The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield. Directed by Tony Pallone and Colleen Lovett.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Theriault, Cane, MacArevey, Van Iderstyne surround Trimm and a pumpkin; photo: Dan Region
"Act Two!" "Gesundheit!!"
Itís that kind of show.
No one has written as many quotable lines as playwright William Shakespeare and, when presented in the wrong way, none are funnier. What authors Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield did when creating this show - which reduces the bulk of the authorís oeuvre to a two hour exercise - was to provide a means of lightening the burden of such works as Titus Andronicus to a visual joke, the girl disguised as boy comedies to single entity, the historical dramas to one individual notion and the dramatic works to a face-off with time.
As originally played by its authors, and later by other groups of three, its manic changes and hysterically short-lived terrors resulted in hilarious confusions of identity and deliciously spouted aphorisms and marvelously inserted familiar quotes. Things look a bit different at the Ghent Playhouse where the company of three has been expanded to a company of five players, a sub-plot has been developed into a main theme (the playing of one actor over her own deep-seated resentments) and an audience involvement issue that brightens things up beyond oneís expectations.
Five players can definitely do more than three. In a script that calls for improvisation on the part of players while also getting all of the Shakespeare out there is a challenge to be met by talented individuals. What five players also does, it seems, is lengthen the show by about twenty minutes. There is a pacing difference as part of the humor in the original depended upon lightning changes for the three actors that no longer seems necessary. Two extra bodies can provide an easier time for the ensemble.
The Berkshire region has been provided, in this past year, with other minimal cast shows where multiple characters are conveyed by a small group of players. Shakespeare and Company, which has also presented this work, did a Hound of the Baskervilles in 2009 with three men playing everything and everyone deftly and with great humor.
But here we are with five. Five talents divide into the nearly forty roles, including themselves, very neatly: eight different parts instead of twelve or thirteen (odd man out). The directors have fortunately chosen the right actors.
Roseann Cane, Matt MacArevey, Prudence J.M. Theriault, Tracy Trimm and Jen Van Iderstyne take command of the stage and manage to stay themselves, or parodies of themselves, as they take on the great array of characters devised by Big Bill S, King of the Stage. They start with Romeo and Juliet, convert Titus Andronicus into a cooking show, manage to make Othello into something heís not, play 16 comedies as one, reduce MacBeth to its bare element - a fight, and combine Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra into a miracle whip of history.
When the plot of the show turns to a performance (or rather four of them) of Hamlet, the show takes off into brilliance. The only problem I have with this version of the abridged Shakespeare is the pacing of the second act which drags a bit. It is funny to watch them play out the play (as I speak it to you), then reduce it and reduce it and finally play it the way no one should ever do ("donít try this at home"). Here, where the pace should become excessive, it does not and while still funny loses in the end to become mere repetition.
Trimm is especially fine in his job of "host" of the eveningís entertainment. Cane is excellent, managing to make confusion into something compelling. MacArevey is a wonderful Hamlet and he dominates the stage in Ghent with his stature. Theriault is a bit under-the-top when she could easily be over it, but she plays her parts - including her very deep Fryer Laurence - with strength and a controlled hilarity (as the ghost of Hamletís father Hamlet she is divine). Van Iderstyne is the best Ophelia ever - reluctant to perform and then unable to leave the stage, ever.
I donít know why two directors were necessary. Their different roles in that capacity are not defined, but perhaps one was there to keep the other on target. I donít know. But somehow they both dropped the ball on pacing.
Itís a pretty production to watch. Bill Visscherís set is fun, Dave Malsanís lighting is effective and Joanne Maurerís costumes are just the right degree of silly.
This is a show that delivers on the promise of its title and, if it doesnít bring you every word, you leave with quotes swimming through your brain and a giggle in your heart. Big Bill S. would be pleased.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) plays through January 31 at the Ghent Playhouse, located just off Route 66 in Ghent, New York. For tickets or information call the playhouse at 518-392-6264 or go on line to www.ghentplayhouse.org.