Review by Gail M. Burns, May, 2001
To my great surprise, I discovered that I had written a review of this show when my younger son Brandon and I saw it last summer, and I refer you to that piece of writing for more information about the Reduced Shakespeare Company and my complete devotion to their work. For the purposes of this review, suffice it to say that Shakespeare & Company is NOT, and has never been, the Reduced Shakespeare Company (Motto: “Reducing expectations for over twenty years”). They are merely performing a play written by three members of that group. They performed it last summer in the Duffin Theatre at Lenox Memorial High School, and they are performing it again this year in the Stables Theatre at The Mount.
Once again, Brandon was my date for the evening, mainly because he would have killed me if I had taken anyone else. I thought this was a good plan because I would have his impressions of how the change in performance space and the lapse of ten months had effected the show, as well as my own. Both productions starred the same talented trio of actors – Jonathan Croy, Josef Hansen, and John Beale – and both times we laughed our asses off, which was what we had come to do.
I am glad to say that just about everyone else laughed their asses off too. I kept an eye on the few in the audience who weren’t laughing and I am glad to say that they returned to their seats after intermission, so they weren’t totally shocked to witness Shakespeare reduced to a seriously silly vaudeville act. As author Daniel Singer notes in his author’s notes to the script (yes, there IS a script for this foolishness): “…audiences of the last quarter of the twentieth century apparently possessed an urgent need to see Shakespeare performed as if it were a Tex Avery cartoon…” The same is obviously true of audiences of the early years of the third millennium.
That remark of Singer’s pretty much sums up what you see on the stage when you attend this production of “The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)”. Croy, Hansen, and Beale are nimble, rubbery, and speedy as a living Looney Tune. Thanks to director Tony Simotes and a backstage crew that is obviously equally nimble and speedy, they are able to change costumes, props, characters and even position on the stage with the same magic that allows Bugs Bunny to dress in drag in a split second.
There is plenty of dressing in drag, mostly by Hansen, but also to quite good comic effect by Croy. There is also plenty of simulated vomiting, fart jokes, swordplay, blood, and sex. All of those items, except the simulated vomiting of course, can be found in the actual works of William Shakespeare, so there are not so many liberties taken as it might first appear. However, this should stand as a warning to Shakespearean purists and people deeply offended by any of the above that they should save their time and money.
I asked Brandon what he thought of the smaller, more intimate performance space of the Stables Theatre, and he and I agreed that it was a great improvement, especially since it permitted us to be personally fake-vomited-on by Hansen. I had worried that the small quarters might spoil some of the slight-of-hand that gave the show its living cartoon quality, but Simotes and team are masters of distraction and I did not find myself witnessing any stage secrets inadvertently.
I am happy to say that the thing that had most bothered me about the 2000 performance was almost completely eliminated in this year’s version of the show. The in jokes about Shakespeare & Company staff and traditions were mostly gone, and the few that remain actually work. Now they help you feel as if this is a show created, rather than borrowed, by the company. Certainly, while Simotes et al do stick pretty closely to the script, they have also added great personal touches and up-dated the topical humor very successfully. Brandon and I particularly enjoyed the Matrix effect, very cleverly performed, and the Sixth Sense reference in Hamlet still brings down the house.
Once again, Brandon, at 12, was the youngest person in the theatre. Last year we attended a matinee and this year we attended an evening performance and both times almost no kids. I cannot urge you strongly enough to spring for tickets for children, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews. Heck, pick up a random kid off the street and take them to see this show! While it is fun to laugh at fart jokes when you are 44, it is more fun to laugh at them with a kid.
Bottom line, I’ve seen this production twice and I liked it even better and laughed just as hard the second time as the first. I could probably go to see it several more times and be just as easily convulsed by the same slap-stick silliness because Croy, Hansen, and Beale are THAT good.
The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) will be performed by Shakespeare & Company through July 8 at the Stables Theatre on the grounds at The Mount, 2 Plunkett Street in Lenox. The show runs two and a half hours with one intermission. Tickets are available online at www.shakespeare.org or by calling the box office 413-637-3353. Ticket prices range from $27-$36 depending on the day and time of the performance you choose to attend.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2001