Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
March 26, 2005
All the world’s a double-entendre! (Or at the very least a corny pun.) And in the hysterical world of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) all the men and women (and children) of the audience are surely gigglers; we have our guffaws and our groans and in our hour and a half spent in the theatre we laugh at many parts.
The Gallery Players revival of this show that’s been running for the past nine years in London is a great reason to hop the F train and head out to Park Slope. The cast is a bottomless pit of energy and the direction is as fast paced. You can have fun and laugh at this show whether you consider yourself an aficionado of the Bard or if you just remember something about “to be or not be” from high school.
The show opens with a preface that digresses into an evangelistic rant, “May the Bard be with you”, and that is followed by biographical information on Shakespeare that gradually morphs into a biography of Hitler (I never knew Shakespeare invaded Poland). This funny opening sequence pretty much sets up the rest of the evening. We see Titus Andronicus done as a cooking show. The histories are lumped into a single scoring drive of a football game. (American football that is!) The comedies are also lumped together but this sequence is ironically not funny. But they admit that. Shakespeare just wasn’t that funny unless he was writing tragedy.
As the evening was getting on I kept thinking, “Where’s Hamlet? They can’t just blow past Hamlet!” When they finally realize that they have yet to tackle the “greatest play written in the English language” one of the actors refuses to do it and has to be chased down somewhere outside. The Hamlet sequence, which claims the entire second act, could stand alone. It is absolutely hilarious! They do a workshop on Ophelia’s scream that is itself a scream. And they cap it off with a thirty second backward version of the play.
I think what I like best about this show is that it provides its audience with a good perspective on Shakespeare’s formula. It makes Shakespeare seem much less intimidating and, dare I say, just like an average guy trying to make a buck giving the people what they wanted. It helps you realize that if Shakespeare were alive today his plays would be the equivalent of a John Woo movie. He likely wouldn’t even bother with theatre and instead would be Hollywood’s most sought-after writer/director.
The director of this production, Neal Freeman, does a really great job coordinating this highly physical show. I don’t have a copy of the script so at times it is hard to tell where the script ends and Freeman begins, but regardless of that I was very impressed by the pace and timing he sets. Freeman also uses the space well, breaking the fourth wall and finding use for every corner of the playing area. I’m sure his task was made easier through the support of his great cast.
Composed of Alex Domeyko, Rob Seitelman and Patrick Toon, this cast is an absolute power trio. Each of them has impeccable timing and something endearing about his stage persona. Domeyko plays a soulful and way wacky Hamlet. He seems to be the straight-man of the crew. Seitelman gets the most laughs with his hammy if not somewhat bizarre portrayal of the Bard’s heroines with a penchant for vomiting on the audience. Toon’s regal stature earns him most of the kingly roles. He seems to be our vessel into the world of the play because he speaks to us the most. Together these guys pull off a show that, considering all the cliche sex jokes and cheesy pop cultures references, might fall flat if the actors were not committed to the material.
This show is undeniably fun. When you go to a show and you see kids and adults laughing in the audience you know they got the formula right on stage. Shakespeare could have learned a few things from these guys. Or at least “burrowed” some of their gags.