BWW Review: Humors and Egos Collide in THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) at Civic Theatre
The name of Shakespeare generally evokes an instant, gut reaction: love or hate or perhaps sheer confusion. This production removes all of those impediments by reducing the work of The Bard to complete and utter hilarity. He himself did much in the way of satire, so it stands to reason he would have enjoyed this boiled down and humor-filled play, which delivers, as promised, all of his works in a mere 97 minutes.
This seemingly impossible feat is carried out by a cast of only three players. These players, in turn, play all roles necessary and also provide a plethora of pithy asides throughout the performance. Their costuming is simple, and their props are the definition of cheesy and campy. The same can be said of much of the dialogue.
Part of what makes this show so fascinating is not only it's break-neck pacing but also it's feeling of improvisation. Throughout the show, audience members are drawn into the performance itself as they lend vocalizations, movement, stage presence, and even personal names and stories. In addition, there are a number of references which draw in a 21st-century audience. These include pop culture, music, and even bold-faced political references. For someone who would rather leave Shakespeare's "immortal genius" to gather dust on a shelf, this show is the perfect way to make them feel that maybe it's not all bad and can be accessible to a modern audience. Or it unabashedly pokes fun at the perceived holes in his so-called genius.
The entire performance, however, hinges on the players themselves. The Civic is featuring Frankie Bolda, Antoine Demmings, and Kelsey VanVoorst as their trio of humor. They each lend an element to the overall delivery. Frankie brings out the gravity of Shakespeare while also harpooning those who claim to be experts on the subject. Kelsey becomes the queen of slapstick as she adds a quirky flavor to the ambiance. Finally, in his first ever time on stage, Antoine cleverly navigates a number of attitudes, accents, and unfortunate female wigs. Their delivery is enhanced by a simple but practical stage design and lighting which highlights the many moods explored.
All in all, as someone who loves The Bard and also someone who loves to laugh, this production did not fail to disappoint. It simultaneously brings in a modern audience as well as shares the poignancy of the (dare I say it) immortal genius of William Shakespeare.
I am going to completely preface this review with a quick note about myself - I am not a fan of Shakespeare, and I CliffNoted my entire way through high school literature courses. There, I said it, and now please don't hang me for it.
Last Friday, my wife (a huge Shakespeare fangirl) and I attended THE COMPLETE WORKS OF William Shakespeare (ABRIDGED). As someone who has no great love for the Bard of Avon, I found myself completely entranced by the show. First, THE COMPLETE WORKS OF William Shakespeare (ABRIDGED) does an amazing job at bringing The Bard into the 21st century by combining common vernacular with Shakespearian scripting and does a wonderful job at explaining what is happening during key scenes of each play. Coupled with subtle undertones of 21st-century humor and campy props, Civic Theatre has brought this show to a new, modern audience.
With the show only being comprised of three actors and each one having to play many parts, there is nowhere to hide in terms of acting skill. All three actors each brought something different to the show that the audience could enjoy. Frankie's obvious knack for humor and improv skill helped to add that famous Shakespearian satire to the whole show. Antoine, who is making his first appearance on stage with this role, was a complete natural at delivering some of Shakespeare's most celebrated lines. Kelsey's role of leader of the group came across naturally and her effortless acting style was refreshing.
Normally, tech does not get its fair due in shows, but I have to give credit to the lighting and scene design. As each scene of the play progressed the lighting changed, offering up mood lighting and added to the intrigue of the show. The term "less is more" would easily define the scene design. With literally two large boxes to fill the stage, the choreography and blocking for the actors made the stage seem a great deal larger. The whole show was also presented in a black box style, adding a sort of intimacy to the show, which helped with audience interaction.
During most shows, audience interaction can be minimal to totally nonexistent. Rather than ignoring the audience like most shows, the actors skillfully used the black box setting to their advantage. From bringing people onto the stage and having fun to the audience chanting, Civic made sure the viewers were never bored.
This show is not just for the Shakespeare nerds out there or even the casual Shakespeare fan, but for everyone. After seeing this show, I can finally say, without CliffNotes in front of me, that I understand what the heck was actually going on during Hamlet. My 97-minute education has served me well.