Sunday, July 2, 2017

Review of "The complete works of William Shakespeare (abridged)"

Wackiness is abounding at Playhouse on Park with their summer production of The complete works of William Shakespeare (abridged).  The show is two hours of amusing diversion with elements of farce, vaudeville and, especially, bad puns.  Audience members do not need to be Shakespearean scholars to enjoy the production, but it helps immensely to have at least a passing knowledge of two of The Bard’s greatest works—Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet.  All his plays are skewered, dissected, and minimalized at a sometimes breakneck speed.  There is not much in a chronological presentation of the works.  Basically, the flow is an abbreviated Romeo and Juliet, 34 other works, and then ending with a revved-up, if somewhat unnecessarily elongated, version of Hamlet.
Hanna Cheek, Rich Hollman, and Sean Harris from The complete works of William Shakespeare (unabridged) at Playhouse on Park, through July 30th.  Photo:  Curt Henderson.

Playwrights Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield have mined the Bard’s plays to produce a creative, inventive, and raucous piece of theater. Their one musical interlude, an Othello folk song, is one of the highlights of the show.  Viewers, however, with no familiarity of any of Shakespeare’s output will be somewhat befuddled by the antics on and off-stage.   The authors, according to the program notes, have made “the piece adaptable—to locale, the latest news or gossip, and most of all the personalities of the actors.”  There are many social media references, next door’s restaurant A.C. Petersen is mentioned prominently, and the current political climate doesn’t escape being zinged.  Some of the home-grown references could have been excised such as hawking subscriptions for the theater’s upcoming 9th season.  In fact, the entire production could have been trimmed to a mere streamlined 90-minute show as opposed to two hours with an intermission.
Rich Hollman and Hanna Cheek from The complete works of William Shakespeare (abridged) at Playhouse on Park through June 30th.  Photo:  Curt Henderson.

The actors--Hanna Cheek, Rich Hollman, and Sean Harris—playing thespians playing themselves have an infectious chemistry, which provides merriment for themselves and audience alike.  They literally attack their roles with aplomb and a joyful passion.  With the lightning speed of the production, however, it is sometimes hard to understand the verbal articulations on the compact stage. 

Director Tom Ridgely literally runs the cast ragged as the troupe bounds from one end of the theater—and I mean theater—to the other.  He has them rolling on the floor, locked in spirited combat, and interacting with the audience.  Costume changes are lightning quick as Mr. Ridgely pulls out all the stops to entertain. One of the challenges of the Playhouse theater is its three-sided configuration, which requires the cast occasionally speaking with their backs to the audience.  Minimizing this necessity would allow for more harmonious inclusion of the audience.

The complete works of William Shakespeare (abridged), a merry time with The Bard, through July 30th.

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