JWR Articles: Live Event - The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Abridged (Director: Kathryn DeLory) - July 7, 2007
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The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Abridged

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Shakespeare on improv

For those without the time, patience or ducats to savour the Bard’s canon down the 401 in Stratford (increasingly interspersed with Broadway hits and near-misses to boost the bus-tour trade), a trip to the dinner-theater confines of the still-gleaming Rose Theatre offers the master-of-mirth-and-mayhem’s complete works tossed off in a couple of zany hours. Seen at the in-house preview, it’s clear that all concerned are delighting in truncating, cannibalizing and—literally—bringing up the finest scenes from 37 plays (the sonnets reduced to a cue card to fill the gap when two of the cast’s three performers flee the proceedings prior to Hamlet-lite—at least one of which personifies “Rest, rest, perturbed spirit” (Hamlet 1.5.182).

The script is the brainchild of the Reduced Shakespeare Company and first came to life at the 1987 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. With just a three-member cast (all male, making way for the drag appearances of the female roles, notably love-at-first-fright Juliet), each performer romps through costume, prop and dialect changes that leave little room for error. All the more reason to frame the more or less quoted text within an anything-goes improv style where the audience can’t ever be sure if the missed cue or late entrance is an actual boo-boo or another chance to laugh.

Under Kathryn DeLory’s benevolent direction, laugh they will.

In green sneakers and serving as our affable guide, David Phillips keeps the show moving steadily forward, slipping in and out of character with ever-engaging skill. His fight scenes are especially memorable whether parrying with a seven iron (Macbeth) or perishing at three different speeds (and one show-stopping resurrection) as the body count grows around the last gasp of the Prince of Denmark.

Gold shoes (dastardly black for Act II) were the perfect choice for Scott Carmichael. His lecturing tone as the scholar was spot on, but he also showed his versatility with varying degrees of horseplay (Monty Python can never be far away with any humour whose source is British) or flashing his stump in a cooking show version of Titus Andronicus.

Doffing the wig to establish his femininity playing heroines, female Queens or scorned lovers, Gord Noel (red shoes, of course) has many of the funniest moments. His/her retching technique is so convincing that it might appear that Juliet perished from terminal anorexia rather than potent poison (yet the “He’s always like that” throw-away line when Romeo’s stage dagger, er, can’t get it up, misses the mark). No worries. Noel nails his brief soliloquy and the room went quiet as Shakespeare’s power trumped any and all yuks that came before or after. Fun it all is, but the art can’t be bettered, methinks.

Off to Brampton, watch the show
For fun and frolic, e’re one aught go. JWR

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