Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) Times Review

'Shakespeare' series finale inventive fun

By Johanna Crosby

August 19, 2008
HYANNIS — Imagine the Three Stooges doing Shakespeare and you get the concept behind "The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)."

The show was the finale for Barnstable Summer Family Theater's summerlong "Shakespeare by the Sea" series, a part of the Hyannis Harbor Your Arts Festival at Michael K. Aselton Memorial Park. The theater company, which is celebrating its 20th-anniversary season, has been attracting audiences to its free outdoor performances, and Sunday afternoon's show was no exception. About 100 people* in beach chairs clustered in front of the outdoor stage.

The inventive spoof was a perfect choice for fun entertainment in the park. Originally created and performed by the Reduced Shakespeare Company at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1987, it won the prestigious Olivier Award for best new comedy and became the longest-running comedy in London's West End.

Thirty-seven of the Bard's plays are squeezed into one hour and 20 minutes for a fast-paced, riotous theatrical experience. It helps to have a knowledge of Shakespeare to get the farcical references. But you don't have to be an expert to enjoy this lowbrow show, which is heavy on physical comedy and zany comic bits, including silly sword fights, malfunctioning costumes, funny props and a script spiced with pop culture and local references.

Ed O'Toole's playful direction got the most out of his talented young cast and left plenty of room for improvisation, audience participation and high jinks. The engaging trio (Riley King, Mike O'Toole and Branden Smith) played an array of characters with aplomb. This isn't an easy show to pull off, and they were up to the task. Nimble quick-change artists, they displayed fine comic timing and a flair for physical comedy. O'Toole, who did most of Shakespeare's tragic heroines, is especially amusing.

To make Shakespeare more relevant to a modern audience, they staged the history plays about kings as a sandlot football game, performed "Othello" as a snappy rap song and turned "Titus Andronicus" into a TV cooking show. Shakespeare's 16 comedies got about 45 seconds of stage time in one whirlwind piece, because "his comedies aren't half as funny as his tragedies."

The lanky Riley played a goofy Romeo, who was immediately smitten by Juliet (O'Toole in an ill-fitting jet-black wig and peasant skirt), who rebuffed his amorous advances.

Four entertaining versions of "Hamlet" were presented, including a fast version and one using sock puppets. They even did "Hamlet" backward. But the best part was a scene in which they picked a woman to play a screaming Ophelia and divided the audience into three sections to cheer her on.

Even the Bard used gimmicks in his plays, so he'd probably have gotten a kick out of these wacky interpretations.

*note From John Sullivan "The day this reviewer saw the show there were close to 250 people watching the show - she stated there was almost 100. This part of her observation was an error. She was correct in saying this is a funny, funny show!"

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