Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, June 2007
On the way up to Weston, my son and I got in an argument in the car about how many different productions we had seen of this show. But on the way home we agreed that, whoever was right about the number, we had seen it one time too many. Not that this wasn’t a good production, or rather, that it won’t be once the cast and director Malcolm Ewen get the kinks worked out, but this is definitely a show best seen fresh. Familiarity does breed a certain amount of contempt for the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s formula of abridgment.
I hasten to add that you will NOT be seeing the Reduced Shakespeare Company performing. In fact, I believe it is illegal to use the term “Reduced Shakespeare Company” anywhere in the advertisement of a production of any of their plays, although the authors – Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield - were member of that Company when they wrote The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). The Company has followed that with:
The Complete History of America (abridged)
The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)
Western Civilization: The Complete Musical (abridged)
All the Great Book (abridged)
Completely Hollywood (abridged)
I hope now you get the picture that what you will NOT see if you buy a ticket to this show is the complete works of William Shakespeare. You will get some recognizable snippets of Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, but otherwise you will not get much Shakespeare at all. What you will get are three actors presenting Long, Singer, and Winfield’s script which promises, but does not deliver, all the works of the Bard of Avon condensed down to 96 minutes.
Yes, there IS a script, and a surprising amount of the “spontaneous” hilarity that you’ll see is scripted. That is actually the good news in this production because Long, Singer, and Winfield are considerably better at this type of humor than Ewen and his acting team of Tom Aulino, David Bonnano, and Sam Lloyd, Jr. I found that disappointing because Aulino and Lloyd were the stars of the funniest production of The Curse of Irma Vep that I have ever, ever seen, and Bonanno has delighted me in many roles over the years. But apparently this is not their kind of lunacy.
It also doesn’t help that Weston is promoting this production with the warning: “You may fall out of your seat laughing during this rowdy, ridiculous romp through all of Shakespeare in 96 minutes flat.” They also quote an unknown source as saying that this is: “The funniest show you are likely to see in your entire lifetime.” When will publicists learn not to say things like that? It is bound to lead to disappointment, and no two people in any given audience are going to agree on what is funny anyway. Also, this show clocks in at two hours and fifteen minutes, which is a perfectly respectable length but feels long if you’ve been promised 45 minutes less.
To be fair, I saw the second public performance of this production, which I believe officially opened in the evening that same day or the day after. I hope that Ewen and his performers will consider cutting at least fifteen minutes out, and I can tell them exactly which fifteen minutes it should be too. Poor Aulino, here playing a sweet natured sap, is left alone on the stage to punt for far too long. The show is slow to get off the ground and the Romeo and Juliet segment feels interminable. In general speed is of the essence in these (abridged) romps and Ewen and his cast are going at least 10 miles per hour below the speed limit.
Dare I suggest that this could be because they are rather long-in-the-tooth collectively? The gymnastic hijinks I have become accustomed to in this show were sorely lacking. And much as I enjoyed Lloyd’s Juliet and Ophelia, it works better to have a younger, more baby-faced actor in the drag roles. I am not dissing on “mature” actors, I just was surprised that at least one 20-something hadn’t been added into the mix for variety and to give a little boost to the overall energy level.
Once this trio hits their stride, I think this will be a fine and funny production. It probably will not be the funniest show you will ever see in your lifetime, but it will be memorable.
I think this was the first time I have ever seen this show performed on an actual set. Usually folks just roll in a cart full of props and go to town on an empty stage. I thought that Lara Fabian’s pompously classical set, with its monumental pillars that turned out to be nothing but hollow cylinders filled with props, looked great and worked very well. It made you feel like you were getting your money’s worth and seeing a “real show,” as did Kendall Smith’s professional and often very funny lighting design, which was obviously being presented by Production Stage Manager Chad Zodrow because that’s what they kept calling the person in the tech booth. On the other hand they called both of the audience volunteers Chad too, because it was easier to remember, so who knows?
No one gets the props for the props (Ha! Little theatre critic humor there. Very little.) but I suspect that some of them may have been designed by Jessica Wegener along with the costumes. This show requires a lot of very quick changes as the three actors play many, many characters, and everything that was supposed to stay put stayed put, and everything that was supposed to fall off did, except for Bonanno’s Julius Caesar toga which never did get put on straight. Good thing they were all wearing those spiffy Elizabethan pantaloons over their tights!
I was slightly bemused that Weston gave everyone in the audience a little survey asking how much they knew about Shakespeare and whether they found that that knowledge, or lack thereof, increased or decreased their enjoyment of the play. How very scientific of them! It would actually be interesting to see the results. I would imagine that you would have less fun if you knew nothing about Shakespeare, but that you also wouldn’t know what you were missing. It is sort of hard to judge how much more fun someone might have had if they knew more, or less, about the subject of the play. I get on my soapbox frequently about plays which require too much “homework” of the audience, but if you are going to see a spoof it really helps to know what is being spoofed.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) runs through July 7 at the Weston Playhouse (802-824-5288), on Rt. 100 in Weston, VT. The show runs two hours and fifteen minutes with one intermission. Call the box office at 802-824-5288 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2007