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LETTERS TO EDITOR
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
by David Lohrey
For this reviewer, The Complete Works. . . , at least this production, is a show with a barker full of obsequious, crowd-pleasing admonitions, shameless pandering and folksy flattery. Everything is pitched to please. It's not that it isn't fun, but that there's an offensive undercurrent between the yuks and guffaws. What coarsens the proceedings is the assumption of audience ignorance, but rather than being condescended to -- which would be offensive enough -- but we are catered to and there's a sort of self-congratulatory ignorance that offends.
The proscenium itself is done up in a faux Tudor décor that both establishes the setting and captures the evenings' tone. In no time the actors are out front encouraging the audience to buy Tee shirts and souvenirs on display in the lobby. After an amusing prologue, the three talented jesters enact a series of skits that can be loosely tied to the plays of William Shakespeare but that are hardly the reductions promised by the advertisers.
In the first act, Romeo and Juliet, is given its due (a full ten minutes) and represents the company at its best. David Turner (Juliet) makes his first of many drag appearances and manages in the process to reveal considerable comic skills. His is the most consistent talent, possessing as he does an entire repertory of smiles, grimaces, and frowns, and a lithe figure that allows him to move like a sprite through the evening's numerous roles, male and female. His Romeo, Peter Ackerman, plays well, but is perhaps most successful when speaking directly to the audience as the scholar MC. His spontaneous humor and infectious charm are used to great effect with the audience as a whole and with individual members invited on stage. Finally, Jeremy Shamos's Nurse is a comic delight. Shamos, like the others, works at a frantic pace, offering fresh, seemingly improvised, interpretations of Shakespeare's many characters, both loved and loathsome.
The remaining comedies are reduced, or more accurately dismissed in a single fairly forgettable skit.. Julius Caesar is given short shrift, as is Macbeth, and then the skilled cast takes on Titus Andronicus, written as a take-off on television cooking shows. Othello is sung as a crude rap song because, we are told, there's no black in the cast to handle the role. Finally, after a one line dismissal of the sonnets, the first act ends with a promise to return in the second to Hamlet.
It was at this point that I began to formulate my response to the proceedings, finding them for the most part zippy, funny, and pointless, an assault on the assumption articulated through the ages that theatre should both uplift as well as entertain and not be a tribute to bodily function humor.
If you come to the show thinking you need to know Shakespeare, forget about it. You don't need to know anything. All that's required is to laugh every time you hear the word vomit -- repeated like a Greek epithet in Homer. The barf joke punctuates the boob crack, which is meant as the set up for the prick line.
One hesitates to be so hard on a show that never promised more. After all, does one send back a McDonald's burger because it doesn't taste like a steak?
To read a more benign take on these shenanigans, though pertaining to a different and differently titled production go here
6,500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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