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The Bard in a Basement

This article is more than 11 years old.

Unlike "Macbeth" or "Hamlet," Shakespeare's play "King John" is rarely produced.

But in Boston right now, it's being staged by the Actors' Shakespeare Project...in an unconventional space: the basement of a cathedral.

WBUR's Andrea Shea attended a recent performance with an unlikely theater-goer.

Sound of audience milling about the theater, finding seats, etc...

ANDREA SHEA: As the crowd settles down before the show David Hurley says this isn't something he usually does.

DAVID HURLEY: What do I usually do? I hang in the Boston Common. I'm homeless. I was invited to see this play and I didn't have anything else to do so here I am.

ANDREA SHEA: Hurley...who prefers his nickname 'Shaggy'...has been homeless for 33 years. While seeing Shakespeare is new to him, the space isn't. The Cathedral of St. Paul has a large homeless congregation. Shaggy eats lunch in this room on Monday afternoons.

SHAGGY: And I come here to watch a movie on Friday and I go to church on Sunday in the Boston Common one o'clock to two o'clock and then they feed us after...

Sound of homeless lunch on Boston Common: 'Mo, would you like a sandwich? I've got peanut butter and jelly and ham and something....'

ANDREA SHEA: Tina Rathbone is a minister for the homeless. She's the one who arranged for Shaggy's ticket to the show. The church's Dean, Jep Streit, invited the theater troupe to stage 'King John' at the cathedral.

JEP STREIT: I love the fact that this person would never get to go to a Shakespeare production under most circumstances, but he was able to go to (A) because Actors' Shakespeare Project provided a ticket for free and (B) it was in a space that he knew and was familiar to him and was safe and so he felt encouraged to go.

Sound of rehearsal in basement. 'Good, alright, let's go ahead and do this first scene...'

ANDREA SHEA: The Actors' Shakespeare Project roves around Boston producing and rehearsing plays in non-traditional community spaces like this one.

Rehearsal sound: (actors joking and laughing) 'This is the symbol of my kingship please bow. (laughs) Kiss the lamp!

ANDREA SHEA: 'King John' dramatizes the monarch's reign. The play is filled with greedy rulers jockeying for power. It's set in the present day as a 'political thriller' about the arrogance of the super rich.

BILL BARCLAY: I see this play as a black comedy about status.

ANDREA SHEA: That's Bill Barclay. He plays Phillip the Bastard, and he's the character the audience connects with the most. The Bastard is the witty, moral voice of the play.

Phillip the Bastard's 'Commodity' soliloquy: 'Whiles I am a beggar I will rail and say there is no sin but to be rich. And being rich my virtue then shall be, to say there is no vice but beggary. ..

Applause

ANDREA SHEA: During intermission Shaggy heads outside. He lights up a hand-rolled cigarette...

Sound of lighter clicking

ANDREA SHEA: ...then he smiles as he explains why Phillip the Bastard is his favorite character.

SHAGGY: I liked the way he acts period. He tells it like it is.

Sound of footsteps

ANDREA SHEA: Shaggy heads back down to the basement theater. In his seat he admits to feeling a little uncomfortable.

SHAGGY: Nervous.
ANDREA SHEA: why?
SHAGGY: I guess 'cause I'm with society. And because they all have a place to go after and I don't.

ANDREA SHEA: But still the theater experience, he says, is helping him to 'get outside himself.'

SHAGGY: I happened to be in the right spot at the right time today 'cause here I am. So I feel lucky. I'm representing all the homeless people. (laughs) Nobody else wanted to come.

ANDREA SHEA: And that's one of the challenges that comes with trying to connect with an itinerant, often unpredictable community like homeless people. But for the Actors' Shakespeare Project...and the Cathedral Church of St. Paul...it's worth it to introduce even one unlikely theater going to the bard.

For WBUR I'm Andrea Shea.

Back tag: 'King John' runs through Sunday at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul on Boston Common. To find out about the Actors' Shakespeare Project's other outreach programs...including workshops with incarcerated and troubled teenage girls...visit our website: wbur.org"King John" runs through Sunday at the Cathedral Church of Saint Paul, on Boston Common. It's being staged by the Actors' Shakespeare Project, Boston's only full-time Shakespeare company. You can see pictures of the show, plus hear more from "Phillip the Bastard" by clikcing on the links below.

This program aired on June 6, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

Andrea Shea Twitter Senior Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR's arts reporter.

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