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Shakespeare Festival St. Louis takes the festive
part of its name very seriously, and very comically, too, in the case of its most recent
offering. It was “Dress the Part,” the Q Brothers’
“ad-rap-tation” of Shakespeare’s early comedy, “Two Gentlemen of Verona.” Yes, I put an “R” into the word “adaptation”
because that’s how the Q Brothers describe their work. They modernized not only the setting of the
play but also the language, to hip hop. The result is 80 minutes of nonstop fun. You don’t have to know Shakespeare or hip
hop to appreciate “Dress the Part.” It’s enough that the Q Brothers know both. The brilliance of their hip hop is self evident. Their understanding of Shakespeare is evident
in the cleverness with which they have updated his plot. Both plays are about a pair of young men whose
friendship is tested by their attraction to two young women. The Q Brothers have set “Dress the Part”
in a high school, where the young men are stars of the football team. Valentine is the quarterback. Proteus is the wideout. Who is Sylvia? She’s a cheerleader, while Julia is from
a different crowd. Perhaps the shrewdest stroke in the adaptation
is the one that explains the title. The original Julia is one of six female characters
in Shakespeare who pretend to be boys during their plays. This means that the boy actors playing these
parts on the Elizabethan stage were boys playing girls playing boys. When the Q Brothers’ Julia is looking for
a way to get closer to Proteus, she learns the football team wants to add another water
boy. To apply for the job, Julia has to put on
a water boy’s clothes, that is, she has to “dress the part.” What a clever way to introduce the cross-dressing
from Shakespeare’s play. In the recent production at the Ready Room
in the Grove, directed by the Q Brothers themselves, Crim Dolla Cray was the ultrastylish DJ. Two actors played all the other parts. Jordan Moore was Proteus and others. Garrett Young was Valentine and others. Their mastery of the Q Brothers witty and
intricate language was dazzling throughout, as was their ability to shift quickly from
one part to another. They were aided by Christina Leinecke’s
distinctive but easily changed costumes and by Margery and Peter Spack’s scenic design,
which provided places to change behind the posts as well as front of them. Sheena Laird’s choreography, Jesse Klug’s
lighting, Rusty Wandall’s sound, and Katie Orr’s props all enhanced this marvelous production. Thanks to Q Brothers, this Shakespeare fan
is more interest in hip hop. I’ll bet their fans
are more interested in Shakespeare, too.

James Carver

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