crap attempt just there; make it a thousand times better and then you have an inkling of how good the script is. Bertocci’s use of language and its nuances is exceptional. I can’t explain so I’ll quote a line or two:

“In wayfarer’s worlds out west was once a man/A man I come not to bury, but to praise./His name was Geoffrey Lebowski call’d, yet/Not called, excepting by his kin.
Tat which we call a knave by any other name/Might bowl just as sweet. Lebowski, then,/Did call himself ‘the Knave’, a name that I,/Your humble chorus, would not self-apply.”

The 10-strong cast—including: Darren Maher; Liam O’Brien; Róisín Connolly; Aidan Crowe; Mark Halpin; Gary Hetzler; Robin Lee; Jim Moroney; Mark O’Connor; Kevin O’Malley and Joanne Ryan—gave energetic performances. Several cast members sang/did crazy foreign accents and two played animals—a Pomeranian and a ferret (just as funny as it sounds). They all seemed to enjoy themselves.

The two stand-out actors for me were Mark O’Connor as The Knave and Kevin O’Malley as Sir Walter. The Knave is permanently confused and louche but in a charming way. O’Connor was very funny and played the character in all his wry, hapless and lovable glory. O’Malley was often scene-stealing as the unhinged, ‘Orient-War’ veteran, Sir Walter. His fanatical sense of justice and ignorance of reason (and Sir Donald) provides some of the best comical moments of the play. O’Malley’s delivery was perfect.

Liam O’Brien said the quality of the reading was down to planning/preparation from director, Darren Maher. That enthusiasm for the material was obvious and I thought the audience thoroughly enjoyed it. The play would read well too I’d say.

There’s great potential for a play by the Bard adapted in the style of the Coen Brothers i.e. A Serious Ham or O-Thello, Where Art Thou? Darren has joked that there might be room for The Beckett Lebowski. I think a better title might be Waiting for Lebowski in which the Dude and the Big Lebowski bowl, sit around drinking white Russians and wait in vain for other characters to arrive.

Any number of genre crossing hybrids could be successful. The copyright on Joyce’s work will soon expire and there’s Broadway/Hollywood potential in Burn Ulysses After Reading. That’s what I did. Ahh, I’m only joking…I didn’t even read the f**king thing!