August 11, 2009

REVIEW: "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Abridged"

Where can one find love, hatred, despair, joy, comedy, tragedy-- all rolled into one? Well, any volume titled "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare" will do. But when there's an extra word on the end- "Abridged"- one must use an abundance of caution in preparing for some extra comedy (and remember to not sit in the front row or stick one's feet in the aisle).

The show, directed by Kate Mueth and created by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, starts with a monologue meant as a parody of the instructions one usually receives on airlines from bored flight attendants. The comic and cautionary words of Lydia Franco Hodges, one of only three actors in the company, were taken lightly by the audience but perhaps should also have been taken to heart.

The next few minutes happened very quickly and involved performances by a pseudo-Prince (yes, the singer... masquerading as an integral character in "R+J"); the switching of genders many, many times; and quite a few instances of imaginary projectile vomiting accompanied strangely by eloquent Shakespearean repartee.

Interestingly enough, most of the imaginary projectile vomiting seemed to be directed toward a few critics sitting in the front row... I wonder if I'd have gotten a share if the actors had known my true identity as a writer for this eminent publication.

I profess my admiration for the three actors- Joseph De Sane and Gordon Gray soon joined Lydia on the stage- and their ability to turn the Shakespearean works into an abundantly slapstick farce. The three spent quite a few minutes on "Romeo and Juliet" before moving through the next thirty-five Shakespearean plays in quick succession. I unfortunately couldn't stay for the thirty-seventh ("Hamlet," of course) but the first hour or so was enough to impress on me the troupe's many talents, including switching costumes with incredible speed and dubbing Titus Andronicus with almost-believable and very macabre humor.

I left the circus (for such it was) a bit stunned, wondering if I should be vaguely offended on the great Shakespeare's behalf... and deciding against it. Though there were a few questionably-appropriate moments, and a few feet almost trampled by Gordon's rampages up and down the aisle, I soon found myself decidedly amused.

Incidentally, the show's playing at the Hop this year (though performed its original company and not Gordon, Lydia, and Joe). All in all, as long as you don't go in expecting sincerity, I recommend you give it a watch.

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