Wednesday was a six-espresso-shot day for local playwright Timothy Gray.
It’s the Wednesday before his company, Odd Man Out, opens “Shakespeare Follies” again in Atlanta, this time for a two-night benefit run April 1-2 at 7 Stages in Little Five Points. Proceeds benefit 7 Stages.
Between packing costumes, load-in at the theater and tech rehearsals, he phoned in to chat about the show and how he’s managed to teach an old bard new tricks.
“I love Shakespeare so much,” Gray says, “but I know everyone hates it because it was one of those things that was forced on us in high school, so I set this show up like a 1920s vaudeville show — little rapid fire acts, boom, boom, boom.”
Gray, who is gay, writes comedies as a rule, and his approach to Shakespeare is no different. Promotional materials call the presentation a “bawdy romp through the most famous (and infamous) of Shakespeare’s masterpieces” with “elements of cabaret and vaudeville, hilarious comedy and shameless T&A.”
“We remind audiences that Shakespeare was like the TMZ of his day,” Gray says. “It was penny seats and throwing apples at folks. It’s only highbrow now because he’s considered such a master.
“Shakespeare was bawdy. That’s what we want to get back to — laugh your ass off, get a little rowdy.”
And don’t worry about keeping track of the Shakespeare references. There’s a cheat sheet that keeps track of the show’s lesser-known spoofs.
“We mix in these comedy twists, but we sneak in a little bit of Shakespeare. We want folks to learn a little bit, but it’s not like going out and seeing King Lear,” Gray laughs. “We’re all in tuxes and getting hammered before the show.”
As the show itself seems like a delightful oddity — this cycle of shows also features a bed-of-nails act, among other vaudeville eccentricities from the Imperial OPA circus — the “Follies” theatrical experience extends beyond the stage.
There’s a cocktail session a half-hour before both shows, and Gray expects audiences there early to pre-game with the cast — they’ll be in tuxes and formal gowns — and “knock back a couple” before the show starts.
“It’s a night out,” Gray adds. “We don’t shut the doors at 8:01 and tell every one to sit down. We want the audience to get to know us, and we want to get to know the audience. We want them connected to us.”
Gray, who’s originally from Peachtree City, Ga., began Odd Man Out Theater Company about 10 years ago in New Orleans where he studied at Tulane and lived until Hurricane Katrina struck and he was forced to move. Armed with a “pair of boxer shorts and a Miles Davis album,” what he thought would be a 36-hour trip has turned into six years in Atlanta.
He continued the company here, and Gray counts many friends among the 20 or so members in the current ensemble, several of which have been with him since “Shakespeare Follies” was first produced in Atlanta in January of 2010.
Past “Follies” shows have benefited familiar nonprofits like CHRIS Kids and Backpack in the Park by For the Kid in All of Us. The two shows this Friday and Saturday benefit 7 Stages — the location of the run and kind host to Gray’s productions.
“We love to benefit someone because we’re going to do the show anyway, so why not?” Gray says. “Without 7 Stages, I don’t have a home. They’re so important to me and good to me. When they approached me, of course I said yes.”
Perhaps more important than the good cause is the good time had by audiences. While some lament Shakespeare’s assigned formality, a show penned by Gray’s creative if frenetic hand is intended to be nothing less than a roaring good time.
“Girl, I’m not lying,” Gray says. “It’s fucking funny.
“If you want to think and have a deep moment, there are playwrights that will give that to you. There are a million ways in this world to be depressed. When you come see my show, I want to entertain your ass.”
Photo: Atlanta playwright Timothy Gray promises a ‘bawdy romp’ through classics in ‘Shakespeare Follies’ (courtesy photos)