Shakespeare may have observed that “one man in his time plays many parts,” but playing every part the bard wrote in only 90 minutes is an novel and noble challenge.
In “The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged),” a cast of three daring actors dare to do the unthinkable: not only do they condense all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays into a single ninety-minute production, but they have the audacity to mercilessly mock the Bard’s work in the process. Even more incredible, they manage to insert even more dirty jokes into the playwright’s already sexually-charged theatrical material.
The Shakespeare tribute begins with an amusing rendition of “Romeo and Juliet,” followed by a slightly darker portrayal of the tragedy “Titus Andronicus” set as a cooking show (admittedly, this is about as “dark” as the production gets). From there the players proceed to rap the plot of “Othello” — because they’re obviously too white to simply act it — and then reduce all of Shakespeare’s 16 comedies into a single 5 minute performance. Other highlights include an abbreviated rendition of “Macbeth” with “real” Scottish accents and a spoof featuring Shakespeare’s kings (think Lear, Richard III, and Henry IV) as football players. Naturally the entire second act is devoted to the portrayal of “Hamlet,” but luckily for the audience these players treat Shakespeare’s masterpiece with no more reverence than any of his other works.
The show is, according to actor Jessica Poter’s estimate, approximately 90 percent script and 10 percent improvisation. While the players consistently follow the original production’s script, frequent one-liners are tossed out throughout the show to give audience members the impression that the entire performance is improvised. Allusions to familiar campus personalities are frequent, and when the players get tired of lampooning Shakespeare, they easily turn to Dean Salovey, “I Agree With Adam” shirts, and, of course, Q-Pac girls for material.
The production’s dynamic nature is apparent in more than just the improvisation — the actors are constantly in motion, and their slapstick is the chief source of humor in this comic tour-de-farce. The players (Samuel Kahn ’08, Matt Bressler ’09, and Jessica Poter ’08) alternate between roles as frequently and as fluidly as they alternate between plays. Dressed uniformly in black pants and white shirts, they easily take on different roles with the help of a few simple props and costume accessories. Don’t expect intricate outfits or elaborate staging — just a riotous combination of some of the most hallowed verses in English literature and some of the most entertaining physical comedy to be found at Yale.
Shrinking violets beware: this production thrives on audience participation, so any theatergoers suffering from stage fright should be sure to take a seat away from the aisle — although you still won’t be spared the occasional singling out by a cast member. Then again, the more audience members embrace the interactive aspects of the production, the more the actors have to play off of, and with this cast uproarious results are virtually guaranteed. Audience members should be prepared for anything ranging from trivia questions on Shakespeare’s works to recreating the psychological angst of Ophelia (it’s far less complicated and infinitely more hilarious than it sounds).
As Bressler scoffs at one point during the performance, Shakespeare fortunately “stole everything he ever wrote,” and the cast certainly doesn’t have a problem stealing his material in turn in order to drive their show. This parody leaves virtually no aspect of Shakespeare untouched or unscathed. In fact, the script arguably goes through the bard’s greatest works like his tragedies go through corpses (anyone who remembers the fifth act of Hamlet knows what that means). Don’t remember? Go ask the Shakespeare Lady … or just come see the show.