LOGAN — Most of us are at least a little bit familiar with William Shakespeare and his work, whether it’s from high school English or from watching modern movies based on his plays. Ten Things I Hate About You, She’s the Man, and The Lion King can be enjoyable, but Shakespeare’s original plays themselves can be intimidating. The archaic language, the many of characters, the historical references, and the sheer length of the plays can be overwhelming. But don’t fret, the Lyric Repertory Company has a production, entitled The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), that condenses all of Shakespeare’s 37 plays into two and a half hilarious hours.
Performed in front of a caricatured Globe Theatre designed by Shawn Fisher, the script summarizes most of the plays very quickly and gives extra time to the most famous ones. Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus, and Macbeth are each given their own mini-productions, with the entire second act devoted to Hamlet. All of the characters in Shakespeare’s canon are played by a cast of three, Cameron Blankenship, Lance Rasmussen, and Mitch Shira. Sometimes this requires very rapid costume changes, for which Nancy Hills designed some very clever pieces. Thanks to Hills’s well designed costumes (and the fact that there were never more than three people on stage at a time), it was much easier than I expected to keep track of all of Shakespeare’s characters. In fact, after watching this production understanding Shakespeare gets a bit easier. I also enjoyed how all three cast members performed the whole show while wearing Heelys (those wheeled shoes that had pre-teens zipping around everyone else in the early 2000’s), which added a delightful and dynamic element to the stage.
The script (by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield) is supposed to sound like it is improvised, which gives it a really fun an visceral feel. For the most part director Chris O’Connor kept a good running pace with each scene spilling into the next. The show is intended to finish in just under two hours, with a reference to “ninety seven minutes” near the end. This production doesn’t quite make it, but the pacing isn’t troublesome until the end of act one, when a “problem” delays the show and forces one of the actors to stall for time. The proper effect could have been achieved in a matter of moments, but O’Connor decided to draw it out as long as he could. This section dragged on for so long I began to wonder if something had actually gone wrong. The slogging continues into act two, so maybe treat yourself to some concessions to help get you through this bit.
O’Connor chose a very high-energy tone for most of the play, which kept the audience engaged and created the perfect opportunity for stark contrast with the “what a piece of work is man” speech during Hamlet. Unfortunately, that opportunity was not taken and the speech was delivered in as lackluster a manner as possible. Stage manager Edmund O’Neal became a pseudo-character with his musical and lighting contributions. Prop master Robin Perry kept everything remarkably organized, with dozens of fantastic props in order, from the mechanical Godzilla to the many prop swords. They added to the playful imaginative tone of the show.
Just like Shakespeare did in his time, Complete Works references pop culture and current events. The fight scene during the Romeo and Juliet section included references to Star Trek and West Side Story. There were shout-outs to General Hospital and viral YouTube videos. Since it was first performed in 1987, the script has been updated to make it more current, and each cast makes it their own with their favorite references.
Whether you’re a Shakespeare aficionado or you don’t know anything beyond “to be or not to be,” this show has jokes for you. In addition to that the show had enough physical comedy to engage the few children who were in the audience. The show is rated “intermediate” for mild adult humor and language, but many of the more grown-up jokes will go children’s heads. A fantastic script with a fantastic cast, this production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is sure to delight. Be prepared for audience interaction and participation, so if that isn’t your cup of tea make sure to sit at least four or five rows back.