Review by Gail M. Burns, July 2003

If you have never seen this complete laugh riot, buy tickets immediately. And even if, like me, you have seen it several times before, do likewise. Having a general idea of the lunacy to come did little to dampen my enjoyment of the proceedings. Director Tony Simotes and performers Jonathan Croy, Josef Hansen, and Allyn Burrows have come up with plenty of new stuff. Burrows is new, for one thing, and the show has never been mounted before in the Founders’ Theatre. I can’t remember if the Scary Cow was in the Macbeth sketch in previous productions, but she made a big impression on me this time around. And, of course, they managed to squeeze in a WMD reference.

I suppose there are people who don’t like this show. If you don’t like bawdy jokes or lots of stage blood, then I suppose that you wouldn’t go to any plays written by William Shakespeare at all – abridged or whole. And if there are Shakespearean “purists” out there who are ready to argue that Shakespeare is neither bawdy nor bloody, I am for you, as they say before a sword fight ensues.

Croy, Hansen, and Burrows know each other well and play off of each other brilliantly. Croy is one of my very favorite Shakespeare & Company members. I am never less than impressed with him onstage and this show is his real star turn. Tall and sturdily built, he hurtles through the antics with as much grace and verve as the petit Hansen and less manic energy than the unstoppable Burrows.

Burrows must have discovered a secret energy elixir to enable him to perform two high energy leading roles in repertory this summer. He is starring as Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing and literally tears up the stage here in Complete Works Phew! I am getting used to him as a brunet and appreciated the “Just For Men” reference.

I thought Simotes did a nice job of keeping Burrows in the background a bit at the beginning of this show, allowing those of us who had seem Croy and Hansen strut their stuff together before bask in their combined light for a while before injecting Burrows into the mix. He is a completely different performer than John Beale who had appeared with Croy and Hansen in the 2000 and 2001 productions, but now I can’t imagine the show without him.

Three years have done nothing to wither Hansen’s beauty in a wig and dress. And his fake vomiting is still top-notch. But I also enjoy the moment when he gets the stage to himself to recite a moving monologue from Hamlet.

The Founders’ Theatre, with its new thrust stage configuration, literally felt like a football field as the actors hurtled up and down its length in the Histories sequence. Being blessed with an excellent front-and-center seat, I say everything clearly, but I realized that people seated along the sides of the stage, particularly those furthest upstage, often could not see all of the action all of the time. Since a lot of this show is addressed directly to the audience, it really plays best in a proscenium house. It is hard to break the fourth wall if two of the others have already been demolished! Simotes and his team may need to go back to the drawing board or call the masters of performance-in-the-round over from the Mac-Haydn to give them pointers, otherwise I think they may have some disgruntled ticket holders to contend with.

The premise of the original script (and there IS a script) was to present all of Shakespeare’s plays in 90 minutes. Shakespeare & Company wisely omits references to time and bring their production in at two and a half hours. This is just a tad too long, if for no other reason than it hurts to laugh that hard and that often for such a sustained period of time. Granted, I knew what was left to come, but I found the second half of the evening, which is devoted entirely to Hamlet, dragged a bit in comparison with the earlier bits.

But my 14-year-old son Brandon, who has been my “date,” for every production of this show that I have reviewed, had no complaints at all. He loved it, loved it, loved it. There is no doubt that Complete Works is the premiere family theatre event in this area. This is the kind of silly fun that you and your kids – even your grumpy teenagers – can enjoy together and laugh about for years to come.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare(Abridged) will be performed by Shakespeare & Company through August 31 at the Founders’ Theatre on Kemble Street in Lenox. The show runs two and a half hours with one intermission and is suitable for the whole family. Call the box office at 413-637-3353 for tickets and information.

I reviewed previous productions of this show at Shakespeare & Company in 2000 and in 2001.

To see a collection of photos of the 2000 production click here.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 2003

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