BWW Review: Southwest Shakespeare Presents THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED)
Uproarious and played to comic perfection, THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) is opening Southwest Shakespeare Company's 24th Season with a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino. In other words, to be quite blunt, the wit of the script and the ways of its splendid cast are as sharp as a rapier.
I recall seeing this remarkable composition by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield (principals of the Reduced Shakespeare Company) in San Francisco in the late eighties, not long after it graced and tore up the stage in Edinburgh. I laughed then until it hurt and I felt the same exhilarating feeling with the current production.
Breona Conrad (brilliant!), Louis Farber (brilliant!), and Alexis Baigue (brilliant!) deliver tour de force performances ~ replete with gibes, gambols, songs and flashes of merriment ~ that would make poor Yorick proud and set the audience on a euphoric roar. They cavort around the stage at turbo speed, shifting from one character to another, from one set of britches, cloaks and wigs to another. Baigue brings a Gielgudian authority to his role, playing what might be considered the more reasoned presence on stage. Farber is absolutely hilarious, in or out of drag, riding the comic tide of this show like a Marx brother (with hints of Bill Murray). Conrad is exuberant and magical, adding a touch of charm and panache to the ensemble.
Between the madcap parody of Romeo and Juliet and the insane rounds of Hamlet, the actors cut, paste, and improvise scenes from the Bard's 37 plays, each of which is seasoned with puns, ribaldry, and double entendres. It's vaudeville on Avon with sketches that transform Titus Andronicus into a kitchen show or bring hip hop to Othello.
Given the energy of her three actors, it may be a wonder that director Debra K. Stevens could keep them in tow. But, to the credit of this highly regarded actor/director, she does in what is unequivocally a well-paced (albeit on steroids) and superlative show.
This is not, by any stretch, an Idiot's Guide to Shakespeare. It is rather a novel and enjoyable way to present the works, to make them accessible and perhaps better understood. Indeed, a digest that is highly digestible! To wit, you may leave with a belly full of laughs, but you will certainly be hungry for more of the Bard.
THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) continues its must-see run through September 30th at Mesa Arts Center's Anita Farnsworth Studio.
Photo credit to Laura Durant