There’s no need to read any of Shakespeare’s plays in order to enjoy “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).”
Besides, who wants to read the bard’s 37 lengthy plays when there are three guys willing to act it all out? That being said, they skip over Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets — without apology.
Currently running at Theatre 99 as part of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, “The Complete Works” (written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield) is a riotous, blink-and-you-miss-it run down of Shakespeare’s best (and worst) plays. With just three men (Timmy Finch, Greg Tavares and Steven Shields, who also directed the show), the dramatic prose of the master playwright is set ablaze with Shakespearean shtick.
Though, shtick might not be the right word to describe the cross-dressing in the show. Maybe it’s on ode to Shakespeare’s time (when all the female roles were played by men) every time Finch puts on sundress and horrid wig. Nevertheless the actor’s brassy, high falsetto as Juliet, Ophelia and Gertrude is charming, even if in this version Romeo doesn’t want to kiss his star-crossed lover.
Instead of poison, there’s Jagermeister; rather than a smoky, well-lit ghost, there is a crisp, white sheet. In place of drawn out soliloquies, there are scenes in Scottish accents, football play-by-plays and a rap song recounting the woes of Othello.
Still, the three men make Shakespeare’s text shine with some moving, untouched monologues. It seemed that, if asked, the three comedians could easily have dropped the clever campiness and morphed into serious Shakespearean actors. But surely they don’t want to.
The show flies by with an incredible pace. The first act is dedicated to recreating all but one of the playwright’s works. Starting with “Romeo and Juliet,” the three men zip through Bill’s tragedies and comedies with ease. In fact, Shakespeare’s 16 comedies are combined into one romantic satire. After all, Shakespeare tended to employ some common comedic themes of misogyny, mistaken identity and shipwrecks in his text.
The second act is solely dedicated to “Hamlet,” and what the actors call the greatest work to come from their idol. The ever-serious tragedy is torn apart and savagely stitched back together as the troupe exquisitely reenact the Prince of Denmark’s predetermined fate. Not only that, they do it again, only faster. And, just for safe measure, they perform it backward.
Naturally, when performing a massive volume of Shakespeare’s work, there are bound to be some inaccuracies. Though planned, please know that the famed writer did not marry Anne Hathaway, he did not write “Mein Kampf” and he certainly didn’t invade Poland.
Campy inaccuracies aside, “The Complete Works” is a worthwhile exposure to what high school teachers have been trying to share with their students more or less since the great bard did his barnstorming. If only the teachers could take a note from these guys on lesson planning.
Josh Austin is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.