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Home Video Review: 'Slings And Arrows'

Jan 15, 2013
Originally published on January 18, 2013 7:16 am

Time now for a home-viewing recommendation from movie critic Bob Mondello. He recently caught an online episode of the Shakespeare-centric comedy Slings and Arrows and says it reminded him how much he liked the whole series.

Even though he's a major character, Oliver, a flamboyant director at the fictional New Burbage Theater Festival (modeled on Canada's Stratford Shakespeare Fest) gets killed by a truck in the first episode of the first season of Slings and Arrows. A truck labeled "Canada's Best Hams," no less — appropriate for a guy who deals with actors. Of course, if you know your Shakespeare, you know death won't keep Oliver down.

Ghosts pop up all the time in the Bard's work — particularly in Hamlet, the show Oliver was about to stage for the festival. Now, it must go on with an even more flamboyant director, one who takes that line about there being "something rotten" in the state of Denmark seriously.

"I want a rank and foul-looking, foul-acted and if possible foul-smelling Hamlet," he tells the cast on the first day of rehearsals. "Questions?"

Slings and Arrows isn't just a backstage comedy; it's a romp about the whole business of running a theater festival — from fundraising fiasco to opening night meltdown. Also about the movie stars who drop in, and the egos, feuds and cases of nerves that make live theater such an adrenaline rush.

It's kind of a predecessor — though much funnier and more sophisticated — to the NBC musical series Smash, with the enormous advantage that this series has not musical comedy but the Bard's plays to hold the mirror up to nature. And happily, it gets the Shakespeare right.

A cult hit for three six-episode seasons, Slings and Arrows found fresh comedy each season in the production of a Shakespearean tragedy: Hamlet the first season, Macbeth the second, King Lear the third. It's not just fun; you'll get the plays in ways you never have.

The show will prove addictive if you're a theater nut, and if you're not, it may help you become one.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Time now for our latest home-viewing recommendation from movie critic Bob Mondello. "Slings & Arrows," the Shakespeare-centric comedy from Canadian TV has just been released in a new DVD collection. Bob recently re-watched an episode and says it reminded him how much he liked the whole series.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Even though he's going to be a major character in the series, Oliver, a flamboyant theater fest director...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SLINGS & ARROWS")

STEPHEN OUIMETTE: (as Oliver Welles) There was a time when I could actually rehearse the actors on the final day of rehearsal.

MONDELLO: ...gets killed by a truck in the very first episode of the first season of "Slings & Arrows," a truck labeled Canada's Best Hams, appropriate for a guy who deals with actors. Of course, if you know your Shakespeare, you know death won't keep Oliver down.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SLINGS & ARROWS")

OUIMETTE: (as Oliver Welles) Geoffrey.

PAUL GROSS: (as Geoffrey Tennant) Oh, no.

OUIMETTE: (as Oliver Welles) Welcome home.

GROSS: (as Geoffrey Tennant) What is happening here? You're dead.

OUIMETTE: (as Oliver Welles) Apparently, there's an afterlife.

MONDELLO: Ghosts pop up all the time in Shakespeare, especially in "Hamlet," the show Oliver was about to stage for the New Burbage Festival. Now, it'll go on with an even more flamboyant director, who takes that line about there being something rotten in the state of Denmark seriously.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SLINGS & ARROWS)

DON MCKELLAR: (as Darren Nichols) I want a rank and foul-looking, foul-acted and, if possible, foul-smelling Hamlet. Questions?

MONDELLO: "Slings & Arrows" isn't just a backstage comedy. It's a romp about the whole business of running a theater festival, from fundraising fiasco to opening night meltdown, also about the movie stars who drop in and the egos and feuds that make live theater so quixotic.

(SOUNDBITE TV SHOW, "SLINGS & ARROWS")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as Character) Careless, stupid beliefs.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (as Characters) (Unintelligible)

MONDELLO: Think of it as kind of a predecessor, though funnier and more sophisticated, for the musical series "Smash," with the advantage that "Slings & Arrows" has not musical comedy but the Bard's plays to hold the mirror up to nature. And happily, it gets the Shakespeare right.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SLINGS & ARROWS")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as Character) 'Tis a consummation. Devoutly to be wished. To die to sleep, to sleep, perchance to dream. Aye, there's the rub.

MONDELLO: "Slings & Arrows" was a cult hit for three seasons, each of which found fresh comedy in the producing of a tragedy: "Hamlet," then "Macbeth" and finally "Lear." Surprising fun, even as it illuminates the plays, the series will prove downright addictive if you happen to be a theater nut. And if you're not, it may help you become one. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SLINGS & ARROWS")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as Character) (Singing) Cheer up, Hamlet. Cheer up, Hamlet. Buck up, you melancholy Dane. So your uncle is at hand who murdered Dad and married Mum. That's really no excuse to be as glum...

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.