Last week, I read a blog post from a playwright/teacher/dramaturg named Meron Langsner in which he shared a classroom exercise he uses. He asks his students to cast a production of Hamlet with Muppet characters. This is a sneakily genius idea not just because it’s fun and knocks some of the self-seriousness out of theater (particularly Shakespeare) but because it really does help you to think about casting characters not just in terms of what they’re supposed to look like or even how they are supposed to behave but also the relationships between them and how this communicates theme.
Now, I hate casting a play. It’s always a logistical nightmare, you have to sit through a ton of bad auditions while politely staying attentive and straight-faced, you inevitably end up pissing people off, including your friends, and you’re constantly second guessing yourself. But I love fake casting a play. With nearly every play I read, I’m casting it in my head. And I’m also a slave to pop culture. So this idea of mashing up a great play with beloved pop culture characters is right up my alley. However, I don’t want to totally rip Dr. Langsner off, and I already spend too much of my life pretending I know more about Shakespeare than I really do and also I feel like the renewed Muppets nostalgia has already peaked following the recent movie, so I’m going to mix up the mash-ups a little bit. Here we go…
Picnic &”Salute Your Shorts”
First up, I cast my favorite mid-2oth century American classic with characters from my favorite Nickelodeon show of all-time and an absolute cornerstone of my childhood TV-viewing schedule.
Hal Carter: Bobby Budnick
Madge Owens: Dina Alexander
Alan Seymour: Michael Stein
Flo Owens: Kevin “Ug” Lee
Millie Owens: Telly Radford
Howard Bevans: Sponge Harris
Rosemary Sydney: Z.Z. Ziff
This one is pretty easy. Picnic‘s central love triangle of Hal-Madge-Alan is easily replicated by the SYS Season 1 central love triangle of Budnick-Dina-Michael, with Hal/Budnick as the bad boy and Alan/Michael as the clean-cut prep. Sadly, we never got to see the triangle resolved in SYS as the actor playing Michael left after one season and was replaced by the repugnant Ronnie (played by Blake Sennett, who went on to become the lead guitarist in Rilo Kiley! And was briefly dating Winona Ryder!!). Well-meaning but overbearing mother Flo is played by well-meaning but bumbling camp counselor Ug. The tomboyish Millie is played by the tomboyish Telly. Picnic‘s two most lovable characters, aging romantics Howard and Rosemary, are played by SYS’ two most lovable characters, nerdy Sponge and Z.Z., though Sponge and Z.Z. never hooked up which always struck me as odd. They seemed so right for each other. And newspaper boy Bomber is played by fat sidekick Donkeylips because they both have ridiculous names.
Rent & Wu-Tang Clan
Next, we’ll pair the most important musical of the last 20 years with the most influential rap group, maybe of all time.
Roger: Method Man
Tom Collins: Gza
Angel: Ol’ Dirty Bastard
Joanne: Ghostface Killah
Okay, first of all, I know Redman technically isn’t in the Wu-Tang Clan. But it’s too easy to match breakout Wu-Tang star Method Man’s co-dependent relationship with Redman, which resulted in the stoner comedy How High and the embarrassing TV show “Method and Red,” with the co-dependent relationship between Rent heartthrob Roger and junkie-stripper Mimi, which resulted in a lot of melodramatic fights. De facto leader Mark is obviously played by de facto leader Rza. The real firebrands of the Rent family, Tom Collins and Maureen, are played by the Wu’s true musical geniuses Gza and Raekwon. Frequent Raekwon collaborator (and the member who always seemed to have his shit most together) Ghostface Killah plays Maureen’s girlfriend, the straight-laced lawyer Joanne. Turncoat Benny is played by U-God, who left the group in disgust in 2004. And just as Benny reconciled with his old pals at the end of Rent, so too has U-God reconciled with his old partners. And of course, who better to play the flamboyant and tragically doomed Angel than the flamboyant and tragically doomed Ol’ Dirty Bastard (though the idea of Gza and ODB falling in love, a la Tom and Angel, is really disturbing).
Waiting for Godot & The Los Angeles Lakers
Finally, in honor of CTG’s upcoming production of Godot, we’ll pair it with another fixture in downtown L.A., the Lakers.
Vladimir: Andrew Bynum
Estragon: Pau Gasol
Pozzo: Kobe Bryant
Lucky: Metta World Peace
The Boy: Luke Walton
Godot: Jack Nicholson
The two, frontcourt stars of the Lakers play the two stars of this masterpiece. Didi and Gogo’s repeated insistence that they should go followed by the stage direction that they do not leave is a clear parallel with the repeated trade rumors swirling around both Bynum and Gasol that have so far led to neither actually leaving the team. The egomaniacal and powerful Pozzo is obviously the egomaniacal and powerful Bryant. The former Ron Artest validated his reputation as being as nutty as a fruitcake by renaming himself Metta World Peace and would be the perfect Lucky, whose tendency to dance and babble incoherently is equally insane. Luke Walton is The Boy because Luke Walton will never be anything but a boy. And Jack Nicholson is Godot because both are God.
Seriously, I could do this all day.
About the Author: Dylan Southard is the co-Artistic Director of needtheater and previously served as their resident dramaturg and literary manager. Production dramaturgy credits for needtheater include: Fatboy, Mercury Fur, Scarcity, tempOdyssey, and The Web. He also directed needtheater's world premiere production of Guided Consideration of a Lamentable Deed. He is the resident dramaturg for The Robey Theatre Company at the Los Angeles Theater Center, where he runs the advanced playwrights lab and helps to oversee new play development. He is also an associate artist with the international, new script development group LoNyLa, and works as a script consultant for theaters, including The Center Theatre Group, The Geffen Playhouse, The Theatre @ Boston Court, and Native Voices at the Autry. He trained for two years under a dramaturgy fellowship at Centerstage in Baltimore and is a graduate of Wesleyan University.