Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Review - The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival)

Review by Byrne Harrison

How best to describe the glorious madness that is The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)? Perhaps, taking a page from the play's version of Titus Andronicus (which is turned into a cooking show), I can best describe it as a recipe.

Take 37 plays, toss until thoroughly mixed. Place into a hot frying pan and reduce to approximately 97 minutes. Add three actors, sprinkled with neuroses, one property mistress who would clearly rather be anywhere else, and a big bag of tricks. Heat until boiling. Shake violently, then with a smile on your face, ladle it into the laps of your dinner guests.

Even that does not begin to describe the lunacy of this wild and interactive play. Created by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, William Shakespeare (Abridged) has spawned a number of similar hits: The Complete History of America (Abridged), All The Great Books (Abridged), and Western Civilization: The Complete Musical (Abridged) just to name a few. But the original is still the best.

In the play, three actors Kurt (Kurt Rhoads), Chris (Christopher V. Edwards) and Jason (Jason O'Connell) take on the task of producing all of Shakespeare's plays in one evening. This requires grit, ingenuity, and more than a little cross-dressing. It also helps to have a slightly bored, but very efficient prop mistress (Kate Abbruzzese). The actors make their way through the comedies, histories, and all but one of the tragedies. Realizing that they forgot Hamlet, the greatest of Shakespeare's plays, they devote the entire second act to it.

Directed by Terrence O'Brien with an eye toward milking all the comedy possible out of the script, and utilizing the manic energy of the exceptional cast, William Shakespeare (Abridged) will keep you laughing so hard, you may not be able to catch your breath.

A few words of warning. If you do not like audience participation, sit toward the back. You will still have to participate, mind you, but you probably won't be called up on stage. If it is a sunny day, bring sunglasses. The tent in which the show is being produced is open on one side (it has a breathtaking view) and gets a lot of direct sunlight as the sun sets.

Featuring four talented actors, a marvellous script, and the wide-open vistas of the Hudson Valley, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is one of the most enjoyable productions I've seen this year. Go early, have a picnic, and enjoy this fun and silly production.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
Written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield
Directed by Terrence O'Brien
Lighting Design by Dan Scully
Costume Design by Melissa Daghini
Sound Design by Matt Sherwin
Properties Design by Brett Travis and Phoebe Slocum
Stage Manager: David Apichell

HVSF Artistic Director: Terrence O'Brien
HVSF Executive Director: Susan Landstreet

Featuring: Katharine Abbruzzese (Kate), Christopher V. Edwards (Chris), Kurt Rhoads (Kurt), Jason O'Connell (Jason)

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