The Artistic Home will debut Malapert Love on Nov. 5-Dec. 11 in Wicker Park at The Den Theatre's Upstairs Mainstage, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave.
The gender-bending, Shakespearean romantic comedy was written by 18-year-old Siah Berlatsky, who's the youngest playwright to have a show featured by the company.
The play follows a wealthy count who's fallen in love with a wealthy countess, but is too scared to tell her, so he sends a servant to deliver a love letter, and "basically, hijinks ensue," Berlatsky said.
"It's not set in any particular time period, but it's exploring the way everybody ends up falling in love with the wrong person in this very regimented, hierarchical society," Berlatsky added. "There's different plots and tricks and it essentially uses all my favorite Shakespearean comedy tropes to advance the plot."
Eventually, the play ends in a queer marriage, subverting Shakespeare's typical template.
Berlatsky was first introduced to Shakespeare's works in seventh grade, when she played Hermia in A Midsummer Night's Dream. As she learned to read Shakespeare more closely, she became especially interested in the queer subtext present in his works.
"That show was also one of the first times I dressed as a woman and ever since then, I've been basically enamored by Shakespeare," Berlatsky said. "When I started learning to actually interpret the text, I realized that all of the comedies are really, really gay. As I learned about Elizabethan theater, and the way gender roles differed back then, especially since only men were allowed to be actors, all of the subtext made his work so interesting to me."
In high school, Berlatsky started studying theater more closely and really delved into playwriting while sheltering at home during the early days of the pandemic. She worked to perfect Malapert Love for about four years.
"Other than Shakespeare, there was really nothing else on my mind when I was writing Malapert Love, so it was really the only kind of play I could've written because I just couldn't stop thinking about how that queer subtext can exist more openly now, in the modern world," Berlatsky said.
Shakespeare's writing became a "refuge" for Berlatsky as she navigated the social structures of high school while also exploring her gender identity, she said.
"When I was starting to understand my diverging gender identity and sexuality, I kept very to myself about it," Berlatsky said. "I came out during quarantine and wasn't really seeing anyone else, but I felt so connected to Shakespeare's texts and the ways the characters play with gender."
Shakespeare's use of humor especially resonated with Berlatsky and inspired her to continue the conversation he started about gender and sexuality in society through a more modern lens.
‚‚‚‚‚‚"In the comedies, the way everyone experiences gender and sexuality is so bound up in having a laugh, essentially," Berlatsky said. "Shakespeare is just so good at pointing out the ways people experience and behave around gender is strange in so many ways and so dictated by societal norms."
Berlatsky hopes the play inspires viewers to look at Shakespeare's works in a new way.
"These texts still have so much life and they're still so interesting when applied to modern circumstances, just as much as they were back then," Berlatsky said. "If people can have an experience that's rooted in these texts but also feels modern and fresh, hopefully they'll be inspired to draw more from Shakespeare's work themselves."
Malapert Love will run from Nov. 5-Dec. 11. Tickets can be purchased online at thedentheatre.com or 773-697-3830.