SANDY — The Sandy Arts Guild production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Abridged was an entirely enjoyable homage to the Bard. The premise of the show created by the Reduced Shakespeare Company is to put on a “feat not yet performed in theater” by portraying all 37 of William Shakespeare in one evening, accomplishing this by generally skipping everything and cutting to the chase. The night becomes a wonderful chase through all these plays. The production absorbs you from the second the announcements start, with jokes and funny personal comments. From then on you just keep wondering what will happen next— and almost everything does. Some of my particularly favorite moments included a moment of evangelical preaching holding an oversized copy of the Complete Works… in place of the Bible, an audience-created Mad Lib to represent Shakespeare’s sonnets, a BYU – Utah football rivalry to explain the history plays, and a scholarly presentation on “Shakespeare’s Apocrypha” that turns into Troilus and Cressida represented by kids toys.
Don’t expect this night to be an idle one in the theater. Audience interaction prevails throughout the show. The night I attended included some wonderful moments where one actor had a conversation with his grandmother or when the actors didn’t want to perform Coriolanus (because they were offended by the “Anus play”) one audience member burst out with a “Get over it!” Audience members are also asked help perform on stage, so if you are very stage shy you may want to sit away from the aisles. But don’t think you’ll be excluded – the actors may find some way to include you anyway. The variation this improv provides would make this performance fun to see multiple times.
The actors did a particularly good job of leading the performance. Ryan Bruckman, Bradford Garrison, and Joseph Thompson made up the trio presenting the evening. They all go by their own names, but they still create some unique characters, defined primarily by their interest and knowledge of Shakespeare. Credit must be truly given to the actors for being able to perform a multitude of genres while also improvising a great deal, especially with the audience. You can really sense the unity of the actors as they seamlessly move from one gag to another. The connecting parts between plays where they are acting primarily as “themselves,” occasionally lacks truly clear motivation. However, this is easily forgotten as they fully commit to whatever new method is being used to interpret the plays. Since they change from classical, to rap, to even a William Shatner impersonation of Hamlet – you may find that some things worked and others didn’t. But I promise you’ll probably find more likes than dislikes.
The direction provided by Laura Bedore Heugly and assisted by Drew Keddington truly showed an appreciation for Shakespeare and all he has provided in forms of entertainment. The show was extremely well-paced, never leaving a dull moment and yet constantly awaiting the next surprise. The set and prop design by Sonja Ervin and costume design by Chad McBride also deserve full credit. The set in the Chamber theatre was well developed to use all the space and had a monumental number of props, all used during the play. Mr. McBride did a wonderful job of providing numerous costumes that the actors easily changed into at record speeds over and over and over again. Both designers created a high quality of production, by providing exactly what was needed for the performance in the moment and never making us lose focus because of a technical shortcoming.
Overall, it was an extremely enjoyable night at the theater and a true tribute to Shakespeare. It is interesting that while the script and actors have hacked to tiny bits the actual plays of Shakespeare, the show cannot escape truly honoring him at the same time. The enormous amounts of physical comedy combined with endless play on words are essential parts of Shakespeare. The constant references to our more contemporary subjects from sports to sitcoms to politics make a strong argument that Shakespeare was writing about events in his own day, and now we can see his work through our own eyes. And when Joe suddenly recites one of Hamlet’s speeches with real honesty, it brings all the gags and physical comedy full circle, helping us realize that anyone can find some favorite moment in Shakespeare that is truly introspective and applicable to ourselves. So I would suggest that regardless of whether you have actually read the entirety of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, or you want to be introduced to his work, this show is a production that Will Shakespeare would have truly enjoyed himself.