The Compleat Works of Wllm. Shkspr (Abridged),” opening UVSC’s theater season, is exactly what the title says: All of Shakespeare’s plays crammed into one 2-hour show, acted by three extremely energetic young men (Brett Merritt, Jason Purdy, David Patrick Nugent).
The script allows for — even calls for — improvisation and adaptation. As such, the question is, How do we make OUR production different from others?
This one, directed by Randall King, tries a few unusual things that generally work. All 16 Shakespeare comedies are crammed into one story (since their plots are so similar anyway), illustrated by a loopy slide show in which photos of cast members, along with stock footage of Saddam Hussein and an undiapered baby, among other things, help with the narrative. (When reference is made to “mischievous fairies,” we see a picture of the Village People.)
The first 20 minutes are devoted to “Romeo and Juliet,” with Purdy playing Juliet (he plays all the female parts, and is hysterically trashy as all of them) and Nugent playing everyone else. Merritt narrates, saying — as befitting the show’s absurd, British-style wit — “Since it would be impossible to perform ‘Romeo and Juliet’ with just three actors, we have decided to do it with two.”
This part, while funny, feels long — especially with it coming right at the start of the show, leaving the audience to wonder if ALL the plays are going to be 20 minutes long. The second-act “Hamlet” adaptation also drags a bit.
Elsewhere, “Titus Andronicus” is turned into a cooking show; “Othello” is a rap; “Macbeth” is in full Scottish brogue and regalia; and all the history plays are turned into a football game.
One problem with the production is that some things aren’t completely “sold.” That is, the show develops the ideas, but doesn’t fully commit itself to them. One senses that the “Othello” rap could be even MORE urban and hip-hop, and that “Macbeth” could be even MORE Scottish.
No prior knowledge of Shakespeare is required to enjoy the show, though it certainly doesn’t hurt. Most of the time is spent on “Romeo and Juliet” and “Hamlet,” which most people are familiar with anyway.
All three actors are abundantly talented, and in a show with no shortage of trips and pratfalls, they handle the physical comedy remarkably well. Some individual characterization would help the between-plays banter go over better — as it is, all three seem more or less interchangeable — but all are as manic, likable and wacky as the show itself.
This show went almost entirely unpromoted, thanks to UVSC's red-tape-heavy public communications system. As if that weren't bad enough, opening night was the same night as BYU's first home football game of LaVell Edwards's last coaching season. I expected to be the only one in the audience; luckily, someone had wised up and offered extra credit to students if they came, so the place wound up being pretty full.