March 16-22, 2006
Arts : TheaterWorks in Progress
The Reduced Shakespeare Company's The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged) has become a staple of professional, school and community theaters since 1994, a fun way to have one's Shakespeare cake and afford to eat it too (cast of three rather than 30, minimal set and costumes).
Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield's elastic script invites fresh updates, inspired gags and wacky bits, so each production can be considerably different, so much so that the Philadelphia Shakespeare Company's remounting of their successful 2003 version feels like a great new production.
Much of The Compete Works' fun is in the details: The script's two-actor Romeo And Juliet, cooking show Titus Andronicus, rap Othello and football game history plays aren't as successful as the Looney Toons moments of slapstick hilarity a talented and insightful director and cast can create between the lines.
Director Domenick Scudera and returning cast Brian McCann, David Raphaely and John Zak outdo themselves with modern references (one needn't have read Shakespeare's plays, but familiarity with current events helpsfrom Shakira and Ashlee Simpson to Cheney and Dubai), and are mentally agile enough to lob ad-libs at any critics in the audience.
Act I touches on every Shakespeare play except Hamlet, the prospect of which sends Zak screaming from the theater. Dragged back after intermission, Zak challenges an audience volunteer to best his projectile-vomit Ophelia, and the trio enlists the crowd to play the doomed girl's id, ego and superego in support.
Scudera's high-speed high jinks play like a compendium of hilariously bad acting, from elaborate pantomime laboriously telegraphing every word's meaning to tortured Method-acting pretentiousness. Zak is especially adept playing the insecure actor desperate for approval while employing a rich variety of character voices and imitations (his bug-eyed Marty Feldman is a treat). He's perfectly balanced by Raphaely's wide-eyed innocent and McCann's droll leader.
Donald Eastman's handsome set seems ideal for The Complete Works, so we'll see how it serves the rest of the PSF spring repertory, continuing through May 21 with Much Ado About Nothing (opening March 24) and The Tempest (April 14). Jerold Forsyth provides superbly specific lighting, and Brian Strachan spares nothing for the elaborately clever pseudo-period costumes, which feature color-coordinated kneepads and high-top Chucks.
I haven't laughed so much since, I think, 2003.
THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED)
Through May 19, in rep, Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival, 2111 Sansom St., 215-496-8001 or www.phillyshakespeare.org