In our hyper busy, jaded age, it is rare to find a show that is able to reach deep down into an audience and evoke real deep belly laughs. Thanks to the great Shakespeare, in the year we celebrate his 450th birthday, you have found one of them. He didn't exactly write this comedy the way it is presented, but I can see him smiling over this laugh-til-you-cry spoof, THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED). Jonathan Croy, Josh Aaron McCabe and Ryan Winkles have long been the go-to guys for rolling-in-the-aisles laughter at Shakespeare & Company, whether it be some ridiculous mystery spoof or last night's THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED). But last night Croy, always the master of wringing laughs out of high toned material was in the director's chair instead of onstage. This is Shakespeare on speed with ShakesCo's three-actor answer to the Marx Brothers doing all the heavy lifting.

Replacing Croy, in this madcap trio is the equally game and outrageous Charls Sedgwick Hall who brings his own distinctive style and considerable talent to the task of spoofery, yet meshes perfectly with the broad comedy that Complete Shakespeare employs with Winkles and McCabe.

The idea behind this show - which is pretty much a guaranteed hit wherever it has been produced - is to condense many of his masterworks into a two hour orgy of down to earth humor and outright fun. Opening with ROMEO AND JULIET and closing with HAMLET the trio led us on a merry chase through the classics, poking fun as they went.There is no need to be a Shakespeare scholar to enjoy the evening. In fact you can be oblivious to the whole oeuvre and still come away totally entertained. It includes, after all, some 40 comedies in less than a quarter hour.

The show is sort of a zany Cliff Notes version of his great works, and for the uninitiated it could serve as a tasty appetizer to explore his canon further. COMPLETE SHAKESPEARE conflates authentic Bard talk with current vernacular speech, clever topical references, and draws the ticket buyer into the creative act via audience participation. Never afraid to parody or incorporate tongue-in-cheek material, it is probably the most entertaining evening of Shakespeare that you will ever find. Best of all, it's full of wanky, bollocky humor is often quite bawdy, too.

In the ROMEO AND JULIET, you will delight at how the Montagues and Capulets fight it out using stuffed dummies, while OTHELLO uses a hip hop rap, and MACBETH is done in kilts, with golf clubs and lots of Scotch drinking. The pacing set by director Croy was breathtaking, and the three actors rarely had a costume malfunction thanks to the hardworking dressers behind the scenes. Govane Lohbauer outdid herself with a rack full of clever - and sometimes beautiful - costumes, including an oversized ghost of a sock.

The playing area is a three-quarter thrust stage with just a basic proscenium and curtain at the back wall. The design, by Patrick Brennan and Jonathan Croy is deceptively simple, since several large pieces - including a cooking show set and large puppet show setup miraculously appear from behind the curtains to change the scenes. A simple walker in Ryan Winkle's hands becomes a rolling menace to everyone on stage, as a pair of bushy eyebrows do everything they can to impede his vision of human obstacles to avoid hitting.

There are so many great moments in this show, It's difficult to shine the critical spotlight on just sequence of a hilarious evening, but I think it was the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.

There's no question that THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) earns the highest recommendation for those who want a fun night of theatre. And with THE SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS also playing on many of the same days in the late afternoon, it is possible to take in both shows in one visit, though the time between the end of Servant and the beginning of COMPLETE WORKS leaves just enough time for a bathroom break.

Shakespeare & Company presents THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED), by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, Jess Winfield, directed by Jonathan Croy. Set Designers - Jonathan Croy and Patrick Brennan; Lighting Designer - Matthew Adelson; Sound Designer - Jonathan Croy; Costume Designer - Govane Lohbauer; Fight Captain - Ryan Winkles; Stage Manager - Hope Rose Kelly Cast: Charls Sedgwick Hall, Josh Aaron McCabe, and Ryan Winkles.
Two hours and fifteen minutes with one intermission, July 4-August 24, 2014 at the Tina Packer Playhouse on the Shakespeare & Company campus, 70 Kemble Street, Lenox, MA 01230. 413-637-3353

Photo Credit: Kevin Sprague

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