The best artists steal. A few years ago, John McCluggage helped some friends in New Hampshire direct a condensed Shakespeare play that was performed in a restaurant. He liked the idea so much he brought it back with him to San Jose.

“I immediately thought of Steve Borkenhagen’s restaurant (Cafe Stritch) as a perfect venue for it,” McCluggage says. “So, it was an idea that I gleefully and willingly stole from dear friends.”

ShakesBEERience is a loose collection of professional actors who boil down the Bard’s masterpieces into 80- or 90-minute, easily digestible performances. They rehearse only the night before and day of, and put on four shows a year.

“You have to keep the album cover,” McCluggage says. “If someone’s going to see Romeo and Juliet, you got to have the balcony scene. If I’m doing Hamlet, I’m not going to cut ‘to be or not to be.’ But you do need to synthesize it a bit, and just get to the dramatic action of the piece.”

The official season kicks off Oct. 26 with The Tempest, but on Sept. 22 a fundraiser for the season will feature a more diverse show. There will be Shakespeare Bingo, Mad Libs, and karaoke before the improv troupe from ComedySportz turns audience suggestions into “the funniest play Shakespeare never wrote.”

“Shakespeare is a master storyteller,” McCluggage says. “There are things we all know and appreciate about Shakespeare, and they sort of riff on that. They’re able to extrapolate on audience input into a form that you definitely get as Shakespeare, but that’s also quite ad-lib.”

The hallowed playwright’s works can get drained of their bawdy energy when read from a book in a classroom. But even The Groundlings could enjoy ShakesBEERience.

“There are no lights, or sets, or costumes,” he says. “We’re literally performing it right in front of you, sitting with you, drinking and eating with you. I think in the way that he presented it back then—deconstructed, maybe demystified a little bit.”

A three-course meal (with vegetarian options) as well as access to a cash bar and a worshipful, yet irreverent take on the Bard’s timeless material goes for $85.

“If you love Shakespeare, you will love this different way of experiencing it,” McCluggage says. “If you have never been to Shakespeare, this is a perfect way get your feet wet. And if you hate Shakespeare, this is going to change your opinion.”

More info.