Breaking the Shakespeare Code

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday March 10, 2014

Sarah Leary and DevonScalisi star in john Minigan's 'Breaking the Shakespeare Code,' through March 15 at The Factory Theatre
Sarah Leary and DevonScalisi star in john Minigan's 'Breaking the Shakespeare Code,' through March 15 at The Factory Theatre  (Source:Vagabond Theatre Group)

Curt (Devon Scalisi) is a 27-year-old professor of drama; Anna (Sarah Leary) is an 18-year-old freshman with one or two high school productions of Shakespeare under her belt. When Anna seeks Curt out for private instruction, she runs headlong into his hard, but comprehensive, style of decoding and interpreting theatrical text.

A play like this -- that scrutinizes the manners and methods of the stage, as well as the players on the stage that is all the world -- has to be pitch-perfect, solid at its textual as well as dramatic core. With this new play, titled "Breaking the Shakespeare Code," Boston playwright John Minich fulfills those objectives and creates a taut (and fraught) intellectual and sexual connection between the two characters.

It works, which is essential because Anna and Curt are the only characters in this play, and its three acts revisit the characters at different points along a stretch of more than a decade and a half. The characters grow and develop in some ways; they also lapse, backtrack, and regress in others. At each point they delve into the intricacies of a different play, and find too much truth in the Bard's text for their comfort.

As a matter of full disclosure, I should mention that I've known Scalisi for some time, and we're friends. But in all truth, I can report that his performance here is what I thought it would be: Something that arises from a deep center, rather than something pasted on over his skin.

if Scalisi is a dynamic actor, Leary matches him in sheer force and caliber; the two of them tear into each other like a pair of apex predators; playfully tussling one moment, going for the kill bite the next. Nether one can stare the other down, and if Curt has the upper hand it's mainly by virtue of his age and experience. That's not to say Anna lacks claws and smarts.

Neither does the script, which plumbs the depths of a few select Shakespearean monologues - but also, more to the point, pierces like a javelin into essential, central truths. In a space as intimate as the Factory Theater, there's nothing but total immersion in the energy of two strong, intelligent actors and a literate, flinty insightful script.

"Breaking the Shakespeare Code" continues through March 15 at the Factory Theater, 791 Tremont Street in Boston. For tickets and more information, please visit

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.