Play revival embodies postmodernism

Pulp Shakespeare, a play that opened Jan. 12 for another run in Hollywood’s Theater Asylum, is not your average mashup.

Remixing Pulp Fiction — often considered filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s magnum opus — with the unmistakable literary style of Shakespeare might seem strange. It might even seem blasphemous to  fervent Tarantino or Bard fans, but this fusion is by no means a mistake. Though it might be hard to see past the blood and profanity, there probably isn’t a more perfect movie to adapt into Shakespearean style.

Theatrical Tarantino · Pulp Shakespeare’s Vincent Vega (Aaron Lyons, left) and Jules Winnfield (Dan White, right) engage in hilarious mischief, embodying the beloved hit man characters from Tarantino’s original work. - Photo courtesy of Combined Artform

Pulp Fiction exposes Tarantino’s specific filmmaking approach better than any of his other films. There are boundless movie references, characters spewing a ton of blood, intense Mexican standoffs and people brandishing Samurai swords. Above all of Tarantino’s trademarks, however, lies his love of language and wordplay.

Tarantino’s perfectionist writing habits are well known, and when the curtain rises on Pulp Shakespeare, one can see how perfectly this dialogue can be adapted into something reminiscent of Shakespeare’s poetic structure and impossibly sharp wit.

The famous exchange at the beginning of Pulp Fiction between John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson about the significance of a foot massage, for instance, becomes a poetic play on words, reminiscent of Shakespeare’s expert rhetorical puns and insinuations.

“He tread on dangerous ground, and ground lovingly on her dangerous treads,” says Jules Winnfield, played by Dan White in a fantastic interpretation, whose witty, sarcastic bite has been utterly unsullied by a four-century shift in setting.

Certain elements of Pulp Fiction are difficult to adapt from the film onto stage, and adding the 400-year change makes certain scenes untranslatable.

Similarly, one complaint about mash-ups is that they rarely develop past their components and become something truly unique. Instead, many of these hybrids depend solely on source material that already exists.

But the Shakespearean makeover brings a charm of its own. If you know the movie well, it will be exciting to sit there wondering how certain memorable lines are going to be adapted and delivered. One especially pleasing part of Pulp Shakespeare is how it replaces Tarantino’s notorious profanity with Shakespeare’s well-known slights. And the inevitable references to actual Shakespeare quotes are peppered throughout.

In this case, Vincent Vega, Travolta’s character in Pulp Fiction, put it best: The funniest things are the little differences.

It’s all about the details, and humor comes from something as simple as a kangaroo in the movie turning into a dragon in the play and shotguns becoming broadswords. Even the Buddy Holly waiter from Pulp Fiction’s Jack Rabbit Slim’s restaurant returns here as a waiter from Richard III in a scene-stealing instant.

Some things, however, remain untouched for effect: Tarantino’s favorite, the samurai sword, makes another appearance here.

Pulp Shakespeare is really a collection of delights for any fan of the original cult classic. If you love the movie, you will love this show. It doesn’t really matter if you don’t like Shakespearean prose because seeing the enchantingly clever interpretation will help you forget all about those stuffy “thous” and “thines.”

Unfortunately, if you haven’t seen Pulp Fiction,  you probably won’t understand much of the play. A remedy, of course, would be simply to find a copy of Pulp Fiction and watch it. For better or worse, Pulp Shakespeare can only give you the full experience if you understand the background and contexts for all those hilarious interpretations.

The full experience of the show, however, makes the film an especially worthwhile watch.