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Give Twelfth Night (Drunk), playing through September 3, a shot.

When I learned earlier this year that Milwaukee was home to not one but two drunk Shakespeare companies – Boozy Bard and Bard & Bourbon – I wasn’t surprised. After all, we’re ranked one of the drunkest cities in the country.

I was pretty curious, though. Could the actors still deliver stirring soliloquies sloshed? Would audiences embrace the rough and tumble approach?

The answer to both questions, I found at a preview of Bard & Bourbon’s Twelfth Night (Drunk), is a resounding yes.

The production, directed by Dylan K. Sladky, plays through September 3 at the 10th Street Theater and features a cast of 12. Each night, at least two actors take shots of 94-proof bourbon (Elijah Craig, in case you want to play along at home). Then they dim the lights and start the show.

I found the ensemble cast, anchored by Brittany Curran (who plays Viola) uniformly excellent, though special kudos are owed to Zachary Dean (Sea Captain, Valentine, Lady) and Grace DeWolf (Fieste the Clown) – both threw back multiple shots of bourbon before – and during – the two-hour performance I attended without missing a beat. Adam Czaplewski also deserves a special shout-out for his perfectly over-the-top interpretation of the sycophantic suck-up Malvolio.

And the slap-dash approach – the costume changes were intentionally quick and haphazard, and the actors cracked jokes throughout the set changes – went over well with viewers. In fact, audiences were encouraged to cheer on the actors, an invitation that most of them gleefully accepted.

One note of warning: if you never got around to reading the script in high school, or you aren’t as familiar with Channing Tatum’s oeuvre as I am (he starred alongside Amanda Bynes in She’s the Man, a 2006 spoof of the Shakespearean classic), you might want to familiarize yourself with some of the play’s major plot points before you see the show. Shakespearean scripts can be hard to understand even when their lines are well-enunciated, and some of the quips in this production were slightly slurred.

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The play opens in the kingdom of Illyria. Young Viola finds herself shipwrecked off the coast of the strange country and assumes that her twin brother, Sebastian, died in the storm that scuttled her boat. So she disguises herself as a man to work for Orsino, a duke besotted with a lady more-or-less indifferent to his affection, Olivia. And hilarity, of course, ensues.

I’d recommend Bard & Bourbon’s interpretation of the show to Shakespeare fans and skeptics alike. To truly appreciate the show, though, you may also want to drink alongside the actors – there’s a cash bar in the lobby with reasonably priced booze.

Tickets for the show cost $18 ($15 for students, seniors, military members and artists). And you can find more info about the production on the Bard & Bourbon website.

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