It’s never more apparent how salacious the bard is then when watching The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), a ridiculously wonderful semi-improvised comedy that parodies, reduces, and, yes, even celebrates the greatest playwright in history. If you’ve not see it, it’s high time you do. If you have, see it again. Maryland Ensemble Theatre puts on a helluva production, one that will remind you how priceless laughter is.
First performed in 1987, Shakespeare (Abridged) remains a popular show because it not only says every thing we think and want to say about his plays—they sound pretentious, are mostly derivative, and made us hate 9th grade English class, and yet are…wonderfully fun, tragic, intellectual, and emotion-filled—but does so using pop-culture and a modern mindset that makes Shakespeare feel contemporary and accessible. And, the MET’s take hits all the right notes, getting high marks for humor and casting, which can make or break this show.
Thom Huenger, Daniel Valentin-Morales, and Jeremy Myers are each their own characters—absurd versions of themselves (or so we assume, which is how the show works). Myers is the manic player, often portraying Shakespeare’s heroines as hysterical, vomit-prone, shrewish vixens. By all accounts, Morales is the straight player, often using a dry delivery and presenting a Romeo that is perfectly present-day hipster. And Huenger is the brainy player until he isn’t, wilting to the ground in tears as he realizes his Hamlet lacks credibility, which probably has something to do with his hidden soap opera addiction
The trio runs through both Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet with a fair amount of detail while reducing the comedies to one single farce called “Four Weddings and a Transvestite” because, as Huenger says, “Shakespeare did not plagiarize. He distilled.”
They portray all the histories as a football game, with king after king securing the crown of England. Between all this, they pay homage to Macbeth, Titus Andronicus, and Othello by giving each more than 2 minutes of stage time. Of course, they also skewer them. Showing up with putters as swords, pretending they are on a cooking show, and rapping in dark sunglasses, respectively. They are as fearless as they are rehearsed, clipping along so quickly that in the show’s climax they not only perform Hamlet in 60 seconds, but they also perform it backwards. In 60 seconds. A feat for only practiced tongues.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
closes October 1, 2017
Details and tickets
Director Tad Janes has infused the show with plenty of shout-outs to the world of today, a must, and their home base of Frederick, MD, also a must, and, it’s clear he enjoys a good laugh as much as he appreciates what makes Shakespeare so great, which is never more present than when Myers, for a moment, drops the shtick and delivers Hamlet’s “What a piece of work is a man” monologue. It’s a true, pure moment from the unlikeliest player reminding us why we still need, and read, and perform, plays written 400 hundred years ago. We may have advanced to mobile phones, but the human condition remains unchanged and just as mind-boggling.
A fast-paced comic delight built on the wit and wisdom of the bard, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridge) is an audacious undertaking that may induce snorting (poor lady a few seats down from me). You’ve been forewarned.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) . Written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield. Directed by Tad Janes. Featuring Thom Huenger, Daniel Valentin-Morales, and Jeremy Myers. Production: Maxwell Lamb, Assistant Director; Cecelia Lee, Scenic Design; Julie Herber, Costume Design; Doug Grove, Lighting Design; Donna Quesada, Properties; Lauren Johnson, Sound Design; Mari Barchi and Morgan Southwell, Dressers; Lena Janes, Assistant Stage Manger. Stage Managed by Kevin Cole. Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.