Act One, Scene Four of Richard III is pretty dramatic. The Duke of Clarence—treacherous Richard’s brother—languishes in the Tower of London, imprisoned by Richard himself. Soon, the tyrant’s hit men arrive to kill Clarence—but first, they must silence their own consciences, quelling sudden fears of eternal damnation.
Pontiac Firebird Variations, Casey Wimpee’s adaptation (now at the Ice Factory Festival), stages this hemming and hawing repeatedly, minus the rest of the play—an entertaining concept that gets old fast. Wimpee’s War of the Roses unfolds in 1980s Queens, where mafiosos fight the “Cola Wars” (the Lancasters imbibe Coke; the Yorks, Pepsi). Clarence—here a cutoffs-clad sis named Clare—is held hostage in a chop shop, where she endures a near-endless series of near-assassination scenes.
Wimpee’s revisions fixate on the local (shout-outs to the BQE) and the quirky: His murderers give massages and devour Happy Meals. Live musicians—Charles Yang on violin and Cryin’ Ryan Dorin on piano—gleefully juxtapose Bach with Bon Jovi, lending the proceedings a cheerful ambiance.
But as killers and their moral crises accumulate, meaning drains away. These variations don’t deepen the Bard’s scenario—they just embellish it with tough-guy talk and soda jokes. Call it “Shakespeare Zero”: Wimpee’s concoction, initially sweet and effervescent, delivers an unsatisfying taste in the end.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 6, 2011