by Terrance Mc Arthur
Can you imagine seeing all of William Shakespeare’s 37 plays in one night…in less than two hours? The Woodward Shakespeare Festival makes a fine go of it with its final production of the festival’s 11th season, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (Revised), which was developed by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield in 1987. The Revised part updated some of the jokes to bring the humor into the 21st century.
This Shakespearean extravaganza is a playful look at the Bard of Stratford-on-Avon and his writings, from a biography that gets his facts mixed up with the life of Adolf Hitler to a 30-second version of Hamlet…done backwards. The fact that this Wide, Wide World of Will is brought to you by a total of three performers (plus audience participation) is part of the cheerful insanity that pervades the evening. It’s as if three frat brothers tried to explain the Shakespearean canon to a football player during a kegger. (Oddly enough, the history plays are mashed together under the banner of Monday Night Football, the players trying to get the crown across the goal line).
Aaron Spjute directed two sprightly trios in this Bardapalooza. One team is made up of Katie Eugene, Donna Halliburton, and Broderic Beard. For the rest of the run, they are scheduled to perform on Thursdays and Saturdays. This review will look at the crew currently playing Friday shows: Samantha Hyde, Kia Vassiliades, and Renee Newlove.
Samantha is perky, petite, and possessed of a scream that could open the ears of Helen Keller. She plays the female roles from Juliet (Romeo and…) to Cleopatra (Antony and…) to Ophelia and Gertrude (Hamlet [no ands]), usually with strange wigs and simulated vomiting.
Speaking of “no ‘ands,” she also plays the daughter of Titus Andronicus, who was raped and had her hands cut off and her tongue ripped out (the play is reimagined in the form of a Julia Childlike cooking show). Samantha’s character is the one who is the most reluctant to join in the spirit of Shakespeare, Rattle, and Roll, representing the masses of students who had all the joy of Shakespeare beaten out of them by unsmiling English teachers.
Kia represents the voice of reason, desperately trying to keep this theatrical experiment from sinking like a Led Zeppelin (I know it shouldn’t be spelled that way, but I’ve used Bardapalooza, so…why not?). Her character is probably the one who understands the plays the most, providing the metaphors for many of the transformations.
Renee comes across as tipsy, loud, brassy, and blustery, all things that Renee’s friends and students love about her. She can slide from buffoonery into a serious immersion into Hamlet’s soliloquies that lays bare the meanings, then break the moment with mugging that rivals Lucille Ball.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (Revised) throws in rap, naughtiness, hand shadow puppets, Star Wars, interpretive dance, and Freudian analysis into a laugh-out-loud mini-course of Shakespeare 101, and you’ll leave with a smile on your face…and sore ribs from sustained laughing. Hie thee to the northeast entrance of Woodward Park, pay the entry fee of $5, bring your blankets, chairs, tailgate dinner and what-have-you, and enjoy an evening of free Shakespeare (donations are encouraged; tights aren’t cheap, you know) under the stars and the wind. The Complete Works plays through September 19. Curtain time is 8 p.m.
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