Friday, September 16, 2011

WOBT: "The Complete Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged)"

Although any one of William Shakespeare's 37-or-so plays would take over three hours to perform in its entirety, in less than two hours, Prattville's Way Off Broadway Theatre is delighting their all-too-small audiences with a merry romp through all the plays [plus the 154 sonnets and other occasional poems by the Bard]: The Complete Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged).

Devised some years ago in England by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield -- who call themselves the R.S.C., the "Reduced Shakespeare Company", not to be confused with the Royal Shakespeare Company of Stratford-upon-Avon which they call the "other" Shakespeare Company -- this show has been entertaining audiences around the globe with its irreverent approach to Shakespeare's canon, and its topical references to whichever community where it is performed.

Though it helps to be familiar with Shakespeare's works, it is not a prerequisite to enjoyment of this piece...and if you ever get lost or feel out of place, one of the three energetic and self-effacing actors who play all the roles is there to guide you through.

First-time director Matthew Givens is fortunate in having three capable actors to bring this piece to life: veterans Joshua Diboll & Wes Milton have been performing in and around Montgomery for several years, and newcomer Kalonji Gilchrist demonstrates a good deal of talent to match (and spar) with them. -- Imagine, for example, the complete telling of Shakespeare's English History plays (about a dozen of them) as a football match in which the crown instead of a football is passed from one king to another while other characters are often "slaughtered" on the fields of battle.

Or witness Romeo & Juliet with Three Stooges and WWF references; or Shakespeare's most gruesome telling of Titus Andronicus [in which the bad-guys are killed and served to their mother in a pie] as a Southern Cooking TV Show; or Othello told as a very clever "rap"; or the Scottish play [never say the name Macbeth in a theatre because the play is "cursed"] in terrible Scottish accents...or: well, you get the picture.

Add to this some good-natured audience participation; plenty of cross-dressing [after all, someone has to play the women's roles, and in Shakespeare's theatre there were no actresses allowed on stage]; and Hamlet played three times in succession, each one briefer that the one before; several "ad-libs" and "takes" and "editorial asides" to the audience, and you have an enjoyable evening's entertainment, emerging with a knowledge of Shakespeare too.

These talented actors are to be commended. They have quite a physical workout in the two-hours' playing time, and they have entertained. Good show!