Sunday, August 08, 2004

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)--(Great Lakes Theatre Festival)


What do rush week at Ohio State, wardrobe malfunctions, Lebron James, Brad Pitt’s movie ‘TROY,’ Arnold Schwartzennager, the Olson Twins and Red Bull all have in common? They are topics, along with 37 of Shakespeare’s plays, well, pieces-parts of those plays, and a zillion poop, vomit and penis references in ‘THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED).’ The show is now on stage at the Great Lakes Theater (Shakespeare) Festival.

Think you’ve seen Shakespeare? NOT LIKE THIS!

To put the show into perspective, picture this: The Shakespeare’s 17 comedies, 10 histories, and 10 tragedies performed in only 90 minutes. The trio of actors (Lynn Robert Berg, Jeffrey C. Hawkins and M. A. Taylor) present ‘OTHELLO’ as a rap song, ‘TITUS ANDRONICUS’ as a cooking show and ‘MACBETH’ as a conflict between McDonalds and Burger King. They perform HAMLET with a puppet show and audience participation, then in double time, and then backwards. Why? Because, as the trio explains, “Life is short and the complete works of William Shakespeare are long.”

The three overgrown pranksters, who appear to fully enjoy their descent into adolescence, include in their antics lots of slapstick, innuendoes and mindless banter. Their unassuming manner allows them to interact with the audience with ease. You cannot help but like these guys even if you don’t appreciate what they are doing with the world’s greatest theatrical literature. But, that’s the point.

The actors wear Shakespearean-style costumes with high-topped sneakers. There is the obligatory fog, lightning, doom and gloom, the three door-set, but also a mustached, heavy-set actor, who plays all the women’s roles, prancing around in dresses and curly wigs, with a goofy, blushing grin on his face and feigning barfing on audience members. Note: If you are sitting in the first couple of rows, be prepared to be picked on and “volunteered” into being a member of the cast.

The cast is universally good, but not as hysterically funny as Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, the Reduced Shakespeare Company, who conceived and performed the work for many years. And, though the script “localizing” and “updates” is often clever, it is also sometimes inane. Without intending to sound prudish, there are an awful lot of poop and penis jokes that appear to be unnecessary to achieve the intent of the piece.

‘THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED),’ is an irreverent romp through the Bard's plays. The show, which is in a very long run in London, and has been done in many US venues, has been praised as "wildly funny" and "the funniest show you are likely to see in your entire lifetime." The GLTF doesn’t exactly live up to that level of praise.

Capsule judgement: If you are willing to put aside your thoughts of what Shakespeare should be, and will yourself (pardon the pun) to be part of an assault on Shakespeare and lots of other topics, you will enjoy yourself. If you have no sense of humor, don’t like slapstick, and are a Shakespeare purist, stay home!