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It’s a debate nearly all Shakespeareans—scholars, actors, and fans—have engaged: which of Shakespeare's characters has the juiciest monologue? I’ve seen shouting matches break out over this. And now I’ve seen a Fringe show, Philadelphia Artists’ Collective’s QvK, that joins the fray.
More specifically, the question of QvK is what group of Shakespearean characters has the better speeches: the kings or the queens. Performer Joseph Ahmed represents the former; Cassandra Alexander, the latter. Brittany Onukwugha serves as the emcee, and the audience as judge.
Things start off straightforward enough, with Alexander presenting the tragic Queen Hermione’s speech from early in The Winter’s Tale and Ahmed diving in with the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V. Both actors are clearly comfortable with their Shakespeare. Even without props or costumes (or much of a set), they evoke the scenes they depict.
But things go a bit off the rails from here.
Channeling the betrayers
As it turns out, the three actors on stage are not the only three actors present. From the audience, Gabriel Elmore appears with bottled water, mini Snickers bars, and a binder full of material that just might give Ahmed an edge.
It soon becomes clear that Elmore isn’t just there to stand in Ahmed’s corner. He is fickle. He brought props (two swords, to engage Onukwugha in a few moments of deliberately chaotic stage combat). And he has very different ideas about how the competition should proceed. To say more would spoil the greater premise of QvK, but Gabriel’s heel turn from smiling goofy friend to someone who is clearly onstage for himself is both effective and evocative of more than a few famous Shakespearean betrayers.
The better end
For as much as I enjoyed the first 80 percent of the show, I felt the end was a letdown. Things between the actors—the scripted versions of them, at least—get ugly fast, which isn’t surprising. What is surprising, and unsatisfying, is that the hostility and pettiness that quickly forms after Elmore’s arrival is never resolved. Musician Perry (Woodchuck) Ibanez, who plays guitar in the background for most of the show, takes centerstage and plays a song on his ukulele as the audience snaps, and then it’s time for the curtain call. That’s it.
Shakespearean endings are big. They are weddings or deaths or epic goodbyes. They tie up loose ends and bring closure to the story. For a play dedicated to Shakespeare's brilliance, the lack of a satisfying ending disappoints. With so much talent and potential earlier in the show, QvK is still worth seeing—just expect to leave Bardascino park wanting a better end.
What, When, Where
QvK. Written by Eli Lynn (and William Shakespeare). Directed by Damon Bonetti. Free with advance registration. Through October 3, 2021, at Bardascino Park, 1000 South 10th Street, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or Fringearts.com.
The performance takes place outdoors.
Bardascino Park is a small, paved park that should be easily traversed by all patrons. Some chairs are provided but audience members may also bring their own. Bug spray is recommended.
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