Review by Gail M. Burns, July, 2000
My 11-year-old son Brandon and I could not wait to see this show. I got tickets for the very first preview performance so that we would be sure not to miss it. And we were not disappointed. We had a really great time – laughed our asses off (sometimes when no one else was laughing, more about that later). And as far as I can tell so did everyone else in the audience.
“What is this?” you ask, “I have never heard of this show.” Well, shame on you! “The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged)” is one of the great comedy works of the late 20th century, written by members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company who are one of the great comic acts of our time – right up there with Monty Python. I have traveled four hours one way just to see them perform “The Bible:The Complete Word of God (abridged)” and last October Brandon and I went over the mountains to Amherst to see their “Complete Millennium Musical (abridged)”. In between we like to listen to the casette recordings of the Reduced Shakespeare Company Radio Show and the Reduced Shakespeare Company Christmas Album and laugh our asses off.
You get the picture now. The Reduced Shakespeare folks take very large bodies of work – the Bible, Shakespeare, the last 1,000 years of world history, etc. and reduce them to rapid fire comic masterpieces. These are usually performed by three guys who play all of the parts, often in drag. Even the addition of a female performer in the Millennium Musical didn’t prevent some cross-dressing from going on. “The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged)” is the work that brought the RSC (NOT the ROYAL Shakespeare Company, the REDUCED Shakespeare Company) to fame and some small fortune.
This is the first time I had seen a RSC show performed by someone other than the RSC, and I was interested to see how that worked. I was interested and Brandon was leary – he was not at all convinced that Shakespeare & Company, of whom he is very fond, could improve upon comic perfection.
And I think that he was right to be leary. It was those “improvements” that dragged the show down a bit, not much, but enough that it broke my general hysteria and made me make a note of it. Allow me to quote from the Director’s Notes in the program:
“The play gave me the chance to explore through humor the deep-rooted aesthetics of Shakespeare & Company. I wanted to turn the mirror back on ourselves and not be afraid of the image, but to embrace it. No stone was left unturned. We shamelessly parody ourselves, the artistic staff, and all those who have inspired us.” – Tony Simotes
Well, there’s the problem right there. No one in the audience gives a big hoot about the “deep-rooted aesthetics of Shakespeare & Company” or “the artistic staff and all those who have inspired [them]”. We came to laugh our asses off, thank you very much, and the in-jokes just get in the way. Do a special performance for the ShakesCo gang and then you guys can all laugh your asses off at the stuff that only makes sense to you. We paid for lots of silly, slap-stick stuff and that is all that we are going to laugh at.
Actually, I know quite a bit about ShakesCo, and so I got some of the inside humor and I didn’t think it was THAT funny. It certainly didn’t belong in a public performance. But at least they had the professionalism not to pack the audience with groupies who laughed and whooped at every in-joke the way they do at the WTF. Oh I cringe to think of what I’ll have to endure at the Free Theatre in a couple of days…
Shakespeare is full of sex and blood and this play throws in lots of fake vomit as well. I guarantee that even a four-year-old will find this play funny in parts. I was sorry that there weren’t more children in the audience because this is a really great show for the whole family. Kind of like the old “Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoons or the Muppets (to whom there are innumerable references and homages in this production for some unknown reason) the humor is dumb enough for the very young and witty enough for us sophisticated adults.
That having been said, I will confess that Brandon and I disrupted the whole theatre by suddenly yelling “I’ve got a chicken in my pants!” and laughing very loudly for way too long. There was a guy with a rubber chicken in his pants on the stage at the time, but it wasn’t as funny as all that – unless you had seen the Millennium Musical (which the actors and director had not) in which case it was just the funniest thing we’d seen since – well, since the Millennium Musical… It is embarrassing to find yourself laughing uncontrollably at a joke from the wrong show.
Jonathan Croy does a really great Reed Martin impression. Reed Martin is a member of the RSC with a distinctive look, being well over six feet and bald as an egg. It made it feel more like we were seeing the real RSC to have Croy bounding around doing his Reed Martin impression, but I would have been just as happy to see him as Jonathan Croy. Croy is joined by Josef Hansen doing his Adam Long impression, and John Beale actually creating a new, more scholarly persona. They are all three very funny and loose limbed. Hansen is a good sport about wearing the wigs and dresses and being tossed about like a rag doll. And Beale does a great Kermit the Frog voice.
This show has a very short run so pack up grandma and the kiddies and go NOW! You will be glad you did! And maybe we can lure the REAL RSC to come to the Berkshires one of these days…
“The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged)” is playing for only nine performances July 19 through August 6 at the Duffin Theatre in the Lenox Memorial High School on East Street. The show runs 2 hours with one intermission and contains plenty of blood, vomit, and fart jokes to entertain the kiddies. For tickets and information call the Shakespeare & Company box office at 413-637-3353.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2000