Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

SHAKESPEARE ABRIDGED not all that riotous at GLTF

The advertisement for Great Lakes Theater Festival's THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) reads,”3 GUYS. 37 PLAYS. 1 RIOTOUS ROMP.” Yes, there are 3 guys, and 37 plays, well, actually 36 plus HAMLET done 4 times. But, this is not a riotous romp. It is more an uneven production with some very humorous segments, which is often difficult to hear, and gets boring due to the repetition of duplicate shticks and allusions.

The play, whose alternate title is COMPLEAT WRKS OF WLLM SHKSPR (ABRIDGED), was written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield, the founding members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company. It was first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1987 and has become one of the most produced scripts.

As the writers explain the birth of the production, “We decided to do the complete works of Shakespeare in less than two hours. Bill was a pretty good playwright, but he used too many words.”

Though it is a scripted show, much of what happens is ad-libbed by the actors according to the audience reactions. While some audience members are actually brought on stage, and others are addressed by the cast, the whole audience becomes cheering sections. (Warning: if you don't want to become an actual part of the action, avoid sitting in the first few rows, and definitely not in the seats added where the thrust stage usually is place, which is referred to by the cast as the “vomitorium.”)

In sum, the production is a parody of the plays written by William Shakespeare. All of the Bard's comedies, history plays and tragedies are performed, or at least alluded in the two-acts.

As is the case with many of the script's productions, references to local topics of the day are included. The GLTF creation includes visual and verbal comments to LeBron (the traitor of Cleveland), the Browns, SPIDERMAN, THE MUSICAL, Parma and Tom Hanks (did you know he has a favorite urinal in the men's room and the Hanna Theatre bar is named after him?)

GLTF's production is directed by Charles Fee, the king of farce, double-takes and broad interpretations. There are many humorous, downright funny parts of the show, but Fee's seeming obsession to anal references and kicks to the groin become tedious after a while. And, no matter how much you like and admire the guy, how many Tom Hanks references have to be made? After the first ten uses of his name, his urinal and his bar, the impact gets lost.)

The cast, Paul Hurley, Jason O'Connell and M. A. Taylor, who are basically classically trained actors, don't' seem to have the comic timing to pull off all the broad and physical humor. O'Connell does a fun stand-up comedy bit at the start of Act II. Hurley has some fun moments, especially as Hamlet. M. A. Taylor, garbed out in Indians' paraphernalia, is fun at the start of the show, but in other places he doesn't project well. This is especially true when he goes into falsetto when portraying the many women's roles. If we can't hear the lines, we can't laugh at them!

The most entertaining parts of the production centered on the free form segments.

Do you have to know all of the Shakespeare portfolio to appreciate the goings on, to even understand the show? No, but some knowledge helps.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: I've seen CWOWS(A) done before, and done well. Unfortunately, though humorous at times, the GLTF production is long on shticks and short on riotousness.