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Preview: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

Forsooth! Players Brush Up The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

By Bob McLaughlin and John Lieder

All the world’s a stage, or so sez the immortal Bard of Avon.  And he should know, having authored or co-authored thirty-seven plays in his fifty years plus two, among them the greatest tragedies, comedies, and histories the world has known.  One of Western culture’s enduring mysteries is how the humble son of a country glover could become the creator of such characters as Hamlet, Lear, Caliban, Juliet, and that fellow Romeo.  His fame has resounded across the centuries, and, surely, his position at the pinnacle of English letters is established and secure.

Or is it?  We shall see if his reputation can survive Community Players’ first production of 2018: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), wherein three actors (playing dozens of parts) attempt to perform all of Shakespeare’s plays (kind of) in only an hour and a half (more or less).  This play was originally written and performed by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield, former directors of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, first at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1987 and then in London’s West End for ten years.  It has since been performed around the globe (the world, that is, not Shakespeare’s Globe Theater) in dozens of languages, and now it comes to Robinhood Lane (where it will be performed in English).

Imagine Carol Burnett’s Hollywood parodies!  No, imagine Monty Python at their wildest!  No, imagine three lunatics howling at the moon!  No, it’s no good.  This show is beyond imagining.  You have to see it.  Come see if a cast of three can hoist Shakespeare by his own petard and if the audience can hear the old mole spinning in his grave all the way from Stratford-upon-Avon.

Our production features the considerable comedic talents of Missy Freese, Dave Montague, and Chris Stevenson.  The three constitute the entire cast and each carries an equal portion of the load.  Except for some fun moments of audience participation, the trio provides all of the play’s action.  Each performer gets opportunities to shine, each gets opportunities to cross-dress, and each gets their particular moments to make the audience roar with laughter.

The cast is encouraged by the authors to improvise and throw in local and pop cultural references.  That they’ve done, and director Brett Cottone has even incorporated some rehearsal “mistakes” into the show.  (“That was funny!  Keep it in!”)  The stated goal of the show is to present all thirty-seven of Shakespeare’s plays in approximately ninety-seven minutes and so the cast has worked hard to make the show polished and snappy.

Being generally familiar with Shakespeare’s life and works will help you appreciate the humor; if you paid attention when Shakespeare was covered in high school English class, that should be sufficient to get most of the references. (And a general acquaintance of the first five and a half seasons of Grey’s Anatomy would also be helpful to totally get one of the absolute funniest moments in the show.)

The show is performed on a lovely unit set designed and built by Jeremy Stiller. The set is done in Tudor-style reminiscent of Shakespeare’s birthplace.

Getting through thirty-seven plays, even abridged, requires a multitude of quick costume changes.  Jennifer Maloy (costumer) and Jessa Hendricker (assistant costumer) have done a splendid job of coming up with costumes that are fitting (no pun intended) and yet easy to change.  Ashleigh Feger and Christina Dean manage the numerous properties.  Eli Mundy is doing the sound design and Dan Virtue is doing the lighting design and sound effects.  Jeff Ready makes his production staff debut with dual duties as producer and assistant director.  Judy Stroh is stage manager and Wendi Ayers is house manager

The pay-what-you-can Preview performance is Thursday, January 11 with regular performances January 12-14 and 19-21.  (Remember: Non-musicals run only two weekends and there is no Thursday performance the second weekend.)

In true Shakespearean manner, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is at times naughty, bawdy, and a bit crude, but it is always lighthearted and never terribly offensive. Be aware, however, that the show’s authors offer the following warning:

This show is a high-speed roller-coaster type condensation of all of Shakespeare’s plays, and is not recommended for people with heart ailments, bladder problems, inner-ear disorders, outer-ear disorders, Shakespearean scholars, degrees in Elizabethan history, and/or people inclined to motion sickness. The management cannot be held responsible for expectant mothers!

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Photos by John Lieder.