Arlington — Theatre Arlington continues its 44th season in the New Year with an enthusiastic and sweaty production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [revised] a 30-year-old—and slightly revised—parody of the Bard’s 37 plays in 97 minutes (or so) and split by a 20- minute intermission.
Written in 1987 by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield (a.k.a. Reduced Shakespeare Company), the show was a hit at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and went on to play nine years in London’s West End. The popular comedy is performed by three actors playing themselves as they speed through the canon, distracted by occasional arguments with each other and friendly chats with the audience.
Director Melanie Mason keeps the spoof within its time-honored framework, and gives her “three men in tights” plenty of room to improvise. Actually, Joe Chapa, Steven Morris and William Kledas are outfitted in jeans and Converse sneaks. They begin the evening with some background info on Shakespeare’s deathless dramas, including a goofy biography confusing the creator of Hamlet with the author of Mein Kampf. Anybody who ever stumbled his way through a confusing essay question for which he is totally unprepared laughs at this bit.
Nobody in this reduced ensemble worries about costumes. With a sack dress and a cockeyed wig, a long, tall Juliet dithers about and is soon joined by a stout-hearted and stout Romeo, while a narrator declares all the commotion is really about Romeo “trying to get into Juliet’s pants.” Tender stuff.
An argument about the color of the Moor’s Italian ancestry is followed by a chunk of Othello delivered as a not-so-hip rap duo. Rap has been used as a parody sword until it’s worn a bit dull.
The team has the most fun with the physical comedy, slashing their way through a Macbeth battle scene, brandishing golf club for swords and slaughtering their Scottish accents. Cross-dressing is the name of the game in a show where just three guys have to be all the gals, too. Julius Caesar gets little more than a tinsel wreathe and a white wrap, but he minces his way toward his betrayers like a Roman in his best bath drag.
After intermission, and the return of two of the ensemble members who split when they could, the show resumes with the truants back on the stage. The sonnets are written on a card and passed through the audience, so that bulky part of the book is taken care of handily. The troupe at last takes on the great Hamlet, bringing a bemused-looking woman onstage to portray Ophelia, while the guys run all over the stage and cower before a tiny dangling ghost of the Prince’s father.
With the clock on countdown, they rush through “the shortest Hamlet ever,” and even do a credible and crazy job with their delivery of the last minutes of the play backwards. Are they really doing it backwards? Who cares? The actors here are so breathless and done-in and it’s all so silly, you have to laugh.
That’s what we came for.