Sacramento, CA 95814
For theater-goers who’ve seen all the offerings at Music Circus tons of times, Thistle Dew Dessert Theatre presents an original musical by local playwright Leo McElroy, in collaboration with composer J. Russell Robinson. Mermaid Tavern is old school, so don’t expect a great deal of postmodern irony, but it hits its mark with a few toe-tapping, ale-swilling production numbers.Set in the private “writer’s room” of the beautifully constructed Mermaid, the main conflict centers around debt-dodging on the part of soon-to-be-famous-but-never-to-collect-on-copyright Elizabethan scribes: Ben Jonson (Michael Walker), Christopher Marlowe (Brendan O’Brien), William Shakespeare (Ryan Williams) and the team of Francis Beaumont (Joseph Schulte)and John Fletcher (Joshua Smith).
The premise itself is giggle-worthy—who doesn’t love it when bill collectors and theater critics get their comeuppance?—but McElroy takes great liberties with history. For example, Marlowe was dead before any of Beaumont and Fletcher’s plays were staged. Plus, Marlowe was incredibly fond of the apple-cheeked laddies, so a willing suspension of disbelief is required to make his interest in fulsome barmaid Janetta (Bonnie Antonini) work as a romance.
In his director’s note, McElroy specifically references the musicals of Broadway’s “golden age” (Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Lowe). Mermaid Tavern fits the bill for that period, with a handful of rousing, hilarious songs, and pacing that’s regularly broken up with a love song. High points come from campy turns by Williams as the bard of Avon and Victoria Goldblatt as Celia, the supposedly unlovely barmaid. Both add flourish and irony to their roles, which serves to highlight the decidedly less-than-postmodern road taken by the play itself. The only hint of reality is in McElroy’s decision to use what Shakespeare called “a great reckoning in a little room” as a major plot point, so that the final act takes a sudden curve away from farce and toward tragedy.