If Shakespeare were still alive today, he’d be raking in the royalties as richest playwright in the world. And if his works weren’t in the public domain, you’d bet his agents would be the first to sue the Reduced Shakespeare Company for its barbarous comedy The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged).
As authors and performers of the RSC (not to be confused with the Royal Shakespeare Company), Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winifield have assembled a silly combination of sketches that find a way of spoofing the entire Shakespeare cannon, however abbreviated and brief.
Although the RSC pokes fun at Shakespeare, its primary target seems to be the bizarre adaptations, misguided reverence and vainglorious actor interpretations of Shakespeare in the 20th century. In between and including the two takes on Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, which take up much of the bulk and bookend the evening, The Compleat Works is rife with sight gags, 20th century anachronisms and a whole lot of quick costume changes.
In attempts to make Shakespeare more accessible, Othello becomes a rap number, the history plays are turned into a football game and Shakespeare’s bloodiest play Titus Andronicus becomes a TV cooking show. And in order to be “authentic Shakespeare,” genuine Scottish accents are used to perform Macbeth, known to superstitious theater folk as “the Scottish play.”
Needless to say, a lot of the fat (and several bones) of Shakespeare’s writings gets sliced and diced in the process. But there is much wit to be found in the show’s brevity, even if some sketches and gags work better than others. As the only entry for its 1999 season, Salt Lake Shakespeare is no doubt hoping that the third time around for The Compleat Works will still be a charm. Although I missed the first two go-rounds of this giddy nonsense, the present incarnation still seems to be a load of fun.
Filled with the desire to entertain and leave the audience in stitches, actors Rory Kozoll, Matthew Mullaney and Edward Webster do their utmost to chronicle all of Shakespeare’s works in about two hours time. You can’t deny the fun that these three actors have on stage, which is part of the reason the laughter is so infectious.
With a scholarly beard and black-framed glasses, Mullaney is fun as the academic brains of the trio. Kozoll takes particular delight in playing the women’s roles with more than a touch of an actor’s diva ego, while Webster (also the show’s fight choreographer) does well as the principle lead in most of the sketches. Aided by Sophia Valdez, a diligent and mostly unseen coordinator for costume and wig changes, each of the actors perform with precision and lots of affable charm. And though they are never fully convincing when they spontaneously “get an idea” for a sketch, their ultimate execution is polished.
With the skilled guidance of director Craig Rich, the show moves at breakneck speed with lots of laughter providing accompaniment to this mirthful Shakespeare on a shoestring budget. Aiding and abetting in the hilarity is Josh Miller’s lighting, which provides essential and exaggerated moodiness to complete the Shakespearean checklist. Although some scholars will look down on The Compleat Works as nothing more than another sign of culture being dumbed down, the show still pays its respects to Shakespeare, even if it’s sometimes in a sick and twisted way.
The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) plays until June 20 at the Babcock Theatre, located downstairs in Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1340 East. Call ArtTix at 355-ARTS for tickets.