BEARDO (Rasputin) at Shotgun a Hairy Visionary

The Romanov Court in Shotgun's Beardo at the Ashby Stage

BEARDO: Musical Comedy/Drama. Book and lyrics by Jason Craig. Music by Dave Malloy. Directed by Patrick Dooley. Shotgun Players, Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley. 510.841.6500 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 510.841.6500 end_of_the_skype_highlightingor Extended through May 1, 2011

BEARDO (Rasputin) at Shotgun a Hairy Visionary

On Saturday night, the last available seat for Shotgun Players’ hysterical, inventive, irreverent, ribald, colorful, astonishing retelling with music of the Rasputin legend was assigned to me. This was after seeing the matinee production of Sarah Ruhl/Berkeley Rep’s Three Sisters. Originally, the plan was to write a comparison piece of the two faces of Berkeley theatre. What a difference a couple of miles make between venues. BEARDO deserves its own review and the label on the ticket lists “The Ashby Stage, Berzerkely, Calf.”

And there lies the difference. To start Shotgun’s 20th season of world premiere plays they have reached in the bag of the Banana Bag and Bodice, creators of their smash hit Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage. Writer Jason Craig and composer Dave Malloy have fashioned a musical using an on-stage quintet, a series of guitar riffs and a story line with the mad-monk Rasputin (Ashkon Davaran) as its pivotal character. It is prophetic that Beardo rhymes with weirdo.

It begins in a dreary forest setting of towering cedar tree trunks (sets by Lisa Clark) stretching from floor to ceiling and grungy beyond belief Rasputin, prone on the floor with his left hand stuck in a hole. He doesn’t remain there long, being rescued by a helpful farming couple. In a series of musical vignettes accompanied by the marvelous string quintet, the mad monk insinuates himself into the confidences of the Romanov household. Beside curing the sick Romanov baby (played by a puppet manipulated by an adult), he becomes greedy rich and infamous for his sexual proclivities. Director Patrick Dooley must have opened up the purse stings allowing Christine Crook to design fantastic costumes for the Russian Court and color floods the stage. Then too, he ends the first act with a 29 member, count them, peasant chorus, appropriately dressed, suggesting revolt of the ruling class is imminent.

Act 2 continues the irreverent shenanigans throwing in more than a bit of mayhem. Can you picture three men dressed in red leotards, white tutus and black tank tops as assassins as they sing and dance (choreography by Chris Black) about the failed attempts to do Rasputin in? It is a crowning directorial conceit to an unbelievable, must see show. Running time about two hours and 20 minutes with intermission.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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