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Impact's newest plays on Shakespeare, entrepreneurship

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NOVEMBER 15, 2012

We don’t live in the era of harebrained schemes. We live in the era of venture capitalism and innovative ideas and TED talks. So in this milieu of “anything is possible” — an idea that has persisted despite cries of “The economy! The death of American hegemony! Obesity!” — it makes sense to be inspired by the likes of, well, anyone in Silicon Valley (or so it seems). Who will be the next great entrepreneur? What new product will arise from the fecund soil of the resourceful human mind? Every young person is a wellspring just waiting to be tapped.

So what happens when a couple of recent college grads with no money or prospects of any sort (except a business backer in the form of Nana), put their you-can-do-it-too mentalities to work, as in “Toil and Trouble,” Impact Theatre’s most recent comedy production? You get Adam (Michael Delaney) and Matt (Will Hand), two young San Francisco 20-somethings with too much college education (and not enough employment) for their own good. Adam has an MBA, and Matt studied something liberal. Adam believes that “the balls of the future are in our hands!” with a potential plot to market traveling cots that literally follow their owner around. Matt believes that, “We might just have to tuck away our master’s degrees and try to get hired anywhere.”

But Adam’s not having it — he has backers! When you’re inculcated with the middle-class mantra of “The world is your oyster!,” what is there to be done? Well, if you can’t have the world (or even just your typical, run-of-the-mill barista job), you can settle for a small island nation off the coast of Chile populated by miniature vicunas. Yeah, you read correctly. They’re like tiny alpacas. Adam and Matt take a fortune from a cookie as a sign that they need to become kings of the island. This is a play about ambitious sheep-shearing — and not without reason: The vicuna wool is worth millions.

Impact Theatre’s production of “Toil and Trouble” is, as its title implies, a play on Shakespeare but, unlike Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” it is no tragedy. It is an uproarious, modern-day comedy with some anachronistic bits and three best friends who seem to be at each other’s throats as frequently as they are enjoying each other’s company. Their personalities are large, their voices booming, their enthusiasm so in-your-face as to discombobulate a bit, at least initially. For instance, when we are introduced to Beth (Jeanette Penley), a power-hungry sports reporter who wants in on the vicuna scheme, we’re thrown off by her screaming, foaming-at-the-mouth “on-screen” fit. But in time, we fall into a rhythm with Adam’s childlike silliness, Matt’s endearing skittishness and Beth’s delicious depravity.

Perhaps the best part of “Toil and Trouble” is its excellent insider’s understanding of the “hipster malaise” that seems to plague the young and optimistically unemployed. “I’m liberal, not angsty,” Matt declares at one point. When Matt points out Beth’s old artistic side, Beth rolls her eyes and dismisses him with an almost valley girl, “That was soooooo undergrad.” It’s the type of navel-gazing self-effacement that could fall into tired social commentary, but the actors’ interpretation of Lauren Gunderson’s script is so on-point (no doubt thanks to the direction of Josh Costello) that it never falls into the territory of “trying too hard.” It’s an excellent balance of intelligent, pointed humor — “Feminism means I get to be evil too!” cries Beth — and artful use of Shakespeare. “Toil and Trouble” is laugh-out-loud weird, and its cast of three takes over Impact Theatre with its gags, jokes and wacky props (ranging from teddy bears, take-out boxes and scooters to bloodstained daggers and meddling fortune cookies). They may have little in common with the tech giants of Silicon Valley, but Adam, Matt and Beth still manage to “coup from the couch” — it just so happens that we, the audience, are the conquered.

Contact Natalie at [email protected]

MARCH 11, 2013

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