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Acorn Brings Back 'Slings and Arrows' for Another Run
November 4, 2019  | By David Hinckley

As if enough interesting new television isn't being created these days, Acorn is resurrecting a small gem from the past.
Starting Monday, the streaming service will be carrying the first season of Slings and Arrows, a fondly remembered series that debuted in Canada in 2003.

Slings and Arrows only ran three seasons of six episodes each, and Acorn will break out the second and third seasons over the next couple of weeks. That is to say, it will only be possible to binge six episodes at a time, which is relevant here because it's definitely the kind of series that makes the binge crowd want to keep going.

The story revolves around New Burbage, a Canadian theater company that specializes in Shakespeare and similarly serious, dramatic productions.

Seven years earlier, it unveiled a production of Hamlet that was widely considered as seismic as any staging of that classic since Shakespeare himself was watching from the wings.

Hamlet was played by Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross, top), who knew exactly how good the production was. And how good he was. We see a flashback to the scene after opening night, when Geoffrey is taking a victory lap down a deserted street, soaking up the glory of the moment with his costar Ellen Fanshaw (Martha Burns), whom he was dating at the time, and their artistic director, Oliver Welles (Stephen Ouimette).

Unfortunately, and perhaps because Geoffrey so totally inhabited the character, he only did two more performances before having a psychotic breakdown on stage and being committed to an institution, which effectively seemed to end his acting career.

None of that is spoilers. That's the backstory to where Slings and Arrows begins. Geoffrey is running a small, broken-down theater company that can't pay its rent, while Oliver and Ellen remained with New Burbage.

They're nominally better off than he, though alas, neither seems to be living happily ever after. Ellen feels acutely the sense of losing her battle with time, while Oliver feels helpless to prevent the steady decline in the quality of New Burbage productions. Neither seems to be in touch with Geoffrey.  
To the extent there's a solution for any of this, it seems to involve drinking.

Meanwhile, New Burbage itself isn't immune from financial pressures, as manager Richard Smith-Jones (Mark McKinney) regularly reminds Oliver. The theater's critical primary corporate sponsor, LensTrex, complicates matters further by selling itself to a giant American corporation whose liaison to New Burbage, Holly Day (Jennifer Irwin), has a few ideas on how to broaden the appeal of theater to the masses, not just people who, you know, like Shakespeare.

Throw in a few great supporting characters, like neurotic young actress Kate (Rachel McAdams), and Slings and Arrows becomes what good theater should be: an ensemble show in which we care about pretty much all the characters because they're so skillfully intertwined with each other.

That sounds vague. In the hands of these writers and actors, it's sharp and focused, with a fast-paced mix of poignance and fun.

And the fact it's set sixteen years in the past means not even one character has a cell phone. That alone is almost Shakespearian.

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