Sunday, May 25, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of The Compleat Wrks Of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) at Parkside Players by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of the play The Compleat Wrks Of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)  at Parkside Players was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Compleat Wrks Of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)
Parkside Players
Grace Lutheran Church (103-05 Union Turnpike, Forest Hills, NY)
Reviewed 5/24/14

The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (also known as The Compleat Wrks Of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)) was written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield, founding members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company (a three-man comedy troupe that takes long, serious subjects and reduces them to short, sharp comedies). The play was first performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1987 and later played at the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly Circus, London, where it ran for nine years. It has become one of the world's most popular shows and is notable for holding the (self-proclaimed) world record for the shortest-ever performance of Hamlet, clocking in at 43 seconds, as well as the fastest performance of Hamlet backwards, at 42 seconds.

The play is a frenetic, fast-paced comedy in which three actors present abridged versions of all of the works of William Shakespeare in one gigantic and entertaining parody with modern cultural and local references, improvisation and audience participation thrown in.  The book does not fully commit to presenting abridged versions of all of William Shakespeare's works but it does give a broad overview of those works dwelling on plays, scenes and characters ripe for parody and satire. All the parts in the production are performed by Kevin Schwab (The Scholar), Nili Resnick (The Aesthete) and Johnny Young (The Third One), who refer to each other by their real names. The play opens with The Third One giving a brief biography of The Bard he took off Wikipedia (not an authoritative reference source, for those who don't know it), which conflates William Shakespeare's life with that of Adolf Hitler. 

The first act starts with an abridged version of Romeo & Juliet. Sometimes the actors perform as if they were Bill & Ted, the 1980s time traveling slackers from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Other times, they alter a line for comic effect, such as saying "a nose by any other name would still smell" instead of "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet". When Romeo swears "by yonder virgin", he looks at an audience member and says "No, I don't think so!" and when Juliet takes Romeo's dagger to kill herself, it is only one-inch long, to which she says, "that's Romeo!". Afterwards, Titus Andronicus is performed as a cooking show, Othello is performed as a Rap Song once The Third One is made aware that Shakespeare's "Moor" refers to a Black Man and not to the mooring of ships, and finally, The Histories are performed as a football game with the Crown replacing the football. The sixteen Comedies are blended together and performed as one play. The Tragedies and Apocrypha are also handled in brief form with emphasis on Macbeth, The Scottish Play.

The second act focused primarily on Hamlet ending with the 43 second version and the 42 second backwards version. The play within a play in Hamlet was performed by The Cherry Danish Puppet Theatre. I don't want to ruin the ending for you, but in the 3 second version of Hamlet, everyone just dies all at once.

I was very impressed with the performance of Kevin Schwab, who wore many hats and is an impressive, talented and charismatic actor. I particularly enjoyed his impersonation of Paul Lyndius (i.e. Paul Lynde). He also had a few other good lines. When The Third One said "He comes before me!", Kevin Schwab responded, "I am sorry to hear that!". When, as Romeo, he kissed a reluctant Third One as Juliet in drag on the lips, he responded, jokingly, "that was totally worth it". Finally, when he couldn't find "a big strapping man" in the audience to play Ego on stage, he said, "that explains a lot!". Mr. Schwab even pulled out his "Little Willie" and showed it to the audience. Nili Resnick and Johnny Young more than held their own throughout the production. Their funniest interaction was when Mr. Young referred to a line in one of Shakespeare's plays where money was borrowed from "an old Jew". Ms. Reznick objected and Mr. Young changed the line to "a young Jew", which apparently satisfied her.

I highly recommend this fun, entertaining show. It can equally please those who love Shakespeare who will appreciate all the erudite references as well as those who have never read Shakespeare and hate serious theatre. My only criticism is that this production seems to have been intentionally cleansed to make it a PG version of the play instead of the R rating presentation this show deserves. Had three men performed the various roles instead of two men and a woman, there would have been more opportunities for cross-dressing and homoerotically charged exchanges between characters in "hetereosexual" relationships, which would have been more faithful to the all-male casts of original Shakespeare productions in which young men played most of the female roles due to the fact that women were forbidden to act on stage. That is simply not possible in a PG version with Ms. Reznick and Mr. Young in the cast. Nevertheless, no audience member will leave without feeling they got their money's worth, which is good since it is made very clear in the beginning of the play that there would be "no refunds".

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