CENTERVILLE — The plays of William Shakespeare are some of the most well-known and beloved shows of all time. Many modern day romances, tragedies, comedies and other stories have been based on the plots and stories he wrote hundreds of years ago. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged, makes an amusing attempt to cover the 37 plays as well as the 100 plus sonnets written by the “Bard” in order to “educate” the audience within the span of a short evening of theatre.
This task is brought to pass with the skills of three actors, Mike Gardener, Rusty Bringhurst, and Doug Caldwell. Each of the actors introduce themselves by their real names, and proceed to tell the audience of their goal of educating those in attendance regarding the joys, heartaches, and even the dark and unenjoyable side of Shakespeare.
Much can be said in praise of this production because the entire performance was a delight to watch. From the pre-show announcement, when the audience was told that, “if we had pagers, to return them to 1997” until the 45-second performance of Hamlet backwards at the end of the show, the production was entertaining and highly amusing.
One of the aspects I enjoyed most was the sound and lighting design by Jay Clark. This production is one that can be done with few of lighting and effects, yet Clark was able to work with the lighting and sound design to help move the story forward and add significantly to the humor. One thing in particular that I felt added greatly to the story was the fact that the actors had made a video trailer of Romeo and Juliet, which helped to introduce the audience to the zany mood and feel of the rest of the production. Add to that different graphics projected on screen, lighting to match the many different moods portrayed, and numerous different genres of music, including a pretty inspired rap number, and Clark’s contribution to the humor in the production was clear.
Each of the three players were impressive in their respective attempts to portray the varying characters of the Shakespearean play. Bringhurst was given the task of portraying all of the female characters, not unlike the tradition of having male in female dress that was practiced during the Shakespearean era. Bringhurst added a great deal of physical comedy to his portrayal of the female characters, especially when reenacting the deaths common to many of the plays. Perhaps one of the best moments that Bringhurst had was when he did a very “realistic” death by drowning. Gardener excelled at his emotional yet slightly disturbed portrayal of Hamlet. To share too much would detract from the humorous experience of attending the production in person. However, it is important to note that the emotions of playing Hamlet intermix with the emotions of an actor to provide added hilarity. Caldwell was such a solid actor that it seemed he was able to carry the show with his quick wit, timing, and physical comedy. Not only did he have excellent timing when reacting with both the actors and the audience, he also had the entire audience amused almost every time he opened his mouth.
In the moments when each of the actors began to recite the actual Shakespearean quotes, it was evident that their skills were not just in comedic acting, but also classical acting. It was entertaining to watch them move back and forth between styles within the show, portraying the humor as well as the dramatic nature that is necessary for Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield‘s script. Much of the show also features improvisation, and the three actors seemed to be quite comfortable in playing off one another and getting a feel for what made the audience laugh. Kudos to director Josh Richardson for finding the right balance of comedy and emotion, of scripted humor and improvisation.
Overall, this production was one of the best live comedic productions I have seen in a long time. It held my interest the entire time, and is a production that I would gladly see again. Although I enjoyed it greatly, some patrons should be aware that several of the jokes were of a more adult nature and that CenterPoint recommends that audience members be at least 13 years old to attend.