Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Abridged

Okay, so it's been a while. Let's talk about why it's been a while: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged. This play, written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield in the '80's and updated in 2007, was such a blast to perform. Wil, Dario, and I put it on at the Warehouse in Tallahassee on Nov 4, 5, and 6, with the help of Christina LaRocca, Chris Dickinson, and Steve Adams. And even though it was exhausting and stressful and frankly a little much, I miss it a ton now that it's over. I wish we'd been able to do it more than three times.

The premise of the show is that three actors are going to summarize, through performance, Shakespeare's entire dramatic canon in 90 minutes. The actors, though, are a little inept and unprepared; they mess up, they argue, they forget entire works. So the show becomes a parody of Shakespeare's greatest hits; it completely passes over the comedies as having any artistic merit, plays up the Jewish presence, plays up the sex, and picks out Hamlet as Shakespeare's most iconic work. The whole thing is done as a series of jokes, one long gag . . . and makes Shakespeare out to be the greatest gag-writer ever.

But the show has two moments of pathos. One, when Dario gives the "what a piece of work is man" speech as a fed-up actor trying to prove that Shakespeare is just a bunch of long words that nobody knows (and, thus, proving that the words are "beautiful, man"), and the second when Wil, as Hamlet, delivers his final "the rest is silence" speech as Hamlet. And, among all the comedy, the pathos shines.

Doing this play was so much fun. Wil and Dario and I are going to write our own play, because we had such a great time improvising on this one. And the Warehouse was a gem of a place to perform . . . much better than we had hoped. But I think the thing I come away with from this play is that all of Shakespeare's plays can be performed as comedies, in the modern sense of the word of "comedy" as something funny. All of Shakespeare's plays have hilarious moments, and when you play up the comedy, the tragedy becomes even deeper. Thus saith the Bard: "We shall do it . . . BACKWARDS!"

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