New on DVD: 'Slings & Arrows' is an insightful drama about drama

Brian Mackey

One of the best TV series of the last decade comes out on Blu-ray this week.

“Slings & Arrows” follows the cast and crew of the fictitious New Burbage Festival, a Shakespearian theater company in Canada.

The show may be unparalleled in dramatizing drama — that is, finding a way to induce the magical feeling one gets from seeing great theater.

In each of the three seasons (six episodes each), the company tackles a major work while trying to keep the festival’s administrators from ruining the place. The drudgery of long rehearsals, insufferable avant-garde directors and petty divas are all handled with a mix of gentle mocking and sympathy.

At the outset of season one, the death of the longtime artistic director Oliver Welles means he must be replaced by one of the festival’s prodigal actors, Geoffrey Tennant. Tennant had been on his way to greatness until he had a breakdown on stage (in one of Oliver’s productions a decade earlier) and ran off in the middle of a performance.

Is Geoffrey mad? Most of the cast of “Hamlet” thinks so. It doesn’t help that, like his title character, Geoffrey is haunted by a father figure: Oliver.

On top of that, the role of Hamlet is riding on the well-toned shoulders of Jack Crew, a seemingly vapid American movie star brought in for the sole purpose of, as theater people say, putting butts in seats.

Jack spends most of the rehearsals just paraphrasing the text, frustrating his fellow cast members by using “The Method” style of acting to make it his own. When he — spoiler alert! — finally steps up to the plate, it’s a moment of such power you want to stand up and cheer.

Later seasons tackle “Macbeth” and “King Lear.” By turns funny and moving, the show does not shy away from its highbrow subject matter, deftly handling significant slices of Shakespeare’s texts.

Put another way: The play’s the thing wherein you’ll catch the conscience of “Slings & Arrows.”