LEHI — Attending a Shakespeare play can be intimidating for many people. But seeing all 37 plays in one night? It sounds like a nightmare, but it is actually quite fun when that night is spent watching The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). This Shakespearean mashup is playing now at the Lehi Arts Center in a production that requires no prior knowledge or appreciation of Shakespeare to enjoy.
The premise is simple: three actors, David Peterson, Doug Kaufman, and Jeanelle Huff, decide to perform all of Shakespeare’s plays in a single evening. Of course, this requires cutting some (actually, a lot) of material from the plays and rushing through the rest so that they can all fit into a single evening. The adventure of Complete Works is seeing how the characters make their way through the Bard’s canon, and the script (by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield) finds creative ways to explore each play.
The performs in Complete Works deliver the laughs throughout the night, and I appreciated director Michaella Robertson for capitalizing on the humor and helping her actors find the right comedic timing. This cast is well rehearsed, and their movement grows naturally out of the space and the needs of the story. Nothing feels artificially blocked or “stagey” in the show, which speaks volumes about the quality of Robertson’s direction. Often, the best directed plays do not look directed at all.
Peterson, Kaufman, and Huff are a well-functioning trio, with their renditions of Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus, and the comedy plays being particularly strong components of the show. Peterson is the group’s de facto leader, and I enjoyed his ability to serve as an emcee or transition to the next play gave the evening some helpful structure. Kaufman was the best at ad libbing and creating fun interactions with the audience. Huff was a nice balance to the men in the cast, and she sometimes glided above the antics of the men and kept the show grounded in reality. There were a few moments, though, when the group’s momentum seemed to falter because of a pause before the next event, such as the penalty during the football game, or some late entrances during the rapid Hamlet encores.
Despite my praise for the actors and director, there is a major deficiency in this production. In Complete Works, the actors are supposed to be playing actors who are performing Shakespeare’s plays. In the script, these actors are in over their heads, and each of them must wrestle with their inadequacies and help one another through their challenges. But in Lehi’s production, I often could not detect a character who was separate from the real actor in front of me. To be fair, this is a typical shortcoming of productions of Complete Works, and the script’s instruction to use actors’ real names obscures the distinction between the real actor and the character they are supposed to play. Huff, for example, was too confident and comfortable to be fully believable to as the intellectual of the group who is faking her credentials and overstating her knowledge about Shakespeare. In a word, she and Peterson were too polished.
The major exception was Kaufman, who succeeded in making his Doug character the most intimidated by Shakespeare’s work. His panic at the prospect of performing in Hamlet was an outgrowth of early admissions that he did not always understand Shakespeare’s language. That character development paid off handsomely when Doug slipped into a masterful delivery of the “What a piece of work is man” soliloquy from Hamlet. It was a rewarding moment that showed that Doug had underestimated his own abilities.
But the most audience members want to just laugh and maybe learn a little bit about Shakespeare. If that is the goal of a production of Complete Works, then Lehi Arts Council’s production meets that standard of success. While there could have been some more depth to the acting, this production was still better than the other productions that I have reviewed. So, audiences should make plans to attend Lehi Arts Council’s production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). As a night that presents 37 plays for the price of 1, it is the best deal around.