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8,000 Pop-Culture References You Should Know

A week and a half and about 8,000 over-my-head movie/TV/book references into the rehearsal process, I’m starting to feel like the outcast 7th grader whose parents won’t let her have cable or eat corn syrup and make her use patchouli shampoo.

Island is often described as an “original 5-act Shakespearean comedy,” (perhaps you’ve seen our marketing materials?) a feat Kevin Brewer accomplished after reading and re-reading the canon and synthesizing its most salient (and hilarious) tropes, themes, and quotes. The term ‘mash-up’ rarely if ever gets used in the same breath as Island, but since it’s a term that even my pop-culturally deficient brain can cope with, I’m just going to go for it. But let’s be clear here: “mashed” (if you liked synthesized we can go with that instead) doesn’t mean characters and scenes and lifted from plays and thrown together. Island uses the more vivid archetypes, tropes, plot devices, and appropriate quotations (good god, the quotations) to build an entirely original play in the style of Shakespeare. Got it? Good. While Shane the Dramaturg might say things like “the play ...quotes from various long-standing theatrical and performance traditions reaching all the way back to ancient Roman comedy," I will go the highbrow route and call it a Big Ole Shakespearean/Comedic Mash-up.

With this in mind, it may or may not come as a surprise that while sifting through this “clever amalgamation of comedic traditions” a lot of pop cultural references come up. Discussions went something like this “It’s just like in [insert TV show/movie/book/myth/scenario from fourth grade/this fringe show I was in one time] when [insert hilarious/relevant scenario]. Which brings me to my earlier point: while familiar with a handful of them, at a whole bunch of others I simply furrowed my brow and politely nodded.

Should you ever find yourself in a similar situation (or if you just wished you were a fly on a wall as we convened last week in the American Express conference room, and you know you did, just a little) here’s an Abbreviated User’s Guide to References You Should Know:

  • Star Trek.   Especially this: ( If this leaves you scratching your head, you are not alone.
  • Lost.  I know I should have figured that this would come up a lot given that Island is a play about people stranded on an Island, and I know I’m more than a little late to this party, but I swear to God if you give away the ending to the series I’ll come after you. (Note: There will be no sweat-stained T-shirts in this production.)
  • The Princess Bride. Well, I don’t actually live under a rock so I have seen this, and smiled gleefully every time it was mentioned.
  • Anything Mel Brooks.  (Fine, I know these references too)
  • Mythology. Mythology, mythology, mythology. I mean, I thought I knew my myths….but someday maybe just ask Harry Barandes to tell you about the Birth of Venus. Or just mention something random and see what reference comes up.
  • The Three Stooges. Except we’ve got four.
  • Lord of the Rings. This might just be a spending time with Ross thing.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go look up the other 452 references that came up in the time it took me to write this. I leave you with a small parting gift: