Those bad boys of abridgment, the Reduced Shakespeare Company, have struck again just in time for the big celebration of the Bard of Avon’s 400th anniversary celebration. This time their mixed up, verse-juggling, quick-change, three-person comic extravaganza proposes to be the premiere of William Shakespeare’s recently discovered first play.
And what a doozy young Willie-boy put together for his first attempt! Thicker than the Manhattan phone book, including more than a thousand characters, William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) contains the makings of just about every other Shakespeare play that we know of. How that all ties up as an evening of rapid-fire scenes, slapstick, witty repartee and a three-actor tour de force is their two hour traffic on the Folger stage.
The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s new abridged show covers a panoply of characters and plot lines – thankfully ones they did not get to during their first and most famous piece, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). The style is the same structure as their early Shakespearean send-up followed by their treatments of world and American history, Hollywood, sports, and the Bible, among others.
Co-created and co-directed by RSC go-to guys Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, Long Lost (abridged) may not connect as broadly to general audiences as Complete Works (abridged) but it certainly has many shining and hilarious moments. Like a Mel Brooks film or the movie Airplane, there are enough jokes, gags and set-pieces that if one or two go over your head or elicit a groan, don’t worry – a gem will likely follow.
The show is based on the idea that while on tour in England, the members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company found the long lost manuscript. They set out to perform it despite having only three actors in the company and a limited budget.
Tichenor’s wonderfully mashed-up prologue is a rollicking comedy-tragedy-history play in which Dromio and Antipholus, Beatrice, Juliet, Sir John Falstaff, Richard III, Lear, and Prospero mix and mingle with magical creatures such as Puck and Ariel. Familiar lines from their plays are re-purposed to great effect, hinting that Shakespeare’s first draft was good but the later work was much better. Even a revered genius must start somewhere, correct?
Of course the hallmark of the Reduced Shakespeare Company is that three energetic and comically super-charged performers work themselves into a lather playing all the roles with lightning fast costumes changes and improvisational touches throughout. With wacky beards, crazy wigs, an array of cleverly designed costumes and accessories, Reed, Tichenor and Teddy Spencer look like they are having the time of their lives. Clearly these performers are in their element and seeing the company return to their original source for inspiration is like a homecoming.
William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged)
closes May 8, 2016
Details and tickets
The individual jokes fly so furiously, I could not begin to recount any here and it would spoil your fun anyway. Reed as Puck and Spencer as his interpretation of Shakespeare’s Ariel (think Disney’s version of the character) is reason enough to see this show. Certainly not to be outdone is Tichenor as Falstaff, Oberon or Prospero, and he makes the love-struck Juliet a sight to behold.
Not to be content with skewering Shakespeare (with love and respect, mind you) the RSC throws in enough dashes of pop culture and politics to add some topical humor to an otherwise literary and theatrical spoof. And by the end of the first half, the audience gets the change to get into the act.
The Reduced Shakespeare Company has always been a hybrid of highbrow and low humor, and this show hits that sweet spot to appeal to all comers.
William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor . Co-directors: Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor . Featuring Reed Martin, Austin Tichenor and Teddy Martin . Costume design: Skipper Skeoch . Lighting design: Brittany Diliberto . Sound design: Brandon Roe . Production stage manager: Elaine Randolph . Produced by Reduced Shakespeare Company at Folger Theatre . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.