Young Drama Club hosts Shakespeare, milkshakes

Group performs ‘Doing Thy Will,’ generates funds

By Benjamin Bassham, News Editor

The Understudies, Contra Costa College’s newly formed drama club, hosted an event they called “Milk Shakespeare,” to provide cheap milkshakes and free Shakespeare to the campus.

Running from 11 a.m. to noon on Thursday in the Fireside Hall, the event opened with an ice chest full of ice cream, chocolate syrup, milk, whipped cream and a jar of cherries. Club members set up a table with blenders in front of the Fireside Hall. They began cutting up fresh strawberries and bananas and sold blended milkshakes for $3 each.

A straggling line built up across the plaza almost immediately.

Liberal Arts Division Dean Jason Berner said the event was for general fundraising for the club.

Drama professor Angelina LaBarre said this was the Understudies’ first event. The play, which LaBarre directed, was a staged reading of “Doing Thy Will,” which was written by drama department Chairperson Carlos-Manuel Chavarria.

LaBarre said the play is a mashup of various Shakespearean plays and sonnets, attempting to put “all of Shakespeare’s comedies in one play.”

Regarding the event’s name, she said, “It was a good tie-in with the milkshakes. We couldn’t help the pun.” The play got started at 11:30 a.m. and wrapped up a bit after noon. Anyone could sit down to watch, with or without a milkshake.

Chavarria said the play was put together in less than two weeks, and the script was written in only one month.

He said the play draws from plays like Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” “King Lear,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Twelfth Night,” “Romeo and Juliet,” and portions of Sonnets 18 and 130 are recognizable in the mix. Chavarria said that since the play was being rushed out, some of the play’s complexity, in particular the fools and musicians, had to be cut.

The characters have been condensed down to nameless archetypes to allow the disparate stories to blend together.

The Princess is played by Jelain Maestas, the Baron by Oz Sobal, and the Queen and Duke are both played by LaBarre. Understudies member Cody Poehnelt, who played the King, said planning the performance in a hurry was unavoidably chaotic, so they decided to embrace the chaos. “So let’s make it chaotic,” he said. “(The play) is less about the lines and more about us being fools.”

A staged reading typically uses no costumes or set, and minimal stage movement, with the actors reading from scripts.

For “Doing Thy Will” the actors sat behind stands holding their scripts, labeled with their roles. The actors made use of just enough props and choreography to avoid any possibility of the audience taking anything seriously.

The Witch, played by Shadia Iman, narrated events, including her own actions, like “blowing” actors back to their seats with a puff of air, and a wave of her arms.

At one point the Witch narrates that the King shows no compassion, and King shows a sign reading, “No Compassion.”

And they never seem to break character, if you assume their characters are actors.

When the script says the Queen spits on the King, Labarre turned to the Witch and said, “I’m not going to spit on him.”

The most absurdity came from the added complexity of LaBarre playing both the Duke and Queen. She danced between two scripts, two chairs and two name tags.

Poehnelt said the bit with the name tags was LaBarre’s own idea. She got a surprising amount of mileage from switching first seats, then alternately attaching the name tags from the script stands to herself and finally wearing both of them. The dramatic action scenes required considerable complicity from the one being acted on.

For moments when the script called for music, the musicians were replaced with LaBarre’s iPhone playing an instrumental version of Kelis’ “Milkshake,” to keep the theme of the event’s punny title.

The play concludes on the Witch’s line, “My milkshake doth brought all the boys to the bard.” Shakespeare is known as the “Bard of Avon.”

LaBarre said the Understudies working the table outside sold about 50 milkshakes.

Chavarria said that the Understudies might, eventually, put on a bigger, more complete performance of the same play.