By Karen Isaacs
If you view Shakespeare as tough sledding, you will find your opinions turned upside down at Playhouse on Park’s production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) running through July 30.
While this work has been around for many years, it has been revised for the 21st century and director Tom Ridgely says it took elements from two different versions. But that’s OK since this is really a vaudevillian piece.
It is a comic romp through most of Shakespeare’s plays performed by a zany three member cast: Hanna Cheek, Rich Hollman and Sean Harris, all talented clowns.
What you get in the 2-hour show is wonderful burlesques of three of Shakespeare’s most well-known works, plus romps through the others.
The play opens – after a hilarious introduction with a retelling of Romeo & Juliet. Not only do the three members play all the main parts, but Romeo is played by Hanna and Juliet by Rich Hollman. It’s abbreviated but amazingly all the most important elements are there.
From there they give us snippets of Shakespeare’s most gruesome play, Titus Andronicus, plus bits of Anthony and Cleopatra, as well as MacBeth performed partly as a folk song sung by a Peter, Paul and Mary clone. Even here they hit the main points of the plot.
The act ends with a compilation of the comedies – it is amazing how many of them feature similar elements – girls disguising themselves as men, separated twins, fairies and other spirits and more.
It is then that the trio realize that while they thought they had covered all of the plays, they had omitted one: Hamlet.
So act two is all about Hamlet. They do it not only in an abbreviated version (again, Ophelia is played by Hollman), but in increasingly shortened versions, the last taking less than two minutes. They conclude with that version done backwards.
You don’t have to be an expert in Shakespeare to enjoy this though most of us have experienced at least one or two of the plays in school. My granddaughter – a soon-to-be high school junior who will be reading Hamlet next year – thoroughly enjoyed it. She had previously read and seen Romeo & Juliet and found their rendition hilarious.
It takes great talent to pull this off. While I did not feel the antic energy from them that I did the first time I saw this show – at Long Wharf Theater years ago, perhaps in the 1980s.
It might surprise you to know that this show, as well as an abridged history of America, and of sports, was developed by three American’s who called themselves The Reduced Shakespeare Company.
Director Ridgely as made fine use of the somewhat awkwardly large stage at Playhouse on Park. In keeping with the tone of the piece, costume designer Kate Bunce has made use of a variety of household items – including mops in various bright colors for wigs.
The cleverest part of the show, is when the three company members involve the audience in Ophelia’s state of mind and the conflicts she faces. While two audience members are brought on stage, the entire audience represents her id, ego and superego. Fun and enlightening.
This is perfect entertainment for anyone who thinks that Shakespeare has to be dull and difficult to understand. My granddaughter thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m sure that she gained some insights that will be useful to her study of Hamlet this fall.
For tickets, call 860-523-5900 ext. 10 or visit Playhouse on Park..