“Breaking the Shakespeare Code” at FringeNYC 2014 at 64E4 Mainstage (Closed on Wednesday August 20, 2014)

Written by John Minigan
Directed by Stephen Brotebeck
Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Marry, this is the short and the long of it; you have brought her into such a canaries as ’tis wonderful. The best courtier of them all, when the court lay at Windsor, could never have brought her to such a canary.” – Mistress Quickly in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” (Act II, Scene 2)

There ought to be a warning posted above the entrance to the Mainstage Theatre at 64 East 4th Street Theatres on the days “Breaking the Shakespeare Code” is running. Something like, “Fasten your seat belts or prepare to be blown away!” It takes Martha and George years of angst-ridden and explosive off-campus confrontations to break the “kid” code in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” It takes Curt and Anna sixteen years of angst-ridden and explosive on-campus confrontations to break the Shakespeare code that has bound them together in John Minigan’s brilliant and demanding new play currently running at FringeNYC 2014.

Like George and Martha, Curt (Tim Weinert) and Anna (Miranda Jonte) bring each other to a point halfway between their characters and themselves and push each other to a point halfway between them. This is a hard game for Curt and Anna and one that keeps them asking, “What are we working on?” That question defines the powerful plot spun by two characters driven by deep-seated and dissociative conflicts.

John Minigan’s “Breaking the Shakespeare Code” is bold, brutal, brave, beguiling and brilliant. The structure is sturdy, the dramatic arc intriguing and it is a remarkable escape into reality. Stephen Brotebeck’s direction is fluid, sometimes frantic, and never frivolous: it always supports the script and the actor. The two actors attack their provocative roles with fierce commitment, each holding his or her
own territory whilst always sharing the same battleground. Mr. Weinert’s Curt is steady, strong, imperious and intelligent as a teacher, yet human, vulnerable, insecure and approachable as a man. He is a mentor and menacing, headstrong but harmless, aggressive and agitated. Miranda Jonte’s Anna is captivating, cautious, cunning and consistent as she develops her character. She is impressive as she walks a fine line between art and life willing to risk both for the chance to succeed. Both are generous actors, prepared to give and willing to receive, always present, and fearless. They drown in their emotion, never coming up for air. They know there is nothing for them on the surface and it makes them delve even deeper, rummaging through their souls to retrieve the passion needed to expose their character.

Shakespeare characters Portia and Brutus and Mistress Quickly and Falstaff do not prove worthy matches for Anna and Curt: these heroic yet ruthless protagonists are willing to hedge their bets again and again in order to discover the precise definition of their connection and how that “banding together” will determine their futures.