OK– BREAKING THE SHAKESPEARE CODE is a terrible title for a great new play put on by Vagabond Theatre Group but don’t let that put you off! Last Saturday I felt “ultra-Bohemian” as I made my way to one of Boston’s tiny little hidden theaters in the South End, through a parking lot and down a back stair into the cavernous depths of the THE FACTORY THEATRE (Piano Factory building on Tremont St!) and found myself along with 8 other people(!) in a tiny bricked in space.

Vagabond Theatre Group

Vagabond Theatre Group

Two actors emerged and put on an 85 minute/no intermission show that was top notch–and I felt like I’d gotten in on the ground floor- literally!This new play by John Minigan and directed by James Peter Sotis is about a Shakespeare acting coach named Curt (and he is!) and his student Anna. Now we all know how intimate the actor/director-coach relationship can be– and if you don’t, trust me, it is. An actor’s instrument is his or her entire emotional/psychological/spiritual self–if they’re firing on all cylinders. What and who actors play and the boundaries they navigate as they prepare for their roles can be very fluid and confusing.

It is precisely this relationship that BREAKING THE SHAKESPEARE CODE explores and quite acutely. The play unfolds in three sections that span 16 years in this relationship, and it’s a real roller coaster. As Curt (Devon Scalisi) tries to elicit deep and truthful performances from Anna (Sarah Leary) through some of Shakespeare’s female characters, he uses every tool at his disposal, sometimes diabolically. It’s clear there’s a huge subtext between them that is additional fodder for not only the Shakespearean characters being explored,  but also their own relationship which is evolving over time. It’s quite the primer on how to open up the text,  as well as what an actor experiences and how they do what they do.

The two actors here are inches from us– and still in their own world. Scalisi as Curt is caustic, intense, and manipulative yet also vulnerable. She’s sharp, curious, and emotionally alive. I was glued.  Be a vagabond and seek out the Vagabond Theatre Group’s production of BREAKING THE SHAKESPEARE CODE before it ends on the Ides of March!

(Perhaps a better title: “Breaking Bard”?!)