Quill Theatre tackles the Bard in ‘The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr: Abridged’
No, the banner isn’t misspelled. The intentionally truncated words are part of the theme of this revue (it’s not really accurate to call it a “play”). They, as are the plays themselves, abridged.
The script is by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield and parodies the plays of William Shakespeare with all of them being performed (in comically shortened or merged form) by only three actors.
In the four or five productions of this play that I have seen, it is always augmented by current events and by improvisation between the actors and between the actors and the audience.
Happily, the production at The Cultural Center at Glen Allen is the best version I’ve seen to date.
For that you can thank the artistic team, CJ Bergin, Dixon Cashwell and Joseph Bromfield and director Maggie Roop.
To be fair, the script doesn’t cover all of the Shakespearian cannon. And the concept of the plays being “abridged” is used fluidly throughout. Some plays only get name mention while others have more dedicated stage time (for example, all of Shakespeare’s comedies are truncated to one segment that covers them all).
They begin with a parody of Romeo and Juliet. Next, they do a parody of Titus Andronicus, portraying it as a cooking show. Following it is Othello, which is done through a rap song.
All the histories are acted out through an American football game with the British Crown as the football. Julius Caesar covers only his death, followed immediately by a one minute version of Antony and Cleopatra and ending with a bastardization of Macbeth with bad but very funny Scottish accents.
There is also a very poor attempt to define Shakespeare’s Apocrypha (the lesser plays that he probably co-authored with others).
At the end of the act, the characters realize that they forgot to perform Coriolanus which CJ refuses to do due the vulgarity of the title.
They also forget about Hamlet. The act ends with CJ running away because he thinks the play is too difficult.
Act Two begins with CJ gone and Joseph ad-libbing till he comes back, which he does. Then the real fun of this revue begins.
The audience gets involved during this segment when one audience member is asked to portray Ophelia for the Nunnery Scene. The rest of the audience makes up Ophelia’s subconscious, with three sections that each represent her ego, superego, and id. After the portrayal of Hamlet, the actors play it out several times increasing their speed of delivery. They finish by performing it backwards.
The entire evening is like a collegiate improvisational sketch comedy with audience participation. It’s a completely sophomoric and irreverent.
And when done well, a complete joy to experience.
The Compleat Works, after all, embodies one of comedy’s most essential impulses: the adolescent urge to take a baseball bat to the culturally revered.
In an age when Shakespeare is the bane of every High School English class and subject to tedious adaptations (outer space Richard III anyone?), the act of Shakespeare being “punked” has its definite charms.
Now this, of course, is such stuff as frat-house revues are made on. But if the level of sophistication here is sometimes only groin-high, there is also a gung-ho vitality that is often impossible to resist.
While conceived with a British sensibility, the revue has a pace, style and athletic physicality that feels purely American. At its giddiest, its tone recalls the deconstructed history of the fractured fables on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show; at its most earthbound, it is like the Marx Brothers on an off day.
The trio of actors work in perfect harmony. All three possess great improvisational skills.
Bromfield has an easy going conversational style and was totally at ease with the audience. He also has a solid Shakespearian pedigree and handles the verse and poetry supremely well.
Bergin plays most of the women, refreshingly not in the high camp style of frat boy denial but with a sensitive eye towards femininity which, I must admit, was kind of alluring.
Cashwell dons the professorial role and madcap lecturer which, whether intentional or not, called to mind the throw away timing of the great Groucho Marx. All he needed was the duck walk and cigar.
The madcap antics could have gone terribly awry. Unchecked physicality can be sloppy and dangerous. Director Maggie Roop brings a sharp comedic eye and structured sensibility to these proceedings. She also infuses some of the tired comic bits with a fresh attack, introducing clever props and set pieces.
Quill has produced this revue several times over the past years but never for as long a run. And never as well as this version. While the comedy is ribald it is entirely appropriate for the whole family.
You do not have to know or even like Shakespeare to appreciate this clever play. It is hilarious and fun. For those that were always afraid to approach the Bard, there isn’t a more enjoyable way to get your feet wet.
For everyone it’s a heck of a good time. We can all use that. Go!
THE COMPLEAT WRKS OF WLLM SHKSPR (ABRIDGED) runs now through February 12th at yhe Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen. Snag tickets here!
Photos by Aaron Sutten
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