Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Complete Works [Abridged]

Ok, I finally got around to seeing "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [Abridged]" this weekend (sometimes known as The Cmplt Wrks of Wlm Shkspr and other silly titles).  The premise, if you haven't heard of it, is that 3 guys do the entire works of Shakespeare (that's 37, possibly 38 plays, and maybe sonnets?) in 90 minutes.  As you can imagine, it's a comedy. 

Did I like it?  It's interesting that one of the advertising lines for the play is:  "If you like Shakespeare, you'll like this play.  If you hate Shakespeare, you'll love this play."  Well, since I love Shakespeare, I didn't really love this play.  It's funny, sure, in a pretty standard stand-up comic sort of way.  Somebody had the idea to start with Shakespeare and then reduce it down to jokes that everyone would get.  Example:

Romeo:  Call me but love, and I'll be new baptized...

Juliet:  What did you just say?

Romeo:  I said, call me but love, and I'll...

Juliet:  Call you Butt Love?

Romeo:  Can we get on with the scene?

Juliet:  Whatever you say, Butt Love.

Get the idea?  It's always interesting when somebody writes standup comedy and people perform it for years to come, because you get to see if you can spot the jokes versus the ones the new actors have thrown in.  For instance, this weekend's performance contained a reference to bald Britney well as a reference to Janet Reno.  Janet Frickin Reno?  When's the last time she was in the news, Clinton era?

The treatment of the plays, for the most part, is actually well done.  They open with a silly intepretation of Romeo and Juliet to get the audience warmed up.  Good choice, since it's the most popular play.  Want to know how much of a Shakespeare geek I am?  I actually found myself looking forward to the ending of their version of R&J, just because it's Romeo and Juliet, for god's sake, it has to be good, until I realized that it was two guys doing it as a comedy, so I was probably not going to do it the justice I'm hoping for.  And the entire second act is devoted to Hamlet, because it is the most complex one (debatable, but that's a concept the audience can get behind).  For Hamlet they do take it a bit more seriously, including one of the actors having a nervous breakdown because he just can't take the pressure.

Macbeth and Othello get a fair amount of stage time, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra less so.  The histories are done like a football game, and the comedies are all smooshed down into one comedy that makes heavy use of Shakespeare's 4 major comedic devices.  I was a little disappointed in that, particularly since The Tempest got no real love.  I don't think of the Tempest as being one of the formulaic long-lost cross-dressing identical-twins comedies, although it does have the shipwrecked aspect that he used a few times.  Oh, and Titus Andronicus is done like a cooking show.  The only play that doesn't get any love at all is Coriolanus, the best they can come up with for that one is an actor who refuses to do it because he doesn't like that the name has "anus" in it.  Haha? 

Perhaps the biggest disappointment for any Shakespeare geek is King Lear.  King Lear gets *one* joke, during the Histories football game, where the ball ends up with King Lear.  They throw a flag for "fictional character on the field" and then go back to the game.  That's it.  That's disappointing.  If there's any debate that Hamlet is not the best thing Shakespeare ever wrote, the contender in that battle would be King Lear.

So, overall, it was ok.  Cute.  Not what I was hoping for.  I brought my wife, figuring "It'll be enough Shakespeare for me and enough funny for her."  But honestly it wasn't enough Shakespeare for me and wasn't funny enough for my wife. See it if it comes around, but don't drive an hour out of your way to find it like I did.


Technorati tags: , ,


Bill said...

You know, I've actually performed in this play. I was "Daniel" and played, among others, Romeo, Julius Caesar, Polonius, etc. I also did the stall for time bit at the end of the first act, and the sonnet bit at the start of the second.

The first time I read it, I thought it was rubbish. Then, after I was asked to perform in it, I took another look. (The director knew me; I hadn't auditioned.) I still hated it, but decided to do it anyway, for the money.

As it turns out, it was one of the funniest shows I've ever done, and certainly the biggest crowd pleaser. (Even though, as Hugh Laurie says, my Bottom was very much in demand...) It's not funny on the page. The key is that it's a very physical, fast-paced, slapstick kind of show, and if the production doesn't get that, it won't be funny on the stage either.

Not having seen this production, I can't say. It sounds like the production you saw took a lot of liberties ("Butt Love" isn't in the script), though we did too. Princess Diana died during our run, so we had to edit out a reference to her that morning. I also had to get an update on All My Children every day, so I could give a recap to the audience. And I learned how to do the Macarena.

It wasn't Shakespeare. It wasn't even Shakespeare-light. But it was a fantastic time. Thanks for bringing me back the memories. Sorry you didn't have a better experience with it.

Duane said...

Thanks Bill. I think you summed it up right there at the end -- not Shakespeare, not even Shakespeare-light. So for a Shakespeare blog, it gets a mediocre review :). I did laugh, and so did the audience. Maybe I'm just not that into the slapstick thing. One of the reasons I like Shakespeare is because not just anybody can do it. But slapstick to me is like dressing in drag. Need the easy joke? Put a guy in a dress. Need the easy joke? Slip on a banana peel. Repeat until script full.

Speaking of which I would be curious to read the actual script to see how much is ad libbed.