The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

by Kilian Melloy
Saturday Jan 9, 2010
Get ready to rumble, ye knaves! James Hayward, Justus Perry, and Greg Reimann star in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), playing through Jan. 16 at The Factory Theatre
Get ready to rumble, ye knaves! James Hayward, Justus Perry, and Greg Reimann star in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), playing through Jan. 16 at The Factory Theatre  (Source:FlatEarthThetre.com)

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is, from the start, an exercise in the absurd. How could the entire canon of the greatest playwright in the English language--who, according to the program notes, authored classics ranging from Julius Caesar, to Henry V, to Harold and Kumar--possibly be distilled into a two-hour production?

The play's first minutes give a clue: when resident Shakespeare "scholar" Greg Reimann asks how many in the house have read or seen any Shakespeare plays, he panics to see virtually everyone present raise their hands. The audience, it seems, knows more about the subject at hand than he does.

But Reimann's just kidding; as he and his fellow thespians, James Hayward and Justus Perry, prove, the play really is the thing, and in this case the play (written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield) gives us quite a different education in the works of The Bard than those AP English classes did. For one thing, did you know that all of Shakespeare's comedies can be boiled down into one quick and easy sketch? That old fraud may have had the ticket buyers at the Globe theatre fooled, but our troupe know their stuff and see right through his cheap tricks: Shakespeare, it turns out, was a hack who wrote formulaic plays based on old stage works he found by surfing the Internet. (Or something like that.)

And the histories--those plays about kings and battles and royal intrigue? They are really nothing more than one long game of political football. Really! In fact, our three wise guides of all things Shakespeare will prove it... by playing a match right there in the theater, using a crown for a ball, and summarizing the Shakespearean histories in a blow-by-blow running account ("Poisoned on the ten-yard line!").

The play was written more than 15 years ago, but Reimann, Hayward, and Perry update the material to keep it fresh. In fact, there's more than a dash of standup comedy favoring the play's audience participation: the actors think on their feet, and the improvisational results are funnier than some of the scripted gags. (Hayward as a chance to shine here, when his partners in theatrical vandalism run screaming into the night, leaving him to carry the show on his own for a spell.)

It takes true heart and talent to dress in cheap wigs and surfer jams and somehow still evoke Elizabethan England; it takes some form of genius to satirize Shakespeare for two hours and then, without blinking, deliver a stirring rendition of Hamlet's "What a piece of work is a man" monologue, as Perry does. But it takes the divinity of the barking mad to distill Shakespeare's greatest tragedy into one wild, brief roundelay--to say nothing of then performing the same wild roundelay backwards. The material itself is far from Shakespeare (let's face it, this stuff is more or less third-rate Monty Python, its flashes of inspiration notwithstanding), but the actors bring it a sizzling spark of life.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) plays through Jan. 16 at The Factory Theatre. For tickets and more information, go to www.flatearththeatre.com

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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