Dukin’ it out in “Boozin’ with the Bard,” from New Match Collective. Photo by John Pryor

So, maybe Shakespeare isn’t your cup of tea. Well, here’s a way to make his work go down easy.

“Boozin’ with the Bard” is an off-the-wall series that kind of riffs on Comedy Central’s long-running “Drunk History.”

Except here, not all the performers are inebriated; two are the designated drinkers of the show (two shows per evening; different drinking pairs).

Volunteers are given noisemakers to blow to indicate when they want extra drinks to be imbibed. Then, all onlookers chant “Shot! Shot! Shot!” until the drinks are drunk (and the actors, too). The night I was there, other performers than the designated ones were also encouraged to imbibe.

Ultimately, as in the TV show, words are slurred, lines and cues are missed, and multiple F-bombs are dropped.

Somehow, amid the mayhem, the story gets told. More or less. In seriously abbreviated form (an hour or so). Those who choose to wear a string of Mardi Gras-type beads are announcing that they’re open to interaction with the performers. Given that the audience is also drinking, heckling, though not encouraged, seems inevitable.

All told, it’s a cross between an immersive improv show, a Shakespeare jam and a frat-house drinking game.

Make that a sorority house.

New Match Collective, which was birthed in 2016, bills itself as “an international femxle and non-binary company that highly values a diverse portrayal of womxn and humans in the arts.” Their goal, they say, is “to tell stories about people, with womxn and gender queer performers, for everyone. Voice the voiceless. Hear the unheard. See the unseen.”

For their third Shakespeare play in the Boozin’ series, they chose “Romeo and Juliet.” Given all the hijinks and swordplay (with lightsabers, among the only props; costumes are minimal, too), it wasn’t always easy to grok the story. One guy I spoke to said he didn’t know the plot of the play, and he thought he “sort of” got the idea.

Those who were familiar with the text could catch the amusing (and often sophomoric) plays on words. For instance, during the famous balcony scene, when Romeo says, “Call me but love…” there ensues a chorus of “butt love!” exclamations. The County Paris, Juliet’s intended but rejected husband, is played as a hand puppet. Shortly before her faked death, Juliet asks her Nurse, “Do you think things are gonna be okay?” The Nurse replies, “I read the end of the play, and … probably not.”

The next “Boozin’ with the Bard” event is on Friday, March 6: “Midsummer Strikes Back” (taking liberties with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”), followed by a production of “Merry Wives of Windsor” March 12-22.

But before that, the company leaves the Bard behind for Black History Month. “Fête Noir, a Festival celebrating Black Culture across the African Diaspora” will run Feb. 17-23 at the Theatre Arts School of San Diego in Liberty Station, 2650 Truxtun Rd #203.

The Boozin’ events are in a somewhat hard-to-find place and space: an out-of-the-way beer garden with a basement “Acid Vault” that accommodates about 30 bridge-chairs.

The audience the night I was there was decidedly young, the humor definitely low. And the performance quality — including language clarity and dramatic credibility — was widely varying. Only some of that has to do with the level of intoxication (yours and the performers’),

It’s up to you to decide if this is the right kind of juiced-up, beery, Bard-y, buzzed entertainment of choice for you.

  • Boozin’ With the Bard” takes place the first Friday of the month. Next up: “Midsummer Strikes Back” on March 6 (7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.) downstairs in the “Acid Vault” at Amplified Ale Works Kitchen & Beer Garden, 1429 Island Avenue in downtown San Diego
  • Tickets ($20) are available online
  • Running time: ~80 min. (no intermission)

Pat Launer, a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at patlauner.com.

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